Know what to expect when the unexpected happens.

"He needs surgery."

This assessment is one no horse owner wants to hear from his or her veterinarian. Surgical intervention can be costly and risky, and a horse’s response to anesthesia and surgical procedures can be unpredictable. Plus, after your horse has gone under the knife, what’s his prognosis for a full recovery? What obstacles might you face and what should you expect during the recovery process?

To answer these questions, we consulted three veterinarians who handle a considerable number of emergency referrals: Bradford Bentz, VMD, of Bluegrass Equine Performance and Internal Medicine in Georgetown, Ky.; Langdon Fielding, DVM, Dipl. ACVECC, who runs the intensive care unit at Loomis Basin Equine Medical Center in Loomis, Calif.; and Liberty Getman, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, a surgeon at Ocala Equine Hospital in Ocala, Fla. With their help, we’ll trace the typical course of treatment and prognosis for four equine emergencies that often require surgical intervention as well as other common procedures.

Colic

Bentz compares sizing up a colic case to "trying to ascertain what’s going on in a black box. That black box is the abdomen, and we don’t have a good way of being able to see inside it."

Given the challenges general anesthesia poses for horses’ respiratory and circulatory systems, Bentz says, "If you don’t need to open the abdomen, you shouldn’t. But if there’s persistent pain and an inability to resolve the problem, you do go in (by performing an exploratory cel