Could Horse Breed Predict Colic Risk?
A horse is a horse (of course, of course), except when it comes to their risk of different colic types, researchers have learned.

“Clinical impression suggests that some gastrointestinal lesions are more common in certain types of horses,” said Bettina Dunkel, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, ECEIM, ACVECC, FHEA, MRCVS, a lecturer in equine medicine at the Royal Veterinary College, in the United Kingdom.

Recently, she and colleagues undertook a research project to explore the connection between breed and gastrointestinal lesions. They reviewed the medical records of 575 horses diagnosed with a variety of gastrointestinal lesions. Horses included in the study were classified as Miniature-type (standing less than 11 hands), pony (taller than 11 hands, but shorter than 14.2 hands), Arabian, light-breed (largely Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods), or draft-type.

The team found that:

  • Miniatures were most likely to experience large colon impactions and colitis (inflammation of the large colon, often associated with diarrhea). They rarely suffered strangulating small intestinal lesions.
  • Ponies, on the other hand, appeared predisposed to strangulating small intestinal lesions, typically involving a lipoma (fatty tumor). “The fact that Miniature horses rarely have strangulating small intestinal lesions due to lipomas while ponies very frequently do was surprising,” Dunkel said.
  • Light breeds were most at risk for large colon displacements, either right dorsal or left dorsal. “We suspect that the high frequency of displacements is due to the shape of the abdomen and size of the horse,” she said. “The taller the horse, the more frequent displacements.”
  • Draft horses were most often diagnosed with large intestinal diseases (such as large colon displacements and the more severe large colon volvulus, or twist) and diseases affecting the cecum.

Dunkel cautioned that studies like this only describe odds of a certain lesion occurring and each case must be viewed individually: “Even if a certain lesion is rare in a certain type of horse or pony, it can still occur and must not be missed.”

The study, “Differences in gastrointestinal lesions in different horse types,” was published in the Veterinary Record.