Biomarker Could Help Determine if Your Horse Needs Colic Surgery

Measuring the biomarker creatine kinase in abdominal fluid can help distinguish horses with ischemic (lacking blood flow) intestine due to a strangulating lesion—and, thus, require surgery—from those without.
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colic surgery
Measuring the creatine kinase in abdominal fluid can help distinguish horses with ischemic intestine due to a strangulating lesion (and, thus, require colic surgery) from those without, researchers learned. | Photo: ThinkStock
If a horse needs colic surgery, the sooner he gets to the operating room, the better. But, in the early stages of diagnostics, it can be challenging for veterinarians to determine whether a colicking horse could recover with medical management, or if he has an issue—such as a strangulating lesion—that must be corrected surgically.

Fortunately, researchers are helping make the decision more straightforward to expedite the process. At the 2018 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 1-5 in San Francisco, California, Isabelle Kilcoyne, MVB, Dipl. ACVS, suggested measuring a biomarker—the enzyme creatine kinase (CK)—in peritoneal (abdominal) fluid to help distinguish horses with ischemic (lacking blood flow) intestine due to a strangulating lesion from those without.

Veterinarians frequently collect and analyze peritoneal fluid during work-ups of colicky horses, said Kilcoyne, an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. In a study in rabbits, researchers determined that peritoneal CK levels increased significantly within an hour after ischemic injury. And, veterinarians know that horses with elevated blood plasma CK levels are less likely to survive surgery than those with plasma CK levels under 470 IU/L, based on a study out of Colorado State University.

Kilcoyne and colleagues sought to find out if CK could be a useful marker of intestinal ischemia and, therefore, an indicator a horse needs surgery

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Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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