Old Horses Aren’t at Higher Risk of Reflux Post-Colic Surgery

Penn Vet researchers found older horses with small intestinal lesions that survive colic surgery are just as likely as younger horses to develop postoperative reflux or to survive to hospital discharge.
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Old Horses Aren’t at Higher Risk of Reflux Post-Colic Surgery
Boorman’s team found that horses most likely to develop postoperative reflux had a resection of the small intestine during surgery, longer surgery times, and gastric reflux upon arrival to the hospital. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse
Various complications can develop following colic surgery, some more consequential than others. While veterinarians can treat incisional infections or low-grade fevers with antibiotics, persistent postoperative gastric reflux (POR, fluid accumulation in the stomach) is a more serious problem that’s more difficult to resolve. And, as a multi-institution research team recently found out, POR can prove more deadly to its victims.

“Postoperative reflux can indicate stasis (lack of movement) of the intestinal tract, mechanical obstruction at an anastomosis (where intestines have been joined together after a resection during colic surgery) or adhesion site, or even an intestinal repair breakdown,” said surgical resident Sophie Boorman, BVetMed, of Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

She said predicting which horses have a higher risk of developing postoperative gastric reflux might:

  1. Help identify horses that will need more intense management following surgery, and
  2. Help owners prepare for this expensive, potentially fatal complication.

“The perception that older horses have more complications after colic surgery is widespread and extends to postoperative reflux,” said Boorman. “This is likely because older horses tend to develop strangulating lipomas—a benign fatty tumor that can entrap and strangulate the small intestine, causing bowel devitalization and necessitating surgery

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Written by:

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she’s worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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