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Welcome to the Equestrian Outreach Diagnosing Colic Page

Collic Rolling PhotoColic, The Biggest Killer of Horses and the Most Preventable

Diagnosing horse ailments requires a vet. (Click here for a list of Florida veterinarians by county)

Diagnosing Colic: Many different diagnostic tests can be used to diagnose the cause of equine colic, which may have greater or lesser value in certain situations. The most important distinction to make is whether the condition should be managed medically or surgically. If surgery is indicated, then it must be performed with utmost haste, as delay is a dire prognostic indicator. Should you suspect that your horse has colic you should contact your vet immediately .

Abdominocentesis: The extraction of fluid from the peritoneum can be useful in assessing the state of the intestines. A sanguineous fluid represents an infarction, and usually indicates surgery is necessary. A cloudy fluid is suggestive of an increased number of white blood cells, which indicates the disease is relatively advanced. The protein level of abdominal fluid can be analyzed, and may also give information as to the integrity of intestinal blood vessels.
Abdominal Distension: Any degree of abdominal distension is usually indicative of a condition affecting the large intestines, as distension of structures upstream of here would not be large enough to be visible externally.
Auscultation: Auscultation of the abdomen, usually performed in a four quadrant approach, can be a useful tool. Increased gut sounds are not usually found with major changes, and may be indicative of spasmodic colic. A decreased amount of sound, or no sound, may be suggestive of serious changes.
Cardiovascular Parameters: Heart rate rises with progression of colic, in part due to pain, but mainly due to decreased circulating volume, decreased preload, and endo-toxemia. The rate should be measured over time, and its response to analgesic therapy ascertained. A pulse that continues to rise in the face of adequate analgesia is considered a surgical indication. Mucous membrane color can be assessed to appreciate the severity of haemodynamic compromise. Reddening of membranes reflects worse prognosis, and cyanotic membranes indicate a very poor chance of a positive outcome.
Fecal Examination: The amount of feces produced, and its character can be helpful, although as changes often occur relatively distant to the anus, changes may not be seen for some time. In areas where sand colic is known to be common, or if the history suggests it may be a possibility, faeces can be examined for the presence of sand, often by immersion in water, or simply by its texture.
Laboratory Tests: Laboratory tests can be performed to assess the cardiovascular status of the patient. Packed Cell Volume (PCV) is a measure of hydration status, with a value 45% being considered significant. Increasing values over repeated examination are also considered significant. The total protein (TP) of blood may also be measured, as an aid in estimating the amount of protein loss into the intestine. Its value must be interpreted along with the PCV, to take into account the hydration status.
Naso-Gastric Intubation: Passing a Naso-Gastric Tube (NGT) is useful both diagnostically and therapeutically. Fluid is refluxed from the stomach, and any more than 2 litres of fluid is considered to be significant. Increased fluid is generally as a result of backing up of fluid through the intestinal tract, due to a downstream obstruction. This finding is important as it represents a relatively advanced stage of colic, and is often a surgical indication. Therapeutically, gastric decompression is important, as if fluid build up occurs, gastric rupture may occur, which is inevitably fatal.
Rectal Examination: Repeated rectal examinations are a cornerstone of colic diagnosis, as many large intestinal conditions can be definitively diagnosed by this method alone. Other non-specific findings, such as dilated small intestinal loops, may also be detected, and can play a major part in determining if surgery is necessary.