Occasionally a horse’s intestine can become severely obstructed by a displacement, entrapment, or twist which requires surgical intervention to correct the position of the bowel and evaluate it for signs of irreversible damage. Sometimes the intestine must simply be repositioned and decompressed. In other cases, severely damaged intestine requires removal (“resection”), followed by reattachment of the remaining healthy sections of bowel to each other (“anastamosis”). This surgery must be performed with the horse under general anesthesia, positioned on its back, and under strict sterile operating conditions. An incision is made into the abdomen along the midline, and the intestines are thoroughly evaluated. This evaluation can take some time, as a horse has 70 feet of small intestine and another 25 feet of large intestine. Once the intestine is positioned correctly within the abdomen, any damaged sections are removed. Sometimes an enterotomy, or opening into the bowel, must be performed to remove the intestinal contents. After lavage of the abdominal cavity, the layers of the abdomen are carefully and securely sutured back together.
After the horse recovers from anesthesia, we monitor the patient closely for signs that the intestine has resumed its normal function. Post-operatively, horses are treated for several days with intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and pain medication. Most horses are discharged from the hospital within 7-10 days following colic surgery. Occasionally, post-operative complications can arise which result in a longer hospitalization period. Once the horse returns home after being hospitalized for colic surgery, the aftercare typically involves one month of stall confinement with hand walking exercise only, followed by one month of turnout in a small paddock. Although there may be some individual variation, two to three months following surgery most horses are ready to be ridden again. Once a horse has reached 90 days post-surgery, complications related to the colic surgery are exceedingly rare.