XL Equine vet Dr. Aoife Byrne DrMedVet MRCVS describes dealing with one of the most common emergencies to be called out to as an equine vet - colic.
Luckily for both owner and horse most episodes are straightforward, in that once the horse has received an injection of painkillers and sometimes an anti-spasmodic drug as well, they settle and recover quite quickly – vets term this a medical colic.
Of course not all colics respond to drugs alone and the unresponsive ones are often candidates for surgical intervention – this is termed a surgical colic.
The cause of a colic episode is often not apparent or obvious and the owner reports that nothing has changed in the horse's routine. These cases are frustrating because without a cause the owner feels powerless in preventing a further attack.
The autumnal weather reminds me of an unusual colic case I saw in a pony this time last year. It belonged to a local riding school and I was called out because it began to show colicky behaviour during a lesson. When I arrived the pony was standing quietly, but had just been down and trying to roll. I checked her heart rate which was elevated and her guts sounds on both sides were increased.
At this point I was thinking she could have spasmodic colic caused by a build up of gas in her intestine. The owner said she hadn't seen her pass droppings that day, so I performed a rectal palpation and could feel some firmer faeces in the pelvic part of her large colon. I decided my next step would be to pass a nasogastric tube into her stomach to check for reflux and then to administer some fluids with salts to help a possible impaction move along.
Before giving the fluids I siphoned back some of her stomach contents and to my utter surprise it was a distinct red-purple colour! I gasped thinking it looked just like blood and the owner started crying. I thought the worst – severe bleeding ulcers or a ruptured stomach? In the dim light of the stable, it was hard to be sure if it really was blood, so I took the bucket outside.
In the sunlight I could clearly see the reason for the discolouration – blackberries! I returned to the owner and asked if by any chance the pony’s field was bordered by a bramble hedge – it was – sighs of relief all round.
The greedy pony had decided that the sweet blackberries were too good to resist and had scoffed quite a bellyful, which in turn had fermented in her gut causing the gassy build up and subsequent colic.
Two IV injections and a trot on the lunge to help her dissipate the gas and the pony returned to her cheeky self. A colic with a happy ending.