Recurrent Colic

Information provided by Dr. Amanda House, Veterinarian of UF Large Animal Internal Medicine, Associate Professor, DACVIM, Equine Extension Specialist, and Course Director of the Practice-Based Equine Clerkship Program.

What is recurrent colic?

Recurrent colic is typically defined as three or more episodes of transient or prolonged colic over a period of months or one year or more.

What are the causes of recurrent colic?

The causes are varied but can include:

  • Parasites
  • Gastic ulcers
  • Sand accumulation
  • Impactions
  • Ileal hypertrophy
  • Intermittent gas colic
  • Enteroliths
  • Intra- or extra-luminal masses resulting in partial obstructions
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (such as eosinophilic enteritis or enterocolitis)
  • Colonic displacements
  • Many others

How is recurrent colic diagnosed?

Although a definitive cause cannot always be determined without exploratory surgery, many diagnostics are currently available to assist in determining the most likely cause. Factors that contribute to diagnosis include:

  • A complete history and thorough physical examination. The physical examination should always include thorough auscultation of the heart and lungs, and an examination of the horse‚Äôs teeth.
  • A rectal palpation.
  • A complete blood cell count and biochemistry profile will evaluate red blood cells, white blood cell count, electrolytes, total protein, albumin, and liver and kidney values.
  • An evaluation of a fecal sample for parasites.
  • Additional tests may be suggested by your veterinarian, which include abdominocentesis (also called a belly tap), endoscopy of the stomach, ultrasound examination of the abdomen, radiographs of the abdomen, and small intestinal and/or rectal biopsy.
  • Additional diagnostic options include standing laparoscopic surgery and abdominal exploratory under general anesthesia. In miniature horses, foals, and some ponies, CT scan and MRI are available at select referral centers, including the UF Large Animal Hospital.

What is the prognosis after recurrent colic has been diagnosed?

The prognosis for successful resolution is determined by the cause, as for any type of colic, but is probably comparable to the prognosis for acute forms of colic. In some horses in which a specific cause is not found at surgery, clinical signs can persist after surgery and usually dietary and management changes are recommended for these horses. Thorough evaluation and understanding of possible causes of the problem can assist the owner and veterinarian in determining the most likely etiology of the colic. Treatment and management of affected horses are most effective when they can be targeted at a specific established diagnosis.

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