What is Gastrointestinal Obstruction?
A variety of conditions can lead to stomach pain in your horse, so to determine the real cause of the pain, you will need your veterinarian’s help. The horse has a relatively small stomach in relation to its size, and has a one-way valve that permits gas and fluid to go into the stomach but not come out. So, any condition that prevents this gas and fluid from moving through the stomach can cause serious trouble for your horse.
A blockage of your horse’s stomach can cause colic-like abdominal pain which makes it hard to diagnose this condition. Your horse will display signs of pain such as lying down or kicking out; due to the potential severity of the condition do not delay in seeking the opinion of an equine veterinarian.
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Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Obstruction in Horses
- Your horse adopts a standing stretching movement
- Pain located in the abdomen
- Kicking or leg raising
- A swollen stomach
- Rolling around in discomfort
- Lying down
- Colic refers to any abdominal pain experienced by your horse and relates to the gastrointestinal tract. Any blockage can cause colic.
- Gas colic caused by bacteria in the gut after eating grain or moldy feed
- Impaction colic – involves the large intestine twisting on itself
- Enteritis – inflammation due to bacteria from tainted food
- Growth such as lymphosarcoma or necrosis
- Spasmodic pain
Causes of Gastrointestinal Obstruction in Horses
- Impactions from coarse feed and reduced water
- Abrupt changes in the feed for your horse
- Twisting or displacement of the colon
- Problems with the dental structure
- Altered dietary management by the owner
- Parasite infection
Diagnosis of Gastrointestinal Obstruction in Horses
Your equine specialist will give your horse a thorough external examination and ask about any problems your horse may have had in the past. A recent sudden change in diet or if you have inadvertently fed your horse too much grain at once, can all create problems within the system. The type of feed also can cause problems if it has gone slightly moldy; this can introduce excess bacteria into the gut causing gas. Your veterinarian may be able to tell by prodding or probing the side of the stomach. There are so many variables as to what may cause a blockage in your horse’s gastrointestinal system. Using an ultrasonographic machine can assess if the problem requires surgery, or whether medication is needed. A sample of peritoneal fluid can be assessed to determine the degree of damage to the intestines.
Treatment of Gastrointestinal Obstruction in Horses
Your horse may need either surgical or medical treatment to ease the pain. If your horse has a blockage such as a twisted colon or something similar he will need surgery, but otherwise, a course of medication can ease the colic. Laxatives may help to move things through your horse’s system and supportive medications will help ease the condition. If your horse requires a laparotomy to correct the intestinal obstruction, the survival rate long-term is around 50%. For hemorrhagic strangulation blockages, or if your horse has a small intestinal lesion, then simple obstructions can be improved if the condition is caught in the early stages and the surgery can result in a positive prognosis. The age of your horse and the stage of the condition are the factors that will determine the treatment needed. As the stomach in your horse is small in relation to the size of your horse which can affect its health quickly, any stomach problem needs urgent attention. Specialist veterinary advice is vital.
Recovery of Gastrointestinal Obstruction in Horses
The rate of recovery will depend on what is causing the pain in your horse. If surgery is required, recovery will take longer and the prognosis is fair to poor depending on the amount of internal damage. The recovery process may take from a few weeks to several months depending on the severity of the blockage and the treatment required to remove the blockage. Your veterinarian will be able to advise the best combination of feed for your horse, and gentle walking exercise may help overcome the condition along with continued medication until the health of your horse improves.