What is Impaction Colic ?
Colic in horses consists of abdominal pain which can be caused by a variety of conditions. Typically colic in horses, namely impaction colic, is the result of the gastrointestinal tract becoming obstructed, or blocked, within the colon. This can be from accumulating feed or other material that is very dry.
When feed travels through the digestive system, it eventually enters into segments of the colon. These segments become quite narrow as the food travels through before opening up into a part of the intestine that is wider. When the food travels through the narrow sections of the colon, blockages can occur. Blockages do not always occur in this specific area, as they can also happen within the small intestine as it leads into the cecum. This is rarer than impaction colic developing in the colon, namely in the section known as the left ventral or the pelvic flexure area.
Impaction colic can cause severe pain within the area of the gut. When impaction colic occurs, the normal and healthy passage of contents from the body is prevented. Impaction colic is very serious and requires immediate veterinary attention, as this condition can be fatal if not treated.
Impaction colic in horses is the result of a blockage in the intestinal tract, namely the colon or intestines. Although impaction colic can be a life-threatening condition if not quickly treated, horses typically respond well to a variety of treatment methods.
Symptoms of Impaction Colic in Horses
Symptoms of impaction colic can be painful and severe. Medical attention is necessary if you see any of the following symptoms:
- Rapid, heavy breathing
- Flared nostrils
- Repeated lying down and attempting to rise up
- Swaying of the head
- Kicking the abdomen
- Biting the abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of drinking his water
- Lack of bowel movements
There are several abdominal cavity conditions which are related to colic. Types of conditions that are related which also require medical attention include:
- Simple obstruction
- Twists in the intestine
- Epiploic foramen incarceration (blocked blood supply)
Causes of Impaction Colic in Horses
There are several causes of impaction colic. Recognizing the causes of this type of colic may help you understand what preventative measures you can take in order to reduce your horse’s chance of contracting this condition. Causes include:
- Poor dental health which prevents feed from being chewed up properly
- Lack of fresh water
- Lack of motility in the bowel
- Course hay or lack of quality hay
- Sand ingestion
- Mineral accumulations, or enteroliths
- Displaced colon
- Colon torsions
- Tapeworm infestation
- Inadequate feeding habits
Diagnosis of Impaction Colic in Horses
If your horse is experiencing any of the above symptoms or any other symptoms that show he is in pain, call your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian will perform an immediate assessment of your equine’s clinical signs; gather information from you about his symptoms and how long they have lasted, and discuss his medical history.
If your veterinarian suspects impaction colic, which is one of the most common types of colic, your veterinarian may choose to perform a rectal examination. He may be able to feel the obstruction inside the bowel lumen. He will investigate the pelvic floor to check for impaction within the pelvic flexure by feeling a firm intestinal viscus. Once feeling the firm entity within the section of examination, the veterinarian will be able to determine the type of treatment best for your horse.
He will also check the thickness of the colon wall. If the impaction is out of the veterinarian’s reach, this may be characteristic of a larger, transverse impaction of the colon. The veterinarian may also be able to remove some of the feces to check for any abnormal contents within the feces. This may be helpful in diagnosing impaction colic due to sand or parasites.
Treatment of Impaction Colic in Horses
Treatment methods depend on the severity of the impaction. In many of the treatment methods, gentle walking of the horse is important to increase motility. In severe cases, surgery may need to be performed. Treatment methods may include:
The veterinarian may lubricate your horse’s intestinal tract with the use of oil, such as vegetable or mineral. These may also be mixed with supplements to increase the amount of electrolytes. These will be administered through a nasogastric tube, and may need to be repeated. Your veterinarian may also recommend an enema for your horse; this depends on the severity and type of impaction.
Analgesics will be used to decrease the contractions of the colon during the administration of any lubricants. A popular analgesic is flunixin meglumine, and may be given every 8 or 12 hours. Painkillers may also be administered to control the pain your horse is having during treatment.
Intravenous fluids are essential for maintaining electrolytes and for preventing dehydration. IV fluids also bring the volume of plasma to normal while decreasing the osmotic pressure of the plasma. This allows more fluid to flow into the bowels. In addition, a high amount of water is very helpful in flushing out any impactions of the large colon. This will be administered over a few days via a nasogastric tube.
In severe cases, impactions may need to be removed surgically. This is performed exclusively for horses in which the impaction cannot be cleared through any other method of treatment. Most impactions are able to be treated by the above treatment methods, or a combination of the above treatment methods.
Recovery of Impaction Colic in Horses
If your horse receives medical attention quickly and is showing signs of recovery, his prognosis is good. Colic is one of the most common ailments in horses, and veterinarians are very knowledgeable in the ways to prevent a life-threatening situation.
Once you are able to take your horse home, your veterinarian will give you instructions on how to properly care for him. The type of treatment he received will determine his recovery. Your veterinarian may recommend a change in diet, a continuation of medications, and a decrease in activity, at least temporarily until he is fully healed. It will be important for your horse to continue to walk and move somewhat in order to increase the motility of his gastrointestinal tract.
Your veterinarian will alert you to what symptoms you need to watch for, and will want to have follow-up visits to be sure your horse is becoming well again. If you have any questions or concerns about your horse as he is recovering from impaction colic, please call your medical professional without delay.