Far from routine
When colic surgery turns up unexpected and difficult complications, a young gelding faces a prolonged and uncertain recovery.
Owen, a draft-cross gelding, was a healthy and promising young horse when Beth Carey brought him home. “I bought him in September to be my foxhunting and combined training horse,” she says. “He was only 4---still a baby--so we weren’t doing much with him. He was worked a bit before the weather got bad, but during that time he was delightful.”
Just four months later, however, a case of colic put Owen’s future in jeopardy. On December 16, barn manager Christie Baker arrived to do the evening feeding and found Owen lying flat out next to the gate. “She got him to his feet and into the barn, but we could tell right away that things weren’t good,” says Carey. The gelding was pawing, rolling, sweating and looking uncomfortable.
Baker called the farm’s veterinarian, Pete Radue, DVM, of Damascus Equine Associates in Maryland, who instructed her to give Owen a dose of Banamine and call back in a half-hour with an update. But the drug didn’t help: The gelding remained uncomfortable.
Radue arrived on the farm a few minutes later to examine Owen for colic. Most of the findings were encouraging: The gelding’s heart rate was only slightly elevated at 40 beats per minute; his gut sounds and temperature By Christine Barakat PROMISE: A 4-year-old draftcross, Owen was purchased as a foxhunting and combined training prospect. He is shown here a few months before his health crisis. were normal. Radue inserted a nasogastric tube, but no fluid (called “reflux”) emptied from the stomach, which meant that ingesta was not backing up from the digestive system into his stomach thus far. The only unusual sign came up during a rectal examination: Radue noticed distention of the small intestine, which could have been due to gas or a possible obstruction.
This could just be a very minor colic episode, Radue explained, or it could be the early stages of a potentially serious problem. He and Carey agreed that the first step would be to administer one more dose of painkillers plus a mild sedative, then to watch for improvement.
The second round of medications seemed to help. Owen remained comfortable for a few hours. Around 9 p.m., however, when the medications wore off, his pain returned. Carey called Radue, who left his office Christmas party to examine the gelding again.
Owen’s heart rate had climbed to 48 beats per minute ---a sign of increased pain---and his gut sounds were diminishing. “I remember Pete saying, ‘Beth, don’t sit on this. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t like it,’” says Carey. “That’s all I needed to hear.” Within minutes, Owen was in the trailer, and Carey and Baker were on their way to the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Virginia.
A veterinary team met the trailer when they pulled into the hospital just under an hour later. Owen’s vital signs hadn’t changed since they’d left the farm, and an ultrasound examination confirmed the distention of a portion of his small intestine. The team also performed an abdominocentesis, a test