When considering colic surgery for a foal or an adult horse, a number of factors come into play, most notably cost of surgery, prognosis for survival and recovery, distance to the surgical facility, and whether the horse is insured. It is helpful for horse owners to make a decision to pursue surgery based on the likelihood of a favorable outcome.
At the 2022 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention held Nov. 18-22 in San Antonio, Texas, Sara Erwin, BS, a DVM/PhD student at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, discussed survival rates of horses experiencing strangulating small intestine (SI) lesions. In the retrospective study, she compared survival rates of foals to adult horses in surgical cases between 2000 and 2020 at multiple referral hospitals across the United States.
Specifically, Erwin compared outcomes for foals younger than six months of age to outcomes for adult horses ages 2 to 20. More than half the foals in the study experienced a volvulus (twist) of the small intestines, and most were younger than two months of age. Of the adults, commonly-occurring volvulus peaked at ages 6 to 9, and strangulating lipomas commonly occurred at ages 17 to 20.
The study results indicate that neither age, breed, nor gender affect survival. Resection (cutting away portions of the intestines) did not affect survival in either age group. Horses were not more or less likely to recover from a particular lesion type. All age groups had similar incidences of intra-operative resection or euthanasia.
Short-term survival following surgical correction of SI strangulation was similar in both age groups: 24/25 foals and 66/75 adults. Many of the horses were lost to follow-up one month post-operatively, but 12/13 adults and 4/5 foals were doing well at that time point.