One of the most frequent misconceptions among horse owners is the belief that horses never recover well from colic surgery and are never quite the same afterwards. While it is true that some horses will do poorly post-operatively, many horses go on to do very well. There are many different factors that affect the prognosis, including the duration of the colic, the actual cause of the colic, as well as the overall systemic health of the horse. For example, a large colon displacement, where the large intestine is not twisted but simply in the wrong place, typically has a good prognosis, particularly because surgical correction is fairly straightforward. In contrast, a twist of either the large or small intestine is always a critical case, as the longer the twist goes on, the more likely the intestine will be damaged due to decreased blood supply. In some cases, this will result in intestine needing to be removed, which will necessitate a longer post-operative recovery.
Your veterinarian will perform a colic workup that will include things such as a physical exam, rectal exam, passage of a nasogastric tube, and in some cases an abdominal ultrasound, bloodwork, and a belly tap. Based on the findings from these tests, the veterinarian can give you a better idea of what is causing your horse to colic, whether your horse needs colic surgery, and your horse’s overall prognosis.
While the decision of whether or not to pursue colic surgery must ultimately lie with the owner, and will understandably be influenced by emotional and financial factors, it is important to remember that colic surgery can be a viable option and that it is possible for horses to recover well from it. What is most important to remember is that the owner will play a large part in post-operative care and recovery, as the horse will need to be on stall rest then turnout for a while, finally to be followed by gradual return to work. Therefore, the decision to pursue colic surgery must be made with the realization in mind that owner commitment and dedication are essential requirements for post-operative recovery to go well.