Information about horses recovering from colic surgery

The team at the Equine hospital of the Centre hospitalier universitaire vétérinaire of the Université de Montréal is delighted that your horse is making a good recovery. With this text, we would like to help you through the next few weeks and explain how your horse needs to be managed in order to stand the best chance of making a full recovery.

There are 5 most important aspects of managing a horse after a colic sugery:

  1. Feeding
  2. Managing the abdominal incision
  3. Stall rest
  4. Re-introduction to exercise
  5. Post operative colic
1. Feeding

Following colic surgery, your horse will be on rest for 8 weeks without doing any exercise. Energy requirements for this period are minimal. Unless otherwise advised, you should :

  • Feed minimal concentrates;
  • Provide frequent or free access forage (good quality hay);
  • Provide constant access to fresh water;
  • Make any changes in feeding very slowly (e.g. over 2-3 weeks).

Remember, horses get 80% of their energy requirement from forage, not from grain or other concentrates.

2. Managing the abdominal incision

During colic surgery, it is necessary to make an incision through the skin and the abdominal wall. This incision is usually between 20 and 30 cm long. At the time of discharge, it is common that you find a moderate amount of swelling at the front aspect of the incision site. Please monitor the incision closely every day during the first month at home. You should look for:

  • Excessive swelling
  • Discharge of blood or pus
  • Opening of the wound edges

If you are concerned about any of the signs mentioned above, please consult your own veterinarian. Approximately 16% of horses recovering from colic surgery develop a wound infection. It can delay wound healing but, with appropriate management, usually resolves.

3. Stall rest

All abdominal incisions are very slow to heal. Any exercises that prematurely increase strain on the incision (e.g. bucking, rearing, galloping around a field), increases the risk of a hernia forming at the surgical site. A hernia is where the abdominal wall incision separates, causing intestines to create a “bulge” of skin at the surgical site. Altought not life-treathening, incisional hernias may require a second surgery. In order to minimize the risk of hernia formation, ALL OWNERS of horses that have had colic surgery are STRONGLY ADVISED to keep their horses on stall for at least 4 weeks after surgery (see your discharge instructions).

During this time:

  • Your horse is kept stabled at all times apart from walking in-hand.
  • Where possible, you should take your horse for walks and graze in-hand 2-3 times per day, but always on a lead rope and under control.
  • Your horse souhld never be loose and free to gallop around.

Approximately 10% of horses that have had colic surgery do develop an incisional hernia. The advice above will decrease the risk of it happening to your horse.

4. Re-introduction to exercise

Please follow your discharge instructions for the time your horse can be turned-out in a paddock. You are strongly advised to use a small paddock, with no other horses in it. This will allow your horse to begin moving arouns freely without putting unnecessary strain on the abdominal incision. Some horses benefit from mild sedation when first turned-out, to prevent them from galloping around. Talk to your veterinarian about this. The amount of time your horse spends in the paddock should be slowly increased over a period of several weeks.

Some horses are not suitable candidates for pasture turn-out and controlled exercise is best achieved with walking under saddle or with a horse walker. Talk to your veterinarian about this option if you are concerned about your horse’s likely reaction to pasture tunr-out.

Please follow your discharge instructions for the time you can start riding or training again. Remember: your horse is unfit and the abdominal incision is still gaining in streght. You should begin a regimen of steadily increasing exercise over several months.

5. Post operative colic

Following colic surgery, it is possible that your horse may have further episodes of colic; up to a third of horses may have a colic episode after discharge from the hospital. These colic signs can occur at any time following colic surgery. Most horses respond to medical therapy with pain relief. However, a very small percentage do not respond to pain relief and may then require a second colic surgery.

Frequently asked questions

My horse is going mad in his stall. Can I turn out before the recommandated time is up?

You are strongly advised not to. If you do, your horse is likely to over-exercise, putting huge strain on his abdominal incision. This will greatly increase the risk of hernia formation. Please speak to your veterinarian if concerned.

Can I worm my horse and get him vaccinated?

Vaccination can proceed as usual. It is safe to worm most horses 2-3 weeks after colic surgery but a few horses have special worming requirements. If in doubt, check with your veterinarian.

Can my mare have a foal after colic surgery?

Yes, but bear in mind the strain on the mare’s abdomen during service and during delivery of a foal. It is recommended that mares are not bred by natural cover for at least 4 months after colic surgery.

Will my horse be able to return to the same level of competition after colic surgery?

Yes. Many horses of our previous patients have successfully returned to a high level competition after an appropriate convalescent period. This includes racing, eventing and show jumping.

While your horse is hospitalized following colic surgery, the veterinarian in charge of your horse’s treatment at the CHUV will keep you updated on a regular basis. You can also call us at (450) 778-8100 for further updates on the condition of your horse.

We are always keen to hear how horses are progressing after colic surgery, so you may receive a phone call or email from one of our team within the next few months.