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To vets and vet techs/ assistants, would you ever do colic surgery on your own horse?

Just out of curiosity, how many people who have worked closely with multiple colic surgeries (vets/ vet techs/ vet assistants/ others), would choose to put their own horse through that?

If I ever have to make that decision for one of my horses, I’d like to have a bit more knowledge about people’s personal experiences with it

Is the question “could you stand to cut open your own horse?” Or is the question “is this surgery worth the risks?”

I could totally see an MD saying “yes, this is a life saving procedure and worth the risks, but it would be unethical and horrible for me to operate on my own child, I would find the best surgeon possible.”


I wouldn’t even blink if it was the right call and I didn’t have any secondary concerns (like how to pay for it).

Would I scrub in to my own horse’s surgery? That depends.


35 years ago when colic surgery was a pretty new idea, very few horses had good long term outcomes. But the science has greatly improved. I sent one to surgery Memorial Day 2002. He ran Radnor Intermediate 3day with steeplechase mid October. Needless to say he had a quick and uncomplicated recovery. He was happy as soon as we got him home. I sent one to surgery in 2015. He was unwell and unhappy for months. We had significant issues with his suture line which have left him with scar tissue and a hernia. When he colicked again with the same issue (entrapment) we decided to treat him on the farm because I couldn’t put him through that again. He got all of the medications that might help but was still throwing himself on the ground and rolling. Then miraculously he stood up and his face changed. He ended up ok. This is not to recommend hoping for miracles! Just recounting my experience.

Generally speaking, if you can afford it, colic surgery is a reasonable option today. If you have a choice, go with a clinic that does a lot of colic surgeries. Practice does make perfect. Your vet will probably have a recommendation. They might know which #1 surgeon is on vacation or who has been having infection issues. If surgery is an option, send the horse sooner rather than later. The better condition the horse is in when he goes under, the better everything goes. Hope it is a choice you will never have to make. You are wise to consider your options while you are calm and cool!


I sent one of mine to surgery.
He was having recurrent colic episodes and no one could figure out what was going on, so it was more or less exploratory.
Turned out he had eosinophilic enteritis.
They resected some gut, but he developed peritonitis, and I oped to euthanize rather than try to treat.
On necropsy, the perforation that caused the peritonitis was not at the surgical site, but at another area of affected tissue.

The decision to go for surgery to me would depend on a number of factors, including $$, age and any co-morbidities in the animal in question, but it would depend significantly on what the particular problem was, and I would always remember that it might include the decision to euthanize under anesthesia.


It’s been several years since I worked in a large animal hospital but I was a NICU/ ICU nursing assistant and saw a lot of colic surgeries. For the most part (and not factoring in cost) I would not have colic surgery done


This is interesting to me. Could you elaborate?

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I had a horse have a lot of complications post colic surgery. He did eventually recover and is back to work. Money aside. I would carefully weigh the situation and the horse before doing it again. This horse was a saint on a very long stall rest, if he were a worse patient idk how it would have ended.


Like I said, it’s been several years so maybe things have improved but… the recovery then was rough, really rough. It was really hard to see them miserable for so long.


A student of mine got a 11 yr old OTTB about 5 years ago. He started having recurrent colics and we couldn’t figure out a pattern or why (feed routine, work load, etc.). Most were mild, but after 1 year they started getting more serious. The last one sent him to the clinic and vet recommended surgery. Client agreed. A pouch off the main stomach area was found and I think it was removed. In any event, that was 4 years ago and the horse has been fine ever since. I honestly didn’t think the horse was going to make it. He looked thin and drained when he returned after surgery, but careful follow up protocol was followed and he perked up rather quickly. I’m sure if the horse had not survived/tolerated aftercare my opinion would be different, but he’s recovered to become a great mount for this client and I know she is glad she did the surgery (which was covered under insurance).

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I am neither, but I’m a very hands on owner. When my then 7 or 8 YO QH was terribly ill, for him at Auburn University I said pre belly tap if he’s too far gone, don’t do it. He was an anxious, stressy horse used to 24/7 turn out. For him, independent of cost ( I could pay for it) the stress on HIM for ME, made it a No.

The belly tap was clear enough to pursue medical only intervention, and sub 500 bucks later he came home and lived another 14-16 years without a repeat colic.

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I’m no DVM, or Vet Tech, but I did “assist” at my horses colic surgery in 1992.
I held bags of Ringers solution & watched the surgeon expose my horse’s digestive system, ending in a gas-filled cecum that popped up like a Macy’s Thanksgiving float.

When I’d asked if I could be in the surgery, Surgeon told me she had 3 Rules:
No crying
No fainting
No criticizing her stitching
I did none of those & was fascinated, watching my horse be winched, upside down, onto the table, then the procedure - Whole Lotta Stuff in a full gut, finally seeing her stuff organs back into the cavity willynilly :open_mouth:
I asked & she said somehow they sort themselves out.

My horse recovered from surgery w/o a problem.
In late evening on Thursday, up & being handgrazed (by me, at the clinic) Sunday.
Fully recovered & back to showing - Hunters - in a
little over a month.


Except when they don’t.
My mother had an older Arab gelding that was operated on for a strangulating lipoma. We acted fast enough that they didn’t have to resect any intestine. Recovery was going great until they started feeding him, and he began colicing again. He “wasn’t packed quite right”, and had to undergo another surgery, resulting in a hospital infection. He had to wear a belly band for a year IIRC, and ended up with a good size surgical hernia.

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Guess my guy’s surgeon got the right “packing list”

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I’m not a vet or vet tech, but I had a pony that colicked several times. He was 22 when I got him, and probably 25 when the colic episodes started. I told my vet that I would not do colic surgery on a pony that was that old. The last time it happened, the vet recommended euthanasia as he would colic again as soon as the banamine wore off. I said I wanted to try one more round, and if that didn’t work, I would euthanize.

We had to separate him from the other horses as they got aggressive when he was sedated. My husband slept out in the front pasture with him that night to make sure predators didn’t get him. Around 1 am, the pony came out of the sedation and started acting completely normal. He was fine after that.



Not a vet, but my pony had colic surgery this past Christmas. I don’t know if I would do it again.

To be honest, I think it was harder on me than on him. It was hard to see him those few days after surgery, they feel like crap. He developed a massive incisional infection 11 days after surgery. He came home 3 weeks post-op and my husband and I performed nearly minor surgery in the barn every night for 5 months trying to keep his gaping incision flushed and clean. The other option I was offered if we weren’t comfortable caring for his incision was 3-4 months of hospitalization care ($$$$$). Even with bringing him home and doing the care ourselves, the cost was almost 3x the original estimate all in, which we were not prepared for. He wore the belly band for almost 6 months, on strict stall rest. I fed him every 6 hours around the clock for 4 months - by myself. It was really hard.

The pony is an incredible creature and handled it all perfectly. The infection did not make him systemically ill. If he was not an angel on earth - I am not sure it would have even been possible.

He had a small intestine resection and anastomosis. He lost 7 feet of small intestine. While waiting for the call from the operating suite to decide if we would continue or not - I decided if he needed a resection I would put him down. The surgeon told me he was confident he could save him and to please let him finish - so we did. He is better than ever now. Truly more full of life and happiness than I have ever seen him. He is so special.

Therefore - I don’t know if I would do it again. I truly don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, and no one should shame for whatever you chose is right for you and your situation. Having a pre-determined plan ahead of time definitely helps keep you thinking straight in a very emotionally charged moment.


Someone I know did colic surgery on her horse. He had some complications and I think she said the bill was about $50,000. I’m not sure I could afford that kind of bill, especially with an older horse. But I have a difficult time not doing everything possible so I sure would be tempted. Then again, there are people out there who can’t afford a $1000 vet bill. She is happy with her decision and the horse is doing well. I don’t know if she is happy with the bill, but she did save her horse.

A friend did surgery on her horse and it turned out that there was nothing they could do and they euthanized. I suppose that is the risk you are taking. You can try to save them and still have something be catastrophically wrong.

Unfortunately when you have animals there are some you cannot save… it’s good to know what your financial limits are and when you are going to say no. It is a horrible struggle when they ask you to make that decision. “Do you want to do surgery or not? Know that if you don’t do surgery and it is a surgical case, every minute wasted reduces the chance of survival. They can blow through the sedation and pain management and need to be euthanized.”

Love all the people who are like “I’m not a vet or a tech but….” That’s not what the OP asked. :roll_eyes:

DVM, with other letters behind my name. On any given day, there are some I would send to surgery and some I wouldn’t, given permutations of age, “value”, emotional connection, state of my bank account that day, etc.


She also said “others”. I don’t care how many lettter behind your name- spell jerk.


The hard part on the cost is what you do if there are complications. I was in about 20k, which was more than double than estimate, by the time you account for the multiple vet visits my horse needed to manage complications after he was released from the hospital.

It took 6 weeks to get my horses incisional infection cleared. But there was no clear point where it would have been easy to decide not to keep going. Ultimately, I don’t regret the decision at all but it does give me pause on considering another colic surgery.

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