Changes to horse management can limit risk of intestine twisting

Take home message: Changing management around factors including medication, feed and stabling can reduce the risk of horses developing large colon volvulus in horses.

Large colon volvulus (LCV), also referred to as torsion or displacement, is the twisting of a horse’s large intestine.  It is a very painful condition, expensive to treat and has high mortality rates.  Even when it is identified and treated rapidly it still has high post-operative mortality rates.  Studies of risk factors for colic to date have looked at colic in general and some specific colics, but not LCV.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool conducted telephone questionnaires with clients from four veterinary hospitals to establish possible links between horses, their management and the incidence of LCV.

Using 69 clients whose horses had had LCV compared to 204 controls, they found some horses were more susceptible to others to the condition. These included mares who foaled in the last three months, tall horses, horses receiving medication (not including wormers) in the previous seven days and horses with many colic episodes within a year.

Those experiencing increased stabling time in the preceding fortnight and quidding horses (those partially chewing food and storing in their mouths linked to dental problems), were also at an increased risk. This information could be used by owners to increase vigilance and reduce occurrences of LCV.

In addition to these factors, changing management of the horse was found to potentially reduce the occurrence of LCV. This included increasing turn out, feeding haylage rather than hay, improved dental care, not feeding sugar beet and having a small number of people caring for the horse.

Mares that have given birth within the last 90 days were thirteen times more likely to develop LCV than males. There is potential that this will impact on the newborn foal as well as the broodmare’s welfare, both with associated cost implications.

Previous research suggested that Warmbloods - a cross between heavy ‘cold blooded’ and light ‘hot blooded’ horses - have an increased risk of LCV.  However, this study has shown it is the horses’ height which is a risk factor.  Taller horses have a larger abdomen space for the colon to become twisted. This explains why warmbloods were seen to have an increased risk of LCV compared to smaller breeds.

The data collected from this UK study can be used by veterinarians to spot horses that may be at risk and provide advice to owners on how to reduce that risk to their horses. This can further improve the welfare of the horse and also reduce cost of treatment to owners.  However, the authors note care should be taken if extrapolating these findings to other countries where management and genetics may give rise to different risk factors.

Article by Amy Kavazy, Newcastle University 

Full details: Suthers JM, Pinchbeck GL, Proudman CJ, Archer DC (2013). Risk factors for large colon volvulus in the UK. Equine Veterinary Journal (45): 558-63.