Merck Manual

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The Veterinarian’s Examination of a Horse with Colic

The Veterinarian’s Examination of a Horse with Colic

Type of Procedure

Why It is Done

Assessment of breathing and heart rate

Increased heart rate can indicate pain, dehydration, or low blood pressure. Increased breathing rate can indicate pain, fever, decrease in blood pH, or an underlying respiratory problem.

Examination of mucous membranes (soft tissues inside of mouth)

Paleness or blueish tinge indicates poor oxygen level in blood; dryness indicates dehydration; grey discoloration indicates poor blood flow in the tissues; red discoloration can indicate shock.

Insertion of tube through nose into stomach

Because horses cannot vomit, the tube can allow release of gas or fluid that would otherwise result in stomach rupture. For this reason, passing a stomach tube may save the horse’s life in addition to helping the veterinarian diagnose the condition causing the colic.

Listening to various parts of the abdomen with a stethoscope

Sounds may indicate the presence of fluid, gas, impending diarrhea, and/or obstruction. Lack of sounds may indicate impaired motility or blood flow.

Sample of abdominal (peritoneal) fluid via needle

Composition (protein and white blood cells) can reveal extent of intestinal damage.

Rectal examination

Critical component of the exam that allows the veterinarian to feel the intestines, their position, and their content.

Ultrasonography

Provides a view of certain abdominal organs, including the intestines. Some conditions (such as an inguinal hernia or an intussusception) may be seen.