The phone rang first thing in the morning. On the other end it’s Andy calling from his barn, “Is Dad there?” Andy usually chats a bit before asking for his dad and I quickly wondered if Sugar had taken a turn for the worse. Sugar, Andy’s favorite two-year old, has been sick with a secondary bacterial infection. I call Pete to the phone and it was apparent Riggs, our main herd sire and show horse, was down. Beth, the barn manager, found him down in his stall when she came in for the morning feeding. She immediately walked him into the arena so he couldn’t hurt himself if he thrashed around in response to the pain. As Pete gathered his coat and hat he related Riggs condition: in addition to acute pain, his gray oral membranes indicated his obvious cardiovascular distress.
By the time we arrived, the vet had conducted a preliminary examination and diagnosed Riggs with some type of colic. The term colic refers to general abdominal pain and includes conditions of gastrointestinal tract as well as other causes unrelated to the intestinal tract. There are three general categories of gastrointestinal colic: a simple obstruction such as an impaction due to food material, a stricture formation, or foreign bodies; obstruction due to a displaced, obstructed, or twisted intestine; and a constriction of the blood supply due most often to an infection. Additionally, causes of colic that are not related to the gastrointestinal tract, such as an infection or abscess, need to be considered. What type is difficult to diagnose in the initial stages.
Continuing to work on Riggs, Courtney inserted a nagogastric tube to relieve any pressure from gas, listened for abdominal abnormalities, and performed a rectal palpitation. Next she conducted an abdominal tap to determine whether or not there was any internal bleeding. Thankfully, the tap was clear. However, Courtney indicated that there could still be bleeding and it just hadn’t settled to the bottom of the abdominal cavity. The next step would have been to take an ultrasound to see whether or not there was an obstruction or impaction of the colon.
At this point however, she felt, whether or not there was an obstruction, Riggs was critical enough that we should make arrangements to take him to the nearest veterinary clinic where there was a veterinary surgeon. If his condition required surgery, it would have to be done on an emergency basis. Two and a half hours away, Glenwood Springs was the nearest location where veterinarian surgeon, Dr. Tom Bohannon , was available.
As Pete drove away, we all wondered if Riggs would survive the trailer ride. Standing outside the barn with Dr. Diehl, she recognized our difficult decision. “It’s all you can do. He could die here if you don’t do anything and he could die on the way. But at least you’ve done what you can.” Even with surgery, which is very expensive, the survival rate is 50%, with 20% of those survivors dying within a year. All of us struggled with what felt like the imminent possibility of Riggs dying, with or without surgery. We just couldn’t believe a young, athletic stallion would be in such a desperate state. His condition had developed overnight.
When Pete called to say Riggs had arrived alive at the veterinarian clinic, we couldn’t believe he made it. The receiving veterinarian conducted a similar exam as Dr. Diehl had back at the barn. In addition, she performed an ultrasound in order to determine whether or not there was visible sign of obstruction: a misplaced or twisted intestine, a blockage, or any abnormality in the abdominal cavity. The ultrasound was clear so Riggs was put on an IV for antibiotics for possible infection, painkilling medications to keep him comfortable, and settled into intensive care overnight. The receiving veterinarian in consultation with the surgeon determined emergency surgery was not indicated at that time and they would watch Riggs carefully and perform additional tests on Monday morning.
To be continued…