Colic Surgery & More at Chicago Equine Medical Center

Horses get into all sorts of trouble — without even trying. Catastrophes loom around every corner it seems, from accidents to lameness to infectious disease.

Few things, however, are more distressing to the horse owner than the thought of their beloved equine going through colic surgery. Stories of calamitous anesthetic recoveries and miserable survival rates abound, but according to Dr. Chris Downs of Chicago Equine Medical Center, who is Board Certified in Large Animal Surgery, they are no longer representative of the current state of equine surgery and anesthesia.

“Most antiquated reports are based on what was commonplace before the 1990s in many parts of the country,” Dr. Downs says. “There were very few facilities in the United States capable of successfully performing colic surgery on equines, so it was not unusual for horses to travel three hours or more to the nearest equine surgical hospital.”

By the time the horses got to surgery, they were in poor cardiovascular condition and suffering from endotoxemic shock, severe dehydration, and almost inevitably the complete deterioration of a segment of their intestine due to the duration of the problem and the delay in getting the horse transported. This necessitated removal of the affected intestine from the already compromised horse, thus greatly complicating recovery.

A twisted segment of intestine will slowly begin to die if the situation is not corrected in a timely manner — as soon as one to two hours depending on the vascular insult,” Dr. Downs says. “Prompt correction of a twisted segment of intestine will generally allow for dramatic increase in patient survival.”

Other factors that historically contributed to poor outcomes were inappropriate anesthetic equipment and drugs, inadequate recovery facilities and protocols, and lack of availability of intensive care monitoring and treatment after surgery.

Today the situation is much improved. Private practice equine hospitals such as Chicago Equine, located in Wauconda, IL, have emerged in areas with dense horse populations and have made timely surgical intervention a possibility for most equine patients. There is also a better understanding of equine anesthesia and critical care procedures.

“Our fully trained staff is on call 24 hours a day to provide emergency surgical services for horses when success and failure may be separated by minutes,” Dr. Downs says.
Emergency surgeries performed at Chicago Equine include colic, fractures, and dystocia (reproductive/foaling emergencies). Elective surgeries, such as minimally invasive arthroscopic (joint) and laparoscopic (abdominal) surgeries are also performed. These procedures are accomplished through small incisions with a video endoscope (camera), which can result in fewer complications and a shortened recovery time.

At Chicago Equine a dedicated closed-ventilation system provides clean, climate-controlled air to the large operating suite, prep area, and two padded induction/recovery stalls. The large surgery prep area is located between the induction stalls and the operating suite itself in order to provide for the sterile preparation of the horse prior to entering surgery. Once the horse is rolled into surgery on the hydraulic surgery table, the final aseptic preparation of the surgical site is overseen from the sterile scrub room through a large observation window by Dr. Downs.

The two recovery/induction stalls are fully padded rooms designed for the hospital’s method of controlled assisted anesthetic induction and recovery. Because horses self-recovering from anesthesia may be at risk for injuries, the staff assists the horse’s recovery with head-and tail-support ropes.

Adjacent to the surgical prep area is a full service laboratory so that the anesthetized patient’s blood work results are immediately available to the surgical and anesthetic team.

When horse owners are in need of a fully equipped equine hospital, it is reassuring – and important – to know that there is one in their local area with state-of-the-art, full-service facilities such as those at  Chicago Equine Medical Center which has been around since 1990.  The medical Center and ambulatory practice, has grown to support diverse specialties including lameness/sports medicine, surgery, diagnostic imaging, regenerative medicine, nuclear medicine, internal medicine, and complimentary therapies such as acupuncture, and veterinary chiropractic.