Colic Case Study

The heartbreak of colic…but twice

2018 was one of the worst years of Tammi’s life - she went from being a proud owner of three seemingly healthy and happy horses to being a devastated owner of just one horse and this tragedy was all due to colic. Despite calling a vet as soon as she noticed their odd behaviour, she couldn’t help but ask herself whether there was anything more that she could have done to save her beloved companion’s lives. 

Tammi was just starting to get her life back on track after losing her beautiful, thoroughbred horse, Ella. However, weeks later, Ella’s daughter, Grace was tragically also struck by the heart breaking condition. Now, Tammi bravely tells us her story of why she is supporting The British Horse Society and University of Nottingham’s ‘REACT Now to Beat Colic’ campaign. 

“This time last year, I had three horses: Ella, Grace and Mandy. They were all seemingly healthy mares with huge personalities! But now, there is only Mandy and I; we really struggle to find our feet without the other two and we are forever asking ourselves ‘why?’.

“Ella was 18 when she died and her daughter Grace was 10 when she died just three months later. Both horses had been in my life for a very long time and I knew them very well which proved to be key in both of their cases. I would also say that I am fairly confident in my ability to recognise the early signs of colic and when to call a vet. The only thing that I can console myself with now is that I did so as early as I possibly could…

Ella

“A few days into the heatwave, Ella appeared fatigued when I brought her into her stable first thing during the morning. However, later on in the day, she seemed to perk up and was being her usual daft self!

“A few days later, she only ate half of her breakfast and then went for a lie down which is extremely unusual for her so I kept my eye on her. As time went on, she couldn’t keep still, standing up and then lying down again constantly. I gave her ten minutes of not settling and then called my vet. She wasn’t thrashing or rolling around which are the usual textbook signs – she was simply lying quietly, breathing heavily and was a little sweaty.

“When the vet arrived, pain relief medications were given – these at first had a positive effect on her as Ella began to eat again, however, she was still not herself. The following days consisted of many tests and much concern. She was barely passing any droppings due to her lack of eating. I gave her buckets of chaff (the mint flavour, her favourite) and she picked through that.

“Three days later, she had an abdominal tap done which showed a small amount of free, pale, straw-like colour fluid as is expected. The vet thought that she may have an infection so started her on antibiotics. 

“Tuesday played out similarly, however, her antibiotics were changed because her blood test showed that there was inflammation somewhere in her body. I so, so desperately wanted my nosey, opinionated and stubborn mare back – I even asked the vet if perhaps I was imagining all of her symptoms, however he simply replied: ‘If you are telling me that this behaviour isn’t normal for Ella, then I am listening and we will find out what is wrong with her’. 

“The following day, she had yet another abdominal tap – this time, it showed that there was far more fluid that was of a slightly darker colour; this is when they made the decision to refer her to the clinic. The vets did a scan of her abdomen which showed a large, external mass growing on her intestines. My beautiful horse was suffering. The vets gave me three options: I could bring her home and give her pain relief, surgery to try and remove the mass (which would be difficult) or to end her suffering and euthanase her. It was the hardest decision that I’ve ever had to make in my life but I knew in my heart that the kindest option was to put her to sleep. 

Grace

“Following Ella’s passing, Grace was very subdued but soon attached herself to Mandy.  Although she was quiet, Grace eventually returned to her usual, happy self.

“On one September evening, I brought both of the horses into their stables and they started eating their food with their usual gusto. Just an hour later, I checked on the horses and all was well. However, just minutes later, a staff member found me shouting that Grace was displaying signs of colic. This time, I wasn’t going to take any chances so I called my vet immediately.

“Grace was violently rolling and thrashing around in her stable, becoming cast, righting herself, trying to stagger up and then falling back down, sweating and her respiration rate was extremely high – I knew exactly what this was pointing to and I just couldn’t believe that it was happening again. 

“When the vet arrived, we managed to get Grace standing again and pain relief was administered. Then, we walked her into the indoor arena to give her more space as she was very gassy so movement was encouraged. For the next twenty minutes, she was lying down and standing up again on a repetitive cycle. The vet then carried out some further tests but the cause of her pain could not be identified. The option of referral to an equine hospital was then discussed and a lorry was put on standby.

Grace eventually came round from sedation and quietly walked over to a pile of fresh hay and began to eat it – this was a huge relief for me; I thought to myself that she was going to make a full recovery. 

I stayed with Grace all night. Her behaviour was variable, but nothing that caused serious concern but I kept the vet informed. Then, suddenly, around 3:55am, Grace started to throw herself around again so I immediately called the vet.  I quickly put my hat and gloves on and when Grace reached a quiet stage, I used a lunge line to encourage her to walk but she simply couldn’t. Her eyes had almost changed in colour, her breathing became heavy, she started sweating again, her heart rate was unbelievably high and her mucous membranes were becoming very pale.

The vet repeated an abdominal tap and this time round, there was an extremely large amount of dark brown fluid, containing debris. After another rectal exam, the vet confirmed that she had a rare small intestinal twist.

For the second time and almost three months to the day, I held another of my beautiful horses while she was euthanased. 

My question to the vet was ‘What did I do to my horses? To lose one to colic is bad enough, but two?’ His answer was simple; ‘You have done nothing wrong. Ella had a growth, there is no explanation for those and you couldn’t have done anything more to prevent that. Grace is just the worst case of awful luck I have seen’."

For further advice on colic, please visit: www.bhs.org.uk/colic 

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