SubscribeGift a Sub
Enable cache 100
Categories: Horse Health

Ask the Vet: Colic Surgery Aftercare

In our Ask the Vet column, Dr. Lydia Gray answers your horse-health questions at

Q: My horse just had colic surgery and will be coming home in a few days. I’m sure the hospital (and my regular vet) will give me advice on how to care for him, but this is the first time I (and he!) have been through this and I want to make sure I’m doing everything right. What is your advice for colic aftercare?

It is important to follow the vet’s instructions in order to properly provide colic aftercare for your horse. Photo by Konstantin Tronin/shutterstock


A: I completely understand your anxiety, having been through a colic surgery in my own horse not too long ago. The entire process from beginning to end, from the first sign of colic and your regular vet’s on-farm treatments to trailering to the referral center for additional diagnostics and eventual surgery, is extremely stressful for everyone, making it hard to listen to the vet’s explanations and instructions at the time. Thank goodness they’ll send you home with written discharge instructions for you to read when things are a bit more settled.

These discharge instructions usually address general monitoring, caring for the incision, feeding, exercise, and medication, if any. General monitoring includes observing your horse for EDUD or Eating, Drinking, Urinating, and Defecating, as well as making sure he’s BAR (bright, alert, responsive), that he’s regaining any weight he may have lost during this episode, and that he’s not showing any signs of colic. The incision should be inspected daily for signs of infection such as discharge, redness, or excess swelling, as well as “dehiscence,” in which the sutured edges split apart or gape open.

The surgical facility, as part of your horse’s colic aftercare, will have introduced him gradually to his regular diet, feeding small meals frequently, and will give you clear instructions on what and how much to give at what intervals as you continue to restore him to full feed. Depending on what was found during surgery and what the original cause of the colic was determined to be, your horse may or may not return to his regular diet. For example, if an ileal impaction was discovered and his diet had been coastal Bermuda hay, the veterinarians may suggest he be switched to another type of hay that has less of a tendency to cause an obstruction.

A typical timeline for exercise begins with four weeks of stall rest, during which time your horse can be handwalked and handgrazed. This is followed by another four weeks of turnout, alone, in a stall with a small run or paddock attached. At the end of this 60-day or two-month period, if all is still going well, most horses can be given full turnout with other horses. Light longeing and riding is usually permitted at this time, with a gradual return to full training at the 90 day mark.

Personally, I kept a daily journal of my horse’s progress that include the general monitoring above, what he was fed each day and how many manure piles he made, and how long I walked or grazed him. I also wrote down his temperature, pulse, and respiration and other vital signs. This helped me stay on top of any trends and it may help you too!

Lydia Gray, DVM

Dr. Lydia Gray is the Medical Director and Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak Equine in Plymouth, MA, where she directs the research and development of products and provides horse health and nutrition education to a wide variety of audiences. Dr. Gray’s work has appeared in more than a dozen general and trade publications and she speaks frequently around the country. She is the proud owner of a Trakehner gelding named “Newman” that she competes in dressage and combined driving.

Recent Posts

ASPCA’s Right Horse Adoptable Horse: He’s a King Kite

Welcome to Horse Illustrated’s weekly installment of the Right Horse Adoptable Horse of the Week, offered in partnership with the…

3 days ago

2022 FEI World Eventing Championships – Conclusion

Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy – The Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team has officially secured qualification for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games,…

5 days ago

2022 FEI World Eventing Championships – Kickoff

The Lazio region in the picturesque countryside of Italy southeast of Rome is hosting the 2022 FEI World Eventing and…

6 days ago

Nikovian Equestrian Enters the Ring

It is amazing what a little frustration can make someone do. Madison Smith, founder of Nikovian Equestrian, never met a horse…

1 week ago

US Equestrian Announces Land Rover U.S. Eventing Squad and Alternates for 2022 FEI Eventing World Championship

Lexington, Ky. – US Equestrian is pleased to announce the combinations selected to represent the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team…

1 week ago

US Equestrian Announces Land Rover U.S. Driving Team for 2022 FEI Driving World Championship for Four-in-Hand Horses

Lexington, Ky. – US Equestrian is pleased to announce the two athletes selected to represent the Land Rover U.S. Driving Team…

1 week ago