Nutritional management seems to affect length of time for recovery from colic surgery. A retrospective study evaluated data from two veterinary hospitals in Italy and Portugal to determine what factors might influence the recovery period to re-establish normal bowel function [Valle, E.; Giusto, G.; Penazzi, L.; et al. Preliminary results on the association with feeding and recovery length in equine colic patients after laparotomy. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr Mar 2019; 10.1111/jpn.13102].
The study to evaluate postoperative feeding practices included 37 horses that had undergone colic surgery between 2012 and 2017. Recovery times were categorized as a) short if ≤8 days; b) medium if 9-11 days; and c) long if ≥12 days.
All three groups shared similar preoperative clinical parameters (BCS, PCV, total protein), postoperative parameters such as time to first defecation, first water drink and the end of IV fluid therapy. Shorter anesthesia time tends to correlate with shorter recovery length. Old age did not affect recovery length. In fact, horses less than 5 years of age tended to take longer for recovery.
Horses with reduced intestinal motility on Days 2 and 4 post-op had longer post-surgery recoveries in contrast to horses with normal intestinal motility on Day 2. The authors noted that adequate gut motility in early phases post-op is highly associated with improved recovery. Also, brief post-op IV fluid therapy improved recovery time while overhydrating underfed horses has been shown to interfere with recovery.
Nutritional features had an impact on recovery:
- Time to first feeding is positively associated with recovery. Shorter recovery occurred in horses eating forage with 12 hours post-op.
- Providing forage within 12 hours and fibrous mix within 24 hours hastened recovery.
- Recovery time was shortened when horses were fed high percentage digestible matter (DM) as forage in the initial 24 hours post-op. Best results occurred when horses were fed at least 0.1% DM of their body weight as forage in the first 24 hours post-op.
- By the second day post-op, improved recovery is associated with an increase to at least 0.3% DM/body weight. More improvement is seen if DM is increased to 0.55% of body weight on Day 2 and 0.85% by Day 4.
- Cereal by-product feed such as wheat bran lengthened recovery.
The study concluded that feed should be introduced to horses post-op as soon as clinical parameters improve. This stimulates gastrointestinal motility and helps to restore the intestinal microbiome.