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Acute or chronic?

From: Lindy

Dear Jessica, I have been talking to my vet as you always suggest, but I don't feel like we are communicating as well as we should be. My horse is a twelve year old American Quarter Horse gelding and also my best friend. Jet has had colic twice in the last year, and he never had colic before in his whole life. I know because he was foaled on our place. Our vet is new in the practice, our old vet retired and moved to Florida two years ago, so the new Doc doesn't know me or my horses all that well. When I got the bill for the last time Jet had colic, it said the call was to "treat QH gelding with chronic colic". Well, this was a really bad colic, very painful, and for a while I didn't think we would bring Jet home without having surgery, but we got lucky, he held his own for almost four days in the vet clinic and then came home after staying another three days so they could check that he wasn't getting dehydrated. Anyway I called the vet to question his use of the term "chronic" because to my way of thinking, this was an acute colic! He said it was chronic and he had to go, then he hung up. I understand him hanging up because out here there are a whole lot of farms and ranches, and only the one horse vet, so he is real busy. But I am not happy about him calling Jet's colic "chronic", that sounds like he has spent his whole life having one colic after another and it's just not true. I have always owned Jet, and as I said, he has had only two colics in all that time, unfortunately both in the last year. Am I silly to worry about this, or does it mean that the vet just isn't listening to me, or that he doesn't believe me about Jet not colicing before this last year? Or am I confused about what acute and chronic mean? Thanks for taking the time to answer this! Lindy

Hi Lindy! You didn't mention how you noticed that Jet had colic, and that, rather than the amount of pain he was in, is probably the key to you and your vet's communication problem. Acute colic can be horribly painful - so can chronic colic. The key word, in both cases, is COLIC. Neither one is more or less painful than the other. The terms "acute" and "chronic" are used to distinguish between a problem that happens suddenly and goes away quickly ("acute"), and one that comes on very slowly, developing over time, and then hangs around for a long time - weeks, months, even years sometimes - before the horse either gets better or dies. There are acute and chronic diseases that are relatively unthreatening and hardly every result in fatalities, and there are acute and chronic diseases that, sadly, always or almost always end with a dead horse.

I'm sure that your vet was not making light of your horse's pain - that's not what he meant by "chronic". He meant that Jet's colic came on slowly and went away slowly - and he is probably a little worried, as I am, by the fact that a horse that never used to colic has done it twice in one year. I'm guessing that you noticed Jet being lethargic or off his feed, or that he was drinking less in the days before he developed an obvious colic. If that's the case, your vet is probably worrying about what caused the colic to develop - and whether it will happen again, and when, and what you will need to do about it. If Jet had simply, say, come down with a sudden brief colic after having an abrupt feed change, that would have been an "acute" colic, whether it was horribly painful or relatively mild.

Try to talk with your vet sometime when he HAS time to talk; what you need to remember is that you are both on the same side here. Both of you want what's best for Jet. It's important for you to know exactly what your vet is thinking, and it's also important for him to know what YOU are thinking, and how you are interpreting his words. I suspect you'll feel better if you know that he is worrying about your horse and how to keep him from developing colic again - and he'll feel better if he knows that you are going to monitor Jet's food and exercise, check him regularly for dehydration, etc. The better you can communicate with your vet, and the more attention both of you pay to Jet's condition, the better off your horse will be.


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