Colic and Digestive Diseases Program
The Colic and Digestive Diseases Program, a cooperative arrangement between the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, provides a focus for equine gastrointestinal-related instruction, research, continuing education, and clinical service to benefit North Carolina's rapidly expanding horse industry. The North Carolina horse industry generates $525 million annually with its 225,000 horses and 43,000 horse producers despite a lack of racing-related activity.
The Colic and Digestive Diseases Program focuses on colic, a problem that remains the leading known cause of mortality among sport and leisure horses, and other digestive diseases of horses such as diarrhea and gastric ulcers. The latter is a leading cause of poor performance in sport horses. Continuing education from this program will target horse owners on the most efficient management and feeding of horses to maximize their athletic potential and decrease mortality from colic. University wide collaborative research investigation and clinical services within the Veterinary Health Complex (VHC) will be aimed at reducing the unacceptably high number of colic-associated fatalities and clinical problems related to other digestive diseases.
To study clinical and basic science mechanisms of gut injury and repair in order to develop novel therapeutic approaches in horses with infectious, dietary, or colic-related diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.
Diseases of Principal Interest
- Equine Colic - NSAID Articles in Thoroughbred Times
- Equine Gastric Ulceration
- Equine Diarrheal Disease
- Equine Ileal Impaction - Ileal Impaction Article in DVM Magazine
NEW: Summary of CDDP non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) research with new information on adverse effects of these drugs on the equine gut.
The Veterinary Health Complex (VHC) is one of the foremost referral centers on the East Coast for evaluation of horses with acute colic and colitis (diarrhea), and gastric ulcers. Approximately 350 horses are received annually for evaluation of colic, diarrhea, and gastric ulcers of which approximately 125 require colic surgery or further diagnosis and treatment of colic, 100 require intensive medical treatment for colic, and 25 require intensive medical treatment of infectious diarrhea. Approximately 75-80% of all horses presented with these diseases are successfully treated and discharged from the hospital.
The VHC has 10 faculty, 6 residents and interns, and highly skilled veterinary technicians that provide either surgical or medical expertise for the diagnosis and treatment of digestive disease of horses. The Veterinary Health Complex supplies state of the art diagnostic and surgical facilities as well as critical care facilities for neonates and adult horses. Imaging techniques such as radiography, ultrasonography, nuclear scintigraphy, and computed tomography are being applied to horses with a variety of gastrointestinal conditions as a means of diagnosis. Advanced surgical techniques using sophisticated surgical and anesthetic equipment are used to provide definitive treatment for horses requiring surgery. DNA-based molecular techniques have become important for identifying the organisms that cause gastrointestinal infections in horses, monitoring the response of infections to treatment, and even determining which genes are important for bacteria and viruses to cause disease.
Clinical services at the Equine Health Center at Southern Pines (EHC-SP) are available to local veterinary practitioners. The Center provides laboratory support and coordinates sending samples out for tests not run in-house. Certain items of equipment (e.g. x-ray equipment, a darkroom, and an endoscope) can be made available to local practitioners. State of the art diagnostic techniques are used to identify and understand disease syndromes such as colic, colitis, and gastric ulcers.
The Equine Extension group provides service to horse owners of the state of North Carolina by evaluating and formulating diets in order to make sure that horses receive optimal energy, protein, roughage, and mineral intake. Optimal dietary recommendations can theoretically decrease the incidence of all gastrointestinal diseases, particularly colic.
Current Areas of Clinical Investigation
- Investigation into specific causes and outcome of horses with diseases of the small intestine
- Critical evaluation of intensive care of horses after colic surgery
- Dietary causes of ileal impactions in horses
- New anti-inflammatory treatments for horses with gastrointestinal diseases
- Postoperative analgesia for horses with colic
- Epidemiological studies of gastrointestinal diseases
Investigators have received federal and state funding to study mechanisms whereby the gut heals after colic, the role of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. flunixin meglumine) in intestinal repair, causes of stomach ulcers in performance horses, the cell biology of intestinal inflammation, and the mechanisms used by Salmonella and other pathogens to infect and multiply in horses.
In separate studies, faculty from Equine Extension are currently conducting studies on grazing management systems that enhance forage utilization.
Current Research Studies
- Mechanisms of intestinal repair following strangulating obstruction
- The role of cyclooxygenases in recovery of intestinal barrier function
- Role of neutrophils in mucosal injury during inflammation of the intestine
- Mechanisms of acid and bile salt-induced gastric injury
- The molecular and genetic basis of Salmonella virulence
- Cellular and molecular biology of inflammation in the gut
- Mechanism of diarrhea in colitis
- Novel anti-inflammatory drugs
Summaries of Completed Research Projects
- Ultrasonographic finding in horses with right dorsal colitis
- Ileal Impactions
- NSAID research
Potential Practical Outcomes of Clinical and Basic Research
- Greater understanding of the intestinal repair process following severe colic
- Treatment strategies for inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract
- More selective non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for treatment of horses with colic
- Definitive answers as to the cause of stomach ulcers in performance horses
- Greater understanding of the mechanisms of infection and immune response to Salmonella and other organisms
- Encourage ration formulation to enhance forage utilization and reduce expenses
Outreach and Continuing Education
The Colic And Digestive Diseases Program provides outreach to the public and continuing education for veterinarians. Locally, faculty of the Colic And Digestive Diseases Program provide programs, short courses, and wet labs through the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Association, the College of Veterinary Medicine, and the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. Colic and Digestive Diseases Program faculty also present lectures and programs at a variety of national meetings, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, and the Georgia Colic Symposium.
The Regional Equine Information Network System (REINS) was developed by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service to assist in education and development of the North Carolina Horse Industry. Colic and Digestive Diseases Program members from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences coordinate the program, and Colic and Digestive Diseases Program members from both the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine assist in educating volunteer regional agents, who then disseminate this information to horse owners around the state.
A quarterly newsletter highlighting activities of the Colic And Digestive Diseases Program members has been produced since 1995 and is currently mailed to approximately 5000 homes. The newsletter contains articles on various aspects of horse health care and husbandry, as well as announcements regarding presentations, short courses, and other events occurring at NCSU.
Residents, Graduate Students, and Postdoctoral Fellow
Vanessa Cook (Doctoral Candidate)
Raphael Labens (Large Animal Surgery Resident)
Jennifer Merlo (Medicine Resident)
Adam Moeser (Combined DVM/PhD program)
James Nutt (Large Animal Surgery Resident)
Katie Sheats (Equine Medicine Resident)
Jenna Wooten (Doctoral Candidate)
CLICK HERE FOR A LIST OF PUBLISHED RESEARCH BY THE GROUP
For more information about graduate programs and how to apply, please click here.