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Colic in the British military working horse population: a retrospective analysis
  1. Victoria J Tannahill,
  2. Jacqueline M Cardwell and
  3. Tom H Witte
  1. Royal Veterinary College, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, UK
  1. E-mail for correspondence; victoria.tannahill{at}


Colic is a common and potentially life-threatening condition of horses. Multiple risk factors have been previously identified and it is known that a careful management routine can help reduce colic rates. The British military working horse population represents a unique cohort of horses that are intensively managed with a strict regimen. This retrospective study examined the incidence and mortality rate of colic within this population, as well as the signalment of affected horses, and compared these with the general population. Data for 717 horses over a five-year period (2008–2012) were analysed. Of these, 163 horses (22.7 per cent) experienced 267 colic episodes and 13 horses (1.8 per cent) died because of colic. Recurrent colic was experienced by 35 per cent (57/163) of horses. The incidence of colic was 11.1 episodes per 100 horse-years and of colic-related death was 0.5 deaths per 100 horse-years. Horses purchased from mainland Europe were more likely to suffer from colic (OR 4.6; P<0.001) and from recurrent colic (OR 6.0; P=0.005) than horses purchased from Ireland. Only 3 per cent (8/267) of colic episodes were treated surgically. It was concluded that the incidences of colic and colic-related deaths within the British military working horse population are similar to those of the general horse population.

  • horses
  • colic
  • recurrent colic
  • signalment
  • incidence
  • mortality
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  • Contributors VJT contributed to all aspects of the study. JMC contributed to analysis and interpretation of data, manuscript preparation and final approval. THW contributed to study design, manuscript preparation and final approval.

  • Competing interests VJT is a serving Reserve Veterinary Officer in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps. JMC and THW have no competing interests to declare.

  • Ethics approval Royal Veterinary College’s Social Science Research Ethical Review Board

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Presented at 11th International Equine Colic Research Symposium, Dublin, 7-10th July 2014

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