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Study: Surgery Can Save Horses That Eat Wire

By Katie Navarra
 
 
While wire ingestion was once considered a death sentence, researchers recently found that surgery can save some affected horses, especially if the foreign body is identified and treated early.
 
Horses are experts at selecting the most delicious feedstuffs—and weeding out the bits and pieces they’d rather not eat (even tiny pills meant to help them)—with their prehensile lips, sorting through hay, bedding, grass, and more to find the perfect morsel.  
 
On the other hand, horses are notorious troublemakers, getting into mischief and even consuming things they shouldn’t, including bits of wire. While wire ingestion was once considered a death sentence, researchers recently found that surgery can save some affected horses, especially if the foreign body is identified and treated early.
 
“Early recognition and treatment that addresses the (related) perforations, peritonitis, and abscesses results in the best outcomes,” said researcher Eileen S. Hackett, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, AVCECC, of the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, in Fort Collins.  
 
Once ingested, wire can puncture the horse’s mouth, throat, esophagus, and stomach as it moves through the digestive tract. Those holes can cause infection, abscesses, and peritonitis (inflammation of the peritoneum, the abdominal lining), along with fever and other signs of discomfort. 
 
In a recent study, Hackett and colleagues described the clinical features, diagnostic methods, treatments, and outcomes of 16 client-owned horses ultimately diagnosed with ingested wire in their abdomens.
 
Some of their key findings included:
  • The median clinical sign duration before admission to the clinic was 5.5 days, but ranged from a half-day to three years;
  • Only four horses survived to discharge, all of which underwent surgery to identify and/or remove the wire;
  • Survivors had significantly lower median white blood cell (infection-fighting cells) counts, neutrophil (a special type of white blood cell that can engulf and destroy bacteria and other disease agents) counts, and plasma total protein concentrations on blood work than nonsurvivors;
  • Peritoneal (abdominal) fluid analysis revealed suppurative or septic peritonitis in all eight horses tested;
  • Veterinarians identified the wire (which had a median length of 6 cm, more than 2 inches) in the gut via abdominal radiography (six cases), exploratory laparotomy (abdominal surgery, two cases), and necropsy (eight cases);
  • Wire perforated intestines and other organs in 13 horses, 10 of which subsequently developed abdominal abscesses.
“Abdominal perforation by wire should be considered a differential diagnosis for horses with peritonitis and abdominal abscesses,” the team said in the study.
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