Enteritis and Colitis in Horses
Darien J. Feary, BVSc, MSa,
Diana M. Hassel, DVM, PhDb,*
aDepartment of Medicine and Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine,
University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA
bDepartment of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biological Sciences,
Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80526, USA
Inflammatory diseases of the equine gastrointestinal tract include a wide
variety of disorders that, despite many recent advances in monitoring and
therapy, remain an important cause of morbidity and mortality in horses.
Some of the more common known infectious and noninfectious causes of
enteritis and colitis in adults and foals are listed in Table 1. This article be-
gins with a review of the diagnosis and treatment of specific disease entities
known to cause enterocolitis, including salmonellosis, Potomac horse fever
(PHF), clostridiosis, parasitic enteritis, proliferative enteropathy (Lawsonia
intracellularis), and duodenitis–proximal jejunitis (DPJ). Recent advances in
the diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of horses with acute enterocolitis
are then described.
Classic treatment of infectious enterocolitis in horses consists primarily of
replacement of fluid and electrolyte losses, control of enteric inflammation
and reduction of fluid secretion, control of endotoxemia and sepsis, and
re-establishment of normal flora. These are accomplished through the ad-
ministration of intravenous crystalloids and colloids, antidiarrheal agents
(eg, bismuth subsalicylate solutions), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
(NSAIDs), therapeutic agents to combat endotoxemia (eg, J-5 hyperimmune
plasma, polymyxin B sulfate), antimicrobial therapy, probiotics or transfau-
nation, and feeding to re-establish short-chain fatty acid colonic content.
Standard additional monitoring includes hematologic and serum biochemi-
cal analysis, which is often characterized by moderate to severe leukopenia,
a mild to moderate left shift, toxic changes in the neutrophils , azotemia,
high serum sorbitol dehydrogenase and g-glutamine aminotransferase
* Corresponding author.
E-mail address: email@example.com (D.M. Hassel).
0749-0739/06/$ - see front matter ? 2006 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Vet Clin Equine 22 (2006) 437–479
activity, and hyperlactatemia . Advances in monitoring and treatment be-
yond standard supportive care measures have improved our abilities to treat
horses with acute severe enterocolitis of any origin successfully.
able from colitis caused by other infectious and noninfectious causes. Severe
cases may exhibit peracute enterocolitis with or without diarrhea that is
rapidly fatal despite aggressive therapy. Other recognized syndromes of
Salmonella spp infection include a latent subclinical carrier state that may
revert to active fecal shedding with or without clinically apparent infection
and bacteremia or septicemia in neonatal foals. Established risk factors asso-
ciated with progression of latent infection to active shedding, nosocomial
infection, and clinical disease include ‘‘stressors,’’ such as transportation ,
Causes of infectious and noninfectious enteritis and colitis in adults and foals
Adult Foals (!8 months old)
SalmonellosisCarbohydrate overload SalmonellosisGastroduodenal
Right dorsal ulcerative
(blister beetle), hoary
(Potomac horse fever)
FEARY & HASSEL
apy [5,7,8]. The prevalence of fecal shedding of Salmonella spp among the
general horse population in the United States is estimated to be 0.8% ,
erinary teaching hospitals . Within the hospitalized population of horses,
those with gastrointestinal disease, notably impaction of the small colon ,
and foals [7,8] show an increased frequency of shedding Salmonella spp.
Bacterial culture and isolation of Salmonella spp from blood, tissues, or
five or more sequential daily fecal samples is considered to be the ‘‘gold stan-
dard’’ for diagnosis of Salmonella spp infection in horses and remains the
currently recommended protocol . Salmonella spp are shed intermit-
tently in feces, however, and cannot be consistently isolated from horses
with salmonellosis [13,14], particularly those with profuse watery diarrhea
. Further, a positive fecal culture for Salmonella spp from a horse with
compatible clinical signs does not necessarily confirm a diagnosis of salmo-
nellosis. Rectal mucosal biopsies are more sensitive compared with fecal
samples for isolation of Salmonella spp from infected horses but are less fre-
quently used because the technique is invasive and carries more risk to the
patient . The disadvantages of bacterial culture of feces are the lag in
time required to obtain test results (2–5 days), suboptimal sensitivity
(55% for a single sample) , and cost of performing multiple cultures
to improve sensitivity. Use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques
has been developed and investigated as an alternative to or to be used in
conjunction with bacterial culture for identification of Salmonella spp in fe-
cal and environmental samples [16,17]. The advantages of a PCR assay over
conventional bacterial culture are the short time (24 hours) required to ob-
tain test results, the ability to detect Salmonella spp present in low numbers
early in the course of disease that may be undetectable by bacterial culture,
considerably greater sensitivity [16,17], the requirement for fewer samples,
and the associated reduced cost . Some studies report a discrepancy be-
tween results comparing PCR assay and bacterial culture of fecal and envi-
ronmental samples, however, leading to the suggestion that a PCR assay for
detection of Salmonella spp DNA in equine feces is less accurate than pre-
viously thought [16,18]. In addition, a PCR assay does not provide antimi-
crobial sensitivity results or permit serotyping or speciation of isolates,
which are important for clinical and surveillance purposes.
Culture of peripheral blood is indicated in neonates if bacteremia or sep-
ticemia is suspected. Salmonella spp are rarely cultured from blood in in-
fected adult horses . The sensitivity of culture for microorganisms in
peripheral blood may be enhanced by careful aseptic technique, collection
of multiple samples (three or more samples) comprising 10 to 30 mL of
blood from central and peripheral venipuncture sites during a period of
high fever (R103?F), and if the patient has not received antimicrobial agents
for at least 24 hours before collection.
ENTERITIS AND COLITIS
Salmonella spp culture requires selective techniques and multiple steps
that are not performed during routine culture of feces for other microorgan-
isms. Techniques for Salmonella spp isolation do not seem to be highly stan-
dardized among microbiology testing laboratories  and depend on cost,
efficiency, and accuracy of the testing method used. A positive test result
should not terminate ongoing testing for other causes of enterocolitis, nor
should prior antimicrobial therapy prevent culturing of Salmonella spp
from feces of infected horses, despite in vivo bacterial sensitivity to the anti-
microbial agent . For a detailed review of sample and laboratory tech-
niques for Salmonella spp culture, the reader is referred to a previous
Use of a PCR assay in conjunction with bacterial culture of feces may be
beneficial for the detection of infected horses early in the course of disease,
and PCR assay seems to have the greatest agreement (70%) with bacterial
culture when two or more positive PCR results are used to define a horse
as actively shedding Salmonella spp .
Determining the most practical and accurate method(s) for the detec-
tion of Salmonella spp from equine patients is an area of active research,
accelerated by an apparent increase in the number of equine hospital out-
breaks, the emergence of multidrug resistance in equine Salmonella spp
isolates, the associated cost (financial and mortality), and a negative public
The use of antimicrobial therapy for the treatment of salmonellosis in
horses is controversial. The apparent association between administration
of antimicrobials and increased risk of fecal shedding of Salmonella spp
[4,5,20] suggests that antimicrobials can cause salmonellosis. They may
act by inhibiting normal competitive gastrointestinal flora, by reducing
the infective dose required to produce disease, or by allowing proliferation
and active shedding of salmonellae from previously latently infected horses.
Antimicrobial treatment does not reduce fecal shedding of Salmonella
spp, even if the strain is sensitive to the antimicrobial agent used . There
is no evidence that antimicrobial therapy is beneficial in altering the course
of salmonellosis in adult horses [2,21], and antimicrobial administration
negatively affects gastrointestinal immunity, suggesting that antimicrobial
treatment is more likely to be detrimental to hospitalized horses with salmo-
nellosis. Situations in which antimicrobial therapy may be indicated include
septicemia or immunocompromised horses, as indicated by severe neutrope-
nia. In these cases, selection of a narrow-spectrum agent with bactericidal
activity, intracellular penetration, and minimal effect on commensal flora
should be considered.
The emergence of multidrug-resistant (MDR) Salmonella spp in docu-
mented nosocomial outbreaks of equine patients complicates the selection
FEARY & HASSEL
of antimicrobials when they are indicated. Choice of an appropriate antimi-
crobial agent should also take results of an antibiogram into consideration
when one is available. A review of MDR Salmonella spp and nosocomial in-
fection in equine veterinary hospitals has been published .
Systemic fluoroquinolone (enrofloxacin) administration is currently rec-
ommended at a dose of 5 mg/kg administered intravenously once daily
 because of its favorable pharmacokinetic properties. In addition, the
MDR Salmonella spp involved in nosocomial outbreaks in hospitalized
equine patients do not seem to have developed widespread resistance to en-
rofloxacin, based on reported antibiogram results . Resistance of Salmo-
nella spp to the aminoglycoside amikacin is also rare. Although enrofloxacin
and, to a lesser extent, amikacin may be good choices for the treatment of
salmonellosis in horses, these antimicrobials should be reserved for those
cases in which they are indicated to avoid the emergence of further MDR
The authors advocate the administration of gentamicin (6.6 mg/kg
administered intravenously or intramuscularly once daily) to horses with
salmonellosis or acute enterocolitis of unknown etiology in which antimicro-
bial therapy is indicated. Narrow-spectrum antimicrobial agents directed
against gram-negative bacteria, such as the aminoglycosides, pose minimal
risk for disruption of colonic luminal microflora and should be effective
against most isolates.
The use of antimicrobial agents in horses with enterocolitis suspected to
be caused by Salmonella spp infection should always be judicious and based
on antibiogram results, with the goal of preventing systemic dissemination
while supporting the natural immune response to infection rather than elim-
inating fecal shedding or carrier states.
The use of probiotic agents for the treatment and prevention of enteroco-
litis in horses is discussed elsewhere in this article.
Potomac horse fever (Neorickettsia risticii)
PHF, or equine monocytic ehrlichiosis, is an infectious but not conta-
gious cause of fever and colitis in horses. The causative agent, Neorickettsia
risticii (formerly Ehrlichia risticii), is a rickettsial organism that infects
mononuclear cells, specifically blood monocytes and tissue macrophages,
with a predilection for intestinal epithelial crypt cells and mast cells in the
large and small intestines. PHF has been reported to exist throughout
most of the United States and in parts of Canada, Europe, Venezuela, India,
Italy, Uruguay, Brazil, and Australia [23–26].
Significant developments in our understanding of this disease have oc-
curred in the past 15 years. Briefly, recent evidence suggests that under natu-
ral conditions, Nristicii is transmitted via the oral route to horses through the
ENTERITIS AND COLITIS
accidental ingestion of infected digenetic trematodes (eg, Acanthatrium spp,
Lecithodendrium spp) in the secretions of first (operculate freshwater snails)
and second (aquatic insects, such as caddisflies, dragonflies, stoneflies, and
mayflies) intermediate hosts . A broad range of host genera have been im-
plicatedineachphaseofthecomplex aquaticlifecycle andvarydependingon
the particular endemic geographic region of the United States.
PHF has a distinct seasonal distribution, with a peak incidence of clinical
cases occurring sporadically during the warmer months between June and
September in horses grazing pastures bordering creeks or rivers and under
certain circumstances, such as outbreaks on racetracks .
Identifying PHF as the cause for signs of enterocolitis in a horse is impor-
tant, because specific treatment is effective if administered early in the course
of disease and is contraindicated in other causes of infectious colitis, such as
salmonellosis and clostridiosis. A provisional diagnosis of PHF can often be
made based on recognition of typical clinical signs and the seasonal and geo-
graphic occurrence of the disease .
Clinical manifestations of PHF are similar to those of enterocolitis in
adult horses attributable to other causes and include acute onset of dullness,
anorexia, fever (102?F–107?F), and reduced to absent gastrointestinal motil-
ity, often followed by mild to severe diarrhea (10%–60% of cases) within 12
to 48 hours, with or without abdominal pain. Laminitis may develop as a se-
rious complication in up to 40% of naturally infected horses . Abortion
or fetal reabsorption attributable to fetal infection with N risticii may occur
several months after clinical disease in pregnant mares . Abortion is ac-
companied by placentitis and retained fetal membranes in the mare . The
fetus is expelled in good condition, with enterocolitis, periportal hepatitis,
myocarditis, and lymphoid hyperplasia of the mesenteric lymph nodes
and spleen identified microscopically . Infected foals may be born alive
but are severely maladjusted .
Typical hematologic abnormalities in horses with PHF include an initial
leukopenia (!5000 cells/mL) with a toxic left shift and a marked rebound
leukocytosis (O14,000 cells/mL) . Anemia, thrombocytopenia, and evi-
dence for coagulopathy are variable findings, as are plasma protein, electro-
lyte, and acid-base abnormalities, depending on the severity of diarrhea. In
contrast to the other rickettsia known to cause disease in horses (Anaplasma
phagocytophila), visual examination of Romanowsky-stained blood smears
is not useful for diagnosis of PHF, because only a small number of blood
monocytes are infected with N risticii, even during acute bacteremia .
A definitive diagnosis of PHF should be based on isolation or detection
of N risticii from the blood or feces of infected horses , but culture iso-
lation is time-consuming (%3 weeks for a positive diagnosis) and impracti-
cal for most diagnostic laboratories and clinical situations . Although
serologic diagnosis using the indirect fluorescent antibody (IFA) test has
had widespread use in the past, serologic diagnosis has limited value in clin-
ical disease for a number of reasons: (1) the high incidence of seropositive
FEARY & HASSEL
horses without evidence of clinical disease in endemic areas , (2) the large
number of false-positive test results in some laboratories , (3) difficulty in
demonstrating a rise in antibody titer in affected horses given the close tem-
poral association between onset of clinical signs and the rapid rise in serum
antibody titer [34,35], and (4) inability to distinguish between active and pre-
vious infection or vaccination . Indirect  and monoclonal competitive
 ELISA tests are reported to be more sensitive than the IFA test; how-
ever, at this time, a rapid and reliable field serodiagnostic test has not yet
become available .
Use of a PCR assay to detect N risticii DNA in whole blood and feces of
infected horses is a rapid, sensitive, and accurate method of diagnosis of
PHF [33,37]. In the future, conventional PCR methods are likely to be re-
placed by real-time PCR assays for routine diagnosis of PHF and epidemi-
ologic investigations because of more rapid test results (within 2 hours),
lower risk of contamination, less cost, and the ability to test larger sample
numbers. The use of the TaqMan (Applied Biosystems, Foster City, Califor-
nia) PCR assay also allows quantitation of N risticii DNA and may be help-
ful in monitoring the course of infection and quantifying material for
experimental infection or antigen production . A PCR assay can detect
N risticii DNA in feces or blood mononuclear cells at the time of clinical dis-
ease  and in formalin-fixed intestinal tissue when a postmortem diagnosis
is required . Submission of whole blood and fecal samples for PCR test-
ing is recommended, because the presence of N. risticii in blood and feces
may not necessarily coincide . It is also noteworthy that fecal samples
may be refrigerated at 4?C but not frozen (!?20?C), because freezing sig-
nificantly reduces the sensitivity of a PCR assay .
The only distinguishing postmortem features in horses with PHF are
a lack of severe invasive lesions, foul odor, or significant inflammatory infil-
tration of the intestine and the presence of significantly depleted inactive
lymphoid tissue. N risticii may be identified in epithelial cells and macro-
phages of the small and large intestines and small colon in histopathologic
sections by immunoperoxidase or modified silver stains, where they appear
as densely packed morulae or as larger, individually, tightly enveloped
forms within the cytoplasm of host cells .
The treatment of choice for PHF is the intravenous administration of
oxytetracycline (6.6 mg/kg twice daily) in addition to nonspecific supportive
care, such as intravenously administered crystalloid and colloid therapy;
anti-inflammatory, antiendotoxic, and antidiarrheal therapy; and manage-
ment of abdominal pain and specific treatment of adverse sequelae, includ-
ing laminitis and other complications of the systemic inflammatory response
syndrome (SIRS). If administered early in the clinical course of the disease,
treatment is reported to be effective in preventing progression of the disease
ENTERITIS AND COLITIS
and results in significant clinical improvement within 12 hours as well as res-
olution of clinical disease within 3 to 5 days in most cases .
N risticii is able to survive intracellularly because of its ability to inhibit
phagosome-lysosome fusion, and thus to resist lysosomal digestion . In
small animal and human patients, doxycycline is the drug of choice for treat-
ment of ehrlichial diseases . Intravenous administration of doxycycline is
reported to cause cardiotoxicity and sudden death in horses and should be
avoided. Oral doxycycline (10 mg/kg administered orally twice daily) could
be considered for the treatment of PHF, although minimizing the risk of ad-
verse effects on gastrointestinal microflora in horses with enterocolitis may
include avoiding an oral tetracycline. Alternatively, oral administration of
the erythromycin and rifampin combination is reported to be effective in ex-
perimental studies in horses , despite poor in vitro activity against N ris-
ticii . The use of macrolide antimicrobial agents in adult horses poses
significant risk for development of colitis, and these would not be among
the first drugs of choice for the treatment of PHF.
Despite having an effective antimicrobial treatment for the disease, the
case fatality rate for horses with PHF can be as high as 30%, and there
do not seem to be any recent advances reported with regard to specific ther-
apy. Successful treatment relies on early recognition of disease and prompt
instigation of antimicrobial therapy, supportive care, and prevention and
management of adverse sequelae. Naturally and experimentally infected
horses are most often euthanized because of severe abdominal pain, unre-
sponsive severe diarrhea, endotoxemia, or laminitis .
Equine clinicians should be aware of the risk of inducing acute renal fail-
ure when administering systemic oxytetracycline to infected horses that may
be hypovolemic and may also be receiving other potentially nephrotoxic
drugs, such as NSAIDs, concurrently. This complication can be avoided
with the prior administration of intravenous or oral fluids and monitoring
of renal parameters via blood biochemical analysis.
A variety of Clostridium spp have been associated with acute enterocolitis
in mature horses and foals, but Clostridium difficile and Clostridium perfrin-
gens are the most commonly isolated species and are the focus of this review.
C perfringens type C and, less commonly, type A as well as the more recently
identified b2-toxigenic C perfringens have been most frequently associated
with enterocolitis in adult horses and foals. C difficile is the most common
cause of antimicrobial-associated diarrhea in human patients. A dramatic
increase in incidence over the past 20 years has been associated with the in-
creased use of third-generation cephalosporins, and C difficile continues to
be an important cause of nosocomial infection in human patients. Similar
FEARY & HASSEL
to the case in human patients, C difficile has emerged, and is being reported,
with increasing frequency as a cause of nosocomial and antimicrobial-
associated enterocolitis in equine patients .
Diagnosis of Clostridium difficile infection
The clinical signs of enterocolitis caused by C difficile are indistinguish-
able from other infectious and noninfectious causes of acute enterocolitis
in mature horses. The association of certain predisposing factors, the
most common of which is antimicrobial therapy, in combination with un-
derlying stress factors, such as hospitalization, transport, surgery, and die-
tary changes, in a horse with signs of acute enterocolitis should alert the
equine clinician to the likelihood of a C difficile infection.
C difficile is not considered part of the normal flora of the equine adult
gastrointestinal tract and is uncommonly isolated from normal mature
horses. The isolation rate may increase in asymptomatic horses being
treated with antimicrobials , however, and up to 42% of horses that de-
velop acute colitis during treatment with antimicrobials can have C difficile
isolated [41,43,44]. These studies emphasize the need to include laboratory
testing for C difficile as part of the routine workup in all horses with colitis,
especially in combination with antimicrobial therapy.
The clinical importance of C difficile in foals seems to be different from
that in mature horses. Although most information suggests that C difficile
is uncommonly isolated from healthy foals (!3%) , one recent study
reported an isolation rate of 29% in healthy foals less than 14 days old
. C difficile is being increasingly recognized as a cause of neonatal foal
diarrhea, and disease is less frequently associated with administration of an-
timicrobials in foals compared with mature horses . This evidence sug-
gests that neonatal foals become colonized with C difficile during the first
few weeks of life, as is observed in human infants and puppies, and that
they can be asymptomatic carriers. It has been suggested that C difficile
may be a primary pathogen in neonatal foals , and this was confirmed
ture of Cdifficile in foals in amodel thatfulfilled Koch’s postulates of disease.
The current understanding of C difficile infection is that the manifestation
of clinically important disease depends on the production of two large pro-
tein exotoxins, toxin A (enterotoxin) and toxin B (cytotoxin), which act syn-
ergistically to cause intestinal tissue disruption and secondary inflammation
with associated clinical signs. Some virulent strains may only produce toxin
B . A third known toxin has recently been identified as binary toxin
(ADP-ribosyltransferase) in human isolates as well as a small number of
equine isolates and is unrelated to either of the more prevalent toxins A
and B ; however, its role in the pathogenesis of equine colitis is unclear.
The laboratory diagnosis of C difficile is based on two types of tests per-
formed on fecal samples: bacterial culture and toxin detection. C difficile is
a spore-forming, obligately anaerobic, gram-positive rod. Successful culture
ENTERITIS AND COLITIS
requires inoculation of approximately 25 g of feces collected directly from the
rectum into a rectal sleeve or plastic bag with excess air evacuated or applica-
tion of a rectal swab sample onto selective media (cycloserine-cefoxitin-fruc-
tose agar [CCFA]), anaerobic incubation for 36 to 48 hours at 37?C, and
identification of bacterial colonies based on specific morphologic characteris-
tics, Gram stain results, and results of biochemical testing. Culture is a sensi-
tive test but lacks specificity because of the existence of nontoxigenic isolates.
Approximately 25% of C difficile strains are reported to be nontoxigenic in
horses, and thus not clinically important . The slow turnaround time,
low specificity, and discrepant results, depending on fecal sample handling
and storage, make culture an insufficient test for diagnosis of C difficile en-
terocolitis on its own. In addition, unless fecal samples are processed within
2 hours, recovery of C difficile from aerobically stored and refrigerated (4?C)
fecal samples significantly decreases from 76% after 24 hours to only 29%
after 72 hours . Therefore, samples should be stored refrigerated under
anaerobic conditions (via anaerobic transport medium, such as BBL Port-
A-Cul Tubes [Becton Dickinson, Franklin Lakes, New Jersey]) or frozen at
the likelihood of C difficile detection. In contrast to culture, stability of toxin
in equine feces is reportedly better than that of the organism and storage may
tal swab sample is inadequate for toxin detection, however.
Definitive diagnosis of C difficile enterocolitis requires demonstration of
production of toxin A or B or both in fecal samples from affected horses.
The gold standard test for toxin detection involves demonstration of cyto-
toxicity (toxin B) in cell culture. This technique is sensitive and specific
but requires specific laboratory facilities, is expensive, and necessitates
a 6- to 48-hour incubation period. Several immunoassays detecting toxin
A alone or toxins A and B directly in feces have been developed and are
commercially available. These assays are rapid (!1 hour) and practical,
and although they are less sensitive than cell culture and not validated for
use in horses, their use in the clinical setting for diagnosis of C difficile in
horses is becoming more common. The Triage C difficile Panel (Biosite Di-
agnostics, San Diego, California) is an enzyme immunoassay (EIA) for the
simultaneous detection of the C difficile common antigen (glutamine dehy-
drogenase) and toxin A (Fig. 1). The combination of the antigen and the
toxin immunoassay in one test increased the sensitivity and specificity in hu-
man patients . Other combination immunoassays currently in develop-
ment  may prove to be useful in horses. It is important to realize that
because toxin A is more stable and more enterotoxic than toxin B, develop-
ment of available immunoassays has focused on detection of toxin A alone.
The prevalence of toxin A-negative/toxin B-positive strains of C difficile is
unknown in horses but has been reported , emphasizing the need to per-
form further testing for detection of toxin B if clinical signs and culture re-
sults support toxigenic C difficile infection.
FEARY & HASSEL
PCR methods for the detection of C difficile in equine feces have been em-
and its clinical use in equine isolates has produced discrepant results .
Novel real-time PCR techniques and methods detecting gene expression are
investigation of suspected nosocomial infection in equine facilities.
Although a consensus regarding definitive laboratory diagnostic criteria
for C difficile colitis in horses has not been established, many authors sup-
port the view that the diagnosis of C difficile colitis requires isolation of
the organism in combination with demonstration of toxin A or B or both
directly in the feces [45,50]. In cases of culture-positive and toxin-negative
results, especially early in disease, toxin assays should be repeated on subse-
quent fecal samples  or colonies should be tested for toxin production
with a commercially available toxin immunoassay .
The most frequently reported method of antimicrobial susceptibility test-
ing of C difficile isolates from horses is the Etest (AB Biodisk, Solna, Swe-
den). This test is a simple agar diffusion technique used to determine the
minimal inhibitory concentration (MIC) of antimicrobials for C difficile. Re-
cently, Ba ˚ verud and coworkers  reported the use of broth microdilution
as an alternative method of susceptibility testing of C difficile isolates from
horses with reliable and reproducible results. The importance of susceptibil-
ity testing may increase in the future because of the existence of metronida-
zole-resistant strains of C difficile in horses .
Diagnosis of Clostridium perfringens infection
C perfringens is a bacterium that is widely distributed as spores and veg-
etative cells in the environment. C perfringens type A can be isolated in small
Fig. 1. Triage C difficile Panel (Biosite Diagnostics, San Diego, California) is an EIA for the si-
multaneous detection of the C difficile common antigen (glutamine dehydrogenase) and toxin A.
ENTERITIS AND COLITIS
numbers (!103colony-forming units [CFUs]/g of feces) from normal
horses. In horses, C perfringens is most commonly associated with enteroco-
litis in neonatal foals that develops within the first few days of life. Early col-
onization of the neonatal gastrointestinal tract with clostridial organisms
seems to occur normally in neonatal foals, with a subsequent decline in
numbers as other anaerobes and microflora become established. The devel-
opment of infection and exotoxin production by C perfringens and the sub-
sequent clinical signs of enterocolitis are believed to be associated with this
early colonization and apparent tolerance to the organism, the presence of
trypsin inhibitors in ingested mare’s colostrum, and a variety of environ-
mental factors that increase the risk of disease [56,57]. There also seems
to be geographic and seasonal variation associated with neonatal clostridial
enterocolitis . In North America, enterocolitis in foals caused by C per-
fringens is most commonly associated with type C, which produces the cy-
totoxic b-toxin in addition to a-toxin and, occasionally, with certain
subtypes of C perfringens type A .
Clinical signs of disease tend to occur in previously healthy vigorous foals
that ingest an adequate to large amount of good-quality colostrum. At 24 to
72 hours of age, affected foals develop acute abdominal pain, fever, mild to
severe hemorrhagic diarrhea, and hypovolemic and septic shock. Some foals
die before the development of diarrhea. The disease is associated with a high
case fatality rate (54%–68%) despite aggressive medical treatment .
Clinical signs of disease in adult horses are similar, although the disease
seems to occur less commonly, or is less commonly diagnosed, in adult
horses compared with neonatal foals. Factors associated with the develop-
ment of disease in adult horses are also different and poorly understood.
C perfringens strains, predominantly type A, containing the novel b2-
toxin gene (cpb2) have been correlated with enterocolitis in adult horses,
specifically typhlocolitis . In addition, b2-toxigenic C perfringens can
be isolated from healthy as well as diseased animals and is widespread in na-
ture, suggesting that predisposing factors are necessary for the development
of disease associated with b2-toxin .
Diagnosis of enterocolitis caused by C perfringens in adult horses and
foals may be made based on the combination of isolation of large numbers
of C perfringens, identification of the toxin gene, and associated clinical fea-
tures of enterocolitis. In suspect cases, fresh feces should be shipped refrig-
erated or fecal swabs collected and placed in anaerobic transport medium.
Samples should be processed as soon as possible or frozen if extended stor-
age is required. Cultivation requires anaerobic media, and recovery may be
optimized by employing more than one method and using enrichment media
. In foals, blood culture should also be performed if bacteremia is
Demonstration of toxin production requires detection of the genes that
encode the toxin using a multiplex PCR assay applied directly to feces or
isolated bacteria . DNA testing can be used to identify genotypes of
FEARY & HASSEL
C perfringens types A through E as well as all major toxin types, b2-toxin,
and enterotoxin. More recently, sophisticated techniques, including a multi-
plex PCR assay specific for C perfringens that does not require purified clos-
tridial DNA  and microarray-based assays , have been developed.
Postmortem findings in cases of fatal enterocolitis are characterized by
acute hemorrhagic enteritis as well as by colitis and villi necrosis. Features
that may distinguish disease caused by Clostridium spp from other causes
of enterocolitis include identification of large numbers of gram-positive
rods in stained smears and sections of affected intestine obtained immedi-
ately after death and the presence of mural emphysema. Immunohistochem-
istry employing antitoxin antibodies has been used to detect b2-toxin in
intestinal sections and may be a useful diagnostic tool when bacterial culture
and PCR methods are not feasible .
When interpreting results of diagnostic tests for C perfringens in suspect
cases, it should be remembered that demonstration of the toxin gene does
not necessarily imply clinically important toxin expression. In addition, at
least in the western United States, C perfringens type A can be isolated
from the environment as well as from most normal broodmares and foals
and does not seem to be associated with disease on its own and b2-toxigenic
C perfringens can be isolated occasionally from normal mares and foals .
a-Toxin and enterotoxin are believed to have low pathogenicity in horses,
and their role in disease is questionable . C perfringens type C is rarely
found in the environment or in the feces of normal horses or foals, however,
and is more likely to be associated with disease .
It is undoubtedly challenging to establish a definitive diagnosis of entero-
colitis caused by C perfringens in horses. It may also seem to be less impor-
tant compared with other causes of colitis in horses because it does not seem
to be directly infectious, result in outbreaks of disease, or exist as a carrier
state. Nevertheless, in suspected cases, an effort should be made to identify
the organism and interpret its significance so that specific treatment and pre-
ventative management practices may be instituted.
The treatment of C difficile enterocolitis in mature horses depends some-
what on the clinical presentation. Recommendations for the treatment of
C difficile–associated diarrhea (CDAD) in human patients may provide
reasonable guidelines for the treatment of horses, although there are some
exceptions. The first step is to discontinue antimicrobial therapy, if possible,
and to administer appropriate supportive care to normalize fluid, electro-
lyte, and colloid deficits. Interestingly, antidiarrheal medications and opiates
are avoided in human patients because of toxin release and slowed clearance
of C difficile secondary to reduced gastrointestinal motility . In up to
25% of patients, conservative therapy is sufficient to resolve symptoms.
ENTERITIS AND COLITIS
Specific pharmacotherapy with conventional antimicrobial treatment is
reserved for patients that do not respond adequately to supportive care as
well as for older patients, patients with comorbid conditions, and those in
which continued antimicrobial treatment is necessary.
As is the case with human patients, metronidazole has been considered
the first-line treatment for C difficile colitis in horses [43,45]. Resolution of
diarrhea and inability to isolate C difficile or to detect toxin in feces of af-
fected foals are reported within 18 to 72 hours of oral metronidazole therapy
(15 mg/kg administered orally three times daily) . The reported use of
vancomycin in horses is variable. Because of the concern for emergence of
resistant bacteria in human medicine, vancomycin is considered an inappro-
priate antimicrobial for use in horses with C difficile colitis. Metronidazole-
resistant strains have been reported in up to 43% of isolates from horses
[45,55] in certain geographic regions, however, as well as in human patients
in whom isolates were previously considered to be predictably susceptible to
metronidazole . Therefore, some authors consider the judicious use of
vancomycin to be indicated in horses with documented resistance to or
poor clinical response to metronidazole and appropriate supportive care
. These studies emphasize the importance of culture and susceptibility
testing of C difficile isolates from horses as part of the routine diagnostic
procedure in horses with acute enterocolitis.
Although metronidazole is considered the initial drug of choice for
equine C difficile colitis, it is noteworthy that empiric metronidazole use
in the treatment of human patients with presumptive CDAD may not be jus-
tified in most (75%) patients and that empiric metronidazole use should be
reserved for the patients at highest risk . Although this may be a logical
approach to enterocolitis in mature horses, it may not necessarily apply to
equine neonates. Because of the potentially primary pathogenic nature of
C difficile in foals, the apparent clinical effectiveness of metronidazole in
affected foals , and the high-risk nature of equine neonates, it seems rea-
sonable to initiate metronidazole therapy (10–15 mg/kg administered orally
two or three times daily) in foals with diarrhea with or without a C difficile
toxin-positive fecal sample, especially in certain geographic regions in which
clostridial-associated diarrhea is frequently recognized. The importance of
ongoing daily fecal sample submission for isolation and toxin detection
for C difficile, followed by antimicrobial susceptibility testing, should be
Metronidazole has been administered parenterally to adult horses and
foals. Limited data from human patients suggest that intravenously admin-
istered metronidazole may also be useful in the treatment of C difficile–
associated colitis, with intracolonic therapeutic concentrations achieved
by excretion of the drug into bile and exudation across inflamed tissue .
Bacitracin for the treatment of acute enterocolitis in horses should no
longer be considered appropriate based on recent studies documenting wide-
spread resistance among C difficile isolates [41,55].
FEARY & HASSEL
Adjunctive therapeutic options for the management of C difficile colitis in
horses include oral administration of probiotics, such as Saccharomyces spp,
Lactobacillus spp, di-tri-octahedral (DTO) smectite (Bio-sponge; Platinum
Performance, Buellton, California), adsorbent and immune products, and
fecal transfaunation. The use of these treatments in horses is based on evi-
dence from studies in human medicine, and few prospective investigations
exist in equine patients, although the use of these treatments seems to be
a growing area of interest. These alternative therapies are discussed in fur-
ther detail elsewhere in this article.
The treatment of diarrhea in foals has recently been reviewed . Briefly,
successful treatment of enterocolitis in neonatal foals caused by C perfrin-
gens requires early and aggressive intravenous fluid therapy with a combina-
tion of crystalloid and colloid fluids. In severe cases, acid-base abnormalities
may not correct with replacement fluid therapy alone and require specific
treatment with isotonic sodium bicarbonate. The use of inotropic or vaso-
pressor support should also be considered when physical parameters and
markers of tissue perfusion do not respond adequately to volume resuscita-
tion. Broad-spectrum systemic antimicrobial therapy with good anaerobic
coverage, such as intravenous penicillin in combination with an aminoglyco-
side, and orally or intravenously administered metronidazole (10–15 mg/kg
administered twice daily) are indicated. There is some anecdotal evidence
that oral administration of metronidazole may be more effective than intra-
venous administration as a means of inhibiting small intestinal bacterial
proliferation locally. To the authors’ knowledge, resistance of C perfringens
to metronidazole has not been documented as it has with C difficile. Addi-
tional therapy includes complete withholding of milk feeding for 24 to 96
hours or longer, because villous necrosis leads to malabsorption and feeding
contributes to the development of osmotic diarrhea and abdominal pain.
There is also some suggestion that milk provides a favorable medium for
ongoing bacterial proliferation and toxin production .
Advances in the management of C perfringens enterocolitis in neonates lie
in early recognition of the disease, withholding feed, and immediate or early
institutionofpartial ortotal parenteralnutrition. Apractical, easy-to-admin-
ister, and cost-effective recipe for parenteral nutrition has been described
[70,72]. Reintroduction to oral fluids should occurgradually, with the feeding
of small frequent meals. Observing tolerance to oralelectrolyte solutions may
be attempted before milk feeding. Addition of oral lactase (Lactaid tablets;
6000 U per 50-kg foal administered orally every 3 to 8 hours) can aid in small
C and D antitoxins orally (10–20 mL administered orally once daily) early in
the course of the disease may be beneficial, although there is no scientific ev-
idence for efficacy. Hyperimmune plasma specific for C perfringens is also
available (MG Biologics, Ames, Iowa) and may be administered for its
ENTERITIS AND COLITIS
potential specific immune effects and nonspecific beneficial coagulation and
oncotic effects. Antiulcer medication, including sucralfate, is a preventative
therapy commonly used by the authors. Anti-inflammatory therapy in the
form of intravenously administered ketoprofen (1.1 mg/kg twice daily or
2.2 mg/kg once daily) should be considered and used judiciously in neonates.
Control of abdominal pain is usually adequately achieved with low doses of
intravenously or intramuscularly administered butorphanol (0.04–0.1 mg/kg).
In severe cases, the degree of intestinal blood loss requires whole blood trans-
fusion. Adjunctive treatment with DTO-smectite, administered as a paste,
and Saccharomyces spp may be beneficial.
Successful treatment of acute disease may be followed by the develop-
ment of segmental infarction of intestine secondary to coagulopathy and
vessel thrombosis, intestinal adhesions secondary to fibrinous peritonitis,
or long-term ill-thrift .
Treatment of adult horses is generally the same as that in neonatal foals,
except that the use of broad-spectrum antimicrobial therapy is less often in-
dicated unless significant neutropenia is documented or there is suspicion of
septicemia. Metronidazole therapy alone or in combination with penicillin is
recommended, although the risk of antimicrobial-induced colitis is much
greater in adult horses; thus, these drugs should be used cautiously. Interest-
ingly, in some European countries, gentamicin has been shown to induce
b2-toxin production in vitro. In addition, horses clinically affected with ty-
phlocolitis attributable to b2-toxigenic C perfringens showed reduced disease
after cessation of gentamicin therapy . The significance of this finding in
clinical cases requires further investigation.
Equine proliferative enteropathy (Lawsonia intracellularis)
Equine proliferative enteropathy (EPE) is a well-described transmissible
enteric disease caused by the bacterium L intracellularis. The disease has
been reported in horses as sporadic isolated cases in various parts of the
United States, Canada, and Australia. Proliferative enteropathy, or intesti-
nal adenomatosis, is best described in swine, in which it is an endemic dis-
ease typically causing reduced growth rates and diarrhea in weanling age
pigs. In addition to swine, proliferative enteropathy has been sporadically
observed in a variety of other species .
Definitive antemortem diagnosis of proliferative enteropathy in horses in-
volves a combination of recognition of characteristic clinical findings and
laboratory confirmation by serologic testing for the presence of antibodies
to L intracellularis and pathogen detection in feces using a PCR assay.
EPE primarily affects weanling foals between the ages of 3 and 6 months
and is characterized by profound dullness, fever, weight loss, colic, diarrhea,
and hypoproteinemia causing ventral edema. Typical clinicopathologic
FEARY & HASSEL
abnormalities include leukocytosis, mild anemia, mild to severe hypoprotei-
nemia, and occasional hyperfibrinogenemia. Electrolyte and acid-base
abnormalities reflect the degree of gastrointestinal losses secondary to
diarrhea and may include hyponatremia, hypokalemia, hypocalcemia, and
metabolic acidosis. Less consistent abnormalities include the presence of
azotemia, a high creatine kinase level, and hypoglycemia. Abdominal ultra-
sound is a useful diagnostic aid and typically reveals loops of moderate to
markedly thickened small intestine (Fig. 2). Peritoneal fluid analysis is often
Gross pathologic lesions in EPE are characteristic of the disease and are
typified by segmental mucosal hypertrophy involving the ileum and terminal
jejunum, although the entire small intestine may be involved in severe cases
. Histologic examination of intestinal tissue, coupled with Warthin-
Starry silver staining or immunohistochemistry, is diagnostic for EPE and
reveals the hallmark findings of small intestinal hyperplasia and the presence
of curved intracellular bacteria in the apical cytoplasm of crypt cells .
Organisms can also be identified in mucosal smears of proliferative small in-
testine or in cell culture monolayers by the modified Ziehl-Neelsen stain with
dilute carbol fuchsin . Because of the obvious disadvantages of postmor-
tem diagnostic testing for EPE, efforts over the past few years have led to
some major advances in the development and improvement of antemortem
A diagnosis of EPE can be established in clinically affected animals using
molecular diagnostic techniques, such as demonstrating L intracellularis in
fecal samples or tissue specimens by PCR and serologic testing for the pres-
ence of antibody to L intracellularis (D.J. Feary, BVSc, MS, unpublished
data, 2005). Because of the organism’s obligatory intracellular nature, isola-
tion of the bacterium requires cell culture medium and is not routinely
Fig. 2. Abdominal ultrasound image of moderately thickened loops of small intestine in a foal
ENTERITIS AND COLITIS
Nested  and multiplex PCR  techniques have been developed and
are considered to have a high specificity in animals with active infection.
Novel real-time PCR assays are available and may replace conventional
methods for diagnosis of L intracellularis infection because of rapid test re-
sults, reduced risk of contamination, and the ability to test large sample
numbers and to quantitate bacterial DNA. The sensitivity of PCR assays
on fecal samples can be reduced, however, because of the presence of
PCR-inhibitory factors that inactivate or interfere with components of the
test  and by the time of sampling, as determined by the degree of bacte-
rial shedding in feces, resulting in false-negative results.
The detection of L intracellularis in feces corresponds to the sloughing of
infected intestinal epithelial cells in clinically affected animals . The time
of initial detection and duration of fecal shedding of L intracellularis in
equids have not been determined, nor has the sensitivity of a PCR assay
on equine feces. Results of a PCR assay on feces may remain positive for
only a short time after initiation of specific antimicrobial therapy
(D.J. Feary, BVSc, MS, unpublished data, 2005). Based on proliferative en-
teropathy in swine, reported cases in equids, and clinical observation of
EPE, it seems likely that the sensitivity of detection of L intracellularis by
PCR assay on fecal samples of horses with clinical disease would be im-
proved by collection of samples before initiating specific antimicrobial ther-
apy, or from environmental fecal samples retrospectively if this is not
possible, followed by sequential daily fecal samples. L intracellularis DNA
may be detected in environmental fecal samples after a few days (D.J. Feary,
BVSc, MS, personal observation, 2005). Ideally, fecal samples should be re-
frigerated if transportation to the testing laboratory for analysis is required.
Serologic analysis for the presence of antibodies to L intracellularis using
a serum IFA test or an immunoperoxidase monolayer assay (IPMA) is an-
other means of diagnosis. Positive serum titers for naturally infected horses
are commonly reported between 1:30 and 1:120  but have been detected
as high as 1:960 in one foal . Because studies reporting experimental in-
fection of horses with L intracellularis are not yet available, the time of de-
tection and duration of serologic responses in horses are unknown.
Antibodies to L intracellularis have been detected approximately 14 days af-
ter infection, however, and 7 to 14 days after the appearance of clinical signs
in experimentally infected swine . Negative serologic results at the time
of presentation reflect acute infection and inadequate time to mount a detect-
able specific immune response. In addition, serologically positive foals and
adult horses without clinical signs have been detected on the premises where
a clinically affected foal was housed (D.J. Feary, BVSc, MS, unpublished
data, 2005) and in the dam of an affected foal . These findings suggest
that the presence or magnitude of the serologic response alone may not
be a sensitive test for definitive diagnosis of EPE.
Submission of serum and multiple fecal samples for PCR testing is rec-
ommended to enhance the chance of obtaining a diagnosis of EPE, because
FEARY & HASSEL
the presence of antibodies to L intracellularis in serum and fecal shedding of
the organism may not necessarily coincide.
L intracellularis proliferative enteropathy in foals, unlike the case in swine,
is a debilitating and invariably fatal disease if left untreated. The prognosis is
Most cases successfully treated involved the use of erythromycin alone
(15–25 mg/kg administered orally three or four times daily) or in combina-
tion with rifampin (5–10 mg/kg administered orally twice daily) for a period
of 21 days [79,81]. Other effective antimicrobial agents used for the treat-
ment of EPE include penicillin, ampicillin, chloramphenicol, and doxycy-
cline . The authors have successfully treated EPE with azithromycin at
a dose of 10 mg/kg administered orally once daily for 5 days, followed
10 mg/kg administered orally every other day, in combination with rifampin
(5 mg/kg administered orally twice daily). The use of azithromycin alone or
in combination with rifampin may be an effective alternative, because azi-
thromycin has been shown to be more effective in the treatment of Rhodo-
coccus equi in foals and has fewer side effects and reduced frequency of
administration compared with erythromycin .
Supportive care for the management of foals with EPE may include cor-
rection of fluid and electrolyte deficits with a combination of crystalloid and
colloid therapy; anti-inflammatory, antidiarrheal, and antiulcer therapy;
and pain management. The early parenteral administration of colloids in
the form of plasma or hetastarch should be emphasized, because affected
foals can be profoundly hypoproteinemic. Hypoproteinemia and subsequent
peripheral edema may be exacerbated by administration of crystalloid fluids;
thus, close patient monitoring may be necessary. Normalization of the
plasma protein concentration in response to therapy may be slow compared
with improvement in clinical signs and other measurements . Nutritional
support in the form of enteral or parenteral nutrition should also be ad-
dressed. Foals that tolerate enteral feeding may be fed small frequent meals
consisting of low-bulk and easily digestible complete pelleted feeds as well as
good-quality alfalfa hay. In severe cases, foals that continue to show signs of
abdominal pain, are anorexic, or are in poor body condition may require ad-
ditional support in the form of parenteral nutrition.
The most commonly implicated parasites that may result in acute or
chronic enterocolitis in horses are strongyles. Strongyle infections are caused
ENTERITIS AND COLITIS
by two groups of nematodes: large (strongylosis) and small (cyathostomia-
sis) strongyles. Although large strongyle infections were identified as an im-
portant cause of colic, and occasionally chronic diarrhea, in horses before
the development of modern anthelmintics, the small strongyles have
emerged in more recent years as a major cause of acute and chronic diarrhea
as well as being implicated as a cause of colic. Advances in the diagnosis and
treatment of larval cyathostomiasis are thus the focus of this section.
With the widespread use of interval treatment with broad-spectrum an-
thelmintics in recent decades, such as the benzimidazoles, pyrantel, and iver-
mectin, cyathostomes have become ubiquitous parasites and virtually all
grazing horses from temperate regions are assumed to be infected with
them. Interval treatment with these drugs is highly effective at reducing the
prevalence of large strongyles, such as Strongylus vulgaris, but it is relatively
ineffective at controlling the cyathostomes . Cyathostomes are currently
believed to be the most commonly identified cause of chronic diarrhea in
the horse and also may be associated with acute and potentially fatal colitis
. Paradoxically, one risk factor associated with the development of acute
larval cyathostomiasis is recent treatment with adulticidal anthelmintics.
Other risk factors for clinical cyathostomiasis are the age of the horse, with
horses aged 1 to 6 years most commonly affected, and seasonal occurrence
gence of larvae from a hypobiotic state in the mucosa of the large intestine in
the late winter and spring months . In the southeastern United States and
subtropical regions, emergence occurs in late fall and winter .
Definitive diagnosis of cyathostomiasis can be difficult, but in cases of
clinical cyathostomiasis, diagnosis typically consists of evaluation of signal-
ment, history, and epidemiologic risk factors as described previously as well
as fecal examination, hematologic examination, serum biochemistry, and his-
tologic examination of cecal or large colon biopsies if surgical exploration
has been performed . Cyathostome larvae may be visible with the naked
eye in the feces or on a glove after rectal examination. Larvae vary in size and
appearance depending onthe species of cyathostome andmay be red or white
in color. Fecal worm egg counts are of little help diagnostically, because dis-
ease is caused by larval stages of the parasite. Routine hematologic examina-
tion may reveal leukocytosis with neutrophilia and, occasionally, anemia or
mild eosinophilia. Profound hypoalbuminemia is usually present, but hyper-
globulinemia may mask this when evaluating total protein (TP) concentra-
tion. Histologic examination of rectal biopsies is often nondiagnostic;
however, if biopsies of the cecum or large colon are possible, they are likely
to show characteristic pathologic changes, including edema and eosinophilic
inflammation, with or without identification of mucosal larvae .
The identification of prepatent infection with cyathostomes remains dif-
ficult, because life-threatening burdens of larval stages of the parasite may
exist in a subclinical state. These inhibited (hypobiotic) larvae are also rela-
tively resistant to several of the currently available anthelmintics .
FEARY & HASSEL
Current research efforts are focused on investigating the host immune re-
sponses that the mucosal larvae invoke, and molecular tools have been de-
veloped to help facilitate identification of larval and egg stages of
cyathostomes . Research is also in progress to develop an immunodiag-
nostic test that allows numbers of mucosal larvae to be estimated. This test
uses antigen-specific IgG(T) serum antibody responses as markers of infec-
tion . Additionally, studies are underway to develop molecular methods
for the early detection of anthelmintic-resistant genotypes .
There are currently three chemical classes of anthelmintics with a broad
spectrum of activity in common use in horses. Each has a discrete mode of
action, and they include the macrocyclic lactones (eg, ivermectin, moxidec-
tin), benzimidazoles (eg, fenbendazole), and pyrimidines (eg, pyrantel pa-
moate). The selection pressure of frequent administration of deworming
doses for parasite control programs has been associated with the develop-
ment of resistance of small strongyles to the effects of benzimidazoles,
with up to 97.7% of farms in the southern United States reported to have
fenbendazole-resistant cyathostomes . Resistance to ivermectin has not
been recognized to date ; however, repeated dosing is necessary, because
efficacy is primarily directed toward the maturing larvae as they begin devel-
opment from an arrested state . Specifics regarding anthelmintic treat-
ment of parasite-associated disease have been reviewed .
In acute colitis secondary to larval cyathostomiasis, death rates may be as
high as 60% in severe cases . In addition to the standard supportive care
for colitis consisting of fluids, electrolytes, colloids, antidiarrheal agents, and
nutritional support, treatment of horses with colitis secondary to cyathosto-
miasis may include anthelmintic and corticosteroid therapy. A suggested
corticosteroid protocol consists of dexamethasone (50 mg/kg administered
intravenously or intramuscularly) for 1 to 5 days, followed by oral prednis-
olone (1 mg/kg administered orally) until the diarrhea has resolved .
of the small intestine and resulting in distention, abdominal pain, and gastric
reflux . Clinically, horses with this condition may have signs of severe en-
dotoxemia and dehydration but relatively mild pain . Horses may show
abdominal pain initially; after gastric decompression, volume replacement,
sion predominate . Differentiating DPJ from a strangulating or nonstran-
gulating mechanical obstruction of the small intestine can be a diagnostic
challenge. Differentiating characteristics may include persistent abdominal
ENTERITIS AND COLITIS
pain until surgical repair or visceral rupture has occurred in horses with me-
chanical obstructions and large volumes of nasogastric reflux with each de-
compressive effort that are often malodorous and orange brown or red
brown in color in horses with DPJ. Horses with DPJ also commonly have
tivity  and typically exhibit high peritoneal fluid protein concentrations
(as with strangulating obstructions) without concurrent increases in nucle-
ated cell count . Although horses with strangulating obstructions may
have low peritoneal fluid nucleated cell counts initially, the cell count tends
to increase over time as necrosis of the affected segment of bowel progresses.
Abdominal ultrasound examination is a useful aid in diagnosis of DPJ
and for evaluating the efficacy of therapy or the development of small intes-
tinal ileus. Differentiation of strangulated small intestine from generalized
ileus caused by DPJ may be difficult via ultrasound examination; both
may be associated with thickening of the intestinal wall and loss of intestinal
motility, but identification of duodenal involvement or progressive perito-
neal fluid accumulation associated with peritonitis from ischemic bowel
may provide a clue as to the disease etiology.
Although the initiating cause of DPJ is unknown, several studies have
suggested several etiologic agents, including Clostridium spp [93,94], Salmo-
nella spp, and mycotoxins . The most recent work suggests C difficile as
an agent likely involved in the pathogenesis of DPJ . Toxigenic strains of
C difficile were successfully cultured from a small population of horses with
DPJ, and similar histopathologic changes were identified in horses with fatal
C difficile–associated enterocolitis and in nonsurvivors with DPJ . Addi-
tional recent work demonstrated that feeding larger quantities of concen-
trate in the diet and pasture grazing are risk factors for DPJ .
Treatment for DPJ typically entails the following therapeutic objectives:
alleviation of gastric and small intestinal distention, replenishing fluid and
electrolyte losses, combating endotoxemia, and restoring normal gastrointes-
tinal motility. This is accomplished primarily via supportive care, such as in-
travenous fluid, electrolyte, and colloid supplementation; NSAIDs; and
gastric decompression. Advanced monitoring techniques, including the use
of arterial blood pressure monitoring, central venous pressure (CVP), and se-
rial abdominal ultrasonography, to assess efficacy of treatment and progres-
sion of ileus may be advantageous. The use of antimicrobial agents remains
controversial, but surgical exploration, followed by oral metronidazole ad-
ministration after gastric decompression, has been advocated by some au-
thors based on evidence of a clostridial etiology for the disease .
Prokinetic medications are routinely used with variable efficacy in the
hope of shortening the course of the disease. Current theory suggests that
ileus occurs primarily as a consequence of extensive local inflammation
FEARY & HASSEL
within the intestinal wall, resulting in the release of mediators that disrupt
motility. The most commonly used prokinetic medications used in horses in-
clude lidocaine, erythromycin, metoclopramide, and cisapride. Lidocaine is
the preferred first-choice prokinetic agent based on a recent survey of Amer-
ican College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS) diplomates who perform intes-
tinal surgery . Its efficacy likely results from its anti-inflammatory effects
rather than from blockade of sympathetic inhibitory reflexes . It is
known to decrease neutrophil recruitment and activation . Added bene-
fits of lidocaine include analgesia and reduction of inhalant anesthetic re-
quirements while under general anesthesia. The dose most frequently used
is a 1.3-mg/kg intravenously administered loading dose, followed by
a 0.05-mg/kg/min constant rate infusion (CRI).
Erythromycin is thought to initiate the migrating motor complex via mo-
tilin receptors. Even when using the low doses administered for prokinetic
effects, a potentially serious side effect is fatal colitis. Metoclopramide is
a dopamine receptor antagonist and also promotes acetylcholine release
from cholinergic neurons via 5-hydroxytryptamine (HT)4receptors. The
most commonly used dose is a 0.04-mg/kg/h CRI. A new prokinetic agent
(Tegaserod, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., East Hanover, New Jersey),
a gastrointestinal-specific 5-HT4receptor agonist that increases borborygmi
and defecation in normal horses without the side effects of other 5-HT4re-
ceptor agonists , has recently been investigated.
The authors have had good success with the use of a lidocaine CRI
(0.05 mg/kg/min) in combination with a metoclopramide CRI (0.03–0.04
mg/kg/h) in horses with ileus secondary to DPJ. Anecdotally, the use of
these agents concurrently seems to be more effective than either drug alone.
Advances in monitoring
Adult horses and foals with enterocolitis often have life-threatening he-
modynamic abnormalities that require intensive therapy. It is these most
critical patients in which the use of advanced monitoring techniques can po-
tentially improve patient management and survival. Regular repeated or
continuous monitoring in equine patients with enterocolitis facilitates the
early detection of correctable abnormalities and directed therapeutic inter-
vention. A complete and detailed review of routine and advanced monitor-
ing in critically ill equine patients is available . In this article, the authors
provide a brief overview of the application of monitoring techniques that
may be relevant to mature horses and foals with enterocolitis.
The major hemodynamic abnormality in equine patients with enterocoli-
tis is volume depletion because of large fluid deficits and ongoing losses re-
latedto gastricreflux ordiarrhea.
hypoperfusion of vital organ systems and tissue microcirculation eventually
lead to multiple organ dysfunction. This can be complicated by sepsis in the
neonate and endotoxemia in the mature horse. Thus, the mainstay of
ENTERITIS AND COLITIS
treatment of horses and foals with enterocolitis is fluid therapy using a com-
bination of crystalloids and colloids.
Some or all of the following monitoring aids can provide important infor-
mation about the metabolic and circulatory status of the equine patient and
response to fluid therapy. Detecting trends in monitored variables provides
more valuable information than the result of a single test, emphasizing the
need for monitoring at regular intervals.
Although seemingly obvious, a thorough physical examination provides
the easiest and least expensive means of detecting deficits in volume and per-
fusion, remembering that clinical abnormalities are generally undetectable
until the degree of dehydration reaches greater than 5%. Physically detect-
able indicators of hypovolemia include the following: (1) tachycardia, (2)
pale mucous membranes, (3) prolonged capillary refill time, (4) dull menta-
tion, (5) cool extremities, (6) poor peripheral pulse quality, (7) prolonged
jugular refill, and (8) reduced urine output. Physically detectable indicators
of hypoperfusion include the following: (1) dry mucous membranes, (2)
sunken eyes (especially foals), (3) reduced tear film production, and (4) de-
creased skin turgor compared with normal .
Additional information obtained from hematology and serum biochem-
istry that support these findings includes elevated packed cell volume
(PCV), TP plasma concentration, and prerenal azotemia (elevated creatinine
or blood urea nitrogen [BUN] level). Unfortunately, PCV and TP are not
sensitive markers of circulatory status in horses or foals with enterocolitis,
because splenic contraction and individual variation can greatly influence
PCV and gastrointestinal protein loss resulting in hypoproteinemia is com-
mon. Critically ill neonatal foals have been observed to mount an appropri-
ate physiologicresponse tohypotension
inconsistently, making heart rate and PCV unpredictable indicators of circu-
latory status in foals .
The creatinine concentration at presentation rarely exceeds 4 mg/dL if
azotemia is prerenal in origin. Serial monitoring of PCV and TP, at least
at 12-hour intervals, and of creatinine plus or minus BUN levels, every 12
to 24 hours initially, provides more useful information and is indicated
for monitoring the response to intravenous fluid therapy. Failure of the cre-
atinine concentration to return to normal values within 24 hours suggests
ongoing volume deficits or underlying renal disease.
Electrolyte and acid-base abnormalities are common in horses and foals
with gastrointestinal disease. Hypocalcemia and hypomagnesemia are also
commonly detected in equine patients with various gastrointestinal diseases,
FEARY & HASSEL
endotoxemia, and sepsis [103–105]. Calcium and magnesium levels should
be frequently evaluated in horses with gastrointestinal disease because of
their important role in maintaining normal visceral and vascular smooth
muscle function, and deficits should be promptly corrected so as to reduce
their contribution to gastrointestinal ileus. Serum ionized calcium and mag-
nesium concentrations are more sensitive than total values, and the magni-
tude of ionized hypocalcemia and hypomagnesemia tends to increase with
the severity of disease [103,106]. Ionized hypocalcemia has been detected
in 80% of horses with enterocolitis . A recent report has shown that
ionized hypocalcemia in horses with gastrointestinal disease is significantly
associated with the development of paralytic ileus and the probability of re-
duced short-term survival . The need for repeated calcium supplemen-
tation in these patients correlated with decreased overall survival, although
this finding was not statistically significant .
Results of these studies emphasize the importance of measuring ionized
calcium and magnesium in adult horses and foals with enterocolitis. Sodium
and chloride deficits are common in patients with enterocolitis secondary to
gastrointestinal and potentially concurrent renal loss. These abnormalities
are generally rapidly and easily corrected with isotonic intravenous fluid
therapy. Particular attention should be paid to serum potassium concentra-
tions, which can be significantly decreased in patients with colitis because of
reduced dietary intake. Hypokalemia may contribute to ileus and dull men-
tation. Hypokalemia may be refractory to supplementation, especially in the
face of concurrent hypomagnesemia. Prompt recognition of hypokalemia
and supplementation with potassium aimed at restoring serum concentra-
tions to within the normal range are recommended to support gastrointesti-
nal and cardiovascular function.
Arterial blood pressure
Blood pressure, as an estimate of blood flow, is determined by cardiac
output (heart rate ? stroke volume) and systemic vascular resistance (vaso-
motor tone). Mean arterial pressure (MAP) rather than systolic or diastolic
pressure is more important for perfusion and is more practically measured
via indirect techniques in clinically ill horses and foals [99,107,108]. Serial
monitoring of MAP in equine patients with enterocolitis can be used to as-
sess the adequacy of fluid therapy or the need for additional support using
inotropic or pressor agents. Because MAP poorly reflects blood flow when
systemic vascular resistance is altered, such as during sepsis and endotoxe-
mia, MAP should be used in conjunction with other markers of oxygen de-
livery, such as venous oxygen saturation (SvO2) and blood lactate [99,109].
Indirect blood pressure in normal adult horses is approximately 90 to
120 mm Hg and ranges between 60 and 120 mm Hg for normal neonatal
foals . Lower values for MAP may be observed in premature foals and
in the immediate postpartum period (K.G. Magdesian, DVM, personal
ENTERITIS AND COLITIS
with the average value for MAP recorded. The exact blood pressure at which
disease. Some authors support the recommendation that tissue perfusion in
neonatal foals is inadequate when MAP is less than 60 mm Hg, however
gan perfusion may be adequate at aMAP considerably lower than this in pre-
mature foals, as is the case in preterm human infants . A recent study
demonstrated a poor correlation between blood pressure and cardiac output,
at least in anesthetized foals . Measurement of cardiac output in critical
statusof clinical casesinthe future,withpromising developmentsin noninva-
sive volumetric echocardiography techniques .
Central venous pressure
CVP is an invasive but valuable monitoring tool used to direct fluid ther-
apy in hypovolemic patients. CVP provides an estimate of venous return to
the heart, reflecting the balance between central venous blood volume, ve-
nous capacitance, and right-sided cardiac function . It has been sug-
gested that CVP may be a better indicator of intravascular volume status
than arterial blood pressure, because there is less influence of vascular resis-
tance and autoregulation . CVP can be particularly useful in equine pa-
tients with enterocolitis because their frequently hypoproteinemic state or
the presence of acute renal failure predisposes them to iatrogenic fluid over-
load and secondary edema formation.
A low CVP (!7–12 cm H2O) in adult horses and ponies and !2.8–12 cm
H2O in foals) is consistent with hypovolemia (or venodilation) . A rise in
CVP to within the normal range indicates adequate fluid resuscitation, and
a persistent increase in CVP indicates overzealous fluid administration or
right-sided heart failure. Monitoring of CVP requires placement of a catheter
into the central venous compartment via the jugular vein and has been de-
scribed . Monitoring trends in CVP as a means of directing fluid therapy
increased by pleural or pericardial effusion, vasoconstriction, patient posi-
tioning, and technical factors (eg, air within the lines, catheter occlusion) .
Colloid osmotic (oncotic) pressure
Plasma osmotic pressure refers to the force created by large solute mole-
cules (mainly albumin) that are not freely movable across the vascular mem-
brane, and are thus important for retention of fluid within the vascular
compartment. The balance between the colloid osmotic pressure (COP;
FEARY & HASSEL
voring filtration) is often unbalanced in equine patients with acute enterocoli-
age of protein (mainly albumin) into the interstitium results in decreased
plasma oncotic pressure, increased interstitial oncotic pressure, and net efflux
of fluid from the capillary into the interstitium (edema). This imbalance may
be compensated for early in disease by increased lymph flow that serves to re-
duce the interstitial protein concentration. The administration of crystalloid
fluids exacerbates the disruption in Starling’s forces by diluting plasma pro-
teins, increasing hydrostatic pressure, and promoting net fluid efflux from
the capillary into the interstitium, resulting in overt edema.
Hypoproteinemia is of concern because it can lead to hypovolemia and
because interstitial edema occurs in all body tissues, in addition to the sub-
cutaneous tissues, potentially resulting in organ dysfunction. Measurement
of total plasma solids using refractometry proves a rough estimation of col-
loid oncotic pressure, with values less than 4.0 to 4.2 g/dL in horses gener-
ally associated with overt edema. COP can be estimated indirectly by
calculation from plasma albumin and globulin measurements (eg, Landis-
Pappenheimer equation), but these are not as predictive of COP in sick adult
horses and foals  compared with healthy patients. COP can be mea-
sured directly with the use of commercial analyzers (Wescor 4420 colloid os-
mometer; Wescor, Logan, Utah). Normal COP in adult horses is similar to
that in other animals (approximately 20–25 mm Hg) and is lower in foals
(15–22 mm Hg) [99,114]. Monitoring the response to synthetic colloid ad-
ministration also requires direct osmometry, because indirect measurements
do not reflect the contribution of synthetic colloids to COP.
Lactate is produced as the end product of anaerobic glycolysis. Hyperlac-
ery associated with hypovolemia and dehydration; thus, it is a useful
monitoring and prognostic tool in horses and foals with enterocolitis. Other
pathophysiologic causes oflactateaccumulation shouldalwaysbeconsidered
when interpreting hyperlactatemia, however. These include other reasons for
reduced tissue perfusion, such as hypotension and hypoxemia; impaired lac-
tate clearance by the liver in liver disease; and hypermetabolic states, such
as sepsis, vigorous exercise, and seizures . High concentrations of circu-
tate, as can exogenous glucose administration and severe alkalosis .
Endotoxemia is frequently associated with the pathophysiology of enteroco-
litis in adult horses and can cause hyperlactatemia without inadequate tissue
oxygenation. This can be explained by endotoxin-mediated inhibition of the
enzyme pyruvate dehydrogenase, which is necessary for the oxidation of
ENTERITIS AND COLITIS
pyruvate in the mitochondria.Thiamine isacofactor forpyruvate dehy-
drogenase, and although rarely recognized in horses, thiamine deficiency also
increases blood lactate via asimilar mechanismto endotoxin.Bloodlac-
tate in normal adult horses is less than 2 mmol/L and less than 2.5 mmol/L in
normal 24-hour-old neonatal foals , and it can increase to 30 mmol/L in
critically ill equine patients (D.J. Feary, BVSc, MS, personal observation,
2005). The degree of hyperlactatemia and lactic acidosis is fairly well corre-
lated with the severity of tissue hypoperfusion and has prognostic value in
horses with acute abdominal disease . Recently, Corley and colleagues
of illness, and hospital survival in critically ill neonatal foals. Interestingly,
foals with a diagnosis of colitis in this study were found to have the lowest av-
erage admission lactate levels of the groups of foals examined . In one
study, the mean plasma lactate concentration at admission for horses with
acute colitis and subclinical disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC)
was 6.5 mmol/L .
As with other monitoring tools, serial blood lactate measurement provides
much more useful information than a single measurement. A rapid decrease
in lactate concentration in response to specific treatment of hypoperfusion is
a favorable prognostic indicator and likely has a predictive value equal to if
not better than the lactate concentration before therapy. Lactate is a sensitive
indicator of tissue hypoperfusion and can be used to detect occult hypovole-
mic or hypotensive states before measurable changes in clinical parameters;
therefore, evaluation of lactate concentration may be useful when tailoring
specific therapy, particularly inotropic or vasopressor support.
Measurement of lactate in body fluids in addition to blood is a useful tool
in the evaluation of sepsis and ischemia. Peritoneal fluid lactate has been
shown to be a useful predictor of intestinal ischemia attributable to strangu-
lating obstruction in horses with colic [118,119], and future studies may re-
veal the potential prognostic value of peritoneal fluid lactate in equine
patients with severe enterocolitis.
Advances in treatment
DTO-smectite is a natural hydrated aluminomagnesium silicate that is
commercially available for use in horses (Bio-sponge). DTO-smectite has
been shown to adsorb substances, such as endotoxins and exotoxins, in
the human gastrointestinal tract effectively and, more recently, to bind
equine-origin C difficile toxins A and B as well as C perfringens enterotoxin
in vitro without any effect on bacterial growth or the action of metronida-
zole . In vivo studies on the treatment of enterocolitis have not been
published, but at this time, the authors use DTO-smectite at an initial
dose of 1 to 2 lb mixed with water and delivered via a nasogastric tube,
FEARY & HASSEL
followed by 0.5 to 1 lb every 6 to 12 hours in mature horses with acute co-
litis. Results of a recent randomized clinical trial evaluating the use of DTO-
smectite in postoperative colic patients revealed a marked reduction in the
prevalence of postoperative diarrhea and improved clinical and hematologic
parameters in treated horses compared with controls . Treatment with
DTO-smectite seems to have few if any adverse effects in mature horses and
foals, and anecdotal reports suggest that it is effective at reducing the vol-
ume and duration of acute diarrhea in horses. Although its specific benefi-
cial effect in clinical equine enterocolitis caused by C difficile is yet to be
determined, the authors advocate its use in clinical cases. Treatment early
in the course of disease seems to be most effective.
The role of biotherapy (therapy involving probiotics) in human medicine
is evolving as a means to control CDAD. The theoretic beneficial effect of
probiotic use as a means of preventing and treating CDAD is to provide
naturally occurring bacteria to restore ‘‘colonization resistance’’ in the gas-
trointestinal tract attributable to disturbances caused by antimicrobial use,
for example. Probiotics that have been proposed for this use in human be-
ings include various bacteria (Bifidobacterium spp, Lactobacillus GG, Lacto-
bacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum 299v, and
Enterococcus faecium) and yeasts (Saccharomyces boulardii and Saccharo-
myces cerevisiae) [122,123]. Although showing early promising beneficial
effects, a systematic review of randomized controlled trials of probiotic ther-
apy for the prevention and treatment of CDAD in adult human patients
found a paucity of eligible studies that did not provide convincing evidence
to support a clinical benefit of probiotics .
Several studies have reviewed commercially available probiotic products
for use in people and horses and have found that label descriptions of most
products were inaccurate [124,125]. Products did not specifically list their
contents, did not contain the organisms stated, contained lower concentra-
tions of viable organisms than stated, contained additional species, or con-
tained organisms that had no probiotic effect or were even potentially
pathogenic [124,125]. Veterinary products performed particularly poorly
. These studies emphasize the fact that probiotic preparations are con-
sidered nutritional supplements rather than pharmacologic agents; as a result
regulatory control does not require scientific evidence for efficacy or safety
. In addition, even if probiotic preparations contained the labeled con-
centration of viable organisms at the time of use, the dose required to be ef-
ficacious is not reported for horses. Based on extrapolation from human
dosing regimens, it is highly unlikely that the amount required would be
achievable in adult horses.
Weese and Rousseau  recently demonstrated the urgent need for
safety and efficacy testing of all potential equine products with a randomized
ENTERITIS AND COLITIS
controlled clinical trial evaluating the efficacy of Lactobacillus pentosus WE7
for prevention of equine neonatal diarrhea. Although this organism demon-
strated potentially beneficial properties in vitro, these were not evident in
vivo, and administration was actually associated with the development of
diarrhea and other significant clinical abnormalities.
In summary, although the use of probiotic preparations in horses is not
generally associated with adverse effects, equine practitioners should edu-
cate clients regarding the lack of evidence supporting their use. Until scien-
tific data become available through randomized controlled clinical trials
conducted in horses, the administration of commercially available probiot-
ics for treatment or prevention of equine acute enterocolitis seems to be the
least supported of all available adjunctive therapies, and labeled claims
should be cautiously evaluated. The use of probiotics in neonatal foals
less than 24 hours of age should not be recommended because of the poten-
tial for reducing absorption of colostral immunoglobulin or nonselective ab-
sorption of potentially pathogenic organisms in the probiotic preparation.
S boulardii and S cerevisiae are yeasts that are commercially available in
purified lyophilized capsules or granules that may be found in commercial
horse feeds and as human and equine supplements . Randomized con-
trolled clinical trials evaluating the effectiveness of orally administered
S boulardii for the prevention of antimicrobial-associated diarrhea in adults
and children have established efficacy [128,129]. A recent report established
efficacy of S boulardii for decreasing the duration and severity of clinical
signs in horses with enterocolitis . Further, the presence of viable yeast
in feces of clinically normal horses after oral administration of the organism
at a dosage of 25 g administered orally twice daily for 14 days was estab-
lished . Proposed mechanisms by which S boulardii exerts its beneficial
effect are based on studies in laboratory animals and include inactivation of
C difficile toxin A receptor, enhanced immunologic function in the gastroin-
testinal tract, competition for attachment sites, and its ability to block C dif-
ficile adherence to cells in vitro [131–133].
These studies support the use of S boulardii as an adjunctive treatment in
people and horses undergoing antimicrobial therapy for certain diseases. In
addition, yeasts are an excellent source of dietary fiber, chromium, and
B-vitamins (with the exception of vitamin B12) and are likely to be beneficial
for resident microflora and colonocyte health . Adverse effects, such as
the development of S boulardii fungemia in severely ill or immunocompro-
mised patients, have been reported, however .
The authors have experienced an apparent clinical response to the admin-
istration of S cerevisiae and Lactobacillus spp as a commercial equine sup-
plement (Forco Feed Supplement; Forco Products, Flagler, Colorado) in
horses with watery diarrhea (20 g administered orally four times daily), al-
though response is unpredictable and patient-dependent.
Several prebiotic agents, such as psyllium and germinated barley food-
stuff, have potential for the management of enterocolitis in horses,
FEARY & HASSEL
increasing fecal bulk by water absorption in the large colon and promoting
bacterial growth, proliferation, and short-chain fatty acid production, an
important energy source for supporting colonocyte function .
Administration of fecal enemas prepared from stool samples from
healthy individuals has been reported to be effective in recurrent and refrac-
tory cases of C difficile–associated colitis in human patients . The admin-
istration of donor stool via nasogastric tube has also been reported to be
effective in preventing further diarrhea in recurrent C difficile infection
. Although stool transplantation may be associated with some risk of
transmission of infectious disease, this can be avoided by performing prior
laboratory testing. An important factor in performing fecal transfaunation
is the administration of oral antacids, such as omeprazole, before the proce-
dure so as to minimize microbial inhibition by the acid gastric environment.
All antimicrobials should also be discontinued. Anecdotal reports of suc-
cessful fecal transfaunation in horses via nasogastric tube as therapy for
chronic diarrhea warrant further investigation. Equine veterinarians may
obtain cecal contents from a horse that has died recently or may obtain fresh
feces via rectal evacuation from an available healthy horse.
Adsorbents and immune products
Recurrent C difficile–associated colitis has been treated with varied suc-
cess with intravenous human immunoglobulin, but further investigation is
required before these products are recommended in human patients. Hyper-
immune plasma specific for C difficile (MG Biologics, Ames, Iowa) is avail-
able for use in horses and has been used clinically as therapy for neonatal
foal diarrhea .
An immune whey protein concentrate derived from the milk of immu-
nized cows contains high concentrations of specific IgA antibodies against
C difficile toxins and whole bacterial cells. Given orally to human patients
with recurrent CDAD, this therapy has shown promise in preliminary stud-
ies , and randomized clinical trials are underway.
A number of killed and live-attenuated vaccines are undergoing investiga-
tion for human patients with recurrent CDAD . A C difficile toxoid vac-
cine has been shown to induce an immune response to toxins A and B and
an associated favorable clinical response in affected human patients, sup-
porting further investigation . Surgery is rarely indicated in human pa-
tients with enterocolitis and only for recurrent severe C difficile colitis
associated with serious complications . In horses, persistent signs of
colic in association with rapidly deteriorating clinical parameters, progres-
sive abdominal distention, and generalized ileus may necessitate exploratory
celiotomy. Unfortunately, most of these cases do not respond to surgical
ENTERITIS AND COLITIS
treatment; however, if surgery is performed, a large colon enterotomy with
colonic evacuation and infusion of DTO-smectite (1 lb) intraluminally in
water (1–2 L) is recommended by the authors (Fig. 3).
Hypoalbuminemia has been associated with increased morbidity and
mortality in human and animal patients and is a frequent consequence of
colitis and enteritis in adult horses and foals. Equine clinicians have a variety
of options for specifically treating hypoproteinemia in critically ill patients,
including biologic solutions, such as plasma, and synthetic colloids. These
solutions differ with respect to the type and size of component molecules,
COP, cost, and side effects [139–141]. These solutions may also be used in
combination with crystalloids as part of optimal fluid resuscitation and
management of many diseases resulting in hypovolemia, systemic inflamma-
tory response syndrome (SIRS), and sepsis.
Recently, there has been renewed interest in the use of human albumin in
critically ill small animal patients and anecdotal use in critically ill horses.
Albumin constitutes 75% to 80% of the plasma COP, with 40% of total
body albumin within the intravascular space and 60% in the interstitial
space. The plasma albumin concentration decreases in critical illness be-
cause of reduced production (secondary to hypergammaglobulinemia), in-
creased use (catabolism), and increased loss (eg, enteritis or colitis, SIRS,
vasculitis). Albumin synthesis is also reduced in response to administration
of artificial colloids. In addition to its significant contribution to COP, albu-
min has important functions in hemostasis as a carrier protein for certain
drugs, endogenous hormones, metals, and enzymes and as a free radical
Fig. 3. Intraoperative administration of DTO-smectite (Platinum Performance, Buellton, Cal-
ifornia) in saline into the large colon through a pelvic flexure enterotomy.
FEARY & HASSEL
scavenger in inflammatory states [142,143]. Human albumin is available
as a 5% or concentrated (25%) solution and has an average COP of
200 mm Hg .
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
NSAID therapy has long been an integral component of therapy in horses
release,andSIRS. Thesedrugsareoften usedin combinationwith polymyxin
an effort to bind circulating endotoxin to minimize the subsequent inflamma-
tory response. The most commonly used NSAID in equine medicine is flu-
nixin meglumine (0.25 mg/kg administered intravenously three times daily).
Recent research has suggested that nonspecific inhibitors of the cyclooxyge-
nase (COX) enzyme, such as flunixin meglumine, may have detrimental ef-
fects on the ability of the mucosa to repair itself after injury, however, thus
potentially allowing further absorption of endotoxin from a damaged intes-
tinal wall . Prostaglandins play critical roles in the recovery process of
injured gastrointestinal tissue, and traditional NSAIDs inhibit COX-1 and
COX-2 in equine gastrointestinal tissue . The COX-1 and COX-2 en-
zymes have recently been demonstrated to become markedly upregulated in
response to ischemic injury of the large colon . This suggests that
COX-2 selective inhibitors may play an important role in the separation of
proinflammatory and proreparative functions of COX-elaborated prosta-
noids, thus potentially optimizing treatment of horses with acute colitis.
Disseminated intravascular coagulopathy and heparin
DIC is a hot topic in human medicine that continues to evolve as our un-
derstanding of the pathophysiology of DIC changes. A unifying explanation
of the pathophysiology of DIC is that it is a syndrome of dysregulated co-
agulation and inflammation that is associated with a diverse variety of clin-
ical syndromes. In human patients, DIC is most commonly associated with
sepsis. This is probably also true for foals; however, in adult horses, it seems
to be most commonly associated with severe endotoxemia secondary to
acute gastrointestinal disease. Widespread systemic activation of the coagu-
lation, fibrinolytic, and antithrombotic systems creates a paradoxic disorder
of microvascular thrombosis, hemorrhage, or both. Progression leads to
multiple organ failure and death.
DIC remains a challenging syndrome to manage in equine patients with
acute enterocolitis, which is probably the most common underlying disease
associated with DIC in horses. In one study, the 1-year incidence of subclin-
ical DIC in horses with acute colitis was 32% . Thrombophlebitis, renal
failure, and laminitis are all serious complications of acute enterocolitis in
horses and are involved in the clinical progression of DIC in some cases,
ENTERITIS AND COLITIS
although this has not been demonstrated in clinical studies. Aortoiliac and
digital artery thrombosis have been reported as serious and fatal complica-
tions of sepsis and enterocolitis in foals and adult horses [147,148]. Any
means of preventing these complications would reduce morbidity, mortality,
and cost of treatment.
The traditional definition of a diagnosis of DIC has revolved around the
following criteria: three of six abnormal coagulation test results (platelet
count, fibrinogen, prothrombin time [PT], activated partial thromboplastin
time [PTT], antithrombin [AT], and fibrinogen degradation) combined with
clinical signs of thrombosis or hemorrhage. Deficient AT is more likely to
be detected in horses with enterocolitis because they have a greater risk for
gastrointestinal and renal loss of AT as well as consumption in hypercoagu-
lable states. In one study, horses with colitis and subclinical DIC were more
likely to have AT deficiency and prolonged activated PTT than those without
detectable DIC.Inasummaryoffindingsacross agroup ofstudiescom-
paring several coagulation tests and their correlation with outcome in equine
patients, the PT was most consistently reported to correlate with survival
. The one routine test that has the least sensitivity for the diagnosis of
DIC in horses is the fibrinogen concentration . This is because horses
seem to be quite efficient in their production of this acute-phase protein in re-
sponse to inflammation. A lack of expected increase in fibrinogen concentra-
tion in response to inflammatory disease warrants further investigation in
a horse that is likely to have DIC. The D-dimer assay is becoming a more
widely used test of hemostasis in veterinary medicine. It is similar to fibrino-
gen degradation products (FDPs) in that it is a marker of fibrinolysis, but it is
specific for the degradation of cross-linked fibrin. D-dimer measurement may
be auseful indicator ofahypercoagulablestateinhorseswithgastrointestinal
disease and could potentially be useful in directing specific therapy for DIC.
Specific therapy for the prevention and treatment of DIC in high-risk pa-
tients includes providing stable clotting factors (II, VII, IX, and X), albu-
min, fibronectin, and AT in the form of fresh-frozen plasma as well as
anticoagulants, such as aspirin and heparin. Thrombolytic agents, such as
tissue plasminogen activator, streptokinase, and urokinase, are used for
the treatment of macrovascular thrombosis in human and small animal pa-
tients and have been applied unsuccessfully in a small number of reported
cases of thromboembolism in septic foals [148,151]. The most effective
and important therapy for the DIC in any species is the identification and
aggressive treatment of the underlying disease.
Current recommendations in critically ill small animal patients for the
treatment of DIC are as follows. Prolongation of clotting times by 25% to
erably depending on the methodology used) indicates a significant defect in
ity measured at less than 50% constitutes a significant risk for thrombosis or
significant consumption. Therapy remains controversial, although AT
FEARY & HASSEL
administration (plasma or highly concentrated forms) seems the most prom-
ising method. Interestingly, quantities of AT in fresh-frozen plasma may be
insufficient to alter hypercoagulable tendencies in small animals  and hu-
man beings . Available evidence in these species suggests that supple-
mentation of fresh-frozen plasma in patients with DIC syndromes
characterized by hemorrhagic tendencies may be beneficial; however, for pa-
tients withoutsignificant risk for bleeding, administration ofplasmaisexpen-
sive and does not seem to improve survival rates . In equine patients, it is
important to consider carefully the risks of plasma therapy when making de-
cisions regarding treatment. Although uncommon, the development of
Theiler’s disease (equine serum sickness) is being increasingly recognized as
a highly fatal complication of plasma therapy in equine patients .
Heparin therapy for DIC in human patients has become controversial in
recent years. There are positive and negative effects of heparin administra-
tion in animals and people with DIC. Positive effects include increased pro-
duction of prostacyclin I2, profound reduction of leukocyte activation and
chemotaxis, and reduced transcription of inflammatory pathways through
decreased nuclear factor (NF)-kB production . Exogenous heparin
has therapeutic effects in hypercoagulable thrombotic syndromes of DIC
by augmentation of AT activity and inactivation of factors IIa (thrombin)
and Xa (Stuart factor) of the clotting cascade. Administration of exogenous
heparin inhibits the beneficial anti-inflammatory effects of AT, however
. This may have profound effects in patients with severe inflammatory
diseases, such as enterocolitis.
Important advances with regard to heparin therapy in equine patients in-
clude the favorable pharmacokinetic properties of the low-molecular-weight
heparins (LMWHs; dalteparin and enoxeparin) compared with conven-
tional unfractionated heparin (UFH) therapy in horses [20,159]. LMWH
is more expensive but has some important advantages over UFH that relate
to its greater and more selective factor Xa inhibitory capacity and dose-de-
pendent predictable pharmacokinetic properties. LMWH has a more rapid
onset of action, higher bioavailability, and longer duration of action and
does not have the cumulative individually variable side effects on red blood
cells and platelets characteristic of UFH [160,161]. The reduced side effects
of LMWH (dalteparin, 50 IU/kg administered subcutaneously once daily)
compared with UFH in horses with colic have been reported in a clinical
study, but effects on survival have not been reported . It should be em-
phasized that LMWH does not affect clotting times as does UFH; therefore,
the PTT should not used to predict plasma concentrations of heparin in
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