Colic (abdominal pain) is a clinical condition of serious concern affecting the welfare and survival of donkeys at the Donkey Sanctuary in the UK. One of the most commonly reported causes is due to impacted ingesta in the large intestine ("impaction colic"). However little is known about the incidence of, or risk factors for, this condition. Here we describe the epidemiology of colic in donkeys, specifically impaction colic. We focus on temporal aspects of the disease and we identify environmental and management related risk factors for impaction colic in UK donkeys.
There were 807 colic episodes in the population of 4596 donkeys between January 1st 2000 and March 31st 2005. The majority (54.8%) of episodes were due to a suspected or confirmed diagnosis of impaction of the gastrointestinal tract. The mortality risk for all colics (51.1%) was higher than reported in other equids. The incidence rate of all colics (5.9 episodes per 100 donkeys per year) and of impaction colic (3.2 episodes) was similar to that in horses. A retrospective matched case-control study of all impaction colics from January 2003 (193) indicated that older donkeys, those fed extra rations and those that previously suffered colic were at increased risk of impaction. Lighter body weight, musculo-skeletal problems, farm and dental disease were also significantly associated with a diagnosis of impaction colic.
To our knowledge this is the first study to estimate the incidence rate of colic in a large population of donkeys in the UK. In contrast to other equids, impaction was the most commonly reported cause of colic. We identified several risk factors for impaction colic. Increasing age, extra rations and previous colic are known risk factors for colic in other equids. Results support the hypothesis that dental disease is associated with impaction colic. Musculo-skeletal problems may be associated with colic for various reasons including change in amount of exercise or time at pasture. Other associated factors (weight and farm) are the subject of further research. Identification of risk factors for impaction colic may highlight high risk donkeys and may allow intervention strategies to be introduced to reduce the incidence of the disease.