Management and complications associated with treatment of cervical oesophageal perforations in horses


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Six horses were evaluated for colic and anorexia, choke or suspected oesophageal rupture with and without tracheal laceration. Clinical findings were variable, but a painful ventral neck swelling was noted in all cases. Two of the horses had signs of dehydration and sepsis. Additional findings included evidence of previous trauma over the trachea and oesophagus, ventral neck abscessation, choke and aspiration pneumonia. A diagnosis of oesophageal perforation was made using endoscopy. Two horses were subjected to euthanasia without treatment. All horses where treatment was attempted received debridement of the oesophageal perforation and surrounding tissues with or without surgical closure of the oesophageal defect. Other therapies included broad spectrum antimicrobials, anti-inflammatory drugs, fluid and nutritional support as well as additional therapeutics for sepsis and individual complications. Complications included diverticulum formation, thrombophlebitis, diarrhoea, laryngeal hemiplegia, azotaemia, aspiration pneumonia, oesophageal obstruction, weight loss and laminitis. All 4 treated horses recovered from the oesophageal perforation and are able to eat a normal diet. Two of the 4 horses have had infrequent episodes of recurrent choke. Oesophageal rupture should be considered as a differential diagnosis for horses with a painful swelling of the ventral neck. With surgical debridement and adequate supportive care, oesophageal perforation cases can have a fair to good long-term survival, although chronic complications can occur, therapy is prolonged, and a significant economic commitment is required.