Definition

This is a condition in which the large bowels are distended with gas brought about as a result of decomposition of the food contained in them. It may follow upon spasmodic colic, or result from some other condition by which the passage of food along the bowel is retarded or arrested.

Causes

Among these are food of an improper nature, eating too fast and too much after long abstinence. It is also a result of intestinal obstruction, imperfect mastication arising out of irregularity of the teeth, and of altered structure and disordered function of one or another of the organs of digestion. Potatoes, rapidly-grown clover, and succulent grasses taken after a long fast will also induce it. To know which of these causes is in operation is important, as upon it will depend the course of treatment to be pursued.

Flatulent Colic. The x indicates the point where the trochar is introduced.

Fig. 103. - Flatulent Colic. The x indicates the point where the trochar is introduced.

Symptoms

The most striking and characteristic symptom is the drum-like distension of the belly (fig. 103). The manifestations of pain are not so sudden and acute as in spasmodic colic, but come on gradually; moreover, the pain is continuous, and attended with more danger than in spasmodic colic. Abdominal pain is evinced by restlessness and pawing, looking round at the flank, distressful countenance, and it may precede or follow the drum-like condition of the belly. It must, however, be remembered that individuals vary very much in their behaviour when suffering from this form of indigestion. To the violence of some patients may be attributed such fatal consequences as rupture of the intestine, while others show great depression of spirits, standing with a pained and anxious look, or wandering fitfully about the box, fearing to lie down, and, when compelled by pain to seek a change of posture, getting down slowly and carefully, and stretching out upon the side at full length, with only occasional wistful looks backwards. This attitude gives an even greater appearance of tympany than when the animal is standing, but the pressure on the under side of the body would appear to assist the patient in breaking off wind. The pressure of the distended bowels in a forward direction, and the pain experienced, cause the breathing to be quickened and shallow, and the pulse frequent and diminished in force. The duration of this disease is variable and uncertain. In some animals relief is speedily obtained by voluminous discharge of wind per rectum, without medicinal or other agents; in others it may last for many hours, and as long as two or three days. When flatulent colic has been caused by succulent food, as green clover or lucerne, its duration will probably be shorter than in a case where an animal has eaten excessively of meal or grain or other food requiring greater digestion.

Treatment

To break up or disperse the gases is the primary object of treatment, and a great many drugs have been credited with these powers. Hand-rubbing and wisping the abdomen appears to be agreeable to the patient, and probably affords some relief. Walking the animal about conduces also to breaking wind. The most rapid and effectual method of giving relief is to insert a suitable instrument into the right Hank, and by tapping the distended bowel give exit to the confined gas. This operation has not hitherto been resorted to as frequently as it should have been, owing to what now appears to be an unfounded fear of inducing peritonitis. The insertion of the instrument and the withdrawal of the trochar is followed by a free escape of gas and the rapid subsidence of the distended belly. A marked diminution of pain and a more cheerful expression on the part of the patient are also produced. Owing, however, to the supposed danger of the operation it is frequently postponed until the patient is in extremis.

The medicinal agents to be chosen are those which will chemically decompose the gas, arrest further fermentation, and carry away the offending ingesta. It must also be our endeavour to restore the power of contractility to the overstretched and weakened walls of the implicated bowel.

Of the first class, aromatic spirit of ammonia and the carbonate of ammonia have the best reputation. Linseed or other bland oil, as olive or cotton-seed oils, appear to disperse or arrest the further elimination of gas, and by their laxative qualities assist in removal of the offending solids.

Carbolic acid and the emulsions of creasote, very largely diluted, and weak preparations of chlorine, such as may be produced by agitation of a dram of chlorinated lime with a pint of water, arrest decomposition; while such stimulants and carminatives as turpentine and spirit of nitrous ether, capsicums, cardamoms, ginger, and the fruits of the pepper tribe generally, are calculated to restore tone to the affected parts. A draught consisting of laudanum, spirit of nitrous ether, and linseed-oil has for long enjoyed a good reputation, and is usually to be found in most large studs. Some relief may be afforded by promptly unloading the rectum of its contents with the oiled hand and afterwards throwing up a clyster, which may be repeated every three or four hours.

A fatal result is sometimes precipitated by rupture of the distended bowel or of the diaphragm by reason of the continued outward pressure on the gut. With abatement of the symptoms abstinence for some hours should be insisted upon, and small quantities only of food allowed until restoration appears to be complete.