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Open Access Research article

Is equine colic seasonal? Novel application of a model based approach

Debra C Archer*, Gina L Pinchbeck, Christopher J Proudman and Helen E Clough

Author Affiliations

Epidemiology Group, Department of Veterinary Science, University of Liverpool, Leahurst, Neston, Wirral, CH64 7TE, UK

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BMC Veterinary Research 2006, 2:27  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-2-27

Published: 24 August 2006

Abstract

Background

Colic is an important cause of mortality and morbidity in domesticated horses yet many questions about this condition remain to be answered. One such question is: does season have an effect on the occurrence of colic? Time-series analysis provides a rigorous statistical approach to this question but until now, to our knowledge, it has not been used in this context. Traditional time-series modelling approaches have limited applicability in the case of relatively rare diseases, such as specific types of equine colic. In this paper we present a modelling approach that respects the discrete nature of the count data and, using a regression model with a correlated latent variable and one with a linear trend, we explored the seasonality of specific types of colic occurring at a UK referral hospital between January 1995–December 2004.

Results

Six- and twelve-month cyclical patterns were identified for all colics, all medical colics, epiploic foramen entrapment (EFE), equine grass sickness (EGS), surgically treated and large colon displacement/torsion colic groups. A twelve-month cyclical pattern only was seen in the large colon impaction colic group. There was no evidence of any cyclical pattern in the pedunculated lipoma group. These results were consistent irrespective of whether we were using a model including latent correlation or trend. Problems were encountered in attempting to include both trend and latent serial dependence in models simultaneously; this is likely to be a consequence of a lack of power to separate these two effects in the presence of small counts, yet in reality the underlying physical effect is likely to be a combination of both.

Conclusion

The use of a regression model with either an autocorrelated latent variable or a linear trend has allowed us to establish formally a seasonal component to certain types of colic presented to a UK referral hospital over a 10 year period. These patterns appeared to coincide with either times of managemental change or periods when horses are more likely to be intensively managed. Further studies are required to identify the determinants of the observed seasonality. Importantly, this type of regression model has applications beyond the study of equine colic and it may be useful in the investigation of seasonal patterns in other, relatively rare, conditions in all species.