Many of you may not know that we have a fully padded knock-down box (special stable for anaesthetising horses) and surgical theatre here at our equine clinic. We use these for elective surgical procedures requiring a general anaesthetic.
A lot of routine surgical procedures can be carried out by our own vets but, to ensure the best care for your horse, we defer to the expertise of specialist equine surgeons for our more complex cases! We are super lucky to have some great relationships with nearby referral hospitals and surgeons who are happy to perform surgery here at the practice. Emergency surgical cases are referred to nearby hospitals in order to provide more specialist care.
General anaesthesia in horses is not without risk so careful decision making and planning is required to try and minimise the risks.
Below is a general guide as to what will happen during the anaesthetic.
This is a vital stage where the vet will perform a thorough clinical exam to check for any potential dangers that may complicate the anaesthetic. We can then modify our technique or even postpone the surgery if we deem the risks are too high.
Usually, a small area on the neck is clipped so we can place a catheter into the jugular vein. This can then be used to give medication and fluids during the surgery. If they are shod, the shoes are usually removed to protect them during recovery.
This often involves giving an injection containing a tranquilliser to reduce the horse’s anxiety. This has also been shown to significantly reduce the risk of anaesthesia.
The horse is walked into the padded knock-down box for induction. The horse will be heavily sedated and, after a few minutes, is then given the anaesthetic injection via the catheter to induce anaesthesia (where the horse becomes unconscious and goes down). The padded knock-down box ensures the horse lies down on to a soft surface. All this is performed by the Vet.
Following induction, the horse is ‘intubated’. This involves passing an endotracheal tube (a hollow, long tube) into the mouth, through the larynx and into the trachea (windpipe). This allows the horse to be attached to the tubes delivering gas from the anaesthetic machine. The horse will breathe a mixture of oxygen and anaesthetic gas to ensure he or she remains unconscious. It is also possible to maintain anaesthesia using intravenous drugs, instead of using anaesthetic gas. Your Vet will decide the best protocol for your horse.
The horse is then positioned on the surgical table in theatre. It is very important to ensure the horse is correctly positioned, to ensure that there are no pressure points on any areas of muscle and allow the surgeon access to the appropriate area.
The horse is constantly monitored by a vet during the anaesthetic who monitors parameters such as heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure. They will also monitor depth of anaesthesia and fluid therapy.
After the surgery, the horse is moved back into the padded knock-down box. When the horse is deemed ready by the vet, the endotracheal tube is removed. The horse is usually then left alone, in a dark and quiet environment and watched by the vet.
Recovery can be risky as the horse’s movements tend to be unpredictable. We consider the operation completed once the horse is standing in the knock down box. Once he is able, he will be moved to a stable to continue recovery.
Kindly, some of our amazing clients have allowed us to use some surgery photos – which you can see below!