Some of the most nail-biting moments for horse owners occur when the veterinarian visits the property.? To us, it’s business as usual.? To the horse owners, it can be a big event: Questions are answered, problems are identified and handled, and management practices are discussed.
In many situations, the work that the vet is doing will necessitate sedation for the horse. Floating teeth, digging out hoof abscesses, or treating an emergency all require some kind of sedative. Surprisingly, many owners will ask, ?You don’t have to sedate him, do you’? Usually, when they learn we do, the next cringing disclaimer will be, ?don’t use a lot, He’s sensitive.?
While a subset of the horse population is sensitive to sedation, most horses fall right in the middle of the bell curve when it comes to their response to sedation. So, why do so many owners want the vet to perform procedures without sedation’?
THE PROTECTIVE INSTINCT. Surely tHere’s nothing more pitiful looking than a sedated horse.? Their heads drop, their ears droop, they sway to and fro, but they rarely fall down. And, despite the lowly appearance, the horse isn?t in any danger from sedation. It seems though, that no matter how many times the vet reinforces this fact, owners worry and ask to have him sedated sparingly, if at all.
This knee-jerk reaction is based on fear. We get scared that our horses ?may not make it through? the sedation, or that they may fall. We wonder if there are long-term side effects or if sedation is hard on the organ systems.
Fear is a natural emotion that keeps us on guard when we’re confronting the lesser known. When we couple that with our innate desire to protect our horses, it’s no wonder we tend to gravitate away from having our horses sedated.
REPLACE FEAR WITH FACT.? Knowing what is going on will go a long way toward quelling anxiety. let’s start with the three general types of substances that can alter the horse’s mentation.
1. Tranquilizers will calm a horse but generally not cause fainting or loss of mobility.? They can’t control pain. Usually, tranquilization lasts one to four hours, depending on dose and route administered. A prime example is acepromazine.
2. Sedatives are also substances that will calm a horse, but they greatly impede a horse’s ability to move as well. They help curb painful stimuli. Sedation will last one to four hours depending on dose and route administered.?? Examples of sedatives include Xylazine (Rompun), Detomidine (Dormosedan), and Romifidine (Sedivet).
3. General anesthetics are controlled substances that render a horse unconscious.? they’re used when major surgery is performed.? They can be injected or inhaled.? This category of drug stops all pain sensation and causes amnesia.
Why is knowing this important’? Well, right off the bat, one can see that with tranquilizers and sedatives, the horse doesn’t lose consciousness. These drugs are designed to keep the horse on his feet but make him stand still.
Sedatives do invoke significant physiologic changes.? They change blood pressure, alter heart rate, lower respiration, and slow gastrointestinal motility.? However, none are deleterious to your horse’s health. In addition, with sedatives (the most commonly used category), reversal agents are available in the event that the horse can’t handle the sedative.
RELAX!? (YOUR HORSE DOES!)? Vets are trained in pharmacology. We learn to handle any type of situation that may come our way when it comes to sedation. In addition, most of us sedate horses every day. The experience we gain from working with these drugs repeatedly lends itself to each horse that we sedate.? In addition, most tranquilizers and sedatives do have a relatively wide safe-dose range.
The fact is, sedatives are the best thing for your horse when the vet is working. Without sedatives, the horse will struggle during a procedure, making the ordeal longer and more traumatic for everyone. A wakeful horse is going to feel every little sensation. When sedated, painful stimuli are dulled.? If the horse is awake and scared, He’s more likely to kick, strike or bolt, which can cause injuries.? Sedation just calms them down and makes them not care about what’s going on around them.
To avoid your veterinarian sedating you as well as your horse, try to remember these simple concepts:
1) don’t worry! You aren?t a bad parent if you allow sedation.
2) You?re doing everyone a big favor by helping to reduce discomfort, stress, anxiety, fear and the time it will take the vet to complete the procedure.
Grant Miller, DVM, Contributing Veterinary Editor