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Your horse at the hospital – Vital questions answered

The news that your horse or pony needs an operation is always worrying to an owner and family connections. A good understanding of what will happen when you reach an equine hospital with your horse or pony can reduce anxiety, and in many cases will contribute to a successful outcome.

What paperwork will I receive?

For a planned (elective) procedure, it is usual to discuss your horse’s requirements with the hospital before the procedure. You might like to bring your own feed, supplements and head collar, but at the Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital (OVAH), we have everything that is required.

How do I prepare my horse?

In an emergency, it may be necessary to transport a horse who is covered in mud and dust, but hospital staff will be understanding. It is, however, helpful for an elective (routine) surgery if your horse is groomed and has had his hooves picked out. If your horse is particularly dirty, a thorough bath the day before travelling to the hospital is a good preparation.

Should I have his shoes removed?

Some equine hospitals prefer horses to have had their shoes removed by a farrier before they arrive for surgery. This is normally possible for elective procedures when you will have plenty of time to arrange with your farrier. However, this might not be possible if your horse requires an emergency procedure or if your horse has brittle hooves that wouldn’t tolerate shoe removal. In these cases, the shoes can be covered with protective tape before anaesthesia. It is advised to discuss this matter with the nursing staff before you transport your horse to the hospital.

Should I bring my own feed and hay?

Most equine hospitals supply a variety of feed, although you may choose to bring supplements or a particular type of feed if your horse is a particularly difficult eater. You normally have plenty of time to discuss your horse’s dietary needs or any feed allergies with the nursing staff and interns when you arrive. Hospitals try to maintain horses’ routines with similar feed to reduce stress, colic-related problems and complications.

Should I withhold feed and starve my horse before the operation?

Ideally, horses’ gastrointestinal systems should be empty before elective surgical procedures, and most equine hospitals will withhold feed for six hours prior to the time of surgery. It’s important that your horse’s intestines start moving quickly after surgery and he doesn’t develop a blockage, so horses are normally fed a small amount of soft feed as soon as they are ready post-operatively.

Hospital policies for starving horses do vary, and it isn’t always possible to withhold feed in an emergency situation.

Is there a risk of infection to my horse from other horses in the hospital?

Before horses are admitted to our hospital, they have a basic clinical examination.

All hospitals have biosecurity systems in place to prevent the spread of infection between horses. These include footbaths, hand sanitisers and protective outerwear for hospital staff. These measures prevent otherwise healthy patients from developing infections and ensure sick patients make optimal recoveries.

Before horses are admitted to our hospital, they have a basic clinical examination. We have strict biosecurity measures and horses with infections are maintained in isolation units, thus never mixing with the general hospital population.

Will he relax and settle into the hospital environment?

Hospitals are busy but professional environments and work to a very strict routine. The vast majority of horses and ponies settle into the routine very quickly and often seem to enjoy their stay much to the surprise of the owners or handlers.

Hospital staff realise how difficult it can be to leave your horse in a hospital and will go through you and your horse’s requirements carefully to make sure you are happy with the arrangements.

By: Dr Luke Poore

The full article appears in the Your Winter Guide issue of HQ (July 124) > Shop now