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Category: Surgery

Standardbred Gelding Back to the Track with Palm Beach Equine Clinic

Dr. David Priest Utilizes Dynamic Endoscope and Performs Surgery to Help Four-Year-Old Harness Racer Get Back in Action

For equine athletes to perform their best, optimal respiratory health is crucial, and particularly paramount for harness racehorses. According to Dr. David Priest, Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarian with a keen interest in respiratory health, a racehorse moves roughly 70 liters of air through its lungs over the duration of one second while exercising. To simulate the movement of that amount of air outside the anatomy of a horse’s body, it would require two industrial ShopVacs on full power.

David Priest Palm Beach Equine Clinic Veterinarian

A colloquial condition known as “roaring”, or recurrent laryngeal neuropathy, is a fairly common issue among horses, and it restricts the amount of air able to reach the lungs through the horse’s upper respiratory system. The condition usually affects the left side of the larynx – the equine left recurrent laryngeal nerve is longer than the right – with paralysis that does not allow for an adequate amount of air to travel to the lungs.

According to Dr. Priest, equine anatomy plays a factor in the prevalence of this condition. There is a correlation with the length and size of the neck to the nerve pathways that travel from the brain to the chest, around the heart, and back up to the throat. Although mild cases of recurrent laryngeal neuropathy can be tolerated, the condition becomes particularly serious when a horse’s work involves high-intensity aerobic exercise.

“We often see recurrent laryngeal neuropathy described as a paralyzed flapper,” said Dr. Priest. “If you imagine the flaps of the larynx as cabinet doors, then the horse should be able to hold the doors open without problem while at rest. Yet, when the airflow picks up during exercise, that muscle is sometimes not strong enough to hold the doors open, and it collapses into the airway.”

Just before the start of 2019, Dr. Priest received a call from Stephanie Reames, the trainer of a four-year-old harness racehorse with symptoms pointing to recurrent laryngeal neuropathy. During his diagnostic process, Dr. Priest performed an endoscopy while the horse was resting to provide a baseline observation.

“I saw what I thought was a minor abnormality, but I did not know what amount of laryngeal strength this horse had,” said Dr. Priest. “The roaring noise usually occurs when the disease is progressive, and this horse was making a little bit of noise.


Palm Beach Equine Clinic - Dynamic endoscope showcasing the collapse of the left larynx flap
Dynamic endoscope showcasing the collapse of the left larynx flap.
Palm Beach Equine Clinic - Dynamic endoscope of the larynx with clear air flow at exercise after tie-back surgery
Dynamic endoscope of the larynx with clear air flow at exercise after tie-back surgery.

“This particular horse was in training for the harness racing season, so the owners and trainer wanted to figure out the root of the issue as swiftly as possible,” continued Dr. Priest. “The most effective way to accomplish that is to utilize a dynamic endoscope.”

A dynamic endoscope is a video recording device worn by the horse during exercise. It allows veterinarians to see the larynx, and therefore view signs of recurrent laryngeal neuropathy in real-time. Dr. Priest observed the disease as a grade C on the universal grading system for rating the disease, which translates to a full collapse of the left larynx flap.

Once diagnosed, Dr. Priest recommended an aptly-named laryngeal tie-back surgery, which involves stitching the larynx flap to surrounding cartilage in order to hold it open for optimal airflow. He performed the surgery at Palm Beach Equine Clinic a couple of days after making the diagnosis, and the horse returned home to its training base at South Florida Training Center in Lake Worth, FL, the same day.


The dynamic endoscope on a harness racehorse ready for exercise
A view of the dynamic endoscope on a harness racehorse.
The dynamic endoscope on a harness racehorse ready for exercise.

The suggested recovery time is 30 days to allow for the surgical incisions to heal. Once healed, this horse immediately returned to full harness racing training.

“The horse is doing fantastic and we are hoping to qualify for racing in the next three weeks, and we will most likely head north to Pennsylvania to race,” said Reames. “Dr. Priest is absolutely amazing and was extremely professional from start to finish. There is always a hesitation when you learn that a horse needs surgery, but Dr. Priest was so prompt with the diagnosis and procedure, and the horse healed so quickly. We have high hopes for another successful racing season!”

In February of 2020, Dr. Priest performed a second dynamic endoscopy to observe the condition and effectiveness of the tie-back surgery. “The disease usually results in a 20-30% reduction in airflow, which causes a small performance decline resulting in a speed reduction of maybe one second. This horse’s particular case was perfect at the one-year check, which is key because that one second can be the difference between winning and losing!”

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When the Bone Breaks

Palm Beach Equine Clinic is Changing the Prognosis for Condylar Fracture Injuries

Palm Beach Equine Clinic is changing the prognosis for condylar fracture injuries in race and sport horses. Advances in diagnostic imaging, surgical skillset, and the facilities necessary to quickly diagnose, treat, repair, and rehabilitate horses with condylar fractures have improved dramatically in recent years.

Palm Beach Equine Clinic is changing the prognosis for condylar fracture injuries among sport horses.
Photo by Jump Media

Most commonly seen in Thoroughbred racehorses and polo ponies, a condylar fracture was once considered a career-ending injury. Today, however, many horses fully recover and return to competing in their respective disciplines.

What is a Condylar Fracture?

A condylar fracture is a repetitive strain injury that results in a fracture to the cannon bone above the fetlock due to large loads transmitted during high-speed exercise. Photo provided by Palm Beach Equine Clinic

A condylar fracture is a repetitive concussive injury that results in a fracture to the cannon bone above the fetlock due to large loads transmitted over the cannon bone during high-speed exercise. On a radiograph, a condylar fracture appears as a crack that goes laterally up the cannon from the fetlock joint and out the side of the bone, essentially breaking off a corner of the cannon bone, sometimes up to six inches long.

“A condylar fracture is a disease of speed,” said Dr. Robert Brusie, a surgeon at Palm Beach Equine Clinic who estimates that he repairs between 30 and 50 condylar fractures per year. “A fracture to the left lateral forelimb is most common in racehorses as they turn around the track on a weakened bone and increased loading.”

Scan showing the screws inserted during surgery (right). This patient, a Thoroughbred racehorse, walked away from surgery comfortably and is recovering well. Photo provided by Palm Beach Equine Clinic

Condylar fractures are further categorized into incomplete and non-displaced (the bone fragment hasn’t broken away from the cannon bone and is still in its original position), or complete and displaced (the fragment has moved away from the cannon bone itself and can often be visible under the skin).

Additionally, condylar fractures can occur laterally or medially. According to fellow Palm Beach Equine Clinic surgeon Dr. Weston Davis, most condylar fractures tend to be lateral on the outside condyle (a rounded projection on a bone, usually for articulation with another bone similar to a knuckle or joint).

“Most lateral condylar fractures are successfully repaired,” said Dr. Davis. “Medial condylar fractures tend to be more complicated configurations because they often spiral up the leg. Those require more advanced imaging and more advanced techniques to fix.”

What is the Treatment?

The first step in effectively treating a condylar fracture through surgery is to accurately and quickly identify the problem. Board-certified radiologist Dr. Sarah Puchalski utilizes the advanced imaging services at Palm Beach Equine Clinic to accomplish exactly this.

“Stress remodeling can be detected early and easily on nuclear scintigraphy before the horse goes lame or develops a fracture,” said Dr. Puchalski. “Early diagnosis of stress remodeling allows the horse to be removed from active race training and then return to full function earlier. Early diagnosis of an actual fracture allows for repair while the fracture is small and hopefully non-displaced.”

Surgical lag screws are used to reconnect the fractured condyle with the cannon bone.
Photo by Jump Media

Once the injury is identified as a condylar fracture, Palm Beach Equine Clinic surgeons step in to repair the fracture and start the horse on the road to recovery. Depending on surgeon preference, condylar fracture repairs can be performed with the horse under general anesthesia, or while standing under local anesthesia. During either process, surgical leg screws are used to reconnect the fractured condyle with the cannon bone.

“For a small non-displaced fracture, we would just put in one to two screws across the fracture,” explains Dr. Davis. “The technical term is to do it in ‘lag fashion,’ such that we tighten the screws down heavily and really compress the fracture line. A lot of times the fracture line is no longer visible in x-rays after it is surgically compressed. When you get that degree of compression, the fractures heal very quickly and nicely.”

More complicated fractures, or fractures that are fully displaced, may require additional screws to align the parts of the bone. For the most severe cases of condylar fractures, a locking compression plate with screws is used to stabilize and repair the bone.

Palm Beach Equine Clinic surgeon Dr. Jorge Gomez approaches a non-displaced condylar fracture while the horse is standing, which does not require general anesthesia.

A view of Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s standing surgical suite.
Photo by Jump Media

“I will just sedate the horse and block above the site of the fracture,” said Dr. Gomez. “Amazingly, horses tolerate it really well. Our goal is always to have the best result for the horse, trainers, and us as veterinarians.”

According to Dr. Gomez, the recovery time required after a standing condylar fracture repair is only 90 days. This is made even easier thanks to a state-of-the-art standing surgical suite at Palm Beach Equine Clinic. The four-and-a-half-foot recessed area allows doctors to perform surgeries anywhere ventral of the carpus on front legs and hocks on hind legs from a standing position. Horses can forgo general anesthesia for a mild sedative and local nerve blocks, greatly improving surgical recovery.

“A condylar fracture was once considered the death of racehorses, and as time and science progressed, it was considered career-ending,” concluded Dr. Brusie. “Currently, veterinary medical sciences are so advanced that we have had great success with condylar fracture patients returning to full work. Luckily, with today’s advanced rehabilitation services, time, and help from mother nature, many horses can come back from an injury like this.”

Palm Beach Equine Clinic Provides the Best in Emergency Colic Care

Fear of colic is in the back of many horse owners’ minds, but with the expert care of Palm Beach Equine Clinic, owners can rest easy knowing that they have some of the world’s best surgeons and veterinarians at their disposal in the event of an emergency.

Colic 101

Characterized by abdominal pain or problems with the gastrointestinal tract, colic is something that often arises unexpectedly and from many different origins. Spoiled feed, abrupt changes in feed, parasite infestation, sand ingestion, lack of water consumption, and even excess stress or changes in the weather are among the numerous causes generally related to colic.

Colic Symptoms

Whatever the cause may be, the most important step any owner can take is to recognize the symptoms as early as possible and immediately call their veterinarian. Pawing, rolling, looking at abdomen, sweating, loss of interest in food and water, and absence of gut sounds in any of the four abdominal quadrants are some of the telltale signs of colic development. Unfortunately, colic can be fatal, but the proper knowledge and care may save your horse’s life. The sooner your veterinarian gets involved in treatment, the better your horse’s chance of survival.

Dr. Weston Davis surgery palm beach equine clinic

Emergency Colic Care

In the event of an emergency, the veterinarians and surgeons of Palm Beach Equine Clinic are available 24/7 to offer the very best care for your equine partner. Palm Beach Equine Clinic is renowned for its referral full-service surgical center and intensive care hospital located in the heart of Wellington, Florida. Board-Certified surgeons, primary care veterinarians, and skilled hospital technicians are available to treat, monitor, and care for critical cases. With world-class veterinarians and a full staff of highly trained technicians, both clients and patients of Palm Beach Equine Clinic are in the best hands possible.

Surgical Capabilities

Palm Beach Equine Clinic offers the latest in technology as the surgical techniques are less invasive and result in faster recovery times for your horse. The surgical team leader, Dr. Robert Brusie, is a nationally renowned, Board-Certified surgeon. Dr. Brusie’s surgical specialties include orthopedic, arthroscopic, and emergency cases. Dr. Brusie has been the head surgeon with PBEC for the past 20 years.

“In the last ten years, colic surgery has come a long, remarkable way,” Dr. Brusie stated. “With our clients, if the horse needs to go to surgery, we get an approximately 95% success rate. We attribute that to the client’s excellent care of their horses, as well as their knowledge to contact us immediately. That being said, colic surgery is always the last resort. We try to help all horses improve medically first.”

Palm Beach Equine’s surgical suite and staff is prepared to handle all types of emergencies, day and night. The large team of 40 veterinarians includes three Board-Certified Surgeons who rotate on-call duties so every day is covered. This aids Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarians and all of Southeast Florida with the ability to treat their emergencies requiring surgical assistance as quickly as possible. The state-of-the-art intensive care hospital is equipped with top-of-the-line medical equipment, including digital video cameras for the clinicians to easily monitor their patients from any location, at any time.

Meet Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s Dr. Robert Brusie

Need Emergency Colic Care?

For more information on the Palm Beach Equine Clinic facility or in case of an emergency, please call (561) 793-1599 to contact an on-call veterinarian.

Early Response to Equine Joint Disease Improves Career Longevity

At Palm Beach Equine Clinic in Wellington, FL, the team of Board-Certified surgeons are experts in minimally invasive surgical techniques, aiming to reduce joint disease, resolve lameness, and improve the longevity of sport horse careers.

Arthroscopy (or arthroscopic surgery) is a minimally invasive surgical technique that can be performed on an injured joint or synovial structure to accurately explore and treat pathology.
Arthroscopy (or arthroscopic surgery) is a minimally invasive surgical technique that can be performed on an injured joint or synovial structure to accurately explore and treat pathology.

Arthroscopy (or arthroscopic surgery) is a minimally invasive surgical technique that can be performed on an injured joint or synovial structure to accurately explore and treat pathology. The surgery generally involves two very small (8mm) keyhole incisions. The first incision is where the surgeon will insert the arthroscope, which is an instrument with a small surgical grade camera installed that allows a complete, clear view of the interior joint surface. The second small incision is created to insert the surgical instrument to perform the procedure.

Arthroscopy is used to treat a broad range of injuries inside of a joint. Chip fracture removal is a procedure that is particularly commonly in both young Warmblood horses with developmental disease and in racehorses travelling at high speeds. A small chip fracture can cause persistent irritation in the joint as well as arthritis if left untreated. It is best removed immediately so that no further damage is created. The surgeon can go into the joint, remove the chip, and clean up the surrounding cartilage. Most horses recovery quickly and return to their normal athletic activity.

Board-Certified Surgeon Dr. Weston Davis performs many arthroscopic surgeries at Palm Beach Equine Clinic alongside fellow surgeons Dr. Robert Brusie and Dr. Jorge Gomez.

“In many horses, we consider arthroscopy as a prophylactic measure, intervening after injury, but before the development of a generalized degenerative arthritic cycle ensues,” Dr. Davis stated. “Arthroscopy is definitely something that you want to do early in the game if you feel like the horse has joint disease, or a chip, or cartilage disease, or an undefined injury that is not responding appropriately to medical therapy. Arthroscopy can be curative for some of these horses. But if you do not intervene early on in the course of the disease and there is already advanced arthritis, then you have missed your window.

“Arthroscopy is a preferred treatment because it is minimally invasive so most horses can go right back to work,” Dr. Davis continued. “In a typical scenario, we thoroughly explore the joint with the arthroscopic camera, we remove a chip or repair a lesion, and the horse is not lame after the surgery. Because of the small incisions, there is minimal aftercare and horses are often able to go back to work quickly.”

Other common indications for arthroscopic surgery are meniscal disease in the stifle, subchondral cystic lesions, primary cartilage lesions, and debridement of damaged tendinous/ligamentous tissue (such as deep digital flexor tendon tears in the navicular bursa). The surgeons at Palm Beach Equine Clinic can perform arthroscopy on virtually any joint in the horse. Anything from the Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) of the head to the navicular bursa within the hoof capsule can be explored and treated with this minimally invasive approach.

BEFORE Large prolapsed meniscal tear.
BEFORE Large prolapsed meniscal tear.
AFTER Post debridement of torn meniscal tissue.
AFTER Post debridement of torn meniscal tissue.
BEFORE Tear of deep digital flexor tendon in navicular bursa.
BEFORE Tear of deep digital flexor tendon in navicular bursa.
AFTER Surface of deep digital flexor tendon after cleanup.
AFTER Surface of deep digital flexor tendon after cleanup.

Almost all arthroscopies are performed under general anesthesia with the horse on its back. New renovations at Palm Beach Equine Clinic include a set of stocks of adjustable height adjacent to a surgeon’s pit, allowing the surgeons to have eye-level access to the joint they are working on, enabling many new procedures on the legs of standing horses.

Minimally invasive surgery allows for a simple and quick recovery for the horse. The traditional horse would be on stall rest with a bandage on until the sutures come out at two weeks, and then start doing some light hand walking and physical therapy. Barring severe damage in the joint or associated tendon/ligament disruption, most cases will undergo a six-week rest and rehabilitation protocol, then return to normal work.

As always, the advanced diagnostic imaging at Palm Beach Equine Clinic permits the surgeons to get a complete evaluation of an injury involving a joint to ensure the best possible outcome. Depending on the injury type, digital radiographs, ultrasound, MRI, and Nuclear Scintigraphy, or a combination thereof, may be used for pre-operative diagnosis and planning. Ultrasound and digital radiography are available for intra-operative use. Intra-operative CT scanning will also be available in the future with the new additions at Palm Beach Equine Clinic.

“When you are inside the joint with an arthroscopic camera, you have the most complete picture of the surface and health of that joint,” Dr. Davis noted.

Condylar Fractures: No Longer A Career Ending Injury

Palm Beach Equine Clinic (PBEC), located in Wellington, FL, offers advanced diagnostic imaging, world-renowned surgical talent, and state-of-the-art facilities necessary to quickly diagnose, treat, and repair horses with condylar fractures, making PBEC one of the leading facilities in the U.S. for condylar fracture repairs.

When the Bone Breaks

With thanks to the technology required for early diagnosis and experienced surgeons on staff, horses that are admitted to PBEC for condylar fracture repairs are more likely to return to training quickly. Most commonly seen in Thoroughbred racehorses and occasionally polo ponies or eventing horses, a condylar fracture was once considered a career-ending injury. Today, however, advances in technology aid in a full recovery with horses regularly returning to competition in their respective divisions.

What is a Condylar Fracture?

A condylar fracture is a repetitive strain injury that results in a fracture to the cannon bone above the fetlock due to large loads transmitted during high-speed exercise. On a radiograph, a condylar fracture appears as a crack that goes from the fetlock joint up the cannon bone. Lateral fractures many times exit the bone usually one-third of the way up the bone. Medial fractures will oftentimes spiral up to the hock or knee. Medial fractures are much more common in the hindlimb than the forelimb. It is the spiral fractures that are more difficult, due to the fact that the extent of the spiral cannot be identified radiographically. If the surgeon cannot identify the fracture, then that part of the fracture cannot be repaired.

“A condylar fracture is a disease of speed,” said Dr. Robert Brusie, a surgeon at PBEC who estimates that he repairs between 30 and 50 condylar fractures per year. “A fracture to the left lateral forelimb is most common in racehorses as they turn the track on a weakened bone and increased loading on the lateral condyle.”

Condylar fractures are further categorized into two classes. An incomplete and non-displaced fracture means that the bone fragment is not separated from the cannon and is still intact with its original position. A complete and displaced fracture means the fragment has detached from the cannon bone and this fracture can often be visible under the skin. Displaced condylar fractures have a somewhat lower prognosis due to the fact that soft tissue structures, such as the joint capsule, become torn. When these structures heal, they are thicker, which makes the joint less flexible.

“Most lateral condylar fractures are fairly simple for us to fix,” said PBEC surgeon Dr. Weston Davis. “Medial condylar fractures tend to be more complicated configurations because they often spiral up the leg. Those require more advanced imaging and more advanced techniques to fix.”

What is the Treatment?

The first step to effectively treating a condylar fracture through surgery is to accurately and quickly identify the problem. PBEC’s Board-Certified Radiologist Dr. Sarah Puchalski utilizes the advanced imaging services at PBEC to assist in the diagnosis.

“Stress remodeling can be detected early and easily on Nuclear Scintigraphy before the horse goes lame or even develops a fracture,” said Dr. Puchalski. “Early diagnosis of stress remodeling allows the horse to be removed from active race training and then return to full function earlier. Early diagnosis of an actual fracture allows for repair while the fracture is small and hopefully non-displaced.”

Once identified as a condylar fracture, PBEC surgeons step in to repair the fracture and start the horse on the road to recovery. Depending on surgeon preference, condylar fracture repairs can be performed with the horse under general anesthesia, or while standing under local anesthesia and sedation. During either process, surgical lag screws are used to reconnect the fractured condyle with the cannon bone.

“For a very simple and small non-displaced fracture, we would just put in one to two screws across the fracture,” explains Dr. Davis. “The technical term is to do it in ‘lag fashion’, such that we tighten the screws down heavily and compress the fracture line. Many times the fracture line is no longer visible in x-rays after it is surgically compressed. When you achieve good compression, the fractures heal very quickly and nicely.”

More complicated fractures, or fractures that are fully displaced, may require more screws to align parts of the bone. For the most severe cases of condylar fractures, a locking compression plate with screws is used to stabilize and repair the bone.

Severe condylar fractures often require general anesthesia, but for PBEC surgeon Dr. Jorge Gomez, approaching a simpler non-displaced condylar fracture while the horse is standing helps to aid in a faster recovery and successful surgical outcome.

“I think it takes the risk of anesthesia away and is a faster surgery from the time the horse comes in to the time the horse recovers,” said Dr. Gomez. “I will just sedate the horse and block above the site of the fracture. Amazingly, horses tolerate it really well, and it is very convenient for medial condylar fractures. In these cases, the fracture can spiral all the way up through the cannon bone, and they have a tendency to develop complete catastrophic fractures that can happen at any time after the injury. That risk can be significantly increased by the recovery from general anesthesia. Our goal is always to have the best result for the horse, trainers, and us, as veterinarians.”

According to Dr. Gomez, the recovery time required after a standing condylar fracture repair is only 90 days.

While Dr. Brusie, Dr. Davis, and Dr. Gomez are all seasoned in quickly and effectively repairing condylar fractures, PBEC is helping them to stay on the cutting edge of surgical techniques. PBEC is currently renovating its facility with plans to give surgeons a new approach to fix condylar fracture repairs. A set of stocks and surgeon’s pit have been added with the ability to give the surgeon eye-level access to the fracture with the patient standing and subsequently simplifying the procedure by reducing the risk from recumbent recovery.

What is the Prognosis?

One of the most common questions regarding an equine injury is, “Will the horse return to work?” Thanks to advanced imaging and surgical techniques, the answer to that question when involving a condylar fracture is most likely, “Yes.” At PBEC, a condylar fracture diagnosis rarely results in the end of a racehorse’s career.

Diagnostic imaging plays a major role in assisting to diagnose, surgically map, and follow up on condylar fractures. After primary use to diagnose a condylar fracture, digital radiographs are also used after surgery to ensure that a fracture repair was completely successful. According to Dr. Davis, scanning two planes during and after surgery gives a full view of the fracture and repair techniques, immediately indicating the success of the procedure before moving the horse on to recovery.

“A condylar fracture was once considered the death of racehorses, and as time and science progressed, it was considered career-ending,” said Dr. Brusie. “Currently, veterinary medical sciences are so advanced that we have had great success with condylar fracture patients returning to full work. Luckily, with today’s advanced rehabilitation services, time, and help from mother nature, many horses will come back from an injury like this.”

Palm Beach Equine Clinic provides experience, knowledge, availability, and the very best care for its clients. Make Palm Beach Equine Clinic a part of your team!

Palm Beach Equine Clinic: Leading the Way in Rapid Response for Emergency Colic Care

Palm Beach Equine Clinic of Wellington, FL, is a worldwide leader in sport horse medicine and emergency colic care. While symptoms of colic should be treated medically first, surgical intervention can be necessary, and the team at Palm Beach Equine Clinic is prepared for every situation.

With three Board-Certified Surgeons on staff, as well as a state-of-the-art hospital and the most advanced surgical equipment, Palm Beach Equine Clinic has a very high success rate in saving horses from life-threatening colic. The veterinarians take pride in their equine clients returning to full intended use and continuing to perform at their highest levels.

Causes and Symptoms

Colic is defined as any source of abdominal discomfort in the horse. Abdominal pain or problems within the gastrointestinal tract can arise unexpectedly from many different origins, including but not limited to: spoiled feed, abrupt changes in feed, parasite infestation, sand ingestion, lack of water consumption, excess stress, or changes in the weather. Many times there is not a well-defined inciting cause.

The most important step any owner can take is to recognize the symptoms as early as possible and immediately call their veterinarian. Pawing, rolling, looking at the abdomen, sweating, loss of interest in food and water, and absence of gut sounds in any of the four quadrants are common symptoms. The sooner the veterinarian gets involved in treatment, the better the horse’s chance of survival.

In the event of an emergency, the surgeons and veterinarians of Palm Beach Equine Clinic are available 24/7. When an equine patient is admitted to the hospital, every step is taken to quickly diagnose the problem and correct it immediately.

Tests and Diagnosis

Board-Certified Surgeon Dr. Weston Davis explained that one of the biggest challenges in the sport horse population is determining surgical versus non-surgical colic cases.

“We do not want to put a non-surgical case through the risk of anesthesia and the months of healing time, so we try to spare that at all costs and determine the surgical cases as accurately as we can,” Dr. Davis detailed. “On the split side of that, we try to operate as quickly as possible on any horse that needs surgery and not miss any surgical lesion types.”

There are several methods for differentiating surgical cases. Simple physical exam findings, such as the color of the gums, heart rate, gut sounds, and level of pain can all be supportive of surgical necessity. A variety of tests may also include abdominal ultrasounds and rectal exams.

An Abdominocentesis (or belly tap) is performed on every questionable colic case, where fluid is collected from around the intestines and analyzed for color and character. A variety of other laboratory tests will be run on the fluid as well, with the aim of quickly determining if the horse’s bowel is compromised.

Surgical Procedures

If surgery is necessary, there are a few different approaches that may be performed depending on the specific case.

For chronic colic cases, such horses with longstanding, intermittent colic, an abdominal exploratory procedure may be done with laparoscopy. This option can be done with the horse standing and is a minimally invasive way to examine the full abdomen.

In most acute cases, further steps must be taken. If the veterinarian determines that the horse is a surgical candidate, the patient will go under general anesthesia. The surgeons try to make as small of an incision as they can to perform the needed surgical correction.

“If we intervene early, we can take a strangulating or compromised lesion – one that most people understand as a twist – and we can go into the abdomen and correct the twist, reposition everything appropriately, explore the remainder of the abdomen to make sure nothing else is going on, and then close them up,” Dr. Davis explained. “Some of these surgeries can be as quick as 30 minutes and require just an untwisting, repositioning, and closure. The ones that are bad are the usually the cases that have a more severe twist or have been going on longer.”

In more severe or long-standing cases, the surgery can require a resection and an anastomosis procedure to excise a compromised or devitalized segment of the intestine. The surgeon then joins the healthy ends back together.

“Even more advanced procedures would be like a re-plumbing of the intestines,” Dr. Davis noted. “One of the most common examples of this would be a patient with damage to the end of the small intestine, near or involving its junction with the cecum. In a case like this, we would perform a ‘jejunocestomy’ where we join another part of the small intestine to a different position on the cecum.”

Post-Operative Recovery

After any surgery, there is a process of recovery, which Palm Beach Equine Clinic makes as easy as possible for its clients. In the traditional recovery, most horses will remain in the hospital for a few days. In the post-operative period, they generally receive fluids until they are ready to eat and drink, 3-5 days of antibiotics, and 5-7 days of anti-inflammatories.

“The recovery process is highly dependent upon how sick they are after surgery,” Dr. Davis stated. “Some horses will bounce back and be home 48 hours later, but a very sick horse could potentially spend seven to ten days in the hospital until they are healthy enough to get off fluids and go home.”

After leaving the hospital, the horse is usually placed on one month of stall rest, followed by another month of turnout in a small paddock. In between eight to 12 weeks, the horse will usually be fully recovered and ready to start back to work.

palm beach equine clinic hospital barn aisle

Physical Therapy

With the sport horse in mind, PBEC pays special attention to the health of the abdomen following surgery. The health of the abdominal incision and prevention of infection or hernias is very important. In most cases, the surgeon will recommend physical therapy and special exercises to re-strengthen the horse’s abdominal muscles so that it can get back to work quickly and have a strong abdominal musculature when it does.

“Making the horse walk backwards is one thing that will make them tighten and work their abdominal musculature,” Dr. Davis shared. “Pinching or tickling around their tail head is another common exercise to make them do something similar to a stomach crunch.”

As one of the top equine emergency care centers in the world, Palm Beach Equine Clinic is prepared to handle any case, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year.

“With the combination of quick surgical intervention, excellent surgical care, and specialized post-operative measures, Palm Beach Equine Clinic has a very high rate of return to athletic performance for all of our colic cases,” Dr. Davis concluded.

Palm Beach Equine Clinic provides experience, knowledge, availability, and the very best care for its clients. To find out more, please visit www.equineclinic.com or call 561-793-1599.

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