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Anesthesia and Pain Management Services

Anesth

An anesthetist monitors a foal during surgery.

General anesthesia is extremely safe for horses, even those critically ill with colic. In fact, horses undergoing general anesthesia for emergency abdominal surgery often wake up from anesthesia in much better condition due to the physiologic balancing that takes place while they are unconscious and their medical problem is corrected. Many of the newer anesthetic drugs used for humans are used for horses, and they offer the same benefits.

Anesthetists at the EMC are specifically trained in equine anesthesia and offer the newest and safest technology for our patients for the simplest and most difficult surgeries. Anesthetists stay with each horse from induction to recovery and take great pride in having each surgery be safe and painless.

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General anesthesia

  • General anesthesia, which is defined as controlled unconsciousness, can be safely administered to horses for pain-free surgery and medical treatments.
  • Because anesthesia is its own science, special evaluation before, during, and after anesthesia is needed and requires the expertise available through the faculty and staff at the Equine Medical Center.
  • Careful monitoring while a horse is under anesthesia includes measuring blood pressure, electrocardiograph, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and blood gas concentrations. Skilled anesthetists use all of this information to keep the horse pain-free while in as light a plane of unconsciousness as possible.
  • Pain relief using analgesics is commonly used to balance the horse’s physiologic responses without causing decreases in blood pressure or lung ventilation. This is particularly critical when horses require surgery for colic and are compromised by shock, or because toxins are present in the blood.
  • Recovery from anesthesia is a critical time. The horses are kept quiet and analgesics are used to keep postoperative pain at a minimum. Horses are never urged to stand until they are ready, and the padded recovery stalls and large mattress make the environment as comfortable and as safe as possible.

Outpatient surgical procedures with general anesthesia

Some surgical procedures are completed on an outpatient basis so that the horse does not need to stay at the hospital overnight. Examples include:

  • normal castration
  • neurectomy
  • periosteal stripping
  • umbilical hernia
  • tenotomy
  • tendon/ligament splitting or injection

Pre-admission care

  • The patient must be fasted, which means that nothing solid can be eaten (hay, grain, pasture, etc.,) after midnight of the night prior to your appointment.
  • Water is allowed; it is very important that your horse always has access to water.
  • You must be sure that your horse will not eat its bedding - sometimes a muzzle works best - and that there is no hay in your trailer.
  • If you desire, the horse can be dropped off the night before so that fasting can take place at the hospital. An overnight stay would be an additional charge.

Duration of surgical procedure

The amount of time for outpatient procedures varies and includes an examination, preparation for anesthesia, surgery, recovery from anesthesia, and stabilization after recovery. This can take from 2-6 hours, depending on the procedure and the horse.

Inpatient surgical procedures with general anesthesia

We offer a variety of inpatient surgical procedures with general anesthesia, including:

Pre-admission care

No pre-admission care is required, unless advised by the clinician.

Duration of surgical procedure

After an evaluation, the horse will be admitted and surgery will be performed the following day. Pre-surgical blood work and fasting will be part of the workup prior to surgery.

Resources

For more information

  • To obtain more information about the EMC's anesthesia and pain management services, call (703) 771-6800 or email emcinfo@vt.edu.
  • View the Client Care Packet (PDF) to learn more about the facilities, services, staffing, and policies at the EMC.