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Large Animal Surgery FAQs

Who will perform the surgery on my horse?

The surgery will be performed by a board certified surgeon assisted by a resident and by a student. Because we are a teaching hospital, students will be involved in case management but will not play a primary role in the surgical procedure or decision making process. The role of the veterinary student in all our surgeries is to assist the surgeon and the resident so that he or she can learn about the procedure and specific surgical techniques through close observation.

Under certain circumstances and for certain procedures, a resident who is in an advanced stage of training, such as the third year of his/her residency program, will assume primary responsibility for the management of your horse’s problem, including the surgical treatment. That resident will have the ability to enlist the aid of a board certified surgeon if he/she feels the need to do so. You are always entitled to inquire about the qualifications of the surgeon and the team members that are involved with your horse and the role of each one in the procedure.

In addition, we have a well-qualified technical staff that will play an important role in preparing your horse for surgery and in the aftercare and monitoring of your horse’s postoperative progress. Taken together, all these individuals will act as a team to provide your horse with the best care possible, but under the leadership of a board certified surgeon.

What does it mean to be a “board certified” surgeon?

To become board certified in surgery, the necessary training involves an internship and a three year residency in an approved surgery training program, and then successful application to take a rigorous certifying examination in the specialty of large animal surgery. If the candidate qualifies to take the examination and then passes that examination, he or she is certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

What complications can arise with anesthesia?

Anesthesia carries its own set of risks, but fortunately these are also rare. Modern anesthesia is extremely safe in all animals and human beings, but again, the unexpected can happen. Even old horses can handle anesthesia well, as can sick horses and foals, but we do recognize that these can require special care. By the same token, a healthy horse can also develop an idiosyncratic response to anesthesia that could be life-threatening.

The biggest challenge to equine anesthesia is the size of the patient. The heavy body weight of any horse makes it unsuitable for any period of recumbency, which is probably why horses do not lie down for long periods of time. The consequence of recumbency is that the weight of the animal’s body can put enormous pressure on the parts of the body close to or on the table, so that nerves and muscles can become damaged. Even mild reversible damage to these critical structures can make it impossible for a horse to stand up after surgery, sometimes requiring that it be placed in a sling, or, in the worst cases, be euthanized. We do all we can to prevent this problem by padding the surgery table, keeping the anesthesia period as short as possible, and monitoring all aspects of blood flow carefully during anesthesia. However, despite our best efforts, some horses have an unknown idiosyncratic response to anesthesia that puts it at risk of these complications. Despite years of research into this and related problems, we recognize that there is still more to learn about some of the risk factors for this complication.