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Why Standing Surgeries Are Better For Horses

Photo credits: Dr. Robin Fontenot

For some procedures, surgery has to be carried out lying down. This is necessary for most colic cases, however, there are many surgeries that can benefit from the increasingly popular standing surgery.

Simple procedures such as castrations, along with more complex procedures like ovary removals and fracture repairs can now be performed with the horse in a standing position. Standing surgeries are becoming more frequent as researches are recognising more and more benefits.

General anaesthesia has its risks for any species. These risks are mainly related to the side effects of various drugs used to keep the patient unconscious. Because horses are so big they often need a lot more anaesthesia to be kept unconscious during surgery, therefore horses face even greater risks of side effects.

According to horse.com “Most horses do really well, but a very low percentage might develop issues like myopathies (muscle diseases), neuropathies (nerve damage), or laryngeal collapse,” says David G. Suarez-Fuentes, DVM, of BluePearl Veterinary Partners, in Tennessee, who studied standing surgeries at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, in Ames.

There are also other risks involved due to horses mass. When a horse is lying down on their side or back for a procedure their weight presses down on their muscles and airways which can cause multiple complications, crushing their muscles and interfering with circulation. Generally speaking, the heavier the horse, the worse it can be.

When a horse’s muscles are crushed it can lead to tying up and even paralysis. Another risk of surgery whilst the horse is lying down is that horses can often scare when they are feeling disorientated causing them to be at risk of injuring themselves during recovery.

Standing surgery means sedating the horse so they feel drowsy and using local anaesthesia to numb the area that may feel pain.

By standing up the horse is automatically eliminating the risks related to the muscles and internal parts being compressed.

“Getting in the throat for operations like laser cautery of the larynx, tiebacks, and laryngeal reinnervation is greatly simplified when the horse is standing sedated because the horse is in his exact natural position.”

It also maintains the tissue’s natural feel, which would be likely to change under the pressure of the horse's weight when lying down. During standing surgery, it is not necessary for the horse to have a tube placed down its trachea, which can get in the way if operating in that area.

When completing a procedure surgeons always test their work before closing up the area. They are able to make sure everything lines up and functions correctly with the horse in a closer to ‘normal’ state, being awake and able to move, and breathe.