A few horses out there like to have their ears rubbed, but many are tolerant of ear handling at best, and violently ear shy at worst. When these horses need to have veterinary work done around their ears, such as biopsies or stitching of lacerations, sedation alone often isn't enough to get the job done. Last year veterinarians at the University of Minnesota developed a procedure for targeted nerve blocks to deaden the ear area with a minimal number of injections. At the 2007 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 1-5 in Orlando, Fla., Annette McCoy, DVM, who completed an internship at the University of Minnesota and is now a resident in equine surgery at Colorado State University, described this procedure for attending veterinarians.

McCoy said two specific nerves need to be blocked in order to deaden the entire ear region--the internal auricular nerve and the great auricular nerve. Both blocks, performed with lidocaine, become effective in about five minutes and are used along with sedation. Practitioners need patience and a good knowledge of the local anatomy to account for variation between horses, she advised.

"The addition of these local blocks resulted in less headshaking and other avoidance behaviors" compared to sedation alone in several horses that had ear biopsies, she reported. No complications were reported, although local irritation is possible and one horse did have ear paralysis lasting three to four hours.

"Blocking the great auricular and internal auricular nerves is an easy, effective method to desensitize the pinna (ear) for short procedures," she concluded.

About the Author

Christy M. West

Christy West has a BS in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky, and an MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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