Treating Guttural Pouches in Foals: An Easier Way (AAEP 2010)

Instead of operating on a foal with guttural pouch tympany, veterinarians should consider placing a flexible tube through the opening of his guttural pouch(es) via the nasal passage, according to a veterinarian from Auburn University.

Guttural pouches are air-filled outpouches of the auditory system (Eustachian tube) that connects the pharynx (throat) to the inner ear. In foals with guttural pouch tympany, air cannot exit these pouches normally. Instead, air continuously enters the pouches but remains trapped inside.

"Usually, guttural pouch tympany is noted soon after the foal is born," explained Elizabeth Barrett, DVM, a surgical resident at Auburn’s Vaughan Large Animal Teaching Hospital, who presented a study on the subject at the 2010 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 4-8 in Baltimore, Md. "Affected foals develop a large uni- or bilateral swelling in the throatlatch area."

Foals with guttural pouch tympany can suffer respiratory distress and can aspirate milk when nursing, causing pneumonia. The condition can be managed surgically; however, surgery typically requires special skills and equipment.

"Instead, foals can be treated by using an endoscope to place the end of a Foley catheter, a flexible tube with an inflatable balloon at one end, through the opening of the guttural pouch. The end of the tube is left hanging out of the nasal passage," said Barrett.

She explained that this Foley catheter technique: 

  • Is inexpensive, effective, and easy to perform; 
  • Does not require special equipment; and 
  • Can immediately and permanently resolve the tympany.

The catheter can be replaced easily if accidently removed.

According to Barrett, "If the catheter is left in place for at least three weeks, it causes a (planned) pressure necrosis (destruction of tissue caused by cutting off circulation with external compression) at the opening of the guttural pouch, resulting in unobstructed passage of air into and out of the guttural pouch."

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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