Advanced Procedure For DDSP

A new surgical procedure known as the laryngeal tie-forward might provide a more reliable treatment for dorsal displacement of the soft palate (DDSP), the most common airway obstruction affecting performance horses. Current surgical procedures have about a 60% success rate, but Cornell University researchers say this procedure has a 10-20% greater chance of success.

Dorsal displacement of the soft palate is a common upper respiratory problem that causes poor performance in horses by obstructing airflow. The condition (sometimes referred to as choking down) is characterized by a fluttering noise that occurs during strenuous exercise and is caused by the soft palate (the rear roof of the mouth) moving up and over the epiglottis (a triangle shaped cartilage that prevents food from entering the windpipe) and partially blocking the airway.

According to a study published in the September edition of the Equine Veterinary Journal researchers concluded that 87% of the 98 horses that underwent the tie-forward procedure showed improved performance, 12% remained unchanged, and 2% were considered to be worse. In comparison, current surgical methods improve the horse’s condition about 60-70% of the time. Most horses undergoing the tie-forward procedure require approximately two weeks of rest before returning to normal exercise.

"Dorsal displacement of the soft palate is a very common upper airway abnormality seen in performance horses such as racehorses," said Brett Woodie, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital (who performed the research when he was at Cornell). "The tie-forward is another surgical option for palate displacement and so far we have seen a much better success rate compared with other surgical treatments for this condition."

Woodie warns that as with any surgical procedure, there is a chance the laryngeal tie-forward might not resolve the condition.

According to Woodie, non-surgical treatments for DDSP include changes in tack (use of a tongue tie, figure eight noseband, or different bits), rest, allowing the horse to mature, improving fitness, and the use of medications (such as corticosteroids) to decrease upper airway inflammation. Other surgical treatments for DDSP include cutting of the "strap muscles" (muscles that attach to the back of the voice box), trimming the soft palate, and using a laser to stiffen the soft palate.

"The research has added to our understanding of the factors that affected the occurrence of palate displacement," said Norm Ducharme DVM, MSc, Dipl. ACVS, medical director of the large animal hospital at Cornell. "This adds to the hypothesis that the collapsibility of the upper airway can be affected by altering the position of structures outside the soft palate musculature."

About the Author

Chad Mendell

Chad Mendell is the former Managing Editor for TheHorse.com .

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