Air Pillow Aids Anesthesia Recovery

In a recent study, researchers at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine found that a rapidly inflating/deflating air pillow significantly increased the time a horse rested following anesthesia, which could reduce anesthesia recovery injuries.

During the 37-month study, David Hodgson, DVM, Dipl. ACVA, associate professor with the Anesthesia Section at Kansas State, and his colleagues evaluated the recovery of 409 horses either on padded flooring or on the rapidly inflating/deflating air pillow. They found that the horses recovered on the air pillow had a longer rest time before their first attempt to get up (approximately 12.5 minutes longer). It took horses recovering on the air pillow approximately 49 minutes to stand versus 40 minutes for those on padded flooring. Ease and coordination of standing was better for the horses recovered on the pillow.

"Recovery quality is a very important aspect of equine anesthesia," Hodgson said. "The air pillow decreases pressure on the underside of the horse and helps to safely prolong recovery until they are able to stand in a coordinated fashion."

The air pillow is similar to an inflatable carnival attraction or a fire rescue device. Horses sink into the inflated pillow and are unable to roll up on their sides enough to stand up. The longer the horse is able to safely rest before standing can significantly decrease the chances of bone fractures and head or other injuries associated with anesthesia recovery.

"Horses may safely make uncoordinated movements while on the pillow without injuring themselves," Hodgson said. "We make horses take several aggressive attempts to get up before we let them stand. When we think they can safely stand, we allow the pillow to rapidly deflate." The horse is then able to roll on its sternum and stand on a firm surface.

Hodgson said the pillow system could be used in other situations such as with chronically down horses. He said the pillow might decrease the incidence of pressure sores and allow the horse to be recumbent until it has the opportunity to get back on its feet.

Various recovery systems have been developed to minimize risks associated with anesthesia recovery. They range from the traditional padded stall to the New Bolton Center's raft and recovery pool at the University of Pennsylvania. However, systems like the latter are expensive and require specialized equipment operated by trained personnel. Hodgson said the air pillow system can be inexpensively retrofitted to any existing recovery stall.

"There are advantages and disadvantages to any type of recovery system," Hodgson said. "If there was a perfect system, everyone would be using it exclusively. The air pillow is another option to enhance the safety and quality of equine anesthetic recoveries."

Researchers published the study in the Sept. 1 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Investigators included Hodgson, Wendy Ray-Miller, DVM; Rose McMurphy, DVM, Dipl. ACVA; and Phillip Chapman, PhD.

About the Author

Chad Mendell

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

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