Creating a permanent hole in the windpipe of horses through a procedure known as a tracheostomy might be the treatment of choice for horses afflicted with specific diseases of the upper respiratory tract that could not be successfully treated by alternate strategies.

side view of an equine tracheostomy
horse surgery equine tracheostomy close-up view

Side and close-up views of the stoma produced in an equine tracheostomy procedure.

"While the procedure itself is not novel, information regarding post-operative complications, maintenance of the stoma (hole), and outcomes in these horses is lacking," explained co-author Berkley Chesen, DVM, from the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at Texas A&M University.

This retrospective study evaluated data from 82 horses treated via standing tracheostomy ("standing" indicates that the horses were not anesthetized) between April 1995 and October 2005.

Horses included in the study had been diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cicatrix (scar tissue), arytenoid chondropathy (disease of the arytenoid cartilages), and/or complicated cases of laryngeal hemiplegia ("roarers").

Overall, 57 of the 64 horses available for long-term follow up (89%) returned to their previous use, which included Western performance, breeding, and pleasure riding. All but one owner said they were pleased with the result.

Post-surgical complications were minor in nature, and included transitory fever and swelling.

"In combination with a 1-year survival rate of 97% and an estimated 9.7 year failure-free period, standing tracheostomies appear to be safe and effective in horses with airway obstructions that could not otherwise be managed," reported Chesen.

The study, "Indications for and short and long-term outcome of permanent tracheostomy performed in standing horses: 82 cases (1995-2005)," was published in the May 1 edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

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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