Commentary: Equine Medicine Has Come a Long Way

While I was in veterinary school 20-some years ago, the first ultrasound machine was being "explored" by board-certified veterinary radiologists at university veterinary schools. Pain medication for horses was mostly limited to the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs of phenylbutazone, flunixin meglumine, and dipyrone (no longer available). Other pain medications were riddled with side effects. Therapy for musculoskeletal injuries was hydrotherapy and rest or mild exercise.

We've come a long way.

In 2009, along with better pain medications and anesthetic agents, horses will have more access than ever to the same diagnostics as humans. More private veterinary clinics will offer computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Ultrasonography has advanced beyond reproductive and gastrointestinal use--ultrasound imaging of anything from eyes to tendons is now common. Gone are the days of sneaking dog and cat patients into a human hospital to get a CT or MRI done in the middle of the night--for complicated cases, this technology is offered at an increasing number of university and private veterinary hospitals for horses, pets, and other animals.

The array of equine therapeutic tools has also expanded beyond new antibiotics, effective pain medications, and safer anesthetic agents. Hyperbaric chambers are being used in several equine clinics across the country, and more research will likely be forthcoming on the benefits of this technology. Equine rehabilitation centers that offer underwater treadmills and swimming pools for horses are also gaining in popularity and use.

While this might sound pie-in-the-sky to those who don't know how (or if) the next load of hay will be paid for in this challenging economy, keeping a horse healthy is light-years beyond where equine medicine and surgery were a quarter-century ago. State-of-the-art diagnostic and therapeutic options may be expensive for many horse owners now, but within a few years will likely be affordable.

Cost, in any case, is relative. Horse owners might save money by obtaining an accurate diagnosis to allow veterinarians to start a specific treatment for their horse's ailment and to determine its prognosis. This may be more economical than investing in "let's treat it for three to four months and see if he responds to treatment."

Because of enhanced and collaborative disease reporting, we can read of equine disease outbreaks that occur anywhere from Australia to South Africa and know that surveillance is ongoing to help protect our horse population.

No matter what, it is exciting to see the development and marketing of new licensed vaccines and pharmaceuticals and to see a horse recover from a disease thought to be incurable.

At the end of the day, any horse wants and deserves the basics of a good life: health, good food and water, shelter, companionship, and a purpose to life.

Here's to a healthy 2009 for you and your horses.

Contact: Dr. Roberta M. Dwyer; 859/257-4757; Maxwell H. Gluck Equine Research Center; University of Kentucky; Lexington, Ky.

This is an excerpt from the January 2009 issue of Equine Disease Quarterly, funded by Lloyd's of London underwriters, brokers, and their Kentucky agents.

About the Author

Equine Disease Quarterly

Equine Disease Quarterly is a quarterly equine disease research newsletter published by the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center, and funded by underwriters at Lloyd's of London, brokers, and their agents.

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