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Equine Dental Problems by Kera Froc

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   September 4, 2013 11:14

When horses begin to have behaviour problems the number one thing that we should be ruling out is pain. If the horse has never had an issue and all of a sudden it is tossing its head, rearing or even bucking there might be an underlying cause of pain that the horse is responding to. This does not just relate to teeth issues but any body pain in general.

Behaviour signs relating to teeth issues might include chewing the bit while being ridden, tossing or shaking their head, pulling on the bit (up/down or left/right), bridle resistance, rearing, unexplained shying around the head, extremely high/low head carriage, refusing, sticking the tongue out, holding their head to one side while eating, refusing to turn when pressure is applied to the bit, washing hay in water bucket before eating, refusing to eat hard feed, or pouching feed.

The horse might also show some clinical signs including dropping feed while eating, quidding, loss of weight, whole feed in manure, nasal or eye discharge, pouching feed, irregular mandibular movement, cheek sensitivity, colic or colic symptoms, excess saliva, halitosis, bleeding from the mouth, depression, sores in the mouth, face swelling and even choke.

We need to pay attention to these signs and conduct regular dental care for our horses every 6-12 months. By doing regular dental care we can reduce the amount of issues relating to tooth pain in our horses. You can check your own horses teeth but a veterinarian should routinely check and float your horses teeth.

Thermal imaging can be done on a horses' mouth to check for pain and inflammation:

This website has lots of good information including ways that you can check for pain and ways to see if regular wear on teeth is being performed (proper chewing motion):

This website shows some good pictures of some tooth issues and gives lots of signs:

A list of common dental problems can be found here:

Kera Froc
Facebook Group: Equine Tips

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"Journey Through The Joints"

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   October 21, 2012 08:34


EXPAND YOUR JOINT KNOWLEDGE You run your hands down your horses' legs before and after every ride looking for lumps bumps and swellings. Learn more about what is going on in your horses' joints with Equine Guelph's online tool designed to take horse people on an interactive journey from a healthy joint to an inflamed, arthritic joint. Sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health,

"Journey through the Joints" offers user-friendly activities on the anatomy of a joint. View the 360 degree tour of an actual horses' joint!


Take the tour at:http://www.equineguelph.ca/education/journey_thru_joints.php "We think it's really important to teach horse people about the basics on joints," says Dr. Cathy Rae, manager of equine technical services for Pfizer Animal Health. "It is critical to have a basic knowledge of joints to better understand the causes and care of lameness."


Follow up your tour with Lameness Lab: http://www.equineguelph.ca/Tools/lameness_lab.php

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Scentless Chamomile

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   July 20, 2012 13:03

Scentless Chamomile – An Invasive Weed of Increasing Concern

Nadia Mori Regional Forage Specialist, Watrous
Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture

Scentless chamomile is a noxious weed in Saskatchewan and has become an increasing problem in Dark Brown, Black and Grey soils. Scentless chamomile can act as an annual, biennial or sometimes a perennial, but reproduces by seed only. A large plant can produce as many as a million seeds and seeds become viable as soon as seed heads appear. The plant has seed heads similar to a daisy with white outer rays and a yellow central disk. The leaves are finely dissected and alternate on a highly branched stem which can grow up to one meter tall.
Scentless chamomile is well adapted to heavy clay soils and tolerates both periodic flooding and dry sites. It is a poor competitor but establishes quickly on disturbed sites. It has a dense fibrous root system which spreads rapidly during wet periods. The weed most often occurs in marginal habitats likes roadsides, farmyards, and slough margins but if conditions are right will also establish on crop, pasture, or hay land.
Scentless chamomile has many characteristics which make it a difficult weed to control. Many of the commonly used herbicides will not control this weed and can require expensive alternative herbicide options. The usual timing of weed control applications may not kill all plants as the plant can grow throughout the growing season. The plant is a prolific seed producer and seeds are easily spread by wind, machinery, and flowing water.
As with any weed, prevention is the best control method. Avoid bringing weed infested hay or seed onto your land, clean equipment before moving to a new field, and be aware that about 26% of seeds will go through a cow’s digestive system unharmed. Monitor field regularly for new undesirable plants and hand weed single plants or small plots as soon as they are discovered. Where tillage is an option, early spring and late fall tillage can help exhaust the seed bank. Mowing can prevent seed production but plants will re-bloom below cutting height. Burning infestations that have finished blooming can prevent seed spread. Grazing is usually not a control option as scentless chamomile is generally unpalatable. Several herbicide products are registered for use on perennial forage stands. Please consult the Guide to Crop Protection for specific details on product availability, rates, and restrictions. Note that desirable broadleaf plants such as alfalfa will also be killed by these herbicides. There are two biological control options available in Saskatchewan and include a seed-head feeding weevil and a gall midge. Contact your local Regional Forage Specialist for availability and collection dates.
Remember that healthy pastures in good or excellent condition are best able to compete with weeds such as scentless chamomile.

For more information on this or other topics please call me at the Watrous Ministry of Agriculture office  (306) 946-3219, the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377 or visit our website http://www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca/

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Report on Research: Genomic Road Map to Rhodococcus Opens New Expressway to Vaccine Development

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   June 8, 2012 10:14


 Report on Research Video  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAYK9cO9qPY&feature=youtu.be  

Report on Research
Genomic Road Map to Rhodococcus Opens New Expressway to Vaccine Development
Imagine a 3 decade journey - a quest for an insidious bacterium possessing elusive qualities equivalent to that of the Holy Grail. Dr. John Prescott, University of Guelph Professor and Chair of the OVC Department of Pathobiology, has been unwavering in staying the course on his quest to find a vaccine able to combat the deadly Rhodococcus bacterium. Rhodococcus (R. equi) is no bug on the windshield that can be easily wiped off. Once this air-borne organism leaves Point A (soil and manure) to travel to Point B (the lungs of a young foal) it hides in the very macrophages that should normally seek out and destroy invading bacteria. The advent of genomic research has opened up a super highway full of new information. Since the recent mapping of the R.- equi genome (published 2010), the destination for a vaccine is not far away. 
The need for a vaccine is great. R. equi can stow away inside a young foal undetected for months. By the time symptoms of panting and coughing first appear, (usually at the same time horse owners are busily bringing in their hay) the only course of action is the expensive and time-consuming administration of antibiotics. 
Dr. Prescott and his team are collaborating internationally to tackle this global disease. Prescott's former MSc student, Iain MacArthur, is also committed to seeing this epic journey through and works closely with Prescott online using Skype. MacArthur is currently working on his doctorate at the University of Edinburgh and runs tests using micro-arrays. This entails printing every Rhodococcus gene onto a slide and looking at their expressions under different conditions. MacArthur explains the advantages of having the blueprint for the R.-equi genome:"instead of hunting around a cave with a tiny flashlight - we can now switch the lights on, view all contents and see how the genetic material relates."
"This level of understanding would have been considered almost science fiction just a few years ago - It is incredible what we can do with this new genomic technology," exclaims Prescott. The advances in research, since 2003 when the human genome project mapped out all the sequence of DNA in the body have been truly incredible. When looking at all 5,000 genes in the R. equi sequence they are now able to assign a function to each - a task which simply was not possible before mapping the R. equi genome. The level of understanding has been increased exponentially due to advances allowing researchers to look at the whole genomic picture. Prescott explains, "It's a very complex process, although it gets easier as more and more people work in the area of genomics." The high beams are on and researchers are able see all the genes that are switched on - the complete blueprint. They now know what makes this organism a pathogen, what it needs to live and how it works. Prescott and MacArthur are isolating and targeting the most switched on and linked genes to develop a weakened form of the live virulent which could then be orally administered as a vaccine. 
So the million dollar question breeders want to know regarding the road to a Rhodococcus vaccine - Are we there yet?   Not far now!

Help for Horse owners Videos on You Tube : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxUd3gqXWZI&feature=relmfu

Side Bar Text:
R equi. loves hot dusty environments and lurks in soil and manure.
Early warning signs for Rhodococcus include:
Coughing or panting (monitor respiratory rates diligently)
The young foal may go off its feed or stop suckling
Preventative Measures include avoiding:
Turn out in sandy environments
Overcrowding paddocks
Early administration of antibiotics is the only treatment available at present.
Story by: Jackie Bellamy

Story on Equine Guelph's News Page: http://www.equineguelph.ca/news/index.php?content=339


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The Tick Factor

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   May 17, 2012 17:42

May 11th, 2012

By Christina Weese

A horseback rider on a trail ride like many Saskatchewan residents, I’ve have had to resign myself to dealing with ticks in recent years. Slowly but surely, ticks appear to be creeping into parts of the province that were previously (and blissfully) tick-free.

The first tick I ever encountered was flung clear across the room in horror (never to be seen again). But I’ve since become a pro at pulling them off of whatever animal they happen to be attached to and delivering a quick death between a boot heel and the cement barn floor.

I must confess I’ve actually developed a rather morbid fascination with the little bloodsucking arachnids – but I won’t go quite as far as Dr. Katharina Lohmann does.

“Once you get over the ‘ick factor,’ they’re really quite pretty,” says the large animal internal medicine specialist.

I am not convinced.

Lohmann, an associate professor in the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, is project director for a new study on tick-borne disease in Saskatchewan.

Funded by the WCVM’s Equine Health Research Fund, the project involves Lohmann as well as WCVM graduate student Dr. Gili Schvartz, veterinary pathologist Dr. Hilary Burgess and Dr. Tasha Epp, an epidemiologist at the veterinary college. The team also includes two tick experts: Dr. Neil Chilton of the University of Saskatchewan and Dr. David Pearl of the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College.
A WCVM-led research team begins a new study on tick-borne disease in Saskatchewan

The study focuses on testing for tick-borne bacteria Anaplasma phagocytophilum, which causes granulocytic anaplasmosis in horses and humans, and Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease. Both bacteria are carried in Canada primarily by Ixodes scapularis, commonly known as the blacklegged tick.

“For some reason, tick experts haven’t really looked at horses even though they’re a perfect subject – horses are large, live in areas where ticks are present and they tend to have close contact with humans,” says Lohmann.

The first part of the study will see a total of 300 blood samples collected and tested from labs located in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. Lohmann and her colleagues estimate that two per cent of their samples may turn up positive for antibodies, indicating animals that have been exposed to either A. phagocytophilum or B. burgdorferi.

If positive results are found at this stage, the next step is to test those particular samples for the presence of the bacterial organisms themselves.

This is a preliminary study that will hopefully be followed up by more detailed research. “Since these particular diseases are not a big problem in Saskatchewan at the moment, now is a good time to establish a baseline for Saskatchewan as compared to other provinces,” says Lohmann. “Also, if tick populations are migrating north and west as they seem to be doing, we want to see where they’re at today so that we can better monitor changes in the future.”

To complement the blood sample testing, the WCVM is also conducting a “tick survey”: researchers are asking horse owners in Saskatchewan to collect and submit any ticks found on their horses throughout the year.

So far, the variety of tick species submitted to the survey includes Dermacentor albipictus (winter or moose tick), Dermacentor andersoni (Rocky Mountain wood tick) and Dermacentor variabilis (American dog tick).

Lohmann says the survey will continue at least until the end of 2013. “As far as we know, there is no Ixodes scapularis (blacklegged tick) population established in Saskatchewan, though they may be carried in from different areas of the country and from the U.S. by migrating birds.”

An “established population” means that all stages of the tick’s life cycle – eggs, larva, nymph and adult – are found in a particular area.

“If we do get any Ixodes ticks, we’ll test them for disease-causing bacteria. Dr. Chilton is testing other species of ticks for other purposes as well. We’ll also be able to identify their sex and what stage of the life cycle the ticks are at.”

In terms of anaplasmosis and Lyme disease, the level of concern at this point for horse owners is very low. There have been only three cases of anaplasmosis reported in horses in Canada, one of which was found in Saskatchewan in 2010 and is the case that prompted some of the questions in the study.

“Right now we want to see if anaplasmosis should be placed on the list of diseases that veterinarians in Saskatchewan can consider when making a diagnosis,” says Lohmann.

She adds that the symptoms of anaplasmosis – fever, low white blood cell count, jaundice, and suppressed appetite – are common among a range of equine diseases including swamp fever (equine infectious anemia).

“Bacterial titer levels will persist longer than we can see the organisms or detect them by PCR (polymerase chain reaction) assays, and a positive titer in connection with clinical signs is a strong indication of anaplasmosis,” says Lohmann.

So, should you find ticks on your horses this summer, Lohmann hopes that you’ll take the time to send them in to the WCVM’s tick survey. You’ll be helping out a good cause, and who knows – you might even develop a scientific appreciation for the tenacious little beasts. You might even call them . . . pretty?

Visit the WCVM tick surveillance site to learn more about the steps of submitting ticks to the survey.




Reprinted with permission of Horse Health Lines, news publication for the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Equine Health Research Fund. Visit www.ehrf.usask.ca to sign up for Horse Health Lines’ e-newsletter

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Managing Dugouts Efficiently

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   May 5, 2012 10:29

Leah Clark – Regional Livestock Specialist, Weyburn
Colby Elford – Regional Livestock Specialist, Moose Jaw

Although most cattle producers are in the midst of calving season, it is not too early to start thinking about getting pairs out to pasture.  Many producers have a system of grass management that they put a lot of time and thought into.  Often water quality and availability is an afterthought, but because water can have such a drastic impact on production and performance it is a good idea to ensure lots of good quality water is available to all animals.

Using a dugout as a summer water source is common practice in this part of the province.  Getting the dugout ready for the grazing season is extremely important and can have big influences on the quality and availability of water for your livestock. There are a few things to consider when preparing a dugout for use.

The first, is addressing the issue of dugout nutrient loading. Nutrient loading of dugouts leads to increased bacterial and algae growth. Some of the bacteria and algae that grow in our dugouts can cause off tastes in the water, sickness and in some cases death. The best way to limit nutrient addition to dugouts is limiting livestock accessibility to the dugout. Restricting direct access to dugouts from livestock not only extends the dugout life by reducing trampling and collapsing of banks, it allows forage growth which helps to trap nutrient run off. Restricting access also reduces fecal and urine addition to water. Some producers are eligible for funding to install an offsite watering system. Research has shown that cattle will choose to drink from a trough rather than the source.  Using an offsite watering system improves both dugout health and animal productivity.

Summer heat, nutrients and sitting water is the perfect combination for algae growth in our dugouts. This may be a concern, as cyanobacteria, commonly called blue green algae, produces toxins that have the potential to cause sickness, and in some cases death, when consumed by our livestock. Algae is easy to prevent with the addition of one of the registered copper sulphate treatments available for dugouts. Growth of algae occurs as water warms so prevention entails an initial dose followed by visually inspecting dugouts and adding the treatment when necessary as algae growth is observed. It’s important to note that correct doses should be used as toxicity can occur if too much product is added.

Aeration can also have tremendous long term positive effects on dugout water quality. In a study done at WBDC near Lanigan, SK. Yearlings gained 0.2lbs per day more when drinking aerated water compared to water straight from the dugout. Aeration helps to prevent algae growth as well as decreases the population of anaerobic bacteria in our dugouts. Examples of anaerobic bacteria effects in dugouts include ammonia formation and hydrogen sulfide gas which are associated with odor and poor palatability.

For more information, you can contact the agriculture knowledge center at 1-866-457-2377 or visit our website at www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca.

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Shock Waves for Speedy Healing

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   May 3, 2012 17:33

Before and after photos of treatment- Photographer: Dr. Judith Koenig


Dr. Koenig began studying shock wave treatment when a particular horse with a broken leg came in for treatment.  Koenig was interested in all the work that had been done in humans using shock wave therapy and preceded with her studies using a wound healing model.

Koenig has found shock wave treatment beneficial in reducing proud flesh in large wounds, if used immediately after injury occurs.  “Although the treatment is expensive,” says Koenig, “savings can be realized in reducing stall rest time and eliminating the cost of treating proud flesh after wound healing.”

Horses are known to have a long and weak inflammation phase post-injury especially in their limbs.  Shock waves work in wound and tendon healing by inducing a stronger inflammation in the tissue for a shorter healing time.  Although it is not fully understood how shock wave treatment works, the theory is shockwaves are acoustic waves that are created by a shockwave generator and travel through fluid in the shockwave head.  These acoustic waves create shear forces when they meet tissue of a different density (i.e. tendons) which release gas bubbles on the cell surface and release inflammatory mediators and growth factors.  Koenig’s challenge has been attempting to measure the up and down regulation of growth factors to support the research.  Funding for this research has been provided by a grateful thoroughbred owner who donated the equipment and Equine Guelph.

Jackie Bellamy

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Joint health requires broad spectrum therapeutic

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   April 26, 2012 06:22



Gayle Trotter has the “vet cred” and, coincidentally, a name that naturally makes one think “horses.” Dr. Gayle Trotter, DVM., MS., was a former professor and joint health researcher at Colorado State University.  He is also the developer of Myristol, a formula comprised of four major active ingredients that together are designed to treat and prevent joint disease in horses. 


According to Trotter, any equine athlete of any kind should be on a joint supplement in order to mitigate injury.  Joint involvement changes according to athletic involvement. For example, race horses will tend to have fetlock and front knee issues whereas roping, reigning or cutting horses may experience inflammation in other areas.  And just as different athletic activity presents different joint issues, breeding lines are predisposed differentially to joint issues as well. 


The Myristol formula is comprised of four active ingredients that have individually been shown benefit in supporting joint health: cetyl myristoleate fatty acid complex, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), glucosamine HCl, and hydrolyzed collagen.  Myristol was developed by Trotter (and colleagues) while he was tenured at Colorado State University. The product underwent a clinical trial in 2003 which tested the product’s efficacy.  Myristol, unlike many other joint formulations on the market, is well-researched, vet-approved and scientifically tested. 


Developing a scientifically sound, broad spectrum formulation was a priority for Trotter.  But so was affordability and palatability. Some animals appear to detect fatty acids in feed.  Horses, in particular, may turn their noses up at it.  Trotter’s equine formulation comes in the form of alfalfa pellets and they like it!  Trotter says that he has had tons of anecdotal feedback from users since the product came out on the market. Myristol has shown to have good results in dogs and cats with striking changes in as little as 72 hours. Trotter advises that results in horses will take a bit longer; from 2 weeks to a month in some cases. 


As part of the Myristol family of joint health products, formulations have been developed for dogs, cats and even humans.  For more information check out Trotter’s Myristol website at: www.myristol.com


_ _ _ _ _


Gayle Trotter is a member of the National Animal Council, an industry organization for supplement manufacturers in the United States.  He currently lives with his wife, Judy, in Weatherford, Texas where, in addition to marketing Myristol, he continues to practice veterinary medicine and to raise and ride cutting horses.

Article credit:

Camille (Cami) D. Ryan, B.Comm., Ph.D.

Departments of Plant Sciences & Bioresource Policy, Business and Economics

College of Agriculture and Bioresources

University of Saskatchewan

Saskatoon, Canada

(306) 966-2929 (office) / (403) 809-2831 (cell)

Cami Ryan's Blog



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joint supplements

The Beat Goes On - Report on Research Studying Heart Disturbances In Horses

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   January 11, 2012 14:08

Normal heart rhythm and sounds in a horse are difficult to define because of the fascinating array of strange sounds and rhythms which can be found in apparently healthy animals and which change with exercise.  Also, even when sounds or rhythms do reflect heart problems, most horse owners will not notice signs, until there is an inability to perform work at a level previously achieved successfully, when the horse shows an unusual tendency to tire.


Owners of performance horses understand the economic impact of a horse that can no longer work, or in the worst-case scenario, where sudden loss becomes a serious issue.  University of Guelph researcher Dr Physick-Sheard states, “After safety issues and welfare issues are discussed there is still a need to put an economic value on the horse, which is decided by the client”.  One aspect of research Dr. Physick-Sheard and Dr. Kim McGurrin look at is atrial fibrillation, the most common clinically significant rhythm disturbance horses can have.   An arrhythmia is technically defined as an abnormal heart rhythm, however, irregular heart rhythm is commonplace in horses and the endeavor to define normal, continues to be a complex and fascinating journey.  A completely steady rhythm can be considered abnormal.


Before a diagnosis of heart problems can be made, Dr. Physick-Sheard explains, a logical process where the client is asked the history of the horse (breed, use, how long it has been in training) is followed before conducting a general physical examination.  Future use would also be discussed before deciding on diagnostics.  An Electrocardiogram may be the next step to determine the heart’s rhythm and possibly an ultrasound to look at how efficiently the muscle and valves work.  They look for enlargement or abnormal structure in the heart and check for normal blood flow around the valves. 


Dr. Physick-Sheard describes two types of rhythm disturbance that can be found:   


1.  Benign variations on normal (mostly involving the top part of the heart).


2. Ventricular rhythm disturbances, which can be serious and even life threatening.

 When found, they look first for problems outside the heart, disturbances in homoeostasis, which involves keeping the environment around cells constant:  dehydration, electrolyte and acid base imbalance.  Under these circumstances secondary arrhythmias are often detected.  Situations where the cardiac problem is primary are rare but sometimes serious.


McGurrin and Physick-Sheard have had enormous success treating arrhythmia with transvenous electrical cardioversion. The response rate has been 100%!  Electrodes are placed into the heart to deliver an electric shock, while the horse is under anesthesia, to convert the rhythm to normal. 


Dr. McGurrin and Dr. Physick-Sheard developed this technique before their first Standardbred track study, where they collected heart rhythm data during racing using an electrocardiogram.  Dr. Physick-Sheard explains how the technology works, “The heart is a bag of muscle, a slave pump which does what the system tells it, contracting at a rate that reflects the body’s needs. The heart gives off an electrical signal when it contracts which reaches the skin and can be detected by the electrocardiogram (ECG).  This is then used to monitor heart rhythm.”


Dr. Physick-Sheard has developed specialized equipment and software for the current intensive Thoroughbred study, which he is hoping will give more insights into causes of sudden death.


Research funding has been provided by Equine Guelph, Grayson Jockey Club Foundation and OMAFRA.



Story by:  Jackie Bellamy


Web Link: http://www.equineguelph.ca/news/index.php?content=315


Links to the Utube Videos:

Report on Research: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXI3Q0pMl34&lr=1&feature=mhee

Help for Horse Owners:


Marathon Surgery Saves Mare's Life

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   January 6, 2012 10:37

An 11-year-old Arab mare defies the odds and survives more than 12 hours in surgery to remove one side of her jaw along with a grapefruit-sized, cancerous tumour.

 When Dr. James Carmalt examined the grey Arabian mare named Noor for the first time at the WCVM’s Veterinary Medical Centre last fall, the first thing that surprised him about the horse was her body condition.

“You could tell that Mr. Abidi (her caregiver) had been working hard to ensure that she had the right type of feed available and had managed to keep her weight on,” explains Carmalt, an equine surgeon at the WCVM. “She looked like a relatively normal horse — other than having this huge growth on the side of her face.”  

The grapefruit-sized growth, about 26 centimetres (cm) in width and 20 cm in height, had been developing on the back curve of the horse’s right jaw ever since an accident occurred when she was two or three years old. Earlier in 2010, Syed Abidi found the disfigured mare on a farm in B.C. while searching for a specialized bloodline of Arab breeding stock.

He knew time was running out for the tough little horse that had managed to adapt and survive for so many years: “I saw a horse that needed help and I went for it,” says Abidi.

With the owners’ consent, Abidi brought the horse to Dr. Ryan Shoemaker of Delaney Veterinary Services in Sherwood Park, Alta. But after the cancer diagnosis was confirmed, Shoemaker referred the case to Carmalt.

“I think Dr. Shoemaker knows that if I could concentrate on equine head and teeth cases for the rest of my career, I would be a very happy man,” jokes Carmalt. “But he also knows that we’ve got many willing hands to help with post-operative care — something that’s very difficult to manage in private practice.”
“She wanted to go for it”

After several phone and email discussions, Abidi and Noor met Carmalt for the first time in November 2010. For two days, Noor underwent a battery of tests at the WCVM: a physical examination, a full mouth oral examination, an endoscopy of her upper airway and both of her guttural pouches, and radiographs of her skull and chest.

“Everything culminated with the CT scans. That allowed us to do a 3-D reconstruction of the tumour and that’s when we found out how large and invasive it really was,” explains Carmalt, adding that the tests showed no metastasis in the horse’s lungs.

Then Noor went home for three weeks — giving Abidi time to consider the risks and expense of the experimental procedure. “We talked at length about the risks. We also made a lot of effort to discuss the potential endpoints beforehand because we all wanted to consider the horse’s welfare,” says Carmalt.

“If she reached endpoint X or she suddenly decided that she had enough, we agreed that I would be the ultimate decision maker about euthanasia.”

 “Dr. Carmalt and I — we think alike. We’re cautiously optimistic. We understand the risks involved but we’re willing to continue moving forward,” adds Abidi. “More than a dozen times, I was told to just put her down because it was too risky and too much money. But Noor is a smart horse — she let me know that she wanted to go for it.”

In the meantime, Carmalt prepared for a surgery that, based on veterinary literature, had never been done before. Besides experimenting on equine cadavers, Carmalt consulted with colleagues in the U.S. “Almost universally, the answer was, ‘Good luck with that,’” says Carmalt, who found invaluable advice closer to home.

Dr. Kathleen Linn is one of the WCVM’s small animal surgical specialists and routinely removes parts of the jaw in dogs diagnosed with cancer. But the surgeons had to plan for a different scenario with Noor. Instead of performing most of the surgery inside the mouth (the practice used for canine patients), the surgical team — consisting of Carmalt, Linn and Drs. Imma Roquet and Holly Sparks — would need to do most of the procedure from the outside because of the tight space inside the horse’s mouth.
“Like digging out a fossil”

 Once Noor was prepped for surgery, the team inserted a tube through a tracheotomy in her neck. As well, they isolated her carotid artery in case a large bleed occurred and they needed to block the artery — an emergency procedure that slows down blood loss and buys time for surgeons.

The team used that emergency option four times during Noor’s marathon surgery that lasted for more than 12 hours. The procedure began with a 30 cm incision just below the tempomandibular joint (TMJ), curving around the bottom of the jaw to the front. The surgeons dissected their way down to the bone, lifting the tenuous tissues and facial nerves up like a flap until they could see the bone.

“Then we made a horizontal cut just below the TMJ at the top and a vertical cut between the second and third cheek tooth and lifted out the jaw,” describes Carmalt. “And that left us with a massive hole.”

The actual removal of the jaw bone took less than 15 minutes. What took time was cutting through the complex web of blood vessels — a process that Carmalt compares to digging out a fossil with painstaking care. “With a tumour, there’s a massive amount of new blood vessels. We knew where the major blood vessels were but there were so many vessels involved in the tumour — it was a whole entity on its own.”

After removing Noor’s swollen lymph nodes and any cancerous tissue, the surgical team began the laborious process of closing the hole with five layers of tissue and skin. Two catheters were left in the hole: one suctioned fluid out of the closed area while the other was a “soaker” catheter that allowed clinicians to put painkilling drugs directly into the wound.

As expected, Noor was wobbly in the recovery room but showed no ill effects of being under general anesthesia for so long. Within six hours, her post-surgery care team was offering her a variety of feed to choose from.
Horizontal to vertical chewing

When surgeons remove one side of a dog’s jaw, the animal can still chew its food up and down on the opposite side of its mouth. “But horses chew their feed horizontally so they need both sides to chew,” explains Carmalt. “We had no idea what Noor was going to do, but in retrospect, I should have held more stock in my physical exam and the CT findings.”

What the CT scan had shown was that Noor’s cheek tooth angles were flat as opposed to 15 degrees — the normal angle found in horses. Carmalt and his team eventually realized that Noor had already adapted to her disability before the surgery, learning how to chew vertically.

Three days after the procedure, Noor was eating enough to maintain her body weight. The rest of her three-week stay went relatively smoothly — thanks to the hard work of veterinary students who cared for Noor around the clock.

Noor returned home to Alberta just before Christmas. Since then, her recovery has had its challenges especially because of the harsh winter conditions on the Prairies. Noor also had some trouble eating because of dental issues, requiring Abidi to try different feeding options for her.

But the fact that Noor is alive and now has the chance to live a relatively normal life is still a miracle to Abidi who credits Carmalt for taking the chance on Noor. While he acknowledges that it was costly to save Noor, Abidi points out that he also spent the money to give the WCVM surgical team a chance.

“Dr. Carmalt told me it was a great learning experience for everyone involved. And by talking about this surgery, maybe others will read about it and be more confident about taking on these kinds of challenging cases in the future.”

For veterinary students, Carmalt says Noor’s case emphasizes the importance of referring cases to teaching centres like the WCVM once they’re in practice. It has also led to some intensive discussions about medical ethics at the veterinary college.

“From an ethical standpoint, I think we were very close to the edge with this horse. And if she hadn’t recovered as quickly as she did, we may have wished we hadn’t done it,” admits Carmalt. “I think as long as you have the welfare of the horse absolutely paramount and you aren’t swayed by the financial and emotional investments of the client, then I think you can try. You just need to know when to stop.”  

Besides Noor’s strong will to survive and adapt, the other factor in the mare’s favour was Abidi: “He had already put in a massive amount of work to care for Noor plus he was willing to invest thousands of dollars in her surgery. After all that, I knew he wasn’t going to back off on his care,” says Carmalt. “He was in it for the long haul.”


Reprinted with permission from Horse Health Lines, publication for the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Equine Health Research Fund. Visit www.ehrf.usask.ca to sign up for our e-newsletter.