At Israel’s main equine hospital, the animals can be wild patients, creating some unique challenges for the veterinarians treating them.
“They are not good patients,” said Dr. Gal Kelmer, who heads the large animal department at Hebrew University’s Koret School of Veterinary Medicine. “I get a lot of satisfaction when things work.”
Veterinarians at the hospital operate on about two dozen horses a month, most of them pleasure and show horses. To prepare a horse for surgery, anesthesiologists slip an infusion into the animal’s jugular vein, which is harder to dislodge than an IV in the leg.
Horses are prone to galloping off the operating table as soon as anesthesia wears off, requiring veterinarians to rely on elaborate tools and an army of volunteers to safely treat animals that can weigh more than 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms).
“Horses have an instinctive response of flight from danger,” Kelmer said. “The minute they wake up they start trying to stand and run, even if they don’t have control of their limbs. So then they fall.”
To restrain a flighty horse, Kelmer straps the animal into a sling that suspends it from the belly and lifts it into the air, keeping the mouth closed and tail tied as the horse gradually regains control of its body.
The most common medical problem is colic, Kelmer said, a digestive ailment that usually requires hoisting the horse upside down to examine the abdomen. Other issues include trauma, leg fractures and breathing problems.
“Some people ask me, ‘What, you do only horses?’ But for surgeons it’s very broad,” Kelmer said. “Today I treated an eye, and a horse with an injured distal limb, and a rectum. For a human, not in a lifetime would a surgeon do these three things.”
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