Apollo is a 5 year old Welsh Section D gelding. Back in August 2007 his owner reported he was having problems with his wolf teeth. The wolf teeth were unusually large and on examination it was decided they would be removed under standing sedation, which is usual.
On the day of the planned extraction Apollo had other ideas! His wolf teeth were large and very difficult to remove and Apollo responded poorly to the sedation. He was given as much sedation as was considered safe whilst leaving him standing, but this did not deter him from strongly resisting even with mild pressure. Apollo’s objections were noted and it was decided and agreed with the owner that the safest and least traumatic way of removing the teeth would be under general anaesthetic.
The procedure went very smoothly and the teeth removed successfully. Apollo recovered extremely well.
Apollo going under
Wolf Teeth removal
Wolf teeth are variable in size and appearance and can be completely absent in some horses. More often than not they are only present in the upper jaw (maxilla) but some breeds, especially standard breds, can have them in the lower jaw (mandible).
They are located just in front of the first premolar in the position of the bit and therefore can interfere with the seating of the bit. This is why they are routinely removed.
More often than not, this is a straightforward procedure and can be done under standing sedation. It can take time and ideally the tooth should be removed as a whole. The tooth is loosened from the attached gum and an instrument similar to an apple corer is used to slowly work the tooth free from its attachments with the jaw.
The procedure does cause trauma to the gum and bleeding is common place. This is self limiting and stops on its own afterwards. Inevitably the wound will heal uneventfully over a week or so.
Very occasionally it can be necessary to perform this procedure under general anaesthesia, for example, if the horse did not tolerate the sedation and it was proving difficult or painful to perform, or if the wolf teeth were particularly large / firmly placed and difficult to remove.
Field anaesthesia is a relatively commonplace procedure and can be used to perform minor surgical procedures such as tooth removals or castrations on larger / older colts. These are procedures that require only a short period of general anaesthetic. Anything that requires longer periods of anaesthesia and the associated close monitoring should be performed in an operating theatre.
Anaesthetising a horse in the field is a straightforward procedure. Initially the horse is sedated and moved to the area of ‘knocking down’. This area should be dry and free from hazardous obstacles. A catheter is placed in the jugular vein. Once the horse is thoroughly sedated an injection of anaesthetic is given via the catheter, usually this is a combination of anaesthetic and a muscle relaxant. Within 30 seconds the horse should gently sit down and then lie down on one side. As you can imagine this is a dangerous time as horses are such large animals and under these circumstances could potentially stumble over and fall on somebody. It is for this reason that during this time the vets will be the only people with the horse whilst the owner can observe from a safe distance.
Once asleep the horses eyes are covered so the light doesn’t stimulate it too much and lighten the depth of the anaesthesia. The procedure can then be performed safely whilst ensuring the anaesthetic is maintained and the horse isn’t awakening. This initial anaesthetic provides on average 12 minutes of adequate anaesthesia. If more time is needed then a top up injection of the anaesthetic is given to provide a further 12 minutes.
Once the procedure has been completed the horse is given painkillers and antibiotics as necessary and the vets are on hand to wait for the horse to wake up and recover smoothly. This again is a very dangerous period, not for the horse, but for the owner as some horses may try to stand up too quickly, before their legs can hold them and they may stumble around. Once again the vets are the only people with the horse at this stage with the owner observing from a safe distance.