Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Guttural Pouch

Like humans, horses have Eustachian tubes. However as it turns out they have a bonus addition to these tubes, called the Guttural Pouch. They are large pouches that branch off the eustachian tube, are usually filled with a small amount of air, and serve no purpose know to modern veterinary science.

At least one website I came across during my research on these pouches referred to them as the horse's "Bermuda Triangle". I now know why.

One day last October, when pulling her in from the field, we noticed severe swelling on both sides of her neck, just behind the jawline. It resembled strangles, however it lacked any of the other symptoms, such as nasal discharge and high fever. Nevertheless, we immediately quarantined her, and I scheduled an appointment with the vet.

He immediately recognized it as a problem with her guttural pouches. X-rays showed that they were filled with fluid. He did a needle biopsy. The fluid that came out was clear, but tinged with red. He sent us home with Bute and Tucoprim.

A few days later he emailed the lab results. Streptococcus Zooepidemicus. Turns out this particular bacteria normally resides in the upper respiratory tract of horses in small amounts, and never results in a problem. However, equie flu can inflame this bacteria, resulting in the problem she was having. She did not have the flu, but had received her flu booster shot a few weeks prior. My guess is that she had a reaction to the shot, but I will never know for sure.

Within two weeks, the symptoms were gone, and she was eating, drinking, and behaving normally. Out of the woods, right?

Maybe not...

A few weeks later I was in her paddock. When I got close to her I noticed a rather foul odor. Closer inspection showed nasal discharge as well. Wasting no time, I called the vet. He came out that evening.

The guttural pouch infection had returned with a vengeance. He prescribed more Tucoprim, and this time added Metronidazole and Penicillin shots to the mix. He stated that if improvement was not noticeable within three days, that surgery was the next option. And, oh by the way, this could kill her. Oh, golly gee...

I mastered the art of giving large dosage shots to a horse, having to give three penicillin shot over the course of the next six days. Not so hard, and she was a good patient.

Giving the oral medication proved to be challenging this time around. I tried mixing it in wheat bran as I had done before, but she was having none of it. I believe that the Metronidazole must have given it a bitter taste. I resorted to mixing it in applesauce, and feeding it to her with a large syringe. This was, of course, not without it's challenges.

About this time we had a rare snow and cold snap, and the temperature was hovering around 20F in the evenings when I went out to give the medication. I would crunch through the snow, and then spend 10 minutes trying to catch her. Before getting sick, she never needed to be "caught" as she would come up to me and stick her nose in the halter. But now she wasn't feeling well, and she knew that upon arrival in the barn she would be force fed this foul tasting medicine.

Of course, once caught, and I had to get her the 900 feet to the barn. By the time we would get there it seemed more like 9 miles. Who says a 165lb person can't drag an 800lb horse? Pshaw!!

Once in the barn, I would mix her medicine in applesauce, and feed it to her through a large syringe. As you may recall, it's about 20 degrees, and yes, applesauce does freeze. And rather quickly, I might add. Gets rather difficult to push through a syringe.

After about two weeks of this drill, the medication was discontinued, due to the side effects that giving it for too long a period can have. By this time all the symptoms had disappeared. She clearly felt better, her eyes were bright, and she was eating and drinking well.

The problem has not returned since, thankfully. Although I am a little paranoid. So, if you see me with my nose inside this mares nostril, taking deep breaths and checking for fetid's not such strange behavior after all.

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