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Equine May 2008 (Vol 3, No 4)

The Final Diagnosis — One Tough Colt

by Amy Bentz, VMD, DACVIM

    Like most new veterinarians, I left school with a fair amount of trepidation, but also with some seemingly hard and fast rules about what would and wouldn't work in certain situations. This knowledge was challenged in November of my second year in practice when an owner called with an emergency. His yearling colt had acutely developed fever and lameness.

    When I arrived at the farm, I was amazed to see a menagerie of animals—cows, horses, pigs, goats, sheep, and chickens—in one large, muddy area. They were wandering around piles of junk strewn around the pasture and were barely contained by rickety fencing. The owner led the colt over the narrow path to the front yard where my vehicle was parked. Because of severe right front leg lameness, the colt hopped behind the owner on three legs. I performed a general physical examination and found an impressive fever (105°F [40.6°C]) with an even more impressive puncture wound in the pectoral area. Despite the severe injury, however, the colt appeared to be alert and in no distress.

    After probing the wound to determine the extent of the injury, I was alarmed to find that the infected wound barely missed penetrating the thorax. As a veterinary student, I had seen a similar wound in a horse that had fallen on a fence. That case was complicated and costly, requiring prolonged hospitalization. Based on that case, I assumed something similar had happened to this colt and was convinced that he was going to need fairly intensive care and intravenous medications. When I wondered out loud about the possible source of the injury, the owner said nothing. When I mentioned that the colt would probably need intensive care, the owner was adamant that referral was not an option. So after I spent a long time cleaning the area and discussing extensive treatment protocols with the owner, he finally said, "Well, we wondered why the goat had blood on his horns on Thanksgiving Day!" Apparently, the goat and the colt had a sparring session, and the colt lost, but the outcome of the battle had taken 3 days to become apparent. The owner and I discussed separating the species into their own pastures, cleaning up the pastures, and placing tennis balls on the goat's horns (as well as dehorning the kids).

    The owner did faithfully treat his horse for a few weeks, and to my amazement, the colt fully recovered. For a new graduate, it was a great lesson to see how severe wounds can resolve under less-than-ideal circumstances. Some things just can't be taught in school!

    NEXT: Update on Equine Joint Healthcare: A roundtable discussion on chondroprotective agents (May 2008)


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