The Adventures of the Vet: A Huge Equine Health Problem

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Horse Illustrated’s Vet Adventures columnist shares how she uncovers a huge equine health problem.

Cimarron lay quietly on his side in the snow as I moved toward his pen. He extended his neck and nibbled at a few straws half-heartedly, but soon gave up the effort. There were little piles of manure around him, and he had strained several times from putting it on the ground.

“He’s been like this since he came home from the vet yesterday,” said Shirley. “They said he was fine because his gut looked fine. They put a gallon of oil on him and sent us home, but he’s not getting any better, and I worry about him.”

“How were the rectal exams and vitals?” I asked, watching the stallion anxiously. He groaned and rolled briefly onto his back, then returned to his side.

“I don’t think they did any of that,” said Shirley. “I’ll tell you, we got in and out so quickly, they didn’t even say what was wrong with him.”

Health problem in veterinary adventures

It was minus 15 that morning, and I was in long underwear, coats, double stockings, and heavy boots. I sighed, unenthusiastic at the thought of stripping down in the freezing cold for a rectal exam and colic treatment. The stallion was an unexpected addition to what was supposed to be a quick call for some Coggins tests. Shirley was apologizing.

“They said it would get better, Doctor, but if anything, it’s worse.”

Poor Cimarron was trying to roll again, and I quickly went to the van to get my equipment and medication. The stallion didn’t need the vet to frown because he was cold. He needed my help.

We raised it and moved it into the barn, which did little to improve the arctic temperature. Despite his discomfort, Cimarron managed to arch his neck and show off nicely behind the mare in the adjacent pen. Shirley stroked him gently.

“You’ve had colic for two days, and you’re still enjoying the girls!”

You looked at me hopefully. “That’s a good sign, isn’t it?”

I said, “I hope so.”

Cimarron’s heart rate was in the mid-40s, his breathing rate, and his temperature were normal. He had some instinctive sounds, but they sounded slow. I didn’t like the color of the gum: pale pink with a bluish tinge of the mottled bowls, and he was straining a lot, raising his tail high but passing only one ball of manure here and there.

diagnosable diagnosis

Cold or not, it’s clearly time for a rectal exam on Cimarron. I took a deep breath as I removed my coat and five heavy outer layers. The icy air shuddered, I pulled out the sedative, and the medicine instantly froze in the syringe and into the bottle. I had to stick a syringe and bottle inside my shirt to melt.

When the stallion’s head fell and bobbed into place, I began to examine the rectum, but could not advance past my wrists. Twisted bowels often get pushed into the entrance to the pelvis, and at first I thought this was how I was feeling. But as my body kept going, my heart sank as my fingers ran across a structure that wasn’t supposed to be there.

A dense mass of tissue the size of a watermelon was sticking to the inside of his pelvis, and it felt lobed and thick with large blood vessels, which told me it was here to stay, and that meant business.

Sometimes I feel strange and unpleasant tingling in my arm when I touch an animal that has cancer, and my arm was definitely feeling the strange energy contained within the gaseous structure. It may seem like a little, but my arms are always fine. I always recommend additional diagnoses, because writing “I knew it was cancer because my arms were numb” in the medical record probably isn’t very professional. But this diagnosis was quite straightforward.

Shirley watched me anxiously. There was no good way to tell her that her beloved horse most likely had cancer, and she took a deep breath.

“There’s a big lump growing inside his pelvis, Shirley. He’s straining like that because he can’t pass much manure around and he’s got a lot of buildup in there. I can pass a poop and give him some medicine to help soften his droppings, and some rectal fluids might help break the impaction too.” .

“That wouldn’t fix it, would it?” Shirley asked softly.

I looked at her sadly. There may be some better diagnosis and treatment options at the referring hospital. I’ll try to make him feel comfortable if you want to take him.”

Go to it

Shirley silently stroked Cimarron’s neck as I prepared the stomach tube and pump, but she stopped me as she approached the stallion’s head. There were tears in her eyes, but her voice was firm.

“It’s not fair to him, Doctor. He’s been through enough, and I want you to put him down.”

I nodded sadly and went to my truck to get my euthanasia solution. It was the right thing to do, but when I gave Cimarron his last injection and he sank to the floor, my heart ached for Shirley. She sat beside the stallion and put her hand on his head.

I gently patted her shoulder with my still tingling arm, implying to offer relief, but Shirley jumped as if she had been mauled by cattle.

“Ouch!” I wondered. “what was that?”

I stared at my arms. Did I really absorb the energy of Cancer, and did Shirley inadvertently shock me with my amazing abilities? But Shirley took a needle and syringe out of her trouser pocket, looked at them, and rubbed her bottom.

“The damned cap came off the needle.” Then I got ready. “I don’t know about you, but I could definitely use a cup of coffee. What do you say?”

I was in. Magic arm or not, coffee has always been a good idea.

This Vet Adventures column on how a rough arm indicates a huge health problem for a horse In the November/December 2021 issue of Illustrated horse magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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