In the 3rd year of the DVM degree there is a volunteer program run at the equine hospital on campus for some students. I wanted to volunteer to improve my clinical skills with horses and help solidify the concepts we learn in class. My housemate and I are partners and we’ve already had 3 shifts. The shifts usually start at 6pm after our classes end and most of the daytime staff at the hospital have gone home. During our shifts we work with the overnight nurse until about midnight.
Our shift usually starts with physical exams on the horses staying in hospital. On our first shift we reviewed how to do it and then me and my housemate have been on our own. Same principles of examination apply for any animal–start at the nose and end at the tail. We assess the face for symmetry or any swelling, look for any discharge or other facial abnormalities. Moving on to mucus membrane color (looking at the color of a horse’s gums) and then taking out our stethoscopes for a listen. I really enjoy listening to horse hearts because I feel like I can understand and better hear the differences in sounds at different valves in the heart—> horses are easier than cats and dogs because their hearts are larger. Horses have a different gastrointestinal tract (GIT) than cats and dogs (and humans!) and it is usually quite noisy! We always listen to different areas of the gut to make sure normal sounds are heard. My favorite sound (yes, i have a favorite animal GIT sound….) is the ileo-cecal flush. Here is some horse gut sounds for those who are super interested. We also check for the presence of a pulse before eventually taking a rectal temperature. Counting respiratory rate in a horse is fairly easy–we just watch their flank (sides) move in and out with each breath.
Sometimes, certain horses need medications or treatments done. I have been lucky enough to be able to practice giving intravenous (IV) (into the vein) and intramuscular (IM) (into the muscle) injections. I have also practiced re bandaging legs and assessing surgery sites.
Later on in the night we complete ‘walk-bys’ which include walking infront of each horse’s stall and recording notes on what they are doing, how they look, if bandages have fallen off, etc. We also provide food and water.
On one of our shifts there was an extremely sick horse in the hospital. She was on fluids, but still very dehydrated. We took a blood sample to run and analyse. It was quite exciting to listen to the vet and the nurse talk about what could be going on with this horse and her future treatment plan. We learned a lot about fluids in class this year so seeing it in practice was interesting.
We were also lucky enough to experience a euthanasia during our first shift. There was a couple of 4th year DVM students there who mentioned that they hadn’t seen an equine euthanasias during any of their shifts at the hospital or placements. We discussed how to appropriately check for signs of death in a horse and logistics of equine euthanasia compared to small animal or other livestock.
Another time I entered an isolation stall with the nurse to help treat a horse with a suspected case of Strangles. This was a great learning experience for me as we have talked about Strangles a lot in the last 2 years. As well, it was a great opportunity for me to practice appropriate use/application of personal protective gear (PPE) (safe clothing like gloves, gown, boot covers, etc) and attempting to minimize contamination.
On another shift my friend in 4th year was working on training one of the troublesome teaching horses. I do not have any experience training horses so I had a lot of fun chatting to him and watching his techniques.
I’m really starting to love equine medicine more and more. I can’t wait to see new cases and get a lot more practice on further shifts!