Volunteering at the Equine Hospital

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.

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After our first shift! 

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!

Horse Vet Checks

On Sunday I had the opportunity to wake up in the wee hours of the morning and drive a couple of hours away to work with some horses! For a vet student I have been feeling particularly animal deprived so I was pretty excited for this day. We don’t see too many live animals in our classes or practicals at school. I don’t have any pets here and I don’t work at a vet clinic here either so I was needing a little time to do what I do best– be with animals.

This was a cross country and jumping event with a couple hundred horses. After the horses were finished competing the riders would bring them to our vet paddock where they would walk them and cool them off. I was there with a couple other first year DVM students and some second year DVM students. It was then our job to assess the horses’ demeanor, heart rate, and if there were any obvious injuries present before allowing the horse to go back to its trailer. The vet supervising us was amazing and made sure that the vet students did all the work so we got quite a lot of practice! By the end of the day I was feeling really comfortable with taking heart rates on horses! There was a couple of horses that passed through with slightly more medical problems and then we could ask the vet questions on how she would handle the problem and future concerns.

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Ideally we wanted the horses’ heart rates to be returning to and under 80 bpm before heading back to their trailer

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The vet student crew! 

I have only a couple days of classes left before heading into the exam break… pray for me, wish me luck, and I’ll see you on the other side!