Veterinarians get weird to make horses feel good

Of all our four-legged companions, we likely subject horses to more than their fair share of strange treatments.

Horses might not worry about wrinkles, but they may benefit from Botox.

Veterinarians give injections to treat muscle-related diseases rather than reverse the signs of aging.

The bacterium, clostridium botulinum, produces a potent toxin that causes temporary muscle paralysis. It also contaminates food, which leads to botulism.

Researchers have investigated the use of purified toxin as a new treatment for founder, also known as laminitis. This painful disease is difficult to treat, and most affected horses never completely recover.

When horses founder, for whatever cause, the coffin bone within the hoof rotates away from the hoof wall. Some believe it is the pull by the deep digital flexor tendon that causes rotation.

A salvage treatment is to surgically cut this tendon, which runs along the back of the leg, to decrease the pull and stop rotation. Botox has been proposed as an alternative to cutting the tendon by temporarily paralyzing the tendon’s associated muscle.

A study found that Botox injection in healthy horses did not cause detectable lameness or other adverse effects. Some foundered horses had positive outcomes after injections. These included a return to pleasure riding in some cases and pasture soundness in others.

Unfortunately, this research did not compare the Botox horses to a group that did not receive treatment, which makes it difficult to be sure the positive outcome was not due to chance alone or a placebo effect.

Researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands have used Botox to treat stringhalt.

Affected horses spastically lift their hind legs. The cause of this disorder is unknown, and treatment options are limited.

No negative effects were seen at the dosages used in the study. There was significant reduction in muscle spasm activity in two horses with stringhalt. Further research is needed to determine the best dose and which muscles to inject.

Veterinarians use high impulse shockwaves to treat lameness in horses, including those caused by sore joints and ligaments as well as skin wounds.

Shockwave therapy seems to provide pain relief in the short term, and there appears to be an effect on healing in the weeks following treatment.

Some studies found that horses treated with shockwave therapy had reduced lameness compared to untreated horses, but why it works remains a mystery.

Studies on horse stem cells suggest shockwave therapy increases cell proliferation, which may be one of the ways it promotes healing in lame horses.

Medical maggots are perhaps the most disgusting of these bizarre treatments.

Veterinarians use them to treat a variety of contaminated wounds, including those that they can’t treat with surgery. It seems that early medical practitioners were on to something.

Maggots are like mini surgeons because they remove dead tissue while leaving the healthy bits alone. Other benefits include antibacterial properties, increased blood flow and improved healing.

Honey makes an excellent wound treatment, but not all of the sticky stuff is created equal.

A recent study compared various honeys and found that some were contaminated with fungi and bacteria.

They also tested each honey type against bacteria from horses’ wounds and found that a Scottish variety was the fiercest against the bugs.

Studies in people suggest the healing benefits of honey include anti-inflammatory properties, improved wound healing and slowed bacterial growth.

Dr. Jamie Rothenburger is a veterinary pathology resident at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan. Twitter: @DrJamieR_Vet

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