Anesthetizing Horses in the Field for an Hour or More

The longer a horse is under anesthesia, the greater the risk. Learn how veterinarians safely anesthetize horses in the field for 60 minutes or longer.
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Anesthetizing Horses in the Field for an Hour or More
Each week, only 10% of equine veterinarians anesthetize horses for more than 30 minutes, Hubbell said. | Photo: Paula da Silva
The longer a horse is under anesthesia, the greater the risk. And considering horses are some of the most vulnerable species when “knocked out” for surgery, equine veterinarians typically try to keep sedation periods as short as possible—most often less than 20 minutes. However, some procedures can take much, much longer.

To address some common issues with maintaining horses under prolonged anesthesia John Hubbell, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVA, delivered a presentation for a veterinary audience at the 2013 American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Convention, held Dec. 7-11 in Nashville, Tenn.

Hubbell, a professor of veterinary anesthesiology in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at The Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, started his presentation by reviewing guidelines he offered in an earlier lecture on producing 20 minutes of anesthesia in the field. Highlights included:

  • Completing a physical exam of the horse and recording findings;
  • Taking a complete medical history;
  • Performing basic blood prior to anesthesia;
  • Removing the horse’s halter to prevent potential facial paralysis; and
  • Monitoring and recording the horse’s heart and respiration rates every 10 minutes during the procedure (“Remember some horses will only breath two times per minute ,” he noted).

Each week, only 10% of equine veterinarians anesthetize horses for more than 30 minutes, Hubbell said. Of those, 50% use inhaled drugs rather than intravenous infusions tp maintain anesthesia, and a majority (85%) use an assistant to monitor the horse and administer additional anesthetic drugs

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Written by:

Michelle Anderson is the former digital managing editor at The Horse. A lifelong horse owner, Anderson competes in dressage and enjoys trail riding. She’s a Washington State University graduate and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in business administration and extensive coursework in animal sciences. She has worked in equine publishing since 1998. She currently lives with her husband on a small horse property in Central Oregon.

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