Tuesday, February 1, 2011
February 1, 2011
Yesterday was a long day, but a good day, that ended well. It was not just the end of one day, but it was the end of three months of worrying, debating, and wondering about what to do for Patrick who had a few different diagnoses and treatment ideas regarding two broken molars that were causing mouth infections and problems chewing his hay, grass and grain. The poor horse had no idea,,,
A while ago, maybe 9 months ago, Patrick had some trouble chewing his hay. This is usually nothing to be alarmed about – it usually means that a horse’s teeth need “floating”. A horses back teeth, or molars, are for grinding food, and to do this both the upper and lower sets need to be flat to meet together. Overtime, the molars wear unevenly and no longer match up, so the food doesn’t get ground up enough for it to be swallowed. Floating is done to correct this- a long handled rasp /file is used to file the teeth flat again. We have the horses floated on a regular basis, so this was a bit odd that Patrick was having trouble chewing, but not necessarily uncommon or alarming.
Our vet came out and when she floated his teeth that really weren’t bad at all, she found two gaps in his back jaw where molars should be. These gaps were packed with hay, and packed high enough that his teeth could no longer touch – it caused a space between his lowers and uppers. The vet removed all this packed up hay. She had no idea why these gaps were there – had teeth fallen out, were they broken, and why – whatever it was it isn’t normal. Our vet wasn’t real comfortable with those gaps, but together we decided that we’d see how it went from there before getting too excited. Sorta a wait and see.
Things went really well – Patrick contentedly chewed away every day…until about three months ago when just like that! he began spitting out wads of unchewed hay again. This time it wasn’t a wad now and then, but he spit out almost every mouthful. This time the vet brought the x-ray machine to the stable to get a better look to see what was happening. She suspected that those questionable molars were the problem and she was going right after them.
After about a three hour examination, a whole bunch of x-rays, and all the other stuff a vet does, she diagnosed that two of his molars, directly opposite on his uppers, had broken, reason unknown, causing infection and hay to pack so high he could not chew. A really powerful anti-biotic was prescribed for his infection, but the jury was out on what needed to be done with the teeth. Did he have a disease that caused this, should they simply be pulled, or would they need to be surgically removed, and what to do if the infection reached his sinus cavity where it was an awful procedure of drilling a hole through his cheek to drip in antibiotics to suppress it. There was also a concern of cancer. Our vet decided she’d share her concerns and preliminary diagnosis with colleagues before making any recommendations.
After over a week’s time, she shared her research with us – that Patrick most likely did not have cancer, but would need those teeth to come out to fix his chewing and stop infections. The question was if those teeth could be pulled in our barn, or if surgery would be required. The vet recommended we take Patrick to New Bolton to get better x-rays and to have an equine dental expert look at him…maybe it’d mean a bit of sedation to pull those teeth, or that Patrick would need to be knocked out, put on a table, and have oral surgery. And oh, the difference would be somewhere between $800 and $5-6000, not including getting him there or the follow up examinations…
To make a long story short, over the next few months we had re examinations with the vet and a local equine dentist of sorts, and discussions with the people at New Bolton and our horse owner friends to explore surgery alternatives and any forthcoming sliver of hope that things could be left alone. After weighing it all out, we decided we’d take Patrick to New Bolton and hope for the best in diagnosis and treatment. We just wanted to do right by Patrick, and we’d just have to grit our teeth and charge into “no mans land”.
And it wasn’t just that easy – first we would need a trailer and to teach Patrick to load. So we borrowed a trailer and spent two weeks practicing with Patrick, tempting him in with apples and carrots until he more or less would sometimes go in! We also had to rewire the truck so we could hook up the trailer lights…taking a horse somewhere is not like having your dog jump in the backseat of the car, or stuffing “Fluffy” in a cat carrier! We don’t take our horses anywhere so it was a whole new experience for all of us. We also got some “horsie xanex” from the vet to calm Patrick for the ride…unfortunately the vet had none for Kath or I.
When we arrived at New Bolton, Patrick was admitted and Kath and I went to the waiting room to wait out the diagnosis. New Bolton is run by the Penn University School of Veterinary, and is the same place that treated the racehorse Barbaro after he broke his leg. It’s a huge place that can treat large and small size animals of every kind. And they do it well. I was just amazed at the place- and I only saw the large animal hospital, which is hardly the whole of it.
After two hours, Drs. Foster and Orsini, along with another vet and three vet students came out to tell us their diagnosis and treatment alternatives…the teeth are broken, weakened due to poor nutrition when Patrick was a colt and his teeth were forming. They had to come out or we could risk losing Patrick to a sinus infection. The good news is that the teeth were essentially dead, and could be pulled without the surgery…they could do thepulling under drip sedation later in the day if we wanted. We decided to go for it…
At 4:30 in the afternoon, the Drs came out after they had finished the procedure…each had blood splattered on their scrubs, and Dr. Foster had some dotted on his face…but it all went well. Patrick was fine, still in happy land, and could go home. Each of the three vets took turns in the extraction, as horse teeth aren’t easy to pull. They were tired…it’s a lot of physical work. But they were happy. I realized that they had helped our mutt-like backyard horse with just as much care and concern as they had treated Barbaro. I could tell why these people are great – these people just care.
Now all we had to do was to get Patrick home, driving through the rush hour traffic.
Kath and I are glad this is all over – Patrick is fine and we don’t have to worry every day anymore. We know we have a great vet, and that there are some unbelievable people at New Bolton that can fix almost anything…
It was easy to sleep last night. Its one thing less to worry about.