Predicting Equine Postoperative Infections

Inflammatory markers in horses' blood might tell veterinarians when the animals are at risk for adverse events after surgery.

"Monitoring the recovery of the patient closely in the postoperative period allows the surgeon to detect infection and other complications of the surgical procedure early, thus increasing the chance of successful treatment and minimizing problems with healing of the surgical wound," said Stine Jacobsen, DVM, PhD, of the University of Copenhagen.

Veterinarians often measure the white blood cell (WBC) count because it increases if there is an infection. But WBC counts might not be the best measurement: some horses with low WBC counts might have infections and some with higher counts might not.

"This makes it difficult to determine, whether a measured level is indeed pathological or not," she said. "The best inflammatory markers are those with a narrow reference range (i.e. levels in healthy individuals are very similar) and with a large magnitude of response, which means that high levels are released by the immune system."

"This study means that veterinarians will get more tools they may use for postoperative monitoring of their patients, and that is likely to give them better possibilities for early intervention if the horse is not recovering according to plan."
--Dr. Stine Jacobsen
The researchers measured WBC, serum amyloid A (SAA), iron, and fibrinogen. They found that SAA, iron, and fibrinogen levels did a better job of predicting the amount of trauma after surgery, and might someday be used to monitor for post-operative infections.

"This study means that veterinarians will get more tools they may use for postoperative monitoring of their patients, and that is likely to give them better possibilities for early intervention if the horse is not recovering according to plan," she said.

In the meantime, she encouraged owners to make sure their horses are healthy before undergoing elective surgery.

"Horses should only undergo elective surgery when they are healthy and in good body condition. That means that owners should ensure that horses are dewormed and properly vaccinated before surgery," she said, emphasizing the importance of vaccination against tetanus.

Jacobsen also suggested that veterinarians perform additional blood tests after surgery to compare and monitor the horse's recovery.

The study "Acute Phase Response to Surgery of Varying Intensity in Horses: A Preliminary Study," was published in August in Veterinary Surgery. The abstract is available on PubMed.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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