In some cases, keeping a horse on his feet for surgery is safer and more effective than general anaesthesia. Patrick Pollock FRCVS outlines what’s involved
While general anaesthesia is a wonderful technique, allowing types of surgical intervention that veterinary surgeons of the past could only dream about, it is not without its risks. A ground-breaking study performed in 62 clinics across the globe, including 41,824 horses, over six years, determined that the risk of death in horses undergoing general anaesthesia for elective surgery was 0.9%. Put simply – and this is what I say to every owner whose horse requires a general anaesthetic – around 1 in 100 normal horses subjected to a general anaesthetic do not survive. Once you add in sick horses, including those with pre-existing risks such as the severe compromise that goes alone with colic, or the risks of pregnancy, the risk of mortality increases further. By contrast, the anaesthetic mortality rates in dogs is around 0.02% – and in humans the rate is closer to 1 in 100,000.