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Smartphones Help Horses Recover from Surgeries

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May 25, 2013 08:58 AM EDT
Stuart C. Clark-Price
Stuart C. Clark-Price, a specialist in anesthesiology and pain management in the U. of I. Veterinary Teaching Hospital, is leading a multi-university research project aimed at developing treatment protocols that help horses get back on their hooves quickly and safely after surgery. (Photo : L. Brian Stauffer/ University of Illinois)

Common technology used in smartphones is now helping veterinarians monitor the condition of horses under anesthesia.

Veterinarians at the University of Illinois report using accelerometers-devices that record information about vibration, motion and impact. In smartphones, these accelerometers are sensors that help users reorient the displays from vertical to horizontal.

Now, these devices are helping doctors monitor recovery of horses undergoing surgeries and offer better guidelines for their treatments. Until now, veterinarians used video footage to evaluate a horses' progress following a surgery. However, this method is highly subjective and prone to several errors. The new method, researchers say, provides objective data on the horses' recovery.

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Horses are huge and bulky, which make surgeries very dangerous.

"General anesthesia poses greater risk to horses than any other domestic species," said Stuart C. Clark-Price, a specialist in anesthesiology and pain management at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at the U. of I., in a news release. "The mortality rate in horses is about 1 percent, whereas in humans it's about .001 percent and .05 percent in dogs and cats. There's this magic period - three to 3 ½ hours - and if anesthesia lasts longer than that, their risk of complications at recovery starts to skyrocket exponentially. Limiting their time under anesthesia is really critical. And immediately after they wake up, they have to stand up."

Horses have to be on their feet most of the times as lying down for extended periods can crush their muscles and harms them internally. When these horses are lying for surgery, their huge intestines can severely impact their lungs and blood vessels.

Also, when horses wake after the anesthesia wears-off, they tend to get up abruptly that often leads to severe injuries.

In the research project, Clark-Price and colleagues attach tri-axis accelerometer to surcingles that are wrapped around the horses' girth. As the horses get up, their movements are recorded by the accelerometer. This data then goes to a computer that rates each horse's recovery on a 0-100 scale (obtained from a statistical model).

 "If a horse stands up nice and slow and controlled, it triggers the device less, but if the horse gets up and ricochets around and is flailing all over, the device is triggered more," Clark-Price added. "The smoother, slower and quieter a horse stands up, the less likely they are to be injured, and they get a better score. A perfect score is 11. The worst possible would be 100."

Lead author Clark-Price is also studying effects of a sedative that can keep the horse's calm until the anesthesia completely wears-off and they are in a better position to stand up.

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