WHAT’S NEW in the vet­eri­nary world?

Is twitch­ing cruel? And what in­di­cates a se­ri­ous case of colic? Peter Green MRCVS rounds up the lat­est vet­eri­nary re­search

Horse & Hound - - Pet Clinic -


PUTTING a twitch on a horse’s up­per lip to re­strain him or al­low an un­pleas­ant pro­ce­dure to be per­formed is some­times con­tro­ver­sial. But how does a twitch work — and is it just a mat­ter of hurt­ing the horse so his at­ten­tion is di­verted from the clip­ping or in­jec­tion?

Vets in Michi­gan took eight young Ara­bian horses that had never been twitched or clipped. They stood them in a fa­mil­iar groom­ing area with a calm, older horse that they knew, so that they were not anx­ious about be­ing alone. Their heart rates and the vari­abil­ity of their heart­beats were mea­sured; these are a re­li­able in­di­ca­tor of stress and pain.

The plan was to clip the in­side of their ears. Half were clipped with­out a twitch and half with, be­fore the groups were re­versed for the other ear. Later, within two hours, all the horses were twitched a sec­ond time and the clip­pers were ap­plied to their ears.

The re­sults were clear: heart rate and beat vari­abil­ity were far greater in the horses clipped with­out twitches.

Some could not be clipped at all with­out a twitch. This sug­gests that the twitch gen­uinely calmed the horses and re­duced their fear and stress when the clip­pers came up to their ears. When they were twitched for a sec­ond time, their hearts were al­most as steady as the read­ings taken be­fore any clip­ping was at­tempted.

The horses did not ap­pear to have be­come fear­ful of the twitch or to have re­mem­bered that it was ei­ther painful or stress­ful — and they had learned, to some ex­tent, that ear clip­ping was not go­ing to hurt. The vets con­cluded that twitch­ing a horse for a short time is not painful or cruel, but em­pha­sise that a twitch is no sub­sti­tute for proper, re­ward-based training.


WHEN a vet at­tends a colic case, which clin­i­cal signs are most sig­nif­i­cant as to its se­ri­ous­ness?

Clin­i­cal records of colic cases from two big equine prac­tices in Der­byshire and Kent have been care­fully an­a­lysed to see which clin­i­cal signs are real “red flag warn­ings”. Of more than 940 colic cases at­tended over a four-year pe­riod, 23% turned out to be crit­i­cal — that is, they needed surgery or in­ten­sive hos­pi­tal treat­ment. Nearly 20% of cases could not be saved and were even­tu­ally eu­thanased.

All the clin­i­cal signs dis­cov­ered on ini­tial ex­am­i­na­tion were recorded. When out­comes were matched against the first ex­am­i­na­tion find­ings, three signs turned out to be pretty good in­di­ca­tors that the case was se­ri­ous and not just a mild spasm or tran­sient belly­ache.

The amount of rolling and sweat­ing and the be­hav­iour of the horse was not a good guide to the sever­ity of the case. The more re­li­able in­di­ca­tors of real trou­ble were a high heart rate, ab­nor­mal colour of the mem­branes of the eye and mouth, and the ab­sence of bowel sounds in at least one of the four ab­dom­i­nal quad­rants where a vet lis­tens with a stetho­scope.

Things like in­ter­nal rec­tal ex­am­i­na­tion find­ings, tem­per­a­ture, be­hav­iour and sweat­ing all add to the pic­ture, but if heart rate, mem­branes and bowel sounds are nor­mal, a colic case is much less likely to be crit­i­cal.

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