Scientists invent foot-operated horse ventilator

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An adult horse needs about five to six litres of air per breath to obtain enough oxygen. An appropriate ventilator must provide this volume in case of emergency. Photo: Vetmeduni Vienna
An adult horse needs about five to six litres of air per breath to obtain enough oxygen. An appropriate ventilator must provide this volume in case of emergency. © Vetmeduni Vienna

Scientists in Austria have invented an inexpensive foot-operated device for the emergency ventilation of large animals suffering respiratory or cardiovascular arrest.

Anaesthesiologists at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna say the device is easy to transport and can save animal lives in emergencies.

The scientists confirmed in a recent report in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Education that the emergency ventilator works in horses.

Respiratory or cardiovascular arrest in outdoor animals poses a huge challenge to veterinarians.

Ventilation equipment is generally hard to operate and requires electricity and compressed air.

Horses’ lungs are large and they breathe in a correspondingly large volume of air. It is not easy to supply this in an emergency.

Suitable respirators are available in hospitals but are not always there when they are needed, such as in a barn, a pasture, or during transport.

Yves Moens, who heads the university’s Clinical Unit of Anaesthesiology and Perioperative Intensive Care Medicine, said he and his colleagues had long been concerned by the number of horses who died avoidable deaths because of the lack of a suitable ventilation device.

They set about designing a ventilation pump for large animals that veterinarians can simply and quickly use to resuscitate animals in the field.

The device is similar to the bellows used to inflate air mattresses and is easy to carry and use.

In an emergency, the vet can intubate the animal on site by inserting a breathing tube into its trachea.

The ventilator pump is connected to the bellows and operated by foot. Exhalation is effected via a second valve that is manually controlled.

The small device produces enough air for ventilation.

An adult horse needs about five to six litres of air in its lungs to be able to obtain enough oxygen. A correspondingly large bellows would be too large to be operated by one man and could not be transported in a conventional car.

Although the emergency ventilator can provide only 2.5 litres of air, the researchers believed that it would be sufficient for the respiration of horses if the bellows are activated several times in quick succession.

They tested this idea on five anaesthetized Haflinger horses during castration surgery in a pasture. The vets were able to show that gradual ventilation with the 2.5 litre pump is sufficient to keep the animals alive.

“It improves the safety of large animals in the field, both during routine anaesthesia and in emergencies.

“It will also help veterinarians to provide emergency first aid in these circumstances and respect the guidelines for good practice,” Moens says.

The respiratory pump is inexpensive and easy to use and will help veterinarians treat their patients in the field, he says.

 

The study, A commercial foot pump for emergency ventilation of horses, proof-of-principle during equine field anaesthesia, by Stephanie von Ritgen, Ulrike Auer, Johannes Schramel and Yves Moens, was published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Education. The abstract can be read here.

 

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