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Pets Large & Small


Dr. Kimberly Brokaw, DVM

(11/2014) Smartphones are, in my mind, a relatively new technology. I'd actually been working as a veterinarian for a couple years before I bought one and yet now it seems everyone has one. I have quickly become dependent on them for basic veterinary practice. I communicate with clients through texts, find their house through a map application, and am now even starting to use them when making a diagnosis.

I constantly have clients tell me "well doc, Fluffy looked awful an hour ago but now that you're here, Fluffy seems fine." The even more frustrating thing is when, after I leave, Fluffy starts to act sick again. Relying on client descriptions of a pet's ailment, while extremely important, can sometimes lead one down the wrong path. Introduce the smartphone and not only can I get a client's description of the illness, but can also see a video clip of what my patient is doing when I am not there to observe him or her.

I received a call from a horse owner, telling me that her horse was neurologic, couldn't put his head down to eat, and was twisting his neck in a strange manner. The episode lasted about 10 minutes and then the horse was fine. I asked her a bunch of questions and the horse was normal except for the 10 minute episode which included twitching of the muscles in both sides of his neck. During each episode, the horse was always alert and aware of his surroundings. After the episode the horse would go back to eating and seemed normal until about a week later when he had another episode. He was having episodes about once per week, at feeding time. Each time was quick, and then the horse would be normal again. I offered to come out and examine the horse as well as submit blood to test for some of the common diseases that would cause neurologic behavior in a horse. After about a month of discussion with the owner, she was able to capture a video on her smartphone of the horse having an episode.

After I received the video, I called the owner and told her that her horse was not neurologic. He was having a mild choke episode. Since he is a plump, easy keeper, who eats less than a cup of grain with his vitamin pellets, it didn't present like your typical choke where large quantities of food and mucus come out the horses's nose. In fact he didn't even cough. Rather he just had neck spasms from where his esophagus was contracting around the lodged ball of grain. The owner seemed a little skeptical of my diagnosis. I instructed her to water down her horse's grain and see if the behavior resolved. If it didn't, we could always do blood tests later. Sure enough, the horse has been fine and hasn't had any more episodes in over a month.

My next Smartphone diagnosis wouldn't prove as simple. Turkey's owner called as he had colicked a couple days ago and responded well to a dose of Banamine but now was colicking again and wanted him examined. He had seemed to return to normal rapidly following the Banamine but she was concerned that it had re-occurred. When I examined Turkey he was normal. He was happily eating grass, his temperature was normal, his intestinal sounds were good, and other than a little bit of stiffness, seemed to be in very good shape for a 20 year old horse. We pulled blood to check to see if there was underlying infection or liver or kidney disease that we couldn't pick up on exam. Everything tested normal. I had the owner start Turkey on probiotics to help any mild digestive upset that might be present. Turkey was also started on ulcer medications in case ulcers were the cause of his intermittent colic.

After being on the medications for a week, the owner called back to say that Turkey was still having colic episodes. He wasn't rolling or biting at his flank. Instead, he was lying down in the field and staying down for several minutes before standing up and going back to grazing. She agreed that this was not your typical colic. We couldn't seem to find anything that was triggering the episodes, and Turkey would go back to being almost normal within 15 minutes of an episode. The only thing that wasn't normal was while he would eat his grain, he didn't seem to enjoy it as much as usual, even though it came from the same mill where they always bought their grain.

After being unable to get the mild colic episodes under control, the owner was able to catch one on her phone and send me the video. During the episodes, Turkey was lying on his side, completely unresponsive to the activities around him. Turkey wasn't colicking. He was having seizures. Adult horses have a fairly high seizure threshold. However, EPM, toxins, PPID (Cushings), and tumors are among some etiologies for seizures. Since Turkey wasn't showing any other signs of disease, toxin, such as grain containing corn contaminated with aflatoxin, was the most likely diagnosis. Turkey was taken off the old feed and switched to a new one. The feed was also tested.

Luckily for both of the horses, their owners had Smartphones and were able to video their horses having "episodes." Had it not been for the video, the one horse would have had to undergo a myriad of tests and it may have never been discovered that his alleged neurologic disease was actually just a simple choke. Turkey would also have been continued on unsuccessful treatment had his owner not been able to get a video showing a seizure rather than colic. So, if your pet is ever doing something weird, pull your smartphone out of your pocket and video it. Having a video will assist your vet in more ways than just your description of what is happening to your pet.

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw