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Dangers of sticking a horse with a needle for desensitizing??

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  • Dangers of sticking a horse with a needle for desensitizing??

    Ok, this might sound strange or even dumb but I have a horribly needle phobic stallion. He's fine looking at it but stick him with it and it's run backwards and shake your neck until the needle comes out. Last year I tried desensitizing him with a toothpick for months before his vaccinations. Well of course, as soon as he saw the vet truck (vet wasn't even in his pasture) and I walked out with the toothpick he lost his brain. He was basically a pin cushion when I was done giving him his shots because he was so tense I couldn't get the needle in. I'm tired of having a panic attack every year because of his craziness about needles. Everyone else I can walk up to without a halter on them and give them a shot. It's just him. We get it done eventually but its a huge PITA. So this year I was thinking about getting something like a 22 gauge needle and basically desensitizing him with an actual needle. Empty syringe of course. Maybe just 2-3 pricks every other day or twice a week until he gets over it. Is this going to be dangerous as far as infection or anything health wise?? Besides him probably wanting to kill me that is. Thanks in advance!

  • #2
    I would think you're better off giving him some of the oral (gel) sedative before the vet comes.

    Repeated needle jabs with this horse sounds like opening the possibility of infection, or breaking a needle off in muscle.
    I'm not really at the top of my game today. I'm not even exactly sure what game I'm supposed to be playing, in fact... or where it's being held...

    My horse's antics iamboyfriend.com


    • #3
      Honestly I think that would make him more sensitive.... When I am breeding mares and they need shots every six hours after breeding, they are REALLY done by the end of two days, where they might have been fine at the start.

      Have you twitched him?
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      • #4
        I have a mini mule that hates shots, and this year I did the oral sedation ahead of the vet arriving and she was wonderful for the actual shot. The last two times before this, she has kicked the shooter, so this was a major improvement. I can't imagine trying to desensitize her and survive -- she gets kind of amped up by the more sticking, rather than getting used to it.

        So my vote is to orally sedate and get it over with as needed.


        • #5
          As Dressage Diva mentioned, repeatedly stabbing your horse with a needle will make him MORE sensitive and you will have an even bigger problem on your hands. If somebody pinched you pretty hard..... how many pinches do you think it would take before you got used to the pain?

          Twitch or sedate the horse and then be quick with the shot. Making a big deal over it will only make the horse more nervous.
          Siegi Belz
          2007 KWPN-NA Breeder of the Year
          Dutch Warmbloods Made in the U. S. A.


          • #6
            Topical local anesthetic takes the hurt away. Skin has huge numbers of pain fibers, muscle has very few. I would not advise desensitizing with an empty needle. I would advocate carrying the syringe, letting him see the syringe, and poking with the toothpick/needle (NO insertion) until he learns that the poke causes no pain. Swab on, wait 10 min and you can poke.
            pace, path, balance, impulsion and ??

            Don't panic! Ralph Leroy Hill


            • #7
              I have a mare who does the same thing. Shakes her neck and hop up and down until the needle gets flung or the vet can hang on long enough to get the job done. I tried the desensitization and it worked great for me until the vet showed up and she completely forgot everything she had learned in the 2 weeks prior. Now, I just twitch her and the vet gets the deed done quickly. No mess, no fuss and no one gets hurt. I may try the gel sedative next time though.
              Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.


              • #8
                My Very Large Han mare was needle phobic as well. In addition to the desensitizing tactics mentioned above, I also used clicker training. After establishing a roster of clicker behaviors, including standing still, I used the click-treat every time she tolerated being poked (and getting oral medication ... she didn't cooperate for that either.) She did learn to allow both the needle and the dosing.

                I believe the clicker training helped her to focus on a specific behavior (standing still) which yielded a consistent high value reward (lots of carrot pieces.) My vet has become a big fan of clicker work having seen the transformation in her behavior .... she was nearly IMPOSSIBLE / bordering on dangerous to vaccinate or dose prior to this.

                "Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit."
                - Desiderata, (c) Max Ehrman, 1926


                • Original Poster

                  Thanks for the input everyone. I honestly forgot ALL ABOUT numbing agents for the skin. Can't I get it over the counter at a drug store or pharmacy?

                  Last year I twitched him, but it didn't do anything. Eventually after about 5-6 pokes he gave up and stood still. That's why I had thought of doing the desensitizing. I'll talk with my vets about the oral sedation too.

                  Oh, and I became desensitized to shots after repeated injections. I've always been terrified of needles. Once I went through a period where I had to have many shots and blood draws eventually the fear went away. That's what I was going for with drama King.


                  • Original Poster

                    Originally posted by siegi b. View Post
                    Making a big deal over it will only make the horse more nervous.
                    FWIW, we've NEVER made a big deal out of it. Why would I when I have 5 other horses I just walk up and give an injection to without a halter on them or anyone holding them? The horse doesn't have time to 'get' nervous, he just reacts to the shot.


                    • #11
                      You can also lunge him for five-ten mins before the injection so that he's a bit more relaxed.
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                      • #12
                        My needle phobic nutjob takes it a lot better in the top of the rump than the neck. It's much less painful there, but requires some finesse and to have the horse is distracted.

                        You can also use an ice pack to help numb the area.


                        • #13
                          Every one of my horses can get shots with no drama, no halter, no restraint. I typically just walk up to them in the pasture, pop a needle in their neck, and move on to the next horse. They barely look up out of the grass to see what I'm doing.

                          That all changed with one mare who got anaplasmosis and had to get 40cc of oxytetracycline in her vein every day for a week.

                          The day the vet sewed a catheter in, she stood like a rock while he sewed. He was amazed - said it's not very often they stand for a catheter sewn in without sedation. He said I'd have no problem with her, piece of cake.

                          The next day I put the shot into the cathetar, no problem. But that night she had torn the catheter out. He came back out and gave her the oxytet in the vein - said the catheter was not going to work because she would just tear it out again. Day 3 she stood perfectly still while he jabbed her and gave her the medication.

                          He came out on day 4 to give her the shot, and she went ballistic. It took about 1 1/2 hours to get the medication in her vein. She fought and struggled and broke halter, broke a lead rope, set back on the lip twitch until she flipped over on her side. From that minute on she was horrified of a needle. We ended up sticking a shot of dormosedan in her hindquarter because we could at least get near that. (but NOT the neck!) It barely took the edge off because her adrenaline was pumping, but we did manage to get the medication in the vein finally.

                          Day 5 of medication I stuck her in the butt with a cc of dormosedan 30 minutes before the vet was to arrive. That took the edge off enough to get the oxytet in the vein but still it took probably 30 minutes to do it.

                          Fast forward to the next spring and she needed coggins and shots. I tried "poking" her with a fake needle (just a syringe, no needle). She went ape crazy. If she saw that syringe, she would blow and snort and run backwards and head flip and try to lay down.

                          I ended up calling a different vet - a female. Told her the whole story. She said we could get this horse done with no drama, no problem.

                          Oh-kay, we'll see about that.

                          She came to the barn and asked where this hullaballloo went down last fall. I told her - right here in these cross ties.

                          Ok, so #1 was to take the horse on the other end of the barn, facing a different direction than she was facing when the freak out happened.

                          She asked which side of the neck started the freak out. It was the left. So she went to the right side. Basically she said that the horse has saved this mental picture of this horrible incident and all the details of that incident must change.

                          We got a bucket of grain and the vet held the grain for the horse. I also had a hand full of horse cookies that she loves.

                          She made very sure not to show the horse the needle or let on that she was a vet.

                          We both stood there stuffing grain and food in the horse's face, and she quietly slipped around behind me, waited until the mare's mouth was digging down inside the bucket, and she slipped the needle in very gently and quickly. No jab or stab, just a gentle slide.

                          The horse didn't even know she was stuck. She drew the blood, then stuck it in her pocket so the mare never saw the needle. She went back to the front and helped me hold the bucket, gave the horse some cookies, then slipped around behind me, slid another needle in her neck with vaccines, and it was done.

                          She said that the entire scenario had to change. The location, the scenery, the method, everything. She told me it wasn't the poke that she's afraid of, it was the entire mental image of everything that terrified her that day.

                          Now over a year later, I can once again walk up to the horse and stick her in the field and get no reaction.

                          I don't know if any of that will help your situation but I wanted to share it just in case there is anything that might be of benefit for your stallion.


                          • #14
                            Twitch him.

                            Skin anesthetics are expensive, rx only and ideally need shaving of the skin.
                            Click here before you buy.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by LarkspurCO View Post
                              My needle phobic nutjob takes it a lot better in the top of the rump than the neck. It's much less painful there, but requires some finesse and to have the horse is distracted.

                              You can also use an ice pack to help numb the area.
                              What are you giving on top of the rump? A shot should never be given on the top of the rump... ever.


                              • #16
                                Try holding an ice pack on the injection site for a few minutes before sticking him.
                                Hopefully it will numb it enough to get the deed done !


                                • #17
                                  I won't use the croup area if I can help it (although I "never" use the word "never" if I can help it, LOL) but do like the hamstring and find a lot of horses don't mind needles as much when given back there. Vets are not as fond of that location because it brings them closer to the kicking end, but it's fairly easy to have a helper hold up a front leg and do the deed with minimal fuss and it's not in the horse's direct line of sight or immediately up near their head/neck, where a lot of needle-phobic horses don't like to be messed with.
                                  Click here before you buy.


                                  • #18
                                    Tanis McDonald has a post on another board about scruffing a horse for injections. I'd never heard of this.

                                    I believe CateOwens is on this board as well.

                                    look at pleasurehorse advanced search TanisM1


                                    • #19
                                      One thing I found with my tight-muscled, needle-despising horse (not phobic, just hate) was to turn his head slightly toward the direction I was injecting from. It took the tension out of the muscle on that side, and he tolerated the IM vaccinations much better. He stands like a champ for anything IV, but the tension he gets in his neck muscles will send him through the roof if you poke them with a needle.
                                      Leap, and the net will appear


                                      • #20
                                        This may be TMI, but here goes..........
                                        All vets carry a bottle of local anesthetic in their truck, which my vet swabs on my horse before he injects my guy. However, I also have my own "supply", which came in handy at our last rated show when the vet showed up to pull a blood sample.
                                        There are many over the counter topical anesthetics. They come in all shapes and sizes and brands; usually found in the section for pain control and also first aid - but they don't always shout "local anesthetic here!". The sprays for sunburn have benzocaine, which is a topical only local anesthetic. Anbesol for teething children - 7.5% benzocaine - designed for topical administration. OP doesn't need to shave the skin, just swab an area thoroughly and wait 10 - 15 min for the drug to take effect. Try it out on yourself for proof! Ask your pharmacist to go through the OTC meds and identify the preparations with local anesthetic. The ingredient name always ends in "caine" like lidocaine, procaine, benzocaine, tetracaine, etc. Cheap and reliable IME.

                                        Also, if they are directly injected in the skin they will cause quite a bit of pain on the first injection because of their highly acidic formulation. So, topical use only for this case. Finally, as others have suggested - an ice pack would do nicely - true low tech/low cost. Though as many of us enter day 4 of an awful heat wave, I think we'd be sorely tempted to apply the ice to ourselves! :-)
                                        pace, path, balance, impulsion and ??

                                        Don't panic! Ralph Leroy Hill