Teaching horse to accept needles

Akkalia1

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3 October 2008
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Anybody had a horse that was a real problem for injections? Mine is :( Particularly IV injections but any really. She's had to have 'the stabber' after not allowing her annual vaccs and just last week was unwell (initially concerned it was grass sickness but then seemed to be a gut infection) and the vet tried to take blood. Got the needle in the vein after shielding her eye but then struggled to get anything connected. Managed a tiny bit of blood which was enough to run biochemistry but not haematology. He then couldn't get near her to get antibiotics injected into her. Tried a twitch, didn't work. Vet was not very happy understandably. She then wouldn't eat her oral antibiotics and the vet left me feeling that she was going to be difficult to treat and that we could send her to vet hospital to get antibiotics into her but said he felt guilty for sending down difficult horses :/ Thankfully I managed to make it into a paste and syringed it into her.

She's an anxious horse who is always suspicious of anything happening to her. She had a stay in the vet hospital last year for investigations and got quite stressed when they tried to get a line into her. They eventually managed but had to get a behaviourist to work with her.

I've tried pinching skin with her to de-sensitise and poking her with a pen lid and she will accept that after a while but then when a vet comes and actually attempts to stick a needle in her, she says no.

Is there anything I can do - work with a behaviourist?? Short of turning her into a pin cushion, it's very difficult to desensitise her to actually getting injected.

It's so frustrating though as if she needs treatment again she's so very difficult. And even annual vaccs and sedating for teeth is painful. I usually have to give her a tube of sedalin before teeth visits but even then the vet can't get it into her vein and has to inject the muscle.

And my ultimate thought is what if she needed put to sleep - it could be awful :(
 

Celtic Fringe

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The British Equine Veterinary Association produced a video on how to desensitise your horse to needles (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRAIdnQmzak) which might be worth looking at though it sounds like you have tried most of this already. It might be worth working with a behaviourist again though?

My old cob is bad with needles but not totally impossible to inject. A determined vet/YO combo managed to sedate him a while back for the dentist but he still jumped when he had a steroid jab (for sweet-itch) when under reasonably heavy sedation. Annual vaccinations are also a challenge. As my cob is probably 30 years old I don't think he will change a lot now, whatever training we put in place. In general he quite like vets, it is only when they have to inject him that he gets violent. I also have worries about PTS and have pretty much made up my mind that he will have to be shot.
 

SEL

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One of our vets went on a course which involved clicker training for vet phobic horses. She asked if she could practice on Militaire who can sniff out a vet from 1000 paces.

He went on high alert as soon as she entered the yard, stopped eating the net of haylage I was using to distract him and started pulling back on the lead rope before she'd even got to him.

So she gave him a handful of treats and clicked at the same time. Over the course of the next 10 mins she would touch his neck where the needle needed to go - click and treat. She progressed to pinching the skin, touching him with the syringe etc etc. In the end he was so focused on click and treat that he didn't even flinch when the needle went in.

It will take more than one time though. The next vet that came out still had issues despite me trying to distract him with treats. The difficulty is I can grab bits of his neck & poke syringes in him all night and he doesn't care - I'm not the vet!!
 

Spottyappy

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My mare was Really anxious with my last vet. He always seemed nervous too, which did not help. I fell out with the practice, actually, over how one (emergency call out) vet treated her, when she was petrified. He slammed her head into the stable, which did nothing to help the situation, as you can imagine, no matter how difficult she was being.
However, my new vet knew my side of what had happened and has been totally brilliant. Asked me to start desentising by pressing a pen into her neck, the nib apparently feels similar to a needle.
When he arrives, now, he just goes straight up to her and puts the needle in,often in her chest rather than neck if not IV, and has had absolutely no issues what ever.
 

freckles22uk

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My horse was very very needle shy, she would rear, try to bite and get real @rsy with me, to the point she was dangerous. Ive had her all her life (shes now 20) and never had a bad experience, so no idea why.

2 years ago she had an eye problem and needed injections 3 times a day, vet was happy for me to do them myself ( I lived in Spain at the time) so rather than have to face twitching her every time I decided to tackle the problem.

I got her on a lunge line and got a electric fence post, I then touched her neck with the pointy end, well she did the wall of death, going in circles, rearing and trying to kick me, but I persisted, I kept it touch her neck until she calmed down, praised her when she did so. I prodded her all over her neck until she realised it was not hurting.

Next I got a pointy stick a foot long and did the same, praising her once she calmed down and realised it did not hurt.

Then I used a 6" pointed nail, by this point she was a lot happier and no longer trying to bite!

I did all 3 stages about 3 times, over a day, and by the last attempt she was fine, very calm with no reactions. You need something pointed.

Time for the needle, and the secret... ICE! I got a nice big ice cube, I froze water in a plastic cup so it was a good size, and held it where I was going to inject her, ( use a tea towel to hold it) I held it for about 5 minutes, then gently injected her, she jumped a little but allowed me to carry on. I did this for every injection over week and she was fine.

When I moved back to the UK and her jabs were due I went up the field to meet the vet, with my large ice cube, explained the situation, and the vet, though surprised at my method was quite happy to inject a calm horse...

Im sure its all in her head it was going to hurt, so it was a case of breaking the fear, and making her realise its not that painful
 

Griffin

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My mare can be very nervous of things that are unfamiliar but will usually come round when given a bit of time to process things. When I first got her and had her vaccinated, the vet walked, whacked a needle in her and she nearly hit the roof (understandably). The next time, different vet, I explained what had happened and this vet spent about ten minutes just stroking her and chatting to my mare. Eventually, she calmed down and the vet was able to very quietly inject her. Since then, as long as the vet spends a bit of time first letting my mare get used to them, she is able to be injected without much hassle.

I guess what I am trying to say in a roundabout way is: has your vet tried just calming your horse down first by spending some time with her?
 
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Mine was horried with needles, he would rear up even with a twitch.
At 16:3 it was a challenge, but he aleays behaved at the vets when i wasnt there, but last year he had a keratoma op and had needles most days.
Now he can be iv injected no problem even with me holding him
 

Abi90

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20 February 2007
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I guess what I am trying to say in a roundabout way is: has your vet tried just calming your horse down first by spending some time with her?
This. My mare hates needles after being a pin cushion this year. Vet came out to do teeth and I said about the needle phobia and he said “that’s okay, no problem”, then just spent about 10 minutes making friends and working up to the needle. She took one step forward and that was it. Whereas she had needed twitching before with other more impatient vets. I was so impressed I shall be asking for that vet from now on
 

Trules

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I have a needle shy mare. The key with her has been to twitch her calmly first and let the effect if the twich take hold for a couple of minutes. I also keep her head turned away from seeing the needle. Then the vet has been able to quietly inject with no fuss at all. This has worked perfectly last 2 times for routine jabs. X
 

soloequestrian

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When I first got her and had her vaccinated, the vet walked, whacked a needle in her and she nearly hit the roof (understandably).
I had this happen too, except it was her third vaccination at about 18 months so I knew she had been fine before. I very stupidly didn't discuss the vet's plan with him and he managed to turn her into a needle-shy wreck in a very short time. This time I used domosedan and lidocaine on the skin (you can get from the chemist for humans who are nervous about needles). She still flinched even with this. She is clicker trained but I've had no success so far desensitising her, though that's probably because I don't have access to many confident horsey people who can pretend to be the vet. I'm going to try to do more desensitisation over the next year and use some of the ideas in this thread!
 

Akkalia1

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It really is very difficult. I think the behaviourist at the vet hospital worked away at her with clicker training so I might try that.

One vet had success by quietly speaking to her and feeding her treats then quietly did her annual vaccs and she barely noticed but then the next time had no luck with this method. And I don't think it would work for iv as she's already had a fright from the needle going in so then won't let the syringe be connected.

I'll watch that video and maybe just keep trying to desensitise her and get other people to come and poke and prod at her as well!

Unfortunately the twitch seems to have no effect on her.
 

GTRJazz

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14 February 2014
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Yes used to have to use a twitch he would spin and knock us around, both the Vet and me ended up on the floor with the water from the bucket with him backing up to us.
Then one day he needed sedating to do his teeth.
Now completely different does not even blink must have liked the feeling of relaxation
 

Templebar

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30 July 2012
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I watched the video put out at the beginning of the year in the dont break your vet series. It was good, a bit rushed but given time it was great.

I had one, she doesn't mind the vet but hates needles and at the skin pinch with bowl over anyone and anything. I thought since i have the bond with her i would start and used a pen to simulate the prick. I started for a couple of days (about 5-10mins a day a couple of reps of each stage) pinching the skin and when she stood rewarding her, then progressed as per the video. I actually ended up clicker training her to me saying good girl. So in the end after about a week the vet came to do her injections and i explained what i had done. So we went ahead and she stood like a pro, the vet said good girl and nearly stabbed the pony in the nose as she turned so quickly for her treat.

So if you can start yourself i think this is best then get someone in to either hold or 'inject' and finally speak to your vet make a plan. Last thing i would want now if a wham bam vet when i have taken the time to do this work for everyone's benefit.
 

wildandwoolly

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3 December 2010
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My pony is very needle shy and will rear and try to go over me/vet. He has no bad experiences as I've had him since he was a weanling. It is just the way he is. The last vet who came asked if I'd tried a blind-fold which I hadn't. I was very sceptical but the vet said to give it a try so I popped a folded hand towel over his eyes and tucked it into his bridle cheekpieces. This allowed the vet to inject two intra-muscular and one intra-venous. I was absolutely stunned that it worked. He didn't even flinch for the first two injections and just twitched slightly for the IV but it really was amazing - much safer and less stressful for all concerned.
 
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