In this class we will learn the safest ways to handle animals and perform procedures.
Safety of the patient and all personal involved should always be a primary concern when
working with animals. Although successfully completing an examination or a procedure is
the primary objective, this objective should never supersede human safety. It is important to
remember that an animal’s behavior can never be correctly predicted 100% of the time. The
best way to stay safe is to be constantly evaluating the situation, and be flexible enough to
change what you are doing if there is unacceptable risk to people or the patient.
A. Behavior: Knowing the typical behavior of each species is important in safe and
efficient handling. Please refer to attached pages for brief descriptions of typical
behaviors, and a handout on the “vices” of horses.
B. Approaching an animal in a clinical situation. The goal is to achieve the objective
(physical examination or procedure) efficiently, in the safest way possible, with the least
possible stress to the patient. Achieve this goal by following these steps.
1. Assess the situation (environment, animals’ temperament, and type of
procedure) and form a plan.
2. Pay attention to information that the owner gives you about the animal’s typical
behavior, but trust your own opinion of the animals’ temperament based on the
signs it gives you.
3. It is the primary job of the veterinarian, and secondarily the technician, to keep
the situation under control. Veterinarian and technician must have excellent
4. Have a back up plan (increased restraint, chemical sedation) and do not let your
pride get in the way of using it! Go to plan “B” before the situation escalates.
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Behavior of Large Animals
The information contained here is only a BRIEF introduction to a large subject. Please let me know if
you are interested in further references on this subject.
1.Usually are not blatantly aggressive with the exception of many stallions, and some broodmares with
foal at side.
2. Horses are herbivores, grazing animals, not predators. As such, their most common defense is flight.
An anxious horse about to run away will often: raise their head and stare at the perceived threat, flare
nostrils, and elevate the tail. They will sometimes whinny and blow loudly through their nostrils. As
herd animals, most horses are more comfortable when in close proximity to other horses and may
become anxious at forced separation.
3. As with many prey animals, horses are easily startled. Sudden movements (objects or people), loud
unexpected noises, and unexpected additions to a familiar environment can startle a horse and cause
them to flee or jump away (common horseperson terminology= spook or shy).
4. Temperament varies between individual horses and amongst breeds. Many horses will be nervous
and jumpy in unfamiliar situations, and much harder to control.
5. When horses do become aggressive their usual defense is to lunge forward and bite, kick with hind
legs, strike with front legs and squeal. Aggression is most often exhibited between horses but can be
aimed at people! Ears laid back is the most common and important aggressive posture.
6. Herds of horses will establish a pecking order of sorts, and they may be aggressive to a new animal
introduced to the group.
1.Bull is most aggressive, beef cattle are typically less predictable than dairy.
2.Bulls will paw the ground, hold head low, snort, charge, toss and kneel on victims.
3.Cows/Heifers: aggressiveness depends on socialization, breed and amount of handling.
4.Calves should be treated gently with a slow approach in a quiet deliberate fashion.
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1.Aggressive behavior consists of jaw snapping, barking grunts, pushing with their heads, and slashing
with their tusks (boars).
2.Piglets over two weeks of age will fight and begin to establish a pecking order.
3.Pigs may be aggressive to new pigs introduced to an established group.
4.Sows can be dangerous, especially with a litter. When piglets need treatment it is best to remove them
from earshot of the sow.
5.If kept calm pigs will move as a herd, but will run over each other in avoidance behavior if startled.
1.Rams: engage in inter male aggression.
2. Sheep will use a tightly packed herd to avoid an uncomfortable or frightening situation. Sheep dogs
make use of this to move sheep into an enclosure.
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Restraint and Handling of Horses
I. Basic husbandry: This is not a class in husbandry, however, it is important for an equine
veterinary technician to be knowledgeable (client communication) and skillful in equine
husbandry, and it will be discussed throughout the course. Today we will work on horse
handling and grooming. You are responsible for the following:
1. Halter Placement. Most horses are taught to accept a halter at young age. Horses may be
turned out with or without halters, depending on the handler’s preference. Horses are easier to
catch with halters on, but it should be noted that horses should only be left unattended in halters
with a leather “break away” strap, so that if they become entangled they are not at risk of
strangling themselves as they seek to escape. Horses may be caught by their halters, but should
always be lead with a lead rope.
2. Use of a lead rope to lead horse forward, turn and backup. (Jogging horses and lunging will
be covered in a later class dealing with lameness). Lead ropes are clipped to the metal ring on
the underside of the noseband of the halter. Horses are trained to be approached and lead from
the left side. You should stand at the horse’s shoulder while leading in order to avoid being hit
with the horse’s feet from behind. From this position you can use your elbow to put some
pressure on the horse’s neck if he is crowding you. Never wrap any of the excessive line around
any part of your body. The purpose of the lead rope is to have something to hold on to if the
horse spooks, if it is wrapped around your hand you could be dragged or have your hand broken.
Many horses have been trained with voice commands (walk, back, trot, and “whoa”=slow down,
are most common. A clucking noise can be used to encourage horsed to move forward or pay
attention) and these commands, as well as directed pressure on the noseband through the lead
rope may assist you in communicating your wishes to the horse.
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3. Placement of horse on crossties. Cross ties are used to hold horses still so that the handlers’
hands are free to do other things to the horse such as grooming and tacking up. Horses should
not be left unattended on cross ties.
4. Basic grooming including currying, brushing, and picking feet. You are responsible for
being able to ID all the grooming equipment including: hoof picks, curry combs, hard and soft
brushes, mane combs, sweat scrappers, and shedding blades. Grooming is done in order to keep
the horse’s coat in the desired condition. The amount of time and attention spent on grooming
will vary with the intended purpose of the horse. Grooming is a great time to get to know what
is normal for an individual horse (old injuries and scars) and for horses in general (people will
often mistake normal anatomy such as chestnuts for medical problems). Picking the feet keeps
rocks and soft mud and manure from building up, which can be damaging to the feet. It is
especially important if the horse wears shoes.
II. Restraint: Restraint is the act of controlling an animal so that it can be examined or treated.
It is a responsibility veterinary technicians should take seriously because everyone’s safety is
involved. If the horse is well trained, has a docile temperament, or the procedure is not
painful or frightening, restraint is often nothing more than a simple halter and lead rope.
Horses are incredibly strong animals and will win any contest where strength is the deciding
factor. All methods of restraint rely upon the horses’ prior training and an ongoing process
of training through negative and positive stimuli. Because negative stimuli are employed,
restraint can be easily abused and overdone. Negative stimuli are most effective and kind
when used in the following manner: bad behavior initiates the negative stimulus, and good
behavior makes it go away. Experience shapes a horses’ future behavior. If a particular
procedure is minimally frightening or painful they tend to remain accepting of the procedure.
Bad experiences tend to lead to an exacerbation of bad behavior in the future. We are
fortunate to have excellent sedatives available to us now which give us an alternative to
contests of strength with horses which can be potentially dangerous, painful to the animal,
and damaging to the animal’s future behavior.
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The situation, the animal’s demeanor, and the procedure to be performed dictate the amount of
restraint necessary. Always begin with the least amount of restraint possible, but do not attempt to
continue with a procedure if the animal becomes fractious or unmanageable. Completing a
procedure is never worth getting hurt over! Sometimes it is necessary to return at a later time, with
additional help in order to complete a procedure
You are responsible for knowing the following methods of restraining a horse. Asterisked items will be
Use of a chain lead shank: chain over nose, chain in mouth, lip chain. In all cases short sharp
tugs when the horse misbehaves should be used rather than constant hard pressure (war of
strength and will- you WILL lose) with the chain. The chain over the nose is most useful when
leading a horse that is trying to drag the handler. The chain in the mouth is a stronger form of
restraint and is most often used to help control excited breeding stallions. The lip chain can be a
very painful form of restraint, but is very effective, and can be a good training aid when used
properly. A lip chain is most often used to get a horse to stand still when for one reason or
another a twitch is ineffective. With a lip chain constant light pressure needs to be maintained
in order to keep the chain in place. If the horse makes a sudden movement forward or up the
chain will automatically “hit” the horse in the lip, this pressure will be reduced when the horse
stands quietly. Effectively the horse is able to control the painful stimulus with good behavior.
Constant strong pressure or jerks on a lip chain are abusive and cruel.
Twitch: rope/chain nose twitch, humane twitch, neck twitch, ear twitch (last resort!!) Twitching
means holding and twisting some part of the horse’s body. Twitch is also the name of various
tools used to facilitate a nose twitch. The nose twitch is the most common form of restraint used
to keep a horse still, and seems to have an instant calming effect on many horses, presumably
because it triggers a release of natural endorphins (similar to “scruffing” a cat). Many horses
however resent the twitch being placed, or fight through a twitch. A twitch requires constant
twisting pressure with an increase in pressure during the painful procedure (example: at time of
injection). A long rope twitch is the safest and most effective, but are not sold commercially.
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Commercially sold twitches are usually shorter and the loop is a chain. A chain has more
potential to injure the oral mucosa if used improperly. Added length allows the handler to stand
in a safer position at the shoulder. A small humane twitch works well for small horses, or when
only minimal added restraint is necessary. A neck twitch (simply grabbing a fold of skin at the
neck is an easy first method of restraint. An ear twitch (twisting the horses ear) can be quite
painful and can damage the ear and so must be used judiciously. An ear twitch is commonly
used on small squirmy foals. I only use an ear twitch on an adult if it is only required for a short
time and is absolutely necessary: all other methods of restraint have been tried and failed, and
chemical sedation is for some reason not an option.
Holding up a foot: pros and cons. A horse’s foot can be held up to help keep the other feet on
the ground. For example: the veterinarian is trying to clean a wound on the left hind leg, but
the horse keeps stamping. In this situation the left front leg can be held up because horses do
not like standing on two legs- especially two legs on the same side of the body. However, if
sufficiently irritated horses will continue to stamp in this situation, resist the foot holder, or even
through themselves to the ground! This form of restraint should be used carefully!
*Stocks: Often used for reproductive work, or procedures that involve working directly behind
the horse. Not appropriate for horses that are overly excited or painful due to risk of them going
down or getting stuck in stocks.
*Hobbles: Most often used in certain training methods, or on mares during live breeding to
ensure that the stallion is not kicked. Hobbles must be fashioned in such a way that they can be
easily removed, or the horse risks injury.
*Chemical sedation: Must be used under a veterinarian’s direction. Although sedation makes
many procedures easier and safer for horse and veterinarian, it is not a panacea. Horses can still
kick under sedation, and veterinarians and technicians should continue to pay attention even in a
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