A greater number of owners are choosing to have elective surgeries, typically defined as non-emergency procedures, performed on their horses at Virginia Tech’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center.

The center’s five board certified surgeons completed almost 500 such treatments in 2006 as compared to only 400 similar operations one decade earlier — a 20 percent increase since 1996.

Dr. Nat White, the Jean Ellen Shehan Professor and Director at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, reports that clients now have a variety of options for addressing ailments and afflictions that, although not life-threatening, can inhibit their horse’s performance or reduce the quality of the animal’s life.

“Non-emergency conditions such as bone chips and ligament injuries, can be treated more effectively than in the past,” said White. “This is an exciting time for equine surgeons because new technologies and techniques are allowing us to correct many of these abnormalities and return horses to full health.”

According to Dr. Kimberly May, medical/science writer for the American Veterinary Medical Association, the ease with which information concerning these modalities can be accessed through resources such as the Internet has contributed to the rising number of clients opting for elective treatments.

“Animal owners are becoming more educated about their animals’ health and well-being, and they may be more likely now to opt for a surgery that may not be life-saving, but will improve the animal’s quality of life,” said May.

Advancements in both diagnostic technology and clinical application have made it easier for surgeons to diagnose and correct equine maladies while new anesthetics and modern monitoring techniques make elective surgery safer with improved prognosis.

“We are discovering injuries that previously went unnoticed because we did not have the diagnostic capabilities that are available today such as MRI,” said Dr. Ken Sullins, professor of equine surgery. “New surgical tools, including lasers and scopes, are making these injuries much easier to detect and treat.”

Also adding to the appeal of elective surgeries is the expanded availability of minimally invasive surgical methods.

“Not only are the patients more comfortable, but these minimally invasive techniques cause considerably less damage to soft tissue and involve a shorter recuperation time,” said Dr. Sarah Dukti, clinical assistant professor in emergency care and equine surgery.

The unique university setting allows faculty members at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center to pursue cutting-edge treatments that may not be found in a standard practice.

“All patients are different,” said Dr. Alison Smith, clinical assistant professor in anesthesia. “You need people with different experiences and educational backgrounds to maximize care and to introduce new and innovative techniques for the horse world.”

The Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center is a Leesburg based full-service equine hospital that is owned by Virginia Tech and operated as one of three campuses that comprise the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.