Lacy Dunsmore describes her three-year-old quarter horse, Zeus, as easygoing. “He puts up with anything you throw at him and never misses a beat.” The young, good-natured horse is a competitive barrel racing prospect. Dunsmore trains Zeus and other horses at 77 Ranch—a ranch in River Falls, Wis., she runs with her husband, Matt. They co-own Zeus with Rod and Traci Besch.
In August 2018, Dunsmore noticed Zeus had a light nosebleed. She called a veterinarian for a closer look. Zeus was referred to the Large Animal Hospital at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine’s Veterinary Medical Center (VMC).
Lauren Hughes, DVM, a resident in large animal medicine, took the case with Emily Barrell, DVM, MSc, DACVIM, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine. Their endoscopic examination revealed guttural pouch mycosis—a severe fungal infection spreading from Zeus’ left guttural pouch to his right. Most worryingly, it covered his left internal carotid artery.
“This disease is life threatening,” says Hughes, “because if the fungus erodes into the artery, extensive hemorrhage can occur.” Horses with guttural pouch mycosis can bleed out before ever making it to a hospital—sometimes within minutes.
Time was of the essence. Barrell and Hughes moved Zeus to Piper Equine Hospital. There, he underwent a transarterial coil embolization—a surgery that stops blood from flowing through the vessel that’s feeding the fungal plaque. Limited blood flow kills the fungus due to a lack of nutrients. The procedure had never before been performed at the U. In preparation, the surgical team consulted with other hospitals that have performed the complex procedure.
“It was a team effort,” says Hughes. Specialists from the VMC’s large animal medicine, large animal surgery, anesthesia, and cardiology services were essential to planning and executing the operation. That team effort was a surgical success.
While Zeus recovered at Piper, Hughes and Barrell treated his guttural pouches with antifungal agents and monitored his progress with scopes. In mid-October, he returned home. After months of stall rest and scope checkups, Zeus is fully clear of fungus.
“He gets around great. He’s completely loving life,” says Dunsmore. “The first time I put a saddle on him and rode him—I mean, he just walked off like he had never missed a day.” She credits the remarkable recovery both to Zeus’ resilience and to the University’s fast, comprehensive care. “They were beyond impressive to work with.”
Photo by Lacy and Matt Dunsmore