The day for our first appointment at Tryon Equine Hospital for Oliver’s vaccine administration dawned damp and chilly. I love my trailer, but it can be a bit of a sweat box, which makes winter trailering a little challenging since he is body clipped. I opted for naked and regretted it once he got off the trailer. He was chilly and fidgety, even with his cooler on. There are only two things that Oliver doesn’t do well: cold & wet. He can do one or the other and be fine, but throw both at him and his native TB ancestry arrives in full force. I’m sure he was feeding off my nervousness as well since I was not familiar with the new clinic the practice had just built, nor the staff.
We were greeted warmly by a tech and were quickly worked back from the ship-in waiting area into the main part of the clinic. Dr. Emilie Setlakwe would be managing his case and was waiting for us in the treatment area. She was very understanding of all of my questions. I was surprised to learn that no side effects were to be expected beyond some minor swelling at the injection site. His tumor wasn’t going to experience any sort of spontaneous eruption. The vaccine is treated just like your normal preventative vaccines as far as showing is concerned. I wouldn’t be needing any notes from the vets office for rated shows and no worries about getting flagged for drug testing. I was able to keep riding him but it was suggested to plan his days off for vaccine day, and keep tabs on the vaccine site. If any swelling was noted a dose of NSAID’s were recommended. Loading dose was four vaccines over eight weeks, then semi annually. Ideally the results are to resolve the melanomas, but we would have to wait and see if the hair would grow back. Dr. Setlakwe did ask that he discontinue the Chinese herbs, since there is no known research as to how the herbs would interact with the vaccine, however he could continue the Cimetidine. Dr. Setlakwe was very encouraging, but did it could take several months to see results and not to be discouraged.
The part that totally blew my mind was the vaccine itself. The vaccine is administered in the chest / pec muscle. There is no needle with this vaccine. It was quite interesting. The vaccine is contained within a special syringe that houses the vaccine and a small CO2 cartridge and then it’s forced through the skin with a pulse of CO2. Several years ago we had let one of our barn cats participate in a FIP vaccine trial via the same delivery system. We were living in Athens, Ga. at the time, where Merial is located and the technology was new to the market. After we moved away, I never heard much about where the new technology was headed. But it was interesting concept.
Normally Oliver is like a well behaved yellow lab, but due to the temps, he was fussy and silly. Dr. Setlakwe expressed concern that he would need to stand very still for administration and it was decided that a little Ace would be in order. I was disappointed that Ollie wasn’t on his best behavior; the poor tech ended up having to walk him around the treatment area while Dr. Setlakwe gave me the details. He was like a toddler after a can of Mountain Dew. So with a little ace on board to take the edge off, the vaccination site had a small area shaved with surgical blades, and then cleaned with Betadine scrub and then alcohol – similar to a joint injection.
It took just a second to give him the vaccine, with nothing more than a loud click. He went to back up a half step, but before he could, we were already done.
Oliver had a look of surprise on his face, which was quickly replaced with happiness, when the tech gave him a peppermint out of the giant bucket on the counter. (What?? Crinkly Paper? Must Have Contents Of Crinkly Paper In My Mouth..) He had a little round circle and a dot from the process. Honestly it reminded me of the child hood rhyme “Circle, Circle, Dot, Dot, now you’ve got the cootie shot.” It looked a little like a tiny bruise. No worse for the wear, I scheduled his next three appointments, one vaccine every other week for the next eight weeks, alternating location sides with each visit. Oliver experienced mild tenderness to the site, but no swelling and was back to work the next day.
See Dr. Setlakwe administer the shot.
Damp, overcast and misty seemed to be the weather theme for our appointments. Thankfully for our second visit, my planning was better. Despite the weather being cold and damp again, with his blanket on and all the vents open on the trailer he was back to his sweet self. Dr. Setlakwe even made a comment that Oliver was like a different horse, so we got to skip the Ace (win!). He was a perfect gentleman and didn’t even flinch.
Through the course of the series, he only experienced swelling one time, it resolved promptly with a dose of Banamine. Otherwise it was just a trip to the clinic that involved a few peppermints on the treatment counter.
It has been about eight weeks since the final vaccine of the series, and so far we have seen some improvements in the melanomas. The small one on his left hind has disappeared, the large one on his croup has gotten smaller. The ridge that was in the middle of the croup tumor is flattening out and peeling off a few layers at a time. The weeping holes contained within the croup tumor have all dried up and healed over with no present scabs. I have noticed a little hair regrowth, but I am doubtful if that particular melanoma will ever fully be covered in hair. I am excited for what the future holds for Oliver and his melanomas.
Stay tuned for my next update, which includes helplessly standing by watching your horse commit career suicide. Yes, he is now on stall rest for the next few months, entirely unrelated to the melanoma vaccine. Face palm.