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Forging a Partnership with Your Veterinarian

By: Rebecca Sweat

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You and your veterinarian are partners. Together you work toward the same goal: a healthy horse. But reaching that goal is often determined by how well you work with your veterinarian and his staff. As a horse owner, you can either make or break the partnership by what you do or don't do.

"The best relationships develop when people work together," said Dr. Scott Pierce, an equine veterinarian in Lexington, Ky.

Taking an active role in the veterinary partnership will ensure that your horse receives the best possible care and that any illnesses are diagnosed promptly. You will also save money by avoiding errors and misunderstandings, and you will have a more positive experience when meeting with your veterinarian and his staff. Here are six ways to help you strengthen the partnership and get optimal results.

Plan for Regular Health Maintenance

One of the most important things you can do is to keep up with vaccination and worming schedules. "When we see a horse on a routine basis for de-worming and vaccinations, it gives us a better insight into an owner's management style, resulting in fewer emergencies and 'fire-engine' type calls," says Dr. Bruce Kuesis, an equine veterinarian in Elgin, Ill.

The more history your veterinarian has, and the more knowledge he is provided with on a regular basis about your horse, the more likely he will be able to spot potential health problems early on, Kuesis adds.

Though it is often too time consuming to de-worm, vaccinate and conduct a complete physical on your horse during one visit, discuss ways that he could examine your horse yearly.

Keep Your Veterinarian Informed

Call your veterinarian when you first have concerns about your horse, rather than waiting until it becomes a serious situation. "A lot of problems are preventable if we just know what our clients are doing," Kuesis says.

For example, inform your veterinarian if you plan to change your horse's diet, add supplements, have corrective shoeing done or move him to another barn. He would also appreciate knowing if your horse gets a cut, even if you can manage the situation on your own.

"We may just tell the owners they're doing everything right and ask them to take the horse's temperature, because occasionally the horse will get a superficial infection," Kuesis says. "By getting a call early on, we can just put the horse on some antibiotics and maybe change the wrapping," which, as Kuesis points out, is a lot easier than having to treat a horse with a full-blown cellulitis, an inflammation below the skin that usually stems from infection.

Many problems could be averted or alleiviated with a call to vet's office for advice.

Plan Ahead for Appointments

Anticipate what you can do before your veterinarian arrives to make the appointment go more smoothly. Bring your horse from the pasture into the stable, where water and electricity are handy, unless your veterinarian says the horse should not be moved. Have ropes or other restraining devices on hand in case they are needed. When your veterinarian comes, be there yourself, with assistants if necessary, so there is enough help.

Have health records and Coggins forms filled out ahead of time. Prepare a medical record chart or request one in advance of the visit from your veterinarian's office. Know the payment options ahead of time.

Carefully Follow Treatment Recommendations

Listening to his recommendations and then carefully following directions will show your veterinarian that you respect his advice and want to provide the best possible home care for your horse. Write down what he tells you so there is no confusion after he leaves.

"Sometimes owners decide on their own that the medication isn't necessary, or they stop the treatment early because they think the horse appears better," Pierce says, "but the horse may get sick again a month later because the illness was suppressed but not completely eliminated."

Giving the wrong amount of medicine also can jeopardize your horse's recovery and in extreme cases may even lead to permanent damage or death. If a medication doesn't seem to be working, or if you are having a hard time administering it, get advice.

Understand Your Veterinarian's Time Constraints

Try to work "non-emergencies" around his busy season, which typically is spring and summer.

"Sometimes a client will call in late spring about a horse that has been lame on and off for several months and now they need to get ready for a show next week," Kuesis says. "But we're in the middle of foaling and breeding and spring immunizations and things are really hectic."

So if it's late summer and your horse seems a little gimpy, take care of the problem in the fall rather than waiting until spring. Or call your veterinarian and explain the situation with the understanding that he might give you advice over the phone and you might have to wait for a visit.

Of course, for the partnership to work, your veterinarian and his staff also must do their part. No one wants to be talked down to, be overcharged or have their veterinarian rush off before all their questions have been answered.

Strive to Improve Communication

One common problem is that many horse owners communicate well with their veterinarian and his staff during working hours, but problems often arise when an answering service picks up the after-hours calls. You should be extremely clear when you leave a message. If you are not confident that your message has been understood, persist and ask for a call back. If it's an emergency, and no one has called you back in a reasonable amount of time, keep phoning until you are convinced your veterinarian has been alerted and plans to call you back soon.

Referrals and Second Opinions

Don't hesitate to ask for a second opinion or a referral from your veterinarian. If you feel more comfortable consulting a specialist speak up if your veterinarian hasn't already suggested it. Many prefer to send interesting cases to a referral center, especially if it means the horse will get a unique or better treatment not available in the field. A veterinarian will usually discuss the cost of such referrals or help you get an estimate.

Before getting a second opinion, ask yourself if this is really necessary. Getting another opinion often becomes an issue when there is a breakdown in communication between you and your veterinarian or when a third party, often not present, wants another opinion. Once you have made the referral request, the veterinarian should honor your wishes.

Overall, the key to a good partnership is simple: If you are patient, considerate and open with your veterinarian and his staff, most likely they'll treat you in a similar manner. Having a good relationship with your vet is crucial to the care your horse gets, and it's likely to result in a happier, healthier horse.

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