A Physical Exam Can Help Your Horse

You should at least know his normal values.
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You should at least know his normal values.

When horse owners think about veterinary care, they tend to quickly list the quantifiable, easy to check off basic health items:

Your veterinarian may see changes you might miss.

Your veterinarian may see changes you might miss.

  • Coggins -  Required annually in some states, biannually in others, for horses that leave their own property.
  • Rabies vaccine - Required by most states and often required by events you might want to enter. Currently, this is an annual vaccine.
  • TEWF (Tetanus, Eastern and Western Encephalitis and Influenza) vaccine -Recommended for all horses as an annual vaccine. (Other vaccines are as needed or recommended for your horse's lifestyle and area where you live.)
  • Deworming - Ideally based on fecal counts with drugs that target the parasites to which your horse might be exposed.
  • Shoeing And Trimming - How extensive and, to some degree, how often can vary with each horse and how your horse is worked.
  • Good Nutrition - Ideally a combo of forage (especially pasture) and grains, plus any needed supplements. don't forget fresh water!

These items are all important, and in some cases essential, for your horse's health. But there's one more item that should be on your yearly list for required health care: An annual physical exam.

During a physical exam, your veterinarian will look your horse over carefully from the tip of his nose to his tail and everything in between. If nothing else, it's another set of eyes and hands thoroughly evaluating your horse. Changes that you might miss, as they have occurred gradually over time, may be quickly picked up by your vet.

Looking at your horse's eyes, your veterinarian may pick up early signs of conjunctivitis or age changes, including cataracts.

The nose will be checked for any unusual discharges or flaring indicating some labored breathing. The increased flare could be quite subtle but is often the first sign of a respiratory problem brewing.

His teeth and mouth will be checked for any changes or problems there.

Your horse's pulse will be checked. His heart and lungs will be carefully listened to, all in an attempt to catch problems sooner rather than later. it's easier and less expensive to treat problems early on. Plus, they tend to have a better prognosis long term. Your veterinarian will listen to your horse's gut sounds and check his manure. His temperature will be taken, while the vet is there, too.

The quality of your horse's hair coat as well as the condition of his skin will be checked. Any unusual lumps or bumps will be thoroughly examined. His overall condition and weight will be discussed, including suggestions for any changes in diet.

Then, as is so important with horses, your horse's soundness will be evaluated. Your veterinarian may notice a slight change in gait or a subtle loss of muscle in one leg. Those are gradual changes that you might miss since you see your horse every day.

If your horse is older, has lost weight or is in poor condition, your veterinarian may suggest some blood work to rule out certain problems. A fecal egg count of the manure might be recommended if you haven't done one recently.

If your horse is young, healthy and basically in his prime you may feel the annual veterinary physical is something you can skip, especially if funds are tight.

Realistically, it's important to have at least an occasional exam done when your horse is healthy. That exam will provide a data base of "normal values" for your horse. If you can afford it, doing a set of blood work when your horse is young and healthy is also a good idea. If he does get sick, you have a record of his normal levels and can see what has changed and just how much it changes.

When money is an issue, talk to your veterinarian honestly. You may be able to get a discount if you schedule an exam during a slow time for his/her practice. Many equine practices slow down in the winter (with the exception of some breeding operations). Scheduling a couple of exams, especially if you have a barn so your horse and the veterinarian are out of drafts and the extremes of winter weather, could be a win/win situation for you and your veterinarian.