Veterinary Visits: Knowing When to Make the Call

Advice, charts and recommendations to help you make the right decision.
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Advice, charts and recommendations to help you make the right decision.

When your horse turns up with a laceration or a runny nose, knowing whether or not to call the veterinarian isn’t always easy. Over-reacting can be costly, since most vets levee an emergency surcharge, yet dismissing a true emergency can cost you and your horse later. Nothing trumps experience in this matter, but for most of us, we rarely have emergencies with our horses. Thus, we are left trying to decide whether to make that call in an economy where every dollar counts. Download a PDF of this article here.

The decision on when to call the vet cannot be taken lightly.

The decision on when to call the vet cannot be taken lightly.

We’re going to help you to develop better decision making skills when it comes to calling your vet. We’ll also share some tips on ways to manage problems yourself if it is determined that veterinary assistance is not needed.

When is Veterinary Assistance Needed?

Generally, if you would go to the hospital for the ailment that you’re observing in your horse, a vet call is warranted. For instance, if you cut yourself, you can pretty quickly determine whether or not you need to go to the emergency room. The same rule holds true for horses. If the severity of the ailment and the pain that your horse is in is more than you could endure, then calling the vet is the best solution.

These “slam dunk” ailments in horses that will almost always require veterinary assistance in a timely fashion:

· Not eating

o Colic

o Temperature > 101 degrees F

· Lacerations

o Full thickness (all the way through the skin)

o Anything below the knee or hock

· Eye Injury

· Neurologic / Down Horse

· Birthing Difficulty

· Extreme Lameness

o “5 out of 5”- non-weight bearing

o Broken bones

o Laminitis

Tips for Determining If You Need a Vet

Calling the vet doesn’t always mean that he or she will come out. Sometimes, a phone consult is all that is needed to determine if a trip is warranted. Some veterinarians charge for phone time and some don’t. Undoubtedly, a 15-minute phone consult will cost you far less than a veterinary ranch call. When you call, be prepared to describe the problem calmly and succinctly. Veterinarians will often want to know the horse’s temperature, so having a working thermometer around is advised.

Rely on technology when communicating with the vet. You can take fairly detailed photos on your mobile phone and email them or text them directly to your vet. Make sure that they are not blurry, are adequately lit, and are not an extreme close up. Pan out far enough to give the veterinarian a good idea of what you are seeing. Even short videos can be quickly transmitted these days. Familiarize yourself with these capabilities on your phone and don’t be afraid to use them!

Make sure that if the vet is paged, you pick up the phone when he or she returns your call for help. This means that you or someone needs to be near the phone to answer. If you’re using a mobile phone, you must be in a location with service. Be sure that if you are calling several different veterinarians that you answer the phone to let responding vets know whether they are needed or not. (This can be extremely important in order to get a response the next time you have an emergency.)

Many horse problems are chronic. That means they “flare up” on a repetitive basis. If you feel confident in your knowledge of the issue and your horse doesn’t appear to be in any physical danger, you can probably institute therapy yourself, provided that you have all of the necessary supplies. Remember, though, if you’re at all unsure of what is going on with your horse or if you are inadequately equipped (with supplies/ medications) to deal with the problem, you’re wise to make the call.

The table below may help you in your decision process.

So, what about all the times that you don’t necessarily need a veterinarian front and center? As stated, many horse owners are more familiar with their horse’s repetitive ailments than the vets are. In other instances, the problem at hand won't warrant a vet call either because the vet has already seen the horse and prescribed a treatment, or the problem does not rise to the level of needing a vet.

To help you, we devised a chart for the times in which you may be able to manage problems on your own, and some suggested therapies to help:

Bottom Line

For each of the problems listed above, you may be within your comfort level to make a management change or use an over-the-counter product to help the situation. Again, if you are unsure of how to proceed, especially when your vet has not previously seen the horse for the problem, it would be wise to call and at least talk about the issue to determine the best course of action.

Article by Contributing Veterinary Editor Grant Miller, DVM.