Imagine a person being carried into an emergency room and plopped down on a bed without anyone saying a word. The doctors have no information beyond that something’s wrong. Obviously, they’d do an exam and run nearly every diagnostic test available, requesting immediate results. However, with a little history, they might have saved some steps — definitely saved money — and could have treated their patient faster.
Vets work under these circumstances every day. Horses can’t share history. Only the people familiar with the horse can tell the vet what’s been happening — and it can make a huge difference.
Vets aren’t psychic. Presented with a horse that is lame, with no obvious signs of heat or swelling, they can’t tell any more just by looking at the horse than you can. So, if you have any information to share, say so immediately: Was the onset sudden or gradual' Have the shoes been wearing abnormally' How does he “feel” when ridden' Is there any prior lameness history'
There’s no way for anyone to know what little piece of history could be important, so it’s best to share everything. I’m sure every vet has cases where they wasted a lot of time on dead ends that could have been avoided, such as with the lame horse that’s finally diagnosed with a subsolar abscess when someone then pipes up with, “Gee, I guess that might have something to do with the nail that was stuck an inch into his foot a few weeks ago.”
It’s more complicated with an illness. Even if you’re willing to pay for it, your vet doesn’t have the luxury of running hundreds of dollars worth of diagnostic tests. Many sophisticated tests available to physicians haven’t made it to veterinary medicine. Anything you noticed could be important, even things you might consider unrelated or that happened before the horse got obviously ill. The immediate problem might be abdominal pain, but have you noticed changes in the horse’s appetite, behavior or manure' Did you mention that the pond the horses play in changed color a few days ago and was covered with algae'
To be fair, it’s the vet’s job to elicit this information by asking questions, and many people complain they feel out of place suggesting things to their vet or that their vet doesn’t seem to listen to them. If you believe you have information, make your vet listen. You don’t have the training your vet has, but your input is needed. Speak up, and if your vet won’t listen, find one who will.
-Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD