Frequently I see posts on equine bulletin boards of owners describing their horse’s physical problem(s), or suspected problems, and asking what to do.
The short answer is call the vet. Dr. Internet diagnoses are rarely accurate.
However, I know many owners that don’t want to call the vet every time they think Trigger is looking droopy. They may be worried about costs or they may fear being labeled as nervous nellies who don’t know enough about horse health to know when to request professional help. Certainly, if you are at a boarding facility, many barn managers are able to give you basic advice and can help you dress a superficial wound or administer Banamine to a horse that seems to be colicky . . . but depending on your friends or barn staff can sometimes be a real problem if the issue is more serious than you realize.
Personally, my approach is to call the vet whenever I suspect there’s an issue. I don’t expect them to run out to the farm but I want them to know there is a potential problem so that they can help me trouble shoot it and be aware of any impending issues should the situation deteriorate. I am lucky in that the vets in the practice I use give out their cell phone numbers so you can generally reach one of them quickly. I try not to abuse the privilege, but it’s spoiled me: I will never use a vet again that doesn’t offer that accessibility.
Here are time when I’ll call the vet to discuss a problem but probably not call them out:
- If my horse comes in with a slightly swollen tendon sheath and is off but not three legged lame, I’ll call my vet, tell them I’m going to cold hose the leg, wrap it, give the horse some bute, and call them again in 24 hours if there’s no improvement.
- If a horse is showing mild signs of colic I’ll take their temperature, call the vet and ask if Banamine is appropriate.
- If my horse has a weepy eye, I’ll ask about using the appropriate ointment.
- If I suspect an abscess I’ll alert my vet but see if my farrier is going to be in the area and can get there first.
And, if a horse looks like it has cellulitis, I’ll go pick up some SMZs, sometimes even driving out to the clinic.
Here are the times when I will spring for the emergency call, no questions asked.
Any eye injury.
Any puncture wound.
Lameness without an obvious cause.
Lameness that is non-weight bearing.
Any wound that could be stitched up.
Anything that I haven’t seen before (for example, a horse in our barn had an episode of choke and I had no idea how to treat it.)
I am also a big believer in having a good medical supply kit in the barn and I appreciate the fact that my vet encourages us to have several prescription medications on hand — Bute, Banamine, SMZs, ophthalmic ointment, Ace, for example so that we don’t need a vet to drive out just to deliver them. It also helps that SmartPak shipping gets most things in my hand the next day, even without expedited shipping!
What about the rest of you? When do you call the vet?