Working with Your Veterinarian

Whether you are trying to schedule routine work or an emergency visit, your veterinarian relies on you to be all of their senses when talking to you on the phone. Although most veterinarians have evolved to using computers, email, and PDA devices, no amount of high-tech electronics can take the place of notes on each animal.

Keep Your Own Records

Although your veterinarian will have a master list of medical procedures performed on each horse, it is wise to maintain your own records as well. This is especially true at night when your veterinarian will not have access to his computer and office staff.

Many large barns have multiple horses, multiple owners, and fractional ownerships. Transfer of ownership and medical records becomes very confusing. This is an inherent problem in our industry and can be called continuity of care. Although a horse may change ownership or location, it still has to be maintained by the farrier, it has to be current on vaccinations, negative EIA (Coggins) status, deworming, and dental care. A useful technique is to use a dry erase board in the central alley of the barn where you can put, for example, the next scheduled foot trim, vaccination, or dental work. Each horse (and owner) is put on a separate line. Each time the veterinarian comes to your barn, the manager can look at the board and see if anything is due or close to being due.

Learn Routine First Aid

Pay for an appointment with your veterinarian where they can teach you how to take the horse’s temperature, check gum color, assess heart rate or gut sounds. Learn how to bandage. Learn how to administer pills and eye ointments. If you’re comfortable, learn how to give injections. Learn how to twitch a horse. Learn what you need in a first aid kit. Paying for an hour or two of professional services is much more economical than paying a veterinarian to come to your barn multiple times to teach you how to perform routine animal husbandry. Take notes and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Assess The Horse

Always observe the horse from a distance before you move closer. If possible, find a friend or another horse owner that can collaborate with you to decide if the horse is distressed or if the horse can be moved to a more suitable location to better evaluate the animal. If you have an emotional involvement with the animal it is often very difficult seeing that animal in pain or distress. This is why paramedics in ambulances often do a better job of assessing a patient in a violent car accident than a famous and talented physician that may be related to the victim. Be smart. Be impartial. Be calm. Talk slowly and clearly to your veterinarian about what you need from him or her.  

Be Cautious About How You Speak To Your Veterinarian

When you are calling a veterinarian to schedule routine work it is easy to speak in tones and use words that are non-threatening. In times of duress it is very common to use words that tend to create resistance and may sometimes lead to the veterinarian becoming defensive rather than helpful. When you talk to your veterinarian, they are typically not watching television and hoping you’ll call to give them an emergency to handle. They, just like you, may be asleep, at dinner with their spouse, at a birthday party, at a daughter’s soccer game, at a movie… just living, like everybody else does.

Try to avoid phrases such as:

“You need to…”

“You have to…”

“You must…”

“You were supposed to…”

Try To ASK When A Veterinarian Can Look At Your Animal

Try not to TELL a veterinarian how to conduct their practice. After hearing one of these loaded phrases, anybody is likely to defend themselves rather than responding in a comforting and compliant way. Rather than saying “Doc. You need to come right now to look at this foal…” Try rephrasing it to say “I know it’s foaling season. When you get to a stopping point, can you find time to swing by my place?” Rather than saying “You were supposed to vaccinate that horse and you forgot…” Try saying “Hey, I know things got busy today and WE forgot some things. Do you think it’s a big deal if we vaccinate that horse next time you’re out here?” Equine veterinarians, as well as horse owners, work seven days most weeks, most have families, and nobody around horses gets near enough sleep.

Avoiding catch phrases that may get misunderstood will go a long way to avoid hurt feelings.

By Ben Espy, DVM, DACT