In tough economic times, many horse owners look for ways to cut costs. Too often this is done by cutting back on veterinary care. However, it is important to keep in mind that what may save us a couple of dollars now might end up costing us much more in the future. Keeping your horse in good health is actually the best way to save money long term.

Deworming A regular deworming protocol is important for the health and longevity of horses. Since it is impossible to completely remove parasites from their environment, it is important to work with your veterinarian to establish a deworming program for your farm. Current research is showing an increased prevalence of parasite resistance to many of the current deworming products. For this reason, working with your veterinarian to determine parasite resistance is important. By keeping your horse's parasite burden low, you reduce the risk of colic, anemia, and respiratory problems (caused by the migrating larvae of some parasites).

Vaccination The AAEP has information on its Web site that states which vaccines are strongly recommended (core) and which are additional (risk-based), depending on your horse's risk of exposure: Every horse in this country is at risk of exposure to rabies, although the risk is greater in some states than others. Rabies is also a vaccination that in a majority of states can only be given by a licensed veterinarian. Another core vaccine protects against tetanus, a disease caused by a bacterium that is found in the soil and environment. It is recommended minimally on an annual basis and is also given anytime there is a penetrating injury and vaccination was not in the past couple months (time frame depends on prevalence of the disease in your area).

The encephalitis vaccines are also a part of the core vaccine requirements because they are spread by mosquitoes. Eastern and Western equine encephalomyelitis and West Nile virus are recommended vaccines in all regions of the country. While many of these vaccines can be obtained over the counter, only vaccines obtained through your veterinarian are guaranteed to have been properly handled and kept in appropriate conditions for maximal benefit. In addition, your veterinarian is capable of dealing with any adverse reactions your horse might have to a vaccine.

It is important to understand that no vaccine can be completely protective against disease occurring. A vaccination equips the horse's immune system to respond to a disease threat if exposed. This means horses that have been vaccinated for a disease either don't get it when they are exposed (due to their immune response) or get a milder form of the disease. This can save money and heartache in the future if your horse were to be exposed. Also, vaccination visits gives your veterinarian a chance to examine your horse for any problems.

Dental Care Many people overlook this important aspect of equine welfare. In my experience, horses that have had consistent dental care performed by a veterinarian often live longer. In many states dental care for horses can only legally be performed by a licensed veterinarian, especially if sedation is used. With the addition of power floating equipment, many veterinarians are able to do a more complete and thorough job of maintaining horses' teeth properly. It is recommended that dental care be addressed in horses as young as 6 months of age and, typically, on a yearly basis unless the horse is older or has known dental issues. The veterinarian can also check for other dental abnormalities, which could limit proper mastication of feed, leading to wasted feed.

Owners should talk to their vets to see what advice they have on reducing costs without jeopardizing the horse's health.

Also, work with other owners to set up vaccination/Coggins test days where you all bring your horses to a single location and have a veterinarian come do work. By doing this you can split the farm call fee.

Your veterinarian is there to help you keep a healthy horse, and a healthy horse now can help save a lot of money in the long term.

About the Author

Kristen Slater, DVM

Kristen Slater, DVM, practices with Kasper & Rigby Veterinary Associates in Magnolia, Texas. Her practice interests include preventive medicine, reproduction, sports rehabilitation, and conditioning.

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