How To Find A Vet On The Road

Q. We are in the midst of planning our summer vacation. We also are planning to take our horses on this trip so that we can do some trail riding. However, we do have a concern. What if one of our horses becomes ill or injures himself on the trip? What is the best way to find a veterinarian when we are away from home with our horses?

A. You say you are planning your summer vacation. You have hit upon the key to answering your own question. No matter if you are going on vacation with your horse or trailering your horse to a show or competition, the first and foremost thing that you can do to find a veterinarian when you are away from your local practitioner is plan ahead. Have a conversation with your veterinarian. Let him or her know where you are going. Your veterinarian might know someone in that location you can contact in the event of an emergency. The key is networking. By attending continuing education programs offered by the American Association of Equine Practitioners and other institutions, your veterinarian might be familiar with someone in that area, or at least know someone who knows someone who is a good equine practitioner.

Second, interacting with fellow horse owners is a good way to find information. Ask them if they have traveled to your planned destination and if they had to find a veterinarian away from home. Their experiences can be a great asset to you. Word of mouth is an excellent resource for information about equine practitioners.

A third way to find a veterinarian who specializes in equine practice is through the American Association of Equine Practitioners. The AAEP, in conjunction with the Bayer Corporation, has developed a national locator service for participating AAEP veterinarians. The sole objective of this program is to help horse owners locate participating AAEP member equine veterinarians anywhere in the United States and Canada. All you have to do is to dial 1-800-GET-A-DVM (1/800/438-2386). When a horse owner calls this number, an operator will ask for the caller's location or zip code. Then from a computer, the operator pulls up that area and finds the name, address, and phone number of the AAEP veterinarians who have agreed to participate. The operator will generate a personalized letter to the caller listing the veterinarian chosen by the horse owner. This service also sends a letter to the AAEP veterinarian whose name was provided to the caller along with the caller's name, address, and phone number. Knowing where you are going and planning ahead using this feature will help you be able to contact that veterinarian ahead of time. Doing your homework before you go can save a great deal of frustration if something bad should occur on your trip. This is a free service to both horse owners and to the AAEP equine veterinarians who participate in this program.

By using the AAEP and their member veterinarians, you are going to get someone who is familiar with the horse. You might not get a man or woman with all the answers, but you will get someone with equine knowledge. A small animal practitioner might be wonderful with dogs and cats, but might not be familiar with horse problems.

Let me reiterate. The place to start is planning. Talk to your veterinarian. Let your veterinarian or the staff in the clinic do your research for you. The research can include looking through the AAEP directory and finding the equine practitioners in a certain area. Your veterinarian should be glad to provide this kind of service for you. Then you can contact the practitioners whose names have been provided and make your own selection, based on your criteria and your horse's needs.

What if you have arranged for a veterinarian in your destination area and on the way there you encounter some difficulty? When you step into the phone booth with the yellow pages in your hand, or when you call from your cellular phone, having received the information from the operator, there are certain questions you should have ready. The first question should be whether the veterinarian treats horses. Another important question would be whether the veterinarian is an AAEP member. If the practice does include equines, then you might ask whether horses are a primary part of the practice -- do they make up 10% or 90%?

You also should give the veterinarian on the other end of the line some information about your horse and your horse's medical background. You might say, for example, that you have a national caliber Arab stallion and that your horse has been prone to colic. This kind of information forewarns the veterinarian. He might know the perfect person to handle the situation who is in your vicinity. This method allows you to match the problem with the skills of the attending veterinarian.

For most trips you make, you will know the route you are going to take prior to the time you leave. Again, proper planning can make your trip go more smoothly. You should pre-plan stops at certain points of call along the way. When you stop for gas or for a meal and you do your routine check of the horse and the trailer, you can find out whether your horse is in distress. Knowing ahead of time where these stops will be allows you to have located and contacted someone who specializes in equine practice so that if there is a problem, you are fully prepared to handle it expediently. You already know someone at each checkpoint who can provide veterinary services in the form of equipment, medicine, or treatment.

Prior proper planning is the key. When you contact AAA to make your trip plan, also contact AAEP to make your horse's trip plan.

About the Author

Richard D. Mitchell, DVM

Richard D. Mitchell, DVM, has served many times as official veterinarian for the US Equestrian Team in multiple disciplines, and he has a keen interest in lameness and advanced imaging. He also maintains an international clientele that keeps him traveling a great deal.

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