Many options for treating equine ailments exist--some are more traditionally performed by veterinarians in some regions, and some are often labeled as alternative therapies and might tend to fall more to non-veterinarians. Who can legally handle the treatments that are not always performed by veterinarians can be a sticky problem, which is compounded by the fact that in the United States, different states have different laws on this issue. The Therapeutic Options forum, co-moderated by Kevin May, DVM, CVA, of the El Cajon Valley Veterinary Hospital in El Cajon, California; and Roger Magnusson, DVM, a private practitioner in LaGrange, Ky., at the 2003 American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) convention focused on this and several other issues regarding "nontraditional" equine therapies in the United States.

Magnusson noted that last year's forum resulted in a recommendation for the AAEP board to establish a program similar to the racing "On-Call" program (in which veterinarians are designated as media liaisons for major race meets or equine events) to provide information for state boards on this issue. However, the AAEP board didn't want to become involved in state issues, so the program was not created.

This touched off a discussion in which several states' laws and practice acts on this issue were covered, as well as what an owner's or veterinarian's options are for taking to task an unlicensed person who is hurting horses. One attendee noted that it was much easier to enforce practice laws in states where violations are classified as misdemeanors rather than felonies.

Insurance was also mentioned--is a veterinarian liable for the conduct of a non-veterinary practitioner he/she recommends to a client? The consensus seemed to be that it depends on that state's practice act. The veterinarian's liability insurance generally does not cover procedures that the veterinarian doesn't directly supervise. The comment was made that it can help keep clients from resorting to "shady" people if a veterinarian tells them malpractice insurance won't cover the procedure if that veterinarian is not there.

"Read the fine print on your practice act," urged one attendee.

Another attendee noted that research to validate several modalities, such as acupuncture and chiropractic, is underway. Once this research is completed, practitioners will have more information to decide how and by whom these therapies should be used.


"Currently, many herbal medications are labeled as ‘nutritional supplements,’ “ said one attendee. "But the product may have almost a drug level of a compound. Medication-herb reactions are more and more of a problem, as are positive drug tests."

"We need to be aware that there is a possibility of reactions between any medication and herbs," said another practitioner.

Further Education

Attendees discussed continuing education options for those wishing to learn more about nontraditional therapies such as acupuncture or chiropractic, and agreed that wet labs with small groups of practitioners were best. "With too many people in such labs, you're not going to teach, you're just going to expose people to it," said one veterinarian. "You need to see the examination from the chiropractor's or acupuncturist's view, and start to train your eye from that point of view. At the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) convention, the acupuncture lab was the first one to sell out."

"Most of the time to learn this stuff, you have to find another practitioner who does that therapy, so it's kind of hit and miss on education," another commented. "We need to have education more available. We need to know more about these therapies so the client doesn't have to go to a human-specialty chiropractor to get information."

Another veterinarian suggested scheduling a lecture on the pharmacology of herbs for a future convention, including a discussion of reactions with approved medications. "There are so many pharmaceuticals that it's tough to know them all," one commented. "But you have to start somewhere."


About the Author

Christy M. West

Christy West has a BS in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky, and an MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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