Where Are All the Vets?

The caller is in the midst of a terrible dilemma. It is 8:30 on a rainy, November night. The weatherman is calling for the roads to freeze up. This poor woman's horse is colicking, and her "regular" veterinarian won't even return her phone calls.

How does a horse owner avoid ending up in a situation like this? And why won't veterinarians go out to see a sick horse?

Here is the rub: It doesn't take long for veterinarians to become jaded about such phone calls. The reality is that many times the person who phones in distress has a usual veterinarian to whom he or she owes money. The owner is either embarrassed to call the usual veterinarian, or the regular veterinarian isn't coming out unless she is paid in full. So other veterinarians in the area end up fielding these phone calls.

In addition to the person who owes the "regular" veterinarian money, there are other horse owners who end up in the same pickle--unable to find a veterinarian willing to come out to see a sick animal.

An example might be a first-time owner who has been treating the horse without veterinary advice (often a doctor or nurse), or someone who has an unqualified person offering advice and treatment.

How to Keep a Vet

Here is how to be assured that you will have veterinary coverage:

  • When you buy a horse, contact the local veterinarian, introduce yourself, and let the veterinarian know you would like to use his or her services.
  • Try to have your veterinarian out once a year and ask him to give your horse his annual vaccines. This will cost more than buying them through the mail and giving them yourself, but it assures a relationship between you and your veterinarian. And when an emergency does arise in the middle of the night, your veterinarian will be familiar with your barn's layout and your horse. You'll be amazed how helpful this is to your veterinarian.
  • You would be surprised how many potentially expensive problems a veterinarian can pick up on during an annual visit. It is nice to be able to suggest corrective trimming for the weanling rather than meeting a crooked 2-year-old and thinking how that might have been avoided with a little intervention earlier on.
  • When folks go out of town, everybody thinks to leave the veterinarian's number for whomever is taking care of the critters. But it is a good idea to phone the veterinarian. Let him or her know you will be away, and tell the veterinarian who might contact them in case of an emergency and if the caretaker can make decisions on your behalf.
  • Although we don't like to think of this, it is important to leave permission for euthanasia or colic surgery if some horrific problem should arise.
  • Finally, pay your bills. I don't know of a single veterinarian who won't agree to a monthly payment if you are behind. If you just attempt to pay something on a regular basis, the majority of veterinarians will be happy to come out on a cold, rainy, November night.

About the Author

Laura Riley, DVM

Laura Riley, DVM, is a veterinarian who writes from her riverside cabin in Great Cacapon, W. Va.

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