Vets as Product Advisors

According to a 2006 American Veterinary Medical Association survey, pet owners said they most often asked their veterinarians for advice on which foods, supplements, dewormers, and other products to purchase for their dogs and cats.

While this survey (results listed below in descending order of use) and others show that small animal veterinarians influence pet owner decisions, it is unclear the role equine veterinarians play in how horse owners make health care decisions. Veterinarians consistently rank among the most respected professionals in the country. However, the equine veterinarian may be held to an even higher standard.

Why is that? First of all, horses live longer than most small animals, and many people develop a deeper bond with their horse than their dog or cat. A horse's life may span their childhood, teenage years, see them into college, and even into their first job, home, and serious relationship.

Secondly, horses are competitive athletes spanning a wide variety of disciplines. Because of these reasons, the equine veterinarian must have the depth of knowledge to be able to advise clients accordingly.

Fortunately, most equine veterinarians meet that high standard. Many of them have owned horses. They are not only able to "walk the walk" and "talk the talk," they understand on a personal level the bond owners have with their horses and their drive for training and competing.

In addition to their "horsey" background or interest, veterinarians are uniquely trained to critically evaluate products and discuss pros and cons as they relate to an individual client and patient.

1. The courses taken before and during veterinary school--biology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics, math, statistics, animal science, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, parasitology, nutrition, pathology, microbiology, immunology, and others--provide a broad scientific basis from which they make educated conclusions about how a product may function in a particular individual.

2. Graduate schools train veterinarians to evaluate the quality of scientific studies based on the level of evidence provided. That is, they recognize that the outcome of randomized, controlled, double-masked trials in clinical patients provides better evidence about the effects of a product than one expert's opinion on the product.

3. Unfortunately, practicing veterinarians don't have time to read every research article published. But they are required to obtain continuing education. This is usually done at large annual conventions, where colleagues not only gather to listen to approved lectures, but they also network with each other and share experiences.

4. Another important aspect of these conventions is the trade fair. Vendors will bring research literature, samples, and technical services veterinarians to provide support and answer questions. Regional sales representatives from larger companies regularly visit clinics to provide training for the veterinarians and staff, as well as to update the practices on product changes.

5. Because veterinarians are trained in both the normal and the abnormal, if and when a product causes a side effect or adverse event, the veterinarian can examine the animal and determine what role, if any, the product may have had. This task is made somewhat easier when the owner consults with the veterinarian before using health care products and contacts the veterinarian at the first sign of a problem. Depending on what type of product is involved, veterinarians can work with owners to correctly report adverse events to manufacturers to help the individual animal and, perhaps, other animals.

6. Most veterinarians are great listeners. Veterinary schools and convention programs are providing communication training, from basic interpersonal skills, such as reading body language, to targeted training, such as history-taking, compliance-gaining, and grief management.

So when it comes to what feed is appropriate for your insulin-resistant horse, what supplement might support strong hoof growth, which vaccines your pregnant mare needs, and which deworming protocol is better for your pasture-boarded horse, ask your veterinarian. He or she just might have the answer.

About the Author

Lydia Gray, DVM, MA

Lydia Gray, DVM, is Medical Director and Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak Equine. She was previously the executive director of the Hooved Animal Humane Society in Woodstock, IL, and an Owner Education Director for the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

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