In 1735, Ben Franklin coined the now famous phrase, “an Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure” while referring to fire prevention. At the time that he wrote it, Philadelphia had a major problem with house fires. Franklin noted that there were many simple changes that could be instituted to dramatically decreased the incidence of fires (for example: not carrying hot coals on a shovel up and down stairs). And guess what, after the city made the preventative changes he recommended, the number of house fires went way down! Simply put, a little preparation to keep something from going wrong in the first place is better than having to do a lot of work to fix it when disaster strikes – better to prevent a problem from occurring than to fix it afterwards. Franklin also suggested certain preparedness steps be taken, so that when a fire did occur, that there was a team of trained individuals who knew how to put out a fire, and that tools were readily available and accessible to put the fire out as quickly as possible. This lead to the creation of Union Fire Company in 1736.
We take this approach to veterinary medicine, and there are two main components of our philosophy.
- Wellness exams to assess the overall health and well being of the horse, and to find any subtle changes early, so that intervention can be made.
- Education and emergency preparedness.
For the same reasons that your physician recommends a yearly physical examination for you, we recommend that your horse (and goat, sheep, and camelid, too!) should be examined at least once yearly, even if nothing seems to be the matter. In our opinion, it’s even more important for your animals to receive this routine exam than it is for you! Our domestic animals don’t live as long as humans, which means they age faster than we do. More things change from year to year, making an annual exam even more crucial. Not to mention, since our animals can’t tell us in words what might be troubling them, finding an abnormality on a physical exam might be the first sign of disease. With early recognition comes the opportunity for early correction. In addition, a wellness exam is an effective means of establishing a partnership between a veterinarian and a client, and it is a way to familiarize a veterinarian and a horse with each other.
A physical exam is one of a veterinarian’s most valuable diagnostic tools and is one of the most important aspects of routine preventative health care for your horse. A physical exam includes evaluation of your horse’s vital parameters (temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate). We will also auscult (listen to with a stethoscope) your horses heart, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. Auscultation of these organs can identify heart murmurs or arrhythmias, abnormal lungs sounds indicative of various respiratory issues, and can potentially identify the presence of sand within the large colon. An ophthalmic (eye) exam is also performed to detect any significant abnormalities and/or age-related changes. The body condition of your horse will also be assessed and nutritional management can be discussed.
While doing the hands-on investigation, we’ll obtain a verbal history from the owner that updates previously known information, or, if the horse and owner are new to the practice, will provide pertinent medical details. We can also discuss a horse’s behavioral changes or peculiar idiosyncrasies. On the farm, we can examine the horse’s living arrangements–both stabling and herd dynamics –and we can review and tailor an appropriate diet for that horse. Being on the farm also allows us to inspect the hay for quality, dust or mold, or storage concerns that might influence respiratory health. Following the exam, we veterinarian can consult with you on any significant findings noted on the exam and address any questions or concerns you may have. On the same principle of a wellness exam, we also recommend soundness exams periodically to detect subtle lameness. The goal is to detect and treat the underlying issue while it is subtle rather than allowing it to smolder and progress. Soundness exams are especially useful in the early season because as much as we believe in preventative medicine, we also believe in “Murphy’s Law”. Inevitably, subtle issues flare and become more serious at the worst possible time, like right before a big event. This gives an opportunity to watch the horse move when there is not a current musculoskeletal crisis or to uncover subtle gait inconsistencies that–if caught early– could be more easily addressed. If a possible lameness issue is discovered during the brief check, then we can arrange another appointment that allows time to perform a full lameness workup.
The Young and the Old:
The neonate and young, growing horse can experience rapid changes in their health status, especially in their musculoskeletal systems. We suggest relatively frequent wellness exams to appropriately monitor young, growing horses. We see foals at 12 to 24 hours, and then frequently during their first year of life. This permits proper neonatal care, timely recognition of angular limb problems, and effective immunization against relevant infectious diseases. Given the limited time window of surgical opportunity, early recognition of developmental orthopedic disease is a priority. Any evidence of joint effusion (excess fluid in the joint), lameness, tendon contracture, or angular limb deformity is promptly noted and addressed. Conditions such as umbilical hernias and retained testicles can be monitored for satisfactory improvement or the need for surgical repair.
Senior horses need a more critical assessment as well. The detection of geriatricrelated problems is not necessarily based on specific age, but rather on physical signs. Geriatric horses should be examined more often than the preteen or teenage horse, with the intent being to identify aging problems early on. This allows for early detection and monitoring of Cushing’s disease, renal or liver dysfunction, chronic lameness, and nutrition concerns, as well as ensuring proper attention to the dental needs of the older horse. See Senior care page for additional discussion of care of equine seniors.
Education and Emergency Preparedness
Another benefit of wellness exams, is that it allow us time to discuss emergency preparedness. Based on the physical exam and medical history, your horse may be prone to certain health issues. We can talk through symptoms to watch for, and if appropriate, leave medications on hand for those scenarios. There are also certain common emergency medications that we recommend our clients have on hand, which we can leave with you at the time of the exam, and go over when and how to use these medications.
In addition to on farm discussions, we occasionally offer client education seminars. Ultimately, the most critical component to emergency preparedness is the owner. Without an educated owner emergencies may not be recognized and the vet may not be called. This is why client education is a critical component to emergency preparation and overall animal welfare. Stay tuned for upcoming client education seminars.