Sunday, November 1, 2009

When Do YOU Call the Vet?

I used to be the kind of horse owner who called the vet at the slightest sign of discomfort in my horses. If I didn't, I felt negligent.

Once, when we first moved to Spokane, my older horse, Red, got stuck in a hole. He was lying there very still with his feet in the air, and I thought he was dead, but when I rode the 4-wheeler out to him his eyes were open and blinking.

I called the vet.

Vets are usually great human beings--the best. I don't know if I've ever met one I didn't like a lot. Some of them even became personal friends. And this one was no different. He and his assisant came out and helped me get Red turned around so that he could get his feet under him. Then, we all stood around and chatted as we observed him to make sure he was 100%.

I felt great. (Though it was something I could have done myself.)

But there were other times vets couldn't help me, or they made mistakes which made matters much worse. I've never held it against them personally, but it has given me a mighty deal of skepticsm when it comes to large animal veterinary care. Some of these vets just don't have enough practical experience, or they deny practicality and rely too heavily on "Science".

So, now to why I'm bringing this subject up:

I went out Friday to find my old horse, Red, lame on the back left leg. He's a 29 year old Quarter Horse.

I put him into a 12x12 stall and inspected him top down and couldn't find any swelling, heat, or punctures. I pressure tested the hoof as well as I could without hoof testers. I couldn't find anything.

Next, I thought let's see how much pain he's in. I introduced Banamine at 1/4 dose. He starts to put it down after a couple hours. I introduce another 1/4 dose. He walks on it like it's A-OK.


I put in a call to my farrier who, it turns out, is traveling. We talk. He's willing to come by as soon as his plane lands, but I've already had him scheduled for Tuesday. I say, let's put it off to Tuesday.

My thinking: if I can keep him out of pain and confined and there's no swelling or puncture, I'm doing as much for him as anyone else could.

Saturday: Banamine wears off. Red is on three legs. I halter him, walk him. He limps. Hmmmm....not good. Banamine at 1/2 dose. Red is standing on it and walking again.

Sunday: Same exact thing as Saturday, but now Red looks worse. Or, am I imagining? Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Maybe there's a hairline fracture. Maybe Red is going to have to be put down.

Monday: I go out to feed this morning and Red is using his injured leg without Banamine. He's walking with a limp, but he's not afraid to put pressure on it. He pivots more comfortably. I give him 1/8 dose of Banamine...and wait.

Tomorrow is the day my farrier comes. My thinking now: If it's something that's fixable, either I can do it or my farrier (if it's an abscess). If it's a fracture, and therefore, for a 29 year old horse, unfixable, then the vet will be my last recourse. If he doesn't get better each day we'll call in the vet.

I'm lucky I have a lot of Banamine and Bute on hand because I have a good relationship with my vet who does trust my judgement and who, thank goodness, gives it to me as I think is appropriate.

Personally, I don't think Bute or Banamine should be by prescription only. If you're an irresponsible horse owner, there are a thousand ways you can abuse a horse--buying $40.00 tubes of Banamine is usually not one of them.

Do you know what Banamine is? It's Motrin for horses. We let humans buy themselves Motrin--why in the heck then do we have to have prescription to give our horses Motrin?!?!? It's a scam. A tube of Motrin (I mean Banamine) can cost you up to $40.00 from your vet--$20.00 on the internet (but you need a prescription, which you will NOT get because the vet wants to sell you the $40.00 tube). It's a scam! It's a scam! It's a scam! (Sorry, I had to vent.)

To sum it all up--my personal philosophy is that horse sense is often better than Science. There are things the vets are good at and there are areas where they are limited and either you (the one who sees the horse everyday) or a farrier with a lifetime of equine experience is better able to diagnose and treat.

I've lost two horses and they were both under vet care from the moment of injury or illness. In those two cases it wasn't the vet's fault. In one case they didn't have the proper equipment to diagnose--WSU was better equipped. In the other case, there was just nothing to be done. If I had to do over again, I'd call them out again in those two cases.

My horse, Cowboy, as you all know, was misdiagnosed and almost had to be put down because of Vet error. He was also treated from the moment of injury--and daily after that--until my third opinion. That is another story in itself if you haven't read it already on my blog. And that's probably the point at which I became a major skeptic, and the reason why for injuries that appear to be in the hoof, I call the farrier. Although his broken P-3 (coffin bone) presented itself as a broken leg.

As for today and Red's injury--I'm optimistic after seeing him this morning. If he can move on it better today without Banamine, that's a good sign. Although, he's not out of the woods yet, and things could change and the vet be out here, with his portable X-ray machine, very soon. But if it comes to that, things aren't looking very good for us.


  1. I hope it's just and abscess. It sure sounds like one. Did you find anything that looks like an exit wound when he quit limping?

    I call my vet a more than I actually see him, but lately it's been the dogs that I need to call about the most. Like you, I keep bute and banamine (also antibiotics and two types of eye ointment) on hand and handle most things myself. One thing I will always take a horse to the vet for is an eye injury. I just won't take chances with something like that. And of course only a vet can do my coggins testing for me.

    I hope it turns out to be something simple and Red feels all better soon!

  2. Hi Andrea--thanks. I tapped it yesterday with a hammer, the hoof, that is, and got a strong reaction out of him. I might go get my own hoof testers today. I've always wanted some--and I need to have them around for times like this. Not exit wound at this point, but a little heat further up towards the top--we'll see. I keep going out to check.

    I think the injury is down low because he has good movement in the hip--no pain there--and can stretch his leg out for me when I test the hoof.

    Although, an abscess at this time of year, with all the mud, would seem strange. I was thinking, because of the mud, he may have pulled something. Also, you know when in bad conditions they go down and break something--there is usually some sort of sign of lots of mud on the side they fell on--he had no mud anywhere on him. So, he didn't go down, if he had, he would have definitely shown it--it's such a mess out there. That doesn't mean he didn't land wrong on it, though.

    I wonder if old horses have the same issues as old people--brittle bones?

  3. Can you just call the vet, the way we call our doctor, to get some advice and insight over the phone, before scheduling an examination? I hope he's feeling better soon!

  4. what about banamine and stall rest? with hand walking if the leg allows with no limping. banamine is great with my horses soft tissue injuries. good luck. hope your baby heals 100%!

  5. Hi Joanne--calling the vet is always an option. In fact, they're usually more likely to give you advice over the phone than a real doc. But for this one, I already know the routine well enough to know what they're going to say. You have to examine it for a soft tissue injury, the hoof for an abscess, and look for signs of punctures. After that, it really takes x-rays to know if there's a fracture, and if there's a fracture on a 29 year old horse, it's a death sentence.

    The issues I have to look at will first and foremost come from my farrier who will test his hoof and then look at all the others to determine how much stress each foot can take. The front legs carry 70 percent of the horse's weight and the back legs the rest--which makes back leg injuries easier to treat, but in the case of say, Barbaro, who had his back leg broke in three places and couldn't put any weight down on it, the other back foot developed laminitis and he had to be euthanized.

    The other issue is pain and keeping him confined and comfortable. Banamine is a pain killer and muscle relaxer--so it will help him in two ways. I'm keeping the Banamine at a minimum right now, but it gives him a lot of relief.

    Kritter Keeper--I agree about the Banamine and stall rest, and I am walking him a little in the aisle and in and out of the stall. He was looking stocked up yesterday, but today that looks alot better-probably from walking more.

    Thanks, both of you, for the well wishes. I sure am hoping for the best. He's a good guy.

  6. I hope Red is ok. I usually do all that you have said too. I have actually very rarely had to have the vet out. (knock on wood cause I really don't need a vet bill right now). It is scary when they get up in age like that. I have a Sheltie who is older and had to take him to the vet as he pulled the tendon in his leg - there are 3 choices - $1200 surgery, have him put down, or let him live with the impairment as long as he is comfortable. I have gone for the last option for now, as long as he is happy and does not seem to be in pain but I cannot afford an expensive surgery on a dog that is in the last year or two of his life.

  7. Thanks, Tina. End of life surgeries aren't always the best for animals. My thirteen year old dog has a fatty tumor, and everyone recommends to just leave it since the surgery would be too hard on her. It's not exactly attractive, but who cares?!? Sometimes they do better than the prognosis, too.

  8. I hope Red is okay!! It does sound like it could be an abcess, but my vet has told me that Bute or Banamine doesn't help with the pain when dealing with a hoof abcess. Your shoer should be able to tell.
    Last year I pulled Fritzy out of the pasture to ride, and noticed she was lame. I checked for heat and swelling, nothing, but she could barely walk. I cold hosed it and kept doing that for a couple days. She seemed to get better, than got worse again. So that is when I called my vet. My vet said over the phone that it sounded like an abcess, and to soak her hoof in epsom salts. My vet came out the next day, Fritzy already had 2 hoof soaks in, and when my vet put the hoof testers on her hoof, the abcess exploded in her face. I had to continue soaking her hoof, and she had her hoof all wrapped up. All vets treat abcess's different. My sisters vet just cut it out of his hoof, and told her to set him free in the pasture. I worry about the bacteria though. I like how my vet took care of it.
    Oh, and I do agree with you on the Bute and Banamine thing! Why a prescription? Ridiculous!

  9. I love that you have a vet who trust you enough to allow you to keep banamine and bute on hand. Our vet is wonderful enough to call us in bute whenever we need it, which is very rarely. It did come in handy over the summer when my mare impaled herself on a broken off tree stump. Her injuries weren't severe enough to warrant a vet visit (and the bill), but him calling in the bute made her recovery much more comfortable.

  10. GunDiva--You're lucky your vet calls it in for you. It's nice to have it on hand for the small things.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.