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Doing my own vet care

From: Barry

Dear Jessica, I hope you'll choose this question to answer. It isn't a vet question, it's a "no vet" question. Or I should say, it's a "vet just for emergencies, owner for routine care" question. I've been doing my own de-worming horses for years and years and it's not a problem for me or my horses. My vet is cool with it too. I also give them banamine or bute if they need it, and I can give them shots if they need shots. As you know gas prices are going insane and just driving somewhere is going to be a luxury pretty soon. My vet already has a pretty high trip charge and it has doubled in the last two years and going from the gas prices I'm betting it's probably going to double again this year. It's not his fault it's just the way things are with the prices. I'm hoping I can just start doing all of the routine vet work for my horses and dogs and cats, and not have to call the vet out unless there's a real emergency. What do you think? My animals are all healthy and I'm sure I can keep them that way. Is there any real reason for having the vet come out every year? I know about the rabies vaccine thing, where vets are supposed to be the only ones who give that vaccine, but I think I have a way around that. But let's say I have the vet come out and just do the rabies vaccines every year. Is there any reason I can't do all the rest of the routine vet care myself? I have had horses for forty years and dogs and cats for longer than that. I'm very curious about what you will say. Also, if you don't mind my asking a personal question, do you use a vet for your animals or do you just take care of them yourself? You certainly know a lot and I would bet money that you only call the vet when you have a big emergency going on.


Hi Barry! You're right about gas prices, you're probably right about veterinarians and their trip charges - many large-animal vets drive thousands of miles a year. But even with the rising price of fuel and the extra cost of taking your animals to the vet (or bringing the vet to your animals), I'm not entirely in favour of the DIY method of home vet care.

You've had dogs and cats since you were a baby, and horses for forty-plus years - I can relate to that. You have no problem administering dewormer to your horses - I can relate to that, too. But neither one of us is a veterinarian, and that means several things, all of which can affect the quality of the medical care our animals get when we're the only ones providing it. I can't tell you what to do here, but I'll gladly give you my thoughts on the subject, and you can see whether they make sense to you.

First, as you correctly pointed out, not being veterinarians means that we cannot legally administer the rabies vaccine to our animals. I don't know where you live, but in my area, rabies is a real problem and I need to be sure that all of my horses and all of my animals that spend time outdoors are given that vaccine. In practical terms, this means that every year, all of my outdoor animals are going to go visit the vet, or that the vet will come to visit them.

As far as the other vaccines are concerned, I've done my own vaccinations when necessary - but "necessary" for me has meant administering booster shots a couple of weeks after the horses had been seen by my vet, or that a very old, timid, and cranky indoor cat needed to be vaccinated but might not have survived the stress of a trip into town. Most of hte time, though, I WANT my animals to visit or get visits from their veterinarians. There's a lot more involved here than just the administration of vaccines.

Second, a fresh pair of eyes is always useful when you're trying to evaluate your animals' health. A fresh pair of educated, trained eyes is even more useful. A good, close look by a trained, experienced veterinarian who sees the animals once or twice a year is most useful of all, because he's most likely to notice the sort of changes that can sneak up on owners who see and groom their animals every day. In a normal year, with no health issues and only routine vet care to schedule, my horses may see their vet only twice. In a bad year, with injuries and illnesses, they may see him a dozen times or more. Either way, he's never a stranger. I know some people who call the vet only once every four or five years, no matter what is going on with their animals, but I've never been convinced that this was a good idea, no matter how much money those people may be saving.

Third, those of us who have had animals "forever" can easily fall into the trap of thinking that we know more than we do. That's exactly why I call my vet even when there's no emergency. Thank you for saying that I know a lot, but the truth is that I know just enough to know how much I don't know. ;-) Or, to put it another way, I do know SOME things - and two of the things I know are these: (1) I'm not a vet, and (2) I don't know as much as my veterinarian does. ;-)

When I vaccinate my own animals, they are handled by the person who handles them every day, and they get vaccines. That's okay, but when their veterinarians vaccinate them, they get much more. They are handled by people who handle them once or twice a year and who are quick to notice problems, including the sort of gradual changes that can "sneak up" on owners who see their animals all the time. The animals get the same vaccines, yes, but they also get the benefit of the vet's knowledge and educated eye - and they get a systematic physical exam. Eye problems, ear mites, heart murmurs, dental problems, skin problems - there's a long list of conditions and problems that my animals' veterinarians will notice (but I might not) and that they will also know how to treat. So although I'm comfortable giving certain types of injections when appropriate, I'm happy to pay to have my equine veterinarian come to the farm, and I'm happy to take my other animals to their various veterinarians, because it all works out much better for the animals. I have to agree with you about gas prices, and about the impact they're having on our vet bills whether we're paying for a farm call or taking our cats and dogs into town, but even so, I don't see the expense as an "extra" or unnecessary cost, I see it as an investment in the health and happiness of my animals, and as an investment in my own peace of mind.

One final thought: If you have a good relationship with a veterinarian who knows you and your animals well, you can count on that veterinarian to show up fast


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