Mar 20, 2012
From The Recovery Room
Ryan Rothenbuhler DVM, MS
One of the biggest challenges I have faced as a veterinarian has nothing to do with veterinary medicine. The biggest challenge has been my ability to convince owners, and sometimes even veterinarians, that there are choices when treating an animal. Forgive me for labeling owners and some veterinarians as "old-school". I dread hearing those words "but that is how we've always done it". Advances in veterinary medicine have provided many new or improved diagnostic and treatment options. I am frequently called a young-gun who doesn't know what it was like in the old days of veterinary medicine and owning horses. I have been unable to transcend the gaps of veterinary medicine, to bridge the age gap of long time owners and modern veterinary medicine. I consider it a personal challenge to inform the horse community in our service area of the many options available to them.
I am sure everyone remembers the days where the best treatment was to euthanize or "Shoot" your horse. It was cheaper to just get a new horse. I don't remember these days, because they never existed for me as a veterinarian. One of my favorite cartoon pictures as a young college student was a veterinary infirmary with horses lying in hospital beds and every chart had the treatment as "Shoot". I used to think it was funny. I used to think that was real equine veterinary medicine. In veterinary school I learned a different type of veterinary medicine, one with options and good outcomes. Now, as one of 4 equine veterinarians at Conley and Koontz Equine Hospital, I am proud to provide modern veterinary medicine at our state of the art facility.
Last year I traveled northeast Indiana to visit with 4-H groups and talk about vaccinations. Lots of people came up to discuss their horses with me. One story really struck a chord with me. A little girl gave a very good presentation to her fellow 4-Her's about her horse and the injury that it suffered the previous year. It had gotten into a fence, resulting in a hock laceration with a degloving wound over the front of the hock. She was instructed to wrap the wound and spray a wound spray that would promote granulation tissue and to keep it stall rested. By the time this girl had given the presentation, the horse had been stall rested in cross ties for a few months and still had a very long road to recovery. Her veterinarian told her that she might have her horse back later that year. By that point she was going to have lost her horse for almost a year for a leg laceration.
I am not going to dive into how I would have treated this girl's 4-H horse, but I am going to make one bold statement. There are very few wounds that cannot be fixed within a few months with the proper veterinary care. Veterinary medicine has transcended. We have raised above the old school thoughts of shooting the horse. Unfortunately, this patient was not receiving the benefits of the current knowledge of wound injury treatments. If they were not going to treat it appropriately, the outcome was going to be complicated. By the time they performed a year of bandage changes and the resulting scar tissue, this horse will probably not have much of a life. It may be able to be ridden, but if I was a betting man, there will be significant scar tissue on the front of the hock. Had the horse been treated aggressively and appropriately from the beginning we would have a different story. "Today's" veterinary medicine dictates that with "proper" veterinary care this horse would be able to do anything. It could have returned to whatever discipline this little girl required.
Some people say they can't spend that kind of money. That veterinary medicine is expensive. If you added up a year's worth of bandages and lost time, I bet you I could get you home cheaper. This is often the case. Owners will listen to the estimate but not realize that the likelihood of a positive outcome is a good investment. A little more money budgeted for a horse to return to full use makes more economical sense than spending less money and more time toward a "not very promising" outcome. The "we'll just wait and see what happens" phrase is another I dread.
For this discussion I picked a laceration, but you can almost put any veterinary diagnosis into this same discussion. We get phone calls all the time where people have gone through multiple veterinarians or veterinary visits and they still don't have the outcome they were hoping for. When we give the owner the information on how we would treat it or diagnose it, we frequently get resistance. I frequently hear how they've already spent all this money trying to resolve a problem and now they don't have much money remaining to spend with an equine specialist. Another disheartening situation is that owners may call when the problem first occurs. We give our estimate or discuss the case and they decide to go somewhere else for less money. Once they have spent their money and still don't have the outcome they were hoping for they call us back looking for help. Unfortunately, their budget has taken a blow.
I feel like I must emphasize here that the owner and veterinarian are not doing anything wrong. Treating these difficult cases can be very difficult and time consuming. Northeast Indiana never had access to a 24 hour full service hospital before we opened our doors in 2010. The only options were 2-3 hours away. We have 4 equine veterinarians on staff with a diverse history of specialties and knowledge. We also have up-to-date diagnostic equipment and an in house laboratory. You can learn more about our hospital, our veterinarians, and our services at www.ckequinehospital.com.
All of this ranting and I still do not have an answer on how best to inform horse owners of the advantages and easy accessibility of modern veterinary medicine. This will be a challenge that I will continue to face in the future, as veterinary medicine advances continue at a rapid pace. The one thing I do know is that at Conley and Koontz we will take your phone call, discuss the case with you and give you our best opinion. All we can hope for is that you see the quality of veterinary medicine that we practice and give us a chance to spend your money wisely.