Saving Money on Your Veterinary Bills

If you raise horses to be sold, and even if you don't, you're probably trying to find ways to cut your veterinary bills. The Blood-Horse spoke to several top veterinarians in Kentucky about reducing veterinary expenses, and here's what they had to say:

Dr. Andrew Clark, CEO of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, Lexington:

"When optimism is in place, no one is afraid of anything. But when fear is in control, there is no room for optimism. I think we are at the part of the cycle right now that fear is in control and most of what I hear people talk about every day is what they are afraid of.  None of us knows what the reality will be, but my response to all that is let's take a deep breath and make sure we make good decisions that are based on something other than fear. That would be my best input on how to manage any costs in any industry is to make sure that you're making good decisions that aren't just fear-based decisions.

"What we see sometimes is that people will try and cut back on herd health issues. People decide worming 20 horses is just too much money, so they'll skip one time, and maybe they won't vaccinate. But maybe they'll pay for that decision later because of the consequences of that decision.

"Each person who is making that decision should try and prioritize their veterinary care and say, ‘This is what I think I'm willing gamble on.' I think people understand that the care has value, but they're trying to find a place to cut. If I were going to skimp, what I would try to do was not skimp on the benefits to the horse, I would find places I could do the work myself - deworm your own horse, vaccinate your own horse. Herd health work is one of those places that it's probably a better decision to do your own than fail to do it at all.

"Right now, I think it's safe to say the value of almost all horses is lower, so it's logical that you can afford to invest less in them. What are called survey films (X-rays) early in a horse's life (as weanling or a yearling) are just sort of quality checks. Those might be delayed, but like any delayed decision, there will be consequences. The reason that work was done early was to detect issues early in a horse's life that could be managed or corrected. If you find those issues later, then maybe you don't have the opportunity to respond. You lose the advantage of youth. But I certainly think that is one place people could cut back.

"It's a little bit of short-term, long-term decision making. You try and cut your costs short term but there were reasons for those costs, so somewhere along the line you may pay a price for that decision. And that's we're all doing that in our lives. We're all making decisions to stop going out to dinner or to stop going to Starbucks and make my coffee at home. The horse industry is no different. The tough answer is there's no one answer because what's important to you and your horse program might not be the same for someone else. You may believe that your competitive advantage is from knowing about those radiographic lesions early. Someone else might just do it  because they've sort of fallen into the industry norm of doing it. I think it really comes down to what you believe, where you get your competitive advantage as a consignor."


Alan Dorton, partner, Woodford Equine Veterinary Hospital, Versailles, Ky.:

"Our clients were starting to see the value of their horses going down last year, and they started looking at how much the horse was worth, and saying to us, ‘He's not worth doing that,' whatever the procedure was. For instance, if a horse had an OCD in a stifle, they would say, ‘Well he's not worth doing the surgery on.' Or if a mare was colicking, they would say, ‘She's not worth the surgery.' I'm also seeing a whole lot more of our clients doing more on their own, trying their own remedies first before they call in a  veterinarian. If a horse is colicking, they'll give it banamine first and then see if it fixes it. On an ill horse, they will start it on their own antibiotics instead of having us look at it first. A lot of times it's working for them, but sometimes it fails and then we have a disaster to try to deal with.

"Ultrasounding (mares) is so important. We have had people do that (cut back on such examinations) in the past, and it comes back to bite them. When you're reducing a twin at 25 or 28 days, you've got a much higher likelihood of losing both (embryos).

"If you have a good broodmare manager or broodmare foreman, the best way (to cut veterinary costs) is to do better with the teaser. What I see at my farms - and they were doing it some last year --  is cutting down on the number of palps (palpations by a veterinarian) before breeding. You just have to know your mare. If you have a mare that doesn't show to a teaser, you need to know where she is in her cycle and know when it's time to ‘palp' her. We've had some clients in the past who wanted their mares ‘palped' every day when they were in heat even though we were saying, "You don't really need to do this. She's got a 15 (size of the follicle) today; she's going to have a 20 tomorrow. She's not going to change that much.'

"You need to be more aware of nutrition and preventive medicine: vaccines, worming, and trimming. If you pay more attention there, you will save money on the other end. If you keep up with the nutrition and have everything in balance, you'll have a reduction in OCDs, colic, and foot problems. It's just prevention, and you'll stop a lot of things from happening down the road. I'll give you an example. I have one farm that has Rhodococcus (Rhodocouccus equi) that is endemic to the farm. If a foal is born there, it is going to get a Rhodococcus infection. Period. They have found out that if they spend $300 to give a foal hyperimmnune plasma shortly after birth, that it is more than likely not going to get Rhodococcus . They can spend $300 now, or they can spend $2,000 to $3,000 later treating the Rhodococcus and run the risk they might lose the foal or it's going to have scarred lungs and not perform very well."


Dr. Larry Bramlage, partner, Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, Lexington: "We are anticipating that there will be a significant downturn with the veterinary care of this year's foal crop because their value is going to have to be evaluated in light of what kind of care they need. You're not able to go to the lengths that you would have in the past. There will be foals with really crooked legs, for instance, and your potential return may not be there to resolve those. People will decide to give them away or not keep them as an auction commodity. Any time a foal requires (veterinary) attention, if it's a significant amount of investment, people are going to have to look at it with a critical eye.


"The first thing you have to do (to save money) is reduce your total numbers (of horses). People likely have not been critical enough with culling mares and reducing the population. Older mares or somewhat infertile mares with chronic uterine infections or uterine fibrosis require a lot of additional veterinary care compared to the ones that are very, very fertile.  I think people will look critically at them and say, ‘This isn't worth it anymore.' "


Now, some questions: What do you do to try to reduce the veterinary costs for your horses?  Are veterinary bills too high and how do you think veterinarians could reduce them?




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