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Horse care and the internet

By Daniel H. Grove, DVM - February 1st, 2018 - Ask the Vet

AskTheVetAnyone who knows me knows I use and enjoy the internet. It has improved many things in our society. In veterinary medicine, it is used for telemedicine, sharing radiographs, and quick, easy access to continuing education and research work, just to name a few things. With that being said, there are situations that come up where horse owners turn to the internet for their equine needs, and I wanted to give some warnings on a couple of common situations.

Social media. It is a part of a tremendous number of people’s lives. People often turn to social media to ask questions from their online friends from all over the world. I even try to help out where I can with people asking questions in different groups online. This arena is a difficult one to navigate as a professional trying to help horse owners. We as professionals are required to have a valid veterinary client-patient relationship to offer a diagnosis or treatment recommendation. If we have not examined the animal, we do not have this. Some people may get frustrated with ambiguity or even lack of answering certain things because we can’t. We have not seen the horse. We should not be expected to put our necks out there to open ourselves to the liability if something does go wrong.

An additional area with social media that I would like to caution you on is this: You cannot trust everyone to be correct in their recommendations. Once again, they are not looking at your animal, and most people giving you answers are not veterinarians. I read much more than I write on social media. I probably see 80 percent or more wrong answers from non-professionals trying to help horse owners. Your No. 1, best source of information on the health of your horse should be your veterinarian. They have seen your animal, your situation, and know the area of the world you are in.

Online pharmacies have been great for animal owners. I have no problem with people filling their prescriptions this way. There is one area where horse owners are using this service in an attempt to save themselves money, but I do not think most know a pitfall in doing so. This is with vaccine purchases. If you have your horse vaccinated by your veterinarian, you have some extra protection. The vaccine manufacturer will stand behind their product. If there is a reaction, they will usually pay for any treatment for that reaction. Most vaccine companies are now offering testing if your horse shows clinical signs of a disease that it was vaccinated for. For example, if your horse gets a respiratory illness while out on the road showing, you can contact your veterinarian to come out and look at it. Then, if you want to have testing done to determine what caused it, they have programs that will cover those testing costs. Some of them even will pay for treatment. If you vaccinated the horse yourself with a store or online purchased vaccine, you lose all of this protection. Why is this lost? The companies do not know if there was a problem with storage or handing of their product. They also do not know what the product administered properly and in line with the directions established on the product. When your veterinarian administers the vaccine, a record is created that can be referred to, proving all of this.

I have seen these things going on for many years. What brings me to discussing it now is that I have witnessed a huge increase in online groups where people are second-guessing their veterinarians, or looking to treat something without consulting their veterinarian first. I realize everyone is always looking to save money. There are many times where we, as veterinarians, have no problem helping out an owner with free over-the-phone advice for animals we have dealt with. As far as looking to the internet for education, great. Just do not go in without knowing you may be getting false or bad advice due to the circumstances. When it comes to vaccines, the little savings you may get upfront will be a drop in the bucket to what you could save with a big drug company standing behind their product to help your horse!


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