Crooked foals part 1 (Angular limb deformities)

Crooked foals part 1 (Angular limb deformities)

Tuesdays with Tony

It’s spring in Florida and that means my docs are out checking new foals to make sure they’re healthy. With their long, awkward, spindly legs, it’s a wonder any foal can ever stand up and run around, but they seem to accomplish it somehow. No foal is a match for my feline elegance, but sometimes, a foal is born with legs more crooked than usual, or his legs become that way over time. If you’ve got a foal around, it’s really important for you to know what to look for in limb conformation. What you do now to take care of your new foal can set him up for success (or potential crippling lameness problems) for the rest of his life. Crooked foalsYeah, no pressure! The good news is my doc can fix a lot of these issues if they are identified in time. Now let’s talk about what we mean by “crooked foals”.

There are 2 major categories we’ll discuss: Angular limb deformities and flexural limb deformities. I know those names are kind of intense, but here is a super basic breakdown: an angular limb deformity looks crooked when viewed from the front, while a flexural limb deformity looks crooked when viewed from the side. There are different causes and treatments for each of these, so let’s look at them a bit closer. This week we’ll talk about Angular limb deformities, and we’ll go over flexural limb deformities in part 2.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Angular limb deformities (ALD)

An ALD is an inward or outward deviation of the leg from midline, when viewed from the front (or back) of the foal. We call an outward deviation “valgus” and an inward deviation “varus”. Then we add the name of the joint at which the deviation starts. So for example, if you’re looking at a foal from the front and his legs are straight until the knee (carpus), then the lower legs deviates outward, he would have a “carpal valgus”.

It’s not uncommon for a foal to have a mild “knock kneed” appearance at birth, but it’s really important to have an exam by a vet to ensure that it’s not a conformation problem that is going to extend into adulthood. This type of deformity can have several different causes, some present when the foal is born and some developing over time. The treatment is very different depending on the cause, so you’ve gotta have my doc out to find out what the underlying problem is. Here are several potential issues:

  • Incomplete ossification of the cuboidal bones

During gestation, the small bones in the foal’s carpus (knee) and tarsus (hock) turn from cartilage into bone. We call them cuboidal bones since they’re roughly shaped like little cubes.  Normally, these bones are fully turned to bone (ossified) by the time the foal is born. If the foal is born premature, or the mare was sick during pregnancy, or for one reason or another the baby doesn’t “cook right”, those little cuboidal bones are still cartilage when the foal is born. Here’s the big problem with that – cartilage is much softer than bone and not meant to support the foal’s weight through the joints. If there is only soft cartilage where bone is supposed to be, it can be crushed by the foal standing and moving around on it. Once it turns into bone, it will be fixed in whatever shape it was deformed into, dooming the horse to joint pain and lameness on a malformed joint. So we really have to start working on these cases immediately – you really don’t want to wait long before calling my doc to have a look! Foals that have signs of prematurity should have x-rays taken of their knees and hocks to make sure the bones are fully developed into bone. If incomplete ossification is found, the foal will need his legs splinted and to stay resting in the stall. My doc will take x-rays at intervals to check when the bones have formed. Once the bone is there, the foal will be allowed to resume more normal activity. If we can keep the bones from crushing, they will ossify over time and the prognosis is good.

 

Normal  ossification of the bones in a foal’s carpus

 

 The bones of this carpus are incompletely ossified – that’s why they don’t show up on this x-ray.

See the crushed bone in this hock? You don’t want your foal’s hock to end up looking like this!

 

  • Laxity of ligaments around the joint

Sometimes the ligaments that hold the joint straight are a bit too loose when the foal is born. My doc might notice this when she manipulates the joint. She would be able to manually straighten the leg, but when the foal stands on it, it becomes crooked again. If she takes an x-ray and is satisfied that those cuboidal bones aren’t the problem, that’s probably good news, since ligament laxity will usually improve in time. Controlled exercise and growth of the foal will usually resolve this problem.

  • Disproportionate growth

This is the most common cause of angular limb deformity and can be caused by unbalanced nutrition, excessive exercise, or overload of the limb, which damages the growth plate. As the foal grows, one side of the leg increases in length faster than the other, resulting in an angular limb deformity that develops over time. My doc has several tools at her disposal to influence the rate of growth to correct the imbalance so that the limb will straighten up over time. The trick is she has to be able to do this while the growth plates are still active. Different growth plates close at different times, and for some joints (especially the fetlock) we have to act sooner than others. Unfortunately, if you wait too long to call my doc and the growth plate has mostly closed, there isn’t a whole heck of a lot she can do. For the fetlock, we have to act before the foal is 2-3 months old, so don’t mess around!

For a foal that is only mildly affected, therapeutic trimming of the hoof and glue-on shoes may be enough to help the foal stand more correctly and encourage the joints to align correctly. For a more significantly affected foal, a surgical procedure called a “periosteal strip” (aka “periosteal transection and elevation”) can be used to stimulate the growth rate on the side of the limb that is lagging, helping it to catch up to the other side. However, in situations where the foal is more severely crooked or when there is not much time left until the growth plate closes, a procedure called a “transphyseal bridge” may be needed to correct the deviation. This involves temporarily placing a metal implant across the growth plate to slow the rate of growth on the side of the leg that is growing faster, allowing the opposite side to catch up. The implant is usually one screw or two screws with a wire in between. It will be removed when the foal’s leg has straightened.

This screw is used as a transphyseal bridge to show the growth on that side of the limb so the opposite side can catch up.

You’ve waited a long time for your foal to be born, so give him the best start by having him evaluated at regular intervals. My doc will make sure those legs are growing nice and straight and help you avoid CAT-astrophe!

 

Until next week,

 Tony

PS – Don’t forget to check out our podacst page. It is filled with tons of knowledge. I am quite certain you will learn something new!

 

 

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Dermatophilus congolensis

Dermatophilus congolensis

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Dermatophilus congolensis

Spring is here, the flowers are blooming, the vehicles are covered in pollen, everyone is sneezing and boy oh boy the horses are shedding. The docs and techs around here are obsessed! They cannot stop themselves from scratching and rubbing and plucking out all the long tufts of hair the horses are losing. They claim it’s therapeutic, but I think it is just messy! The birds seem to like it, so I guess there’s that.

Now that spring is finally here, we’ve had some really warm days, and some rainy days as well.  For horses who haven’t quite lost their winter coat, this can prove to be problematic, as they can develop the dreaded Skin Funk underneath all that hair. Take it from me, skin problems are no fun. Your horse is miserable with it, you are miserable trying to get rid of it and everyone around you is miserable because all you talk about is skin!

What is this skin funk?

Contrary to popular belief, that “rain rot” your horse has is probably NOT fungus. I know, I know, you’ve been around horses forever, and it’s always been fungus. Wrong! It has never been fungus. In fact, it has always been Dermatophilus congolensis. Maybe “fungus” is just easier to say, but Dermatophilus congolensis is actually a bacteria. The fun part about it is that the bacteria is naturally occurring on your skin. Most of the time it remains dormant and doesn’t cause a problem. However, when the environment changes, and all the stars align (which isn’t hard to do for Dermatophilus) the bacteria activates and proliferates.

Horses with long coats that get damp to the skin are significantly more prone to developing Dermatophilus. That’s why we see it so much this time of year.  Any small breaks in the skin from an insect bite, a laceration or an abrasion allows the bacteria to enter the top layer of your horse’s skin. It then forms pustules that create scabs. These scabs are what you see and feel on your horse’s coat.  They’re referred to as “paint brush” lesions because when you pull off the scabs, the hair comes with it and looks like a paint brush.  I think they just look itchy and irritating, but I’m no artist.

While unsightly, irritating, and frankly just a pain in the rear end, Dermatophilus can be a rather mild infection. However, if left untreated it can become a much more serious bacterial infection such as streptococcus or staphylococcus. Strep and staph infections are significantly more difficult to treat, they are more painful, and can lead to systemic infection.

Symptoms and Causes

Symptoms of a Dermatopilus infection may include matted hair, small, crusty bumps on the skin, and hair loss. Your horse may be painful in heavily infected areas, their skin may be inflamed and there may be some pus-filled scabbing present.

The fun part about Dermatophilus is that it’s easily spread among horses. Sharing grooming tools, saddle pads, blankets, wraps, etc. are all very effective ways to spread the bacteria between horses in the same barn. Even just being in the same area as a horse with an active infection can cause the bacteria to spread to others. The good thing is, it’s not transmittable to people or cats! Remember, horses may have the bacteria on their skin in a dormant status, which means they’d have no signs but can still spread it to other horses that could develop the infection.  Horses with an impaired immune system from stress, travel, illness, or malnourishment are significantly more susceptible to developing outward signs of infection.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Diagnosis

Diagnosing Dermatophilus is usually straightforward. The clinical signs are pretty clear. However, there are some other skin diseases that are important to rule out, including ring worm, parasitic infections, and other bacterial infections.  This is done by several different means.

Skin impressions are an easy and inexpensive diagnostic tool that will confirm diagnosis based on clinical signs.  A hair tuft is obtained and placed on a slide, mashed around, and then stained with special stain. The docs look at it under the microscope and if they see the classic “railroad track” bacteria, they know it’s Dermatophilus.

Another diagnostic tool my docs have up their sleeves is the skin scrape.  Oh, heck no, you’re not coming towards this cat with a blade and the word ‘scrape’ in mind, nope, not going to happen. A skin scrape is performed using a dull surgical blade (don’t worry, it’s not previously used or anything) and my docs will make a small abrasion in your horse’s skin to get a sample of the deeper layers. They take this sample back to the clinic and look at it under the microscope as well. Rarely, they might find some little bugs (or mites) in the sample which would indicate an underlying problem causing your horse’s skin funk.

Treatment

Do me a favor: go in your tack room or wash rack or wherever you keep all of those expensive shampoos.  It’s okay to cry a little, but those that say “anti-fungal” on them, they’re not going to solve your problem.  You’ve spent a small fortune, I know. You probably could’ve sent your kid to college with the amount of money you’ve spent on different shampoos. You don’t have to dump all of those out, don’t worry. You can still use them for bathing at horse shows, or just for fun. However, they won’t be of use for treating Dermatophilus infections.

Since Dermatophilus is a bacteria, anti-fungal shampoos usually don’t contain the anti-bacterial properties necessary to kill it. Almost always, you’ll need an antibacterial shampoo that your veterinarian will prescribe. My docs love Kinetic Vet CK shampoo. They recommend bathing at least twice a week and allowing the shampoo to soak for 10 minutes each time. Occasionally, for very severe infections they may require more frequent bathing.

You might think, oh no! My horse has rain rot all over, I should go clip him right away. DON’T! Yes, it might seem like the easy fix, but it can cause small breaks in the skin allowing the bacteria easy entry and encourage spread.  Same can be said for aggressive grooming. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for an aggressive grooming. I love it, it’s like a deep tissue massage. However, very aggressive grooming can also cause small breaks in the skin, and when your horse has an active infection, it can be quite painful.

On rare occasions, my docs may recommend systemic antibiotics. Meaning medications that are given either orally or via an injection. Luckily, this usually only happens if the bacterial infection has progressed to a strep or staph infection. Similarly, my docs may recommend a topical antiseptic ointment to apply to any open abrasions to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, do not share equipment between horses. Every horse should have his or her own brushes, saddle pads, blankets, wraps, etc.  If you have to share, clean and clean often!  Bleach is your best friend in this scenario. Soaking brushes in bleach water is a great way to get rid of the bacteria. Follow up the bleach soak by drying them in the warm sunshine. Bacteria hates dryness and sunshine. Wash your saddle pads and wraps after every use, and blankets, well, let’s just not share those.

Dermatophilus, if recognized and treated early, does not have to be the pain in the rear that we all know it to be. Horses recover easily and well from it. That being said, it can and will reoccur, so if you think you have a problem with skin funk, give my docs a call and have them come see your horse so you can come up with the best plan to manage that nasty bacteria.

Until next week,

~Tony

PS – You know the drill by now..be sure to take a listen to our Podcasts. Our docs work tirelessly gathering the best horse information out there. You can sign up on our podcats page right here. Also, did you know we have a YouTube page? We do, follow this link and catch one of our famous seminars. We have a few on Skin Funk.

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Let’s talk forage?

Let’s talk forage?

Tuesdays with Tony

Spring is springing. Grass is starting to grow. Pollen has backed off a little bit. ‘Tis the season to wonder what to do about hay. Every year my Docs get questions this time of year about hay. This year I thought I’d be a helpful cat and answer your most often springtime hay questions. I’m awesome like that. Just ask me. I’ll tell you how great I am. 

I can’t get hay!

Lots of you humans feed coastal hay to your horses. It’s a great option for those easy keeper horses. I relate. I look at food and put on a pound or two. This can be a tricky time of year to find coastal hay. The new crops aren’t baled yet, and farmers may be on short supply from last year’s crop. This can mean questionable quality and quantity of hay available. My number one piece of advice here is don’t buy the low quality stuff!! This is a surefire way to see my Docs on emergency late at night or on a weekend. 

Low quality coastal is way, way more likely to cause colics. Coastal hay loves to cause a specific type of colic called an ileal impaction. This happens when the hay stacks up like a bad lasagna at the very end of the small intestine, called the ileum. Luckily, since you are a regular reader of my weekly wisdom, you are feeding some alfalfa to your horse to prevent these colics because you know that’s what I recommend, and you follow every word of my advice. This means your horse’s GI tract is ready to increase that alfalfa some, and stick to quality coastal even if it means decreasing quantity. My Docs can help you adjust for calories and overall quantity so your horse doesn’t get too fat, or have too little roughage in that finicky GI tract. 

Adding different roughage types can really help provide roughage without adding too many calories until farmers can get good quality coastal baled again. Some great options are available such as beet pulp, hay pellets, and even bagged hay. Anytime you change up roughage be sure to go slowly. Add small amounts to start, then increase over 7-10 days. The bacteria in the gut need a few days to adjust to a different roughage type. If you go too fast they get upset, and take it out on you by causing increased gas production, or diarrhea. Neither of these is a fun option.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

 SAND!!!

Ooooohhhh those little tiny bits of green grass that are just coming in are just the most delicious things on the planet! At least that’s what I hear from the horses. I eat some grass, but I am no connoisseur of the stuff. The problem with those super delicious little bits of grass is they come with bits of sand as well. The horse GI tract is an excellent collector of sand, but not so excellent at getting rid of it. What’s a human to do? Feed more roughage. Now, this can be tricky this time of year as I will discuss in my next section. Roughage does an excellent job at picking up sand and moving it on out. 

Feeding a minimum of 2% of body of your horse’s body weight will keep the beach outside where it belongs! Don’t know how much your horse weighs? Any one of my minions can show you our quick and easy technique. Like I said in the previous section, you can get creative with roughage types. Beet pulp, hay pellets (or cubes, as long as they’re soaked), and bagged hay all count as roughage. There’s also the tried and true psyllium method. My Docs recommend one of the horse psyllium products rather than a human product like Metamucil. The horse products have more psyllium per scoop, and cost less so that’s a win-win! For a horse suspected or known to have lots of sand, start with a double dose for one week, then go back to the normal dose for one week out of every month. It’s super important to only do this one week out of the month. You know those gut bacteria? They can learn to digest psyllium which will inactivate its super sand fighting properties. By only exposing the bacteria to psyllium intermittently we can keep them from learning this skill. 

 I don’t want the hay

As those tiny bites of delicious greenness come up, your horse may decide they taste way better than any dried version (hay) you have to offer. I don’t personally relate, but this may cause them to [GASP!] leave hay behind. I have never voluntarily walked away from food so I have no idea why a horse would do this. Anyway. My Docs get asked what to do about this all the time. To start, it’s important to assess your pasture and decide if you have enough grass present to potentially meet your horse’s roughage needs. My Docs or a county extension agent can help you here. If you do, then it’s likely you can dramatically decrease or even stop hay offerings. This is why you want good pastures! You get to save on hay! Take advantage of all that beautiful grass if you can. 

If you are concerned you don’t have enough grass to meet those roughage needs, you may need to make hay a more appealing option. The two most common ways to do this are increasing the quality of your hay, and confinement. Slowly introducing better tasting stuff like alfalfa or orchard grass hays, or adding beet pulp to grain meals can convince your horse that they can still eat hay while your grass gets a chance to grow. Confining your horse to a stall or small sacrifice paddock with some hay will also allow your horse to realize they may as well eat the hay since there aren’t other options. Some horses will see this as ridiculous horse torture, but let’s be honest: it isn’t. 

Never fear, the grass will grow in, the farmers will bale new hay, and, with a little help from you the human, your horse will survive this time of roughage scarcity. Need help figuring out the best option for you and your horse? My Docs are here to navigate the plethora of options available in the roughage market. They will work with you to find the best option for your horse, farm, and lifestyle.

Until next week,

~Tony

P.S. Are you looking for more horse knowledge? Check out the podcast that my docs produce. It’s called Straight from the Horse Doctor’s Mouth and it is absolutely loaded with great information. And it’s free! Any cat knows better than to pass that up. I’m just saying.

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Hoof Radiographs

Hoof Radiographs

Tuesdays with Tony

Have you ever heard the old fairy tale about the princess and the pea? Long story short, there is this princess, and some fussy queen wanted to check that she was a real princess and not an imposter. They made the princess sleep on top of 20 mattresses stacked one on top of the other with a pea hidden under the bottom one. Apparently only a real princess would be sensitive enough to feel the pea under all those mattresses, so when the princess comes down in the morning moaning about how uncomfortable the bed was and what a bad night of sleep she had, the queen decided she was good enough to marry the prince. Lucky guy???

Why, you ask, do we give a meow about this silly story? Well, it turns out horses are real princesses too! But the pea under their mattress is the balance, conformation, and health of their hooves. Tiny changes in hoof angle can have huge implications to the soundness of your horse. They are sooo sensitive to changes in their feet, for better or worse. That’s why I want to talk to you today about taking routine X-rays of your horse’s feet.

I don’t mean just taking X-rays when you know there is already a lameness problem. Yeah, of course you will do that. My goal is to help you prevent lameness. My docs advocate a preventative approach, looking for subtle issues with hoof balance that may not yet be causing a problem, but if left untreated can worsen and cause lameness. Long toes, negative palmar/plantar angles, incorrect hoof pastern axis, under-run heels, and medial-lateral imbalance are just a few of the subtle problems that can be assessed by foot radiographs. Some of these issues are evident on a physical exam if they’re bad enough, but why wait until they’re really bad? Mild to moderate imbalance can still be present on a relatively normal looking foot. The best way to diagnose them precisely is to evaluate the position of the bones within the hoof through X-rays.

What will X-rays show?

For routine preventative X-rays of the hooves, my docs take two views of each foot – one from the side (the lateromedial view) and one from the front (the dorsopalmar view). These images show the bones inside the hoof and pastern in relation to the outer hoof wall and sole. Some of the structures that can be seen include the coffin bone and coffin joint, the pastern bones and pastern joint, the navicular bone, and the hoof wall and sole. My doc can get a sense of the health of the bones, look for early arthritis, and check the depth of your horse’s sole.

If your horse already has a lameness problem, X-rays can help to optimize management. Horses with caudal heel pain (navicular syndrome), laminitis, and other lameness problems benefit from regular checks to make sure the hoof care is appropriate for the disease process. For example, a long toe and a negative palmar angle can exacerbate pain coming from the heel area, so a horse with navicular problems will be very sensitive to these measurements. Likewise, a horse with a tendon injury will benefit from a trimming and shoeing plan that will help to protect the tendon as it heals.

The individual structures of the foot aren’t the only focus – also critically important is how they are positioned in relation to each other and the outer hoof wall. Think about the size of the horse versus the size of his limbs and how much weight his relatively small feet and legs have to carry. Very small abnormalities in the positioning and angle of the structures in his feet can cause a lot of extra stress and wear.

My doc can check how your horse is distributing his weight and make sure he’s not putting extra stress on the bones, tendons, and ligaments of the limb. Hoof imbalance is a really common factor on the road to lameness. It can be caused by your horse’s natural conformation – for instance if he naturally has a club foot, a low heel, or his hock angles are relatively straight (post legged). It could also be attributable to the hoof trim, shoeing, or the time between farrier visits.

Medial-lateral imbalance causes uneven loading across the hoof as well as the joints of the lower limb. In a normal horse, weight is borne evenly across the whole hoof and up the limb, but an imbalanced horse carries more strain on one side, predisposing him to injuries and wear on the joints. Abnormal patterns of growth can also give insight into impending foot problems.

When should I have X-rays done?

It’s really useful to have X-rays taken when you purchase a new horse so that you’ll have a baseline to be able to compare to later on. Ideally, these will be done as part of a full pre-purchase exam, to help you avoid any unpleasant surprises in your horse-purchasing experience. After that, we generally recommend taking x-rays every 6 months. If your horse has had lameness problems or tricky conformational issues, they might be needed more frequently. We can do the X-rays at the clinic or right on your farm!

My docs work closely with farriers so that your horse has the best team to help him stay sound and happy. They can review your horse’s X-rays with your farrier and make a plan together. Certainly, they’ll do this if a lameness problem comes up, but the best time is before your horse ever takes a bad step. Your farrier can use the X-rays to optimize the trim and correct any imbalances. This is especially useful when horses have conformational issues or sensitive feet, but any horse will benefit from the best possible trim to extend his soundness and athletic career.

It’s easier to make necessary changes to maintain soundness than to reverse years of wear and tear that have already caused lameness issues. This also makes long term sense for your wallet. Preventative care is usually a lot cheaper (and more successful) than trying to fix long term problems. So treat your equine princess to some foot X-rays so you both can spend years of happy, sound riding!

Until next week,

~Tony

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

This hind foot has a negative plantar angle (meaning the coffin bone is tipped backwards a few degrees from where it should be) and a broken-back hoof pastern axis, causing extra stress on the upper limb.

If you are still looking for more information, head on over to our podcast page. The humans work tiressly on their podcast, it is filled with so much useful information. Click here to head that way.

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Not One More Vet

Not One More Vet

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Not One More Vet

Not One More Vet: You may have seen this saying, or NOMV floating around on social media recently. Forewarning for all my readers, this week’s blog is a little more intense than usual and does contain topics including suicide, depression and mental health.

 In the month of March there have been 4 suicides in the veterinary field. 3 veterinarians and 1 veterinary technician. Second only to police officers, veterinarians have the highest suicide rate of any industry. My hope, and the hope of all those on social media, is to bring an understanding to the public of what veterinarians go through on a daily basis and how you can be a part of the change and reduce the number of suicides per year.

 The veterinary community is a small one. Whether small animal, large animal, zoo animal or lab animal, veterinarians are all a part of one big family, and when a veterinarian or veterinary staff member takes his or her life, it is like losing a member of their family. Research, and you all know how much I love my research, has shown that veterinarians are 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. There is a real mental health crisis in the veterinary field. Why is this, and why does the number of suicides continue to increase?

Educational Debt

I have known my whole life what I want to be when I grow up, and thus far I must say, I am doing a darn good job at it. Most veterinarians dream of being a vet from the time they are very young. This means that after high school, it’s straight to College/University and then Vet School, assuming all the stars align. At the very least, it takes 8 years of higher education to become a veterinarian.

 Along with schooling comes tuition. Veterinary school alone can cost upwards of $250,000-$300,000. That’s a lot of cat treats. That also leaves veterinarians with one of the largest debt-to-income-ratios out there. A common misconception is that veterinarians make a lot of money or that they are only in it for the money.  Take if from this old cat, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Did you know that the interest rates on student loans range from 6-8% and that the average salary of an equine veterinarian is $60,000-$70,000 a year? That’s some pretty complicated math but even I can see how it would be nearly impossible to catch up and pay off student loans. Student loan payments can be as much as a mortgage and can make buying a house next to impossible.

Cost of Care

While in vet school, students are taught the gold standard of veterinary medicine. The gold standard comes with a price however, a price that the general population often can’t afford. This leaves veterinarians playing a balancing act between what’s best for the animal and what the owner can afford. Vets want to help every animal that they see. However, when an owner responds with, “if you really cared about my animal you would do this for free”, a little part of the vet dies.

 Take it from me, my docs care about each and every one of your horses just like their own. They love them, their hearts break with you and they rejoice with you. That being said, remember that vets have student loans to pay, animals and families of their own to care for, and deserve to make a fair living just like everyone else. Guilt-shaming veterinarians into providing services for free has got to stop.

Emotional Burnout and Compassion Fatigue

Unlike typical 9-5 jobs, veterinarians work 24/7/365. Even if they do not have a patient in front of them, they’re working. Whether it is working on clinical records, making phone calls, replying to texts, or researching different ways to treat your horse, veterinarians are working constantly. Based on the number of times I’ve heard stories about my docs dreaming about your horses and how they can treat them, I’m thankful I don’t have to dream about anything other than napping.

 Beyond the life of constant work, vets go into their career knowing that almost all of their patients will die before they do, with a large portion of those patients leaving this world with the aid of their veterinarian. It’s a blessing to end the suffering of an animal, but I’m also sure that it can’t be easy to have to say goodbye over and over again to a patient they have come to know and love. The empathy they share with you when your pet crosses the rainbow bridge is genuine, and the compassion they feel is real. So when they have euthanized 5 pets in 5 days, it’s exhausting and absolutely leads to burnout and compassion fatigue.

 So the next time your vet is running late, or has an emergency come up where they may have to reschedule your appointment, remember it could be you they are spending those extra few moments with while you say goodbye to your beloved family member. It could be you they are rushing to help with an emergency while rescheduling someone else. It’s always better to be the one being rescheduled and not the one with the emergency! 

Work-Life-Balance

My docs here at Springhill Equine have it really good. They work 4 days a week and split the on-call schedule 3 ways.  That’s a very rare scenario for the majority of equine veterinarians. I can only speak for equine vets in this matter, as I’ve only ever been the manager of this equine practice. But from what I have heard, not all veterinarians have it as good as my docs do. Some work 6 days a week or are on call for weeks at a time. And do you know how many text messages, Facebook messages and phone calls my docs get after hours, and on their days off from people who do not have an emergency?

 If you have an emergency, definitely call them. The docs are always there for you when you have an emergency. But if you text your vet after hours with a question that isn’t urgent, don’t get mad at them if they don’t answer until normal business hours. Work-life-balance is essential for your veterinarian’s mental health and well-being.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Life

On top of their profession, veterinarians have a life. Well, they try to, anyway. Many veterinarians have significant others, families, and pets of their own. Just like you, they have things happen in their lives, both good and bad. Sometimes those things are the breaking point, and sometimes they are the icing on the cake. Either way, life adds stress to your vet every day, just like it does for you. They give you and your pet their undivided attention despite what is going on in their life because of the love they have for the animals. I’m just asking you to remember that they’re humans, not cats, so they have feelings.

 This is just a small insight into the life of a veterinarian. They are some of the most compassionate, loving and caring people in the world. They are also faced with some incredible emotional challenges as part of their job, although you would probably never know it. So give them a break once in a while. Heck, give everyone a break once in a while! It’ll make the world a better place. And give your cat a treat, that’s important too.

 Until next week,

~Tony

P.S. – If you would like more information about Not One More Vet, please click here to be taken to their website. 

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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Help for Sore Backs

Help for Sore Backs

Tuesdays with Tony

Hanging around the clinic, I hear a lot about backs. My Docs will see sore-backed horses for spinal manipulation and acupuncture, along with lameness evaluations to figure out why they’re back sore in the first place. Often after a long day of treating sore horses, I hear the Docs go on about their own sore backs. This is why I stick to laying in the driveway, sleeping on my comfy chair, and holding the front counter down. No sore back here. Unless you count the time last week I lept for the hood of one of the vet trucks and missed, but we’re not going to mention that incident ever again. It’s like it never happened. Anyway, moving on! Much like exercises are available to help human back pain, there are some great exercises for horses with back pain. These exercises also help strengthen the back, decreasing the future pain potential. 

Balance Pads

If you’ve ever hurt your ankle, knee, or hip, and sought out a doctor’s advice (something you horse people aren’t so great at) you may have gotten exercises involving balance pads. These are squishy foam squares about 2” thick. For humans, you will be asked to stand on one of these pads and do fun things like stand on one leg, or touch things with the toes of the leg you have raised. These exercises improve your balance, and the little muscles around the joints that stabilize them. They also help you increase core strength, and responsiveness. 

As it turns out, these exercises are great for horses, too! Many back injuries occur when sudden change happens. Think about that reach out for something on your desk, or down to pick up something off the floor. Then BAM! your back is in massive pain. Core exercises help prepare your back for that sudden need to pick a pencil up off the floor. They prepare your horse’s back for that moment when the footing changes as you ask for a change in gait, or their foot slips on a slick spot on the trail. 

Any horse can do these exercises. In fact, they’re so easy, even a dog could do them. There are horse-specific balance pads, but regular old human ones work too (and they are a lot cheaper). Start by having your horse stand with either both front feet, or both back feet on the pads. Have them do this for about 5 minutes. You can increase the difficulty by doing all four feet, or diagonal pairs, or even by giving the shoulder or hip a tiny push to make balancing harder. My Docs have some advanced exercises as well that they will assign for homework to help specific problems. 

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Stretches

Everyone knows stretches. Heck, we cats are masters of the good stretch. Back sore horses can benefit greatly from a daily stretching routine. Each horse is different when it comes to timing, but you will most likely get the best stretching after exercise. This is when the muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments have warmed up a bit and are most receptive to pushing their boundaries. The three big stretches my Docs recommend are nose toward stifle, chin to chest, and the butt tuck. 

Nose toward hip: For this stretch, ask your horse to stand still while turning their neck and head toward one stifle. The key to this one is to keep the tips of the ears parallel to the ground. If your horse starts to turn their head a bit, try helping them with some gentle pressure on the side of the head to correct things. If they continue to tilt their head, go back to the furthest spot they can go without tilting, and hold the stretch there for a count of 5-7. Repeat three times on each side. Keep this up, and your horse will be able to turn further and further.

Chin to chest: Just like it sounds. Ask your horse to touch their chin to their chest. Hold for a count of 5-7, repeat three times. Then ask them to do the same thing but lower. Ask them to bring their chin between their fetlocks.

Butt tuck: There’s a spot about a hand width out from the tail that when itched will make any horse tuck their booty. That’s the magic spot for this stretch. Keep the scratching up to keep the butt tucked for a count of 5-7. Repeat three times. 

Resistance Bands

If you’ve ever had the joy of being tortured by a personal trainer or physical therapist with resistance bands, then you know they can really take the work up a notch! While I haven’t experienced these things personally, and will use my claws on anyone who tries, I know they are fantastic at increasing workloads in a pretty safe fashion. 

Work on the horse version of these, known as Equibands, has shown them to build some serious topline muscle. It’s a pretty easy system to set up. Ask my Docs! They can show you how. Using a band under the abdomen and one around the hind quarters, you can really get that core engaged. The key to resistance bands is to start with very short work sessions! Five minutes is often a whole lot of work in one of these. Consider holding a crunch or plank for a few minutes and you’ll get the idea. You can ride in resistance bands, but be very, very cautious about how long!!!

You humans know having back pain is no fun! Incorporating these simple things into your daily routine can help your horse avoid back pain. If they’re already experiencing pain, these can really, really, really help improve the pain, and strengthen the right muscles to minimize future pain. Want a program to help your horse? Ask my Docs! They’ll help you come up with a custom program to keep your horse performing for years to come.

 

Until next week,
~Tony

P.S. If you haven’t checked it out already, the humans did a podcast episode called Pain In The Spine, which covers a lot of stuff that I didn’t get into here. You can find it over on the Podcast Page right here on my website, or download it on your phone with your handy-dandy podcast app. You should really be subscribed already. It’s an amazing amount of free access to your veterinarian’s brain!

 

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!

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More Adventures of the Horse Doctor's Husband