Veterinary visits during pandemic

Even during a crisis, routine veterinary care is essential for your horse's health. Here's how to get it done safely.
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The pandemic has upended every aspect of our lives, including equestrian activities. Shows and clinics are canceled, public trails are closed and many boarding barns have established social-distancing rules. But there’s one horse-related activity that is important to continue: routine veterinary visits.

Neglecting chronic conditions, such as metabolic disease or equine asthma, can lead to worsening of the problem and significant, irreversible complications. And just because horses aren’t traveling doesn’t mean they don’t need vaccinations---West Nile virus and other diseases spread by insects won’t be curtailed by human quarantines.

However veterinary visits these days require special safety measures. Anyone exposed to COVID-19 could spread the virus to dozens of people before they realize they are infected. Veterinarians are trained in public health so they will take steps to mitigate this risk, but your cooperation in that effort is important. Here’s how you can help:

Talk about any new protocols with your veterinarian before the visit. Old routines may no longer be safe and plans that worked earlier in the pandemic may not apply. Keep in mind your veterinarian may request measures that go beyond common practice in your area---wearing masks, for instance, even if your state or county does not require doing so in public.

Be up front about your own health status and that of anyone on the property. Likewise, be thoughtful and transparent about people you or others may have been exposed to recently. If you or anyone you are connected to has or may have been exposed to COVID-19, let your veterinarian know.

Accept that you may not be there for the visit. Many veterinarians travel with assistants to hold horses and they ask that no one else be in the vicinity for the appointment. They may prefer to communicate with you via phone or video conference during or after the visit. Check your devices and signal strength ahead of time if possible.

Disinfect shared surfaces prior to the appointment. Wipe down all surfaces a veterinarian is likely to touch. This includes doorknobs, handles, water faucets, latches and cross ties. Wipe down the surfaces after the appointment as well.

Have soap and water available. Hand washing is one of the best defenses against disease and your veterinarian will appreciate having a way to do this, even if it’s just in a wash stall or a bar of soap and bucket of water set out for that purpose.

Of course, it’s more difficult to plan for emergency veterinary visits—if a horse colics, for instance. In these instances, do your best to communicate clearly with your veterinarian in the moment, and listen carefully to any requests and instructions. It may not be possible to social distance or disinfect surfaces when your horse is ill or injured, but your veterinarian will still want to minimize the risk to everyone while attending to the problem.

There’s no shortage of equine hoof supplements to choose from; just be sure to follow the feeding instructions on the label of the product you choose. Keep in mind that it takes a year for a horse to grow out a new hoof, so plan on feeding a biotin supplement for at least that long. You’ll probably begin to see results within three months, as new improved hoof grows down from the coronary band, but continue with the supplement until the entire hoof has grown out.