University of Vermont AAHS

Customer Safety During Veterinarian Treatment

Letter to the Editor and reply from Dr. Dave
January 14, 2001

[reproduced from Spring 2001 Caution:Horses, Vol. 6, No. 1]


I reviewed your website and found it full of information that all people involved in horses need to read and apply.

As a veterinarian, I am amazed how the "seasoned" horse owner can put themselves in danger. I find it unsettling that parents let their children in such close proximity to danger. I feel it is my obligation and duty to instruct them of the dangers and ask the child to be moved from the area where the horse is being attended. It is also common that the owner needs a brief refresher course on where to stand with their mounts when veterinary care is provided. Many owners don't understand that a veterinarian does need to cause a limited amount of pain when injecting drugs, etc. and that their beloved horse may not react as calmly as if these procedures were not done. If you are at all able to include an article on handling of horses that are receiving veterinary care it would be most appreciated. If you would be so kind to forward your information packet, it would be most appreciated. I will be doing a community education program in the Spring of 01 and will be recommending your site. Thank you.


Delores E. Gockowski, DVM
North Ridge Veterinary Service
RR 2 Box 404
Sturgeon Lake MN 55783


AAHS Board Member and veterinarian David Cross replies:

I read the email from Dr. Gockowski and she is absolutely right. I run into this situation frequently where I have to instruct the owner/manager where to stand and to pay attention. The situation is complicated by other people in the area who are trying to help, are curious or are with the owner (friend, visitor). Dogs and cats add to the mix. Most dogs can be called away but cats that insist on walking between the legs of the various participants can be a nuisance.

In an ideal situation, the vet would have trained help with him/her to assist and keep the owner from being put into a situation that could result in injury. People have to realize that the veterinarian is liable if someone gets injured, including the owner. I think I wrote in the article I sent you for the winter newsletter that you don't have to look far to find cases where pet or horse owners helping a vet were injured and sued.

I have been trying make sure I make a conscious effort to assess the situation at the farm or stable. I have declined to do select procedures, such as passing a nasogastric tube, if I think the owner/agent/manager cannot safely help me and there is no one else available. I am also, at times, amazed that experienced owners don't know how to handle a twitch and need to be instructed (Some will not allow a twitch to be used on their horses and insist on sedation; then because the horse is sedate, the level of attentiveness to the situation may diminish unless I'm reminding them to pay attention).

New or inexperienced owners tend to listen to vet instructions more than more experienced people (that sure was the case when I was teaching equine science). If a person is not comfortable helping me, then we try to make arrangements for the horse to come into the clinic or for me to bring help. In emergencies, I have given crash courses to people and to be ready to bail when I tell them.

With spring approaching and with the new EIA law in Michigan (requiring horses to have a current negative Coggins test each calendar year) we will be doing a lot of injections, blood draws, dewormings and of course, the breeding season is around the corner. I will have plenty of opportunity to instruct owners about safety around horses when the vet is there (and when he/she is not).

An example of horse safety that happened to me this last week (no one got hurt fortunately). I had been asked to stop by to look at a race horse being entered in a race scheduled for the upcoming weekend. Before I got there, I was sent to an emergency cow dystocia that ultimately ended up as a caesarian section. It was late and I even though I cleaned up before leaving the dairy, I was covered with a wide variety of smells. The horse was put in cross ties and I was standing to the side at the shoulder when the horse became scared, knocked me into a wall and onto the floor and did some scampering before she calmed down.

Why did she react that way when the owner says she is usually pretty calm? There was a stranger in her barn, smelling of cows, blood, fetal membranes and the lights in the barn were throwing spooky shadows. We calmed her down, proceeded slowly and accomplished what needed to be done. All owners, including experienced ones need to remember that a vet is a new situation for the horse that day and even routine things can result in accidents



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