What if a horse doesn’t like vets

Making this project, I’ve been focusing mainly on the underlying causes of the horse patients’ unwanted behaviour, using low-stress and low-restraint techniques, and adding positive reinforcement, highlighting the benefits of having cooperative horses.

In this article, I’d like to look at the importance of having a cooperative horse patient from a little bit different perspective: What are the practical consequences the horse patient’s non-cooperativeness can have?

When a vet arrives at the stables, when a horse is taken to a veterinary clinic, when routine procedures such as vaccination or deworming are about to be performed – these are the situations which cause fear and anxiety in many horses.

This fear or anxiety demonstrates in different ways. Some horses try to escape or avoid treatment, they would not stand still, they can become very difficult to catch, and sometimes they don’t even allow a human to come close.

Other horses may display aggressive behaviour such as kicking or biting.

Fear a horse feels in association with veterinary procedures or with a certain vet, and the unwanted behaviour the horse perform may result in one or more of the following complications:

  • The horse owner, veterinarian, and other persons who assist with the procedure expose themselves to high risk of being injured by a horse. Treating a non-cooperative patient can result in us getting some bruises and scratches but it can result in a serious injury which, in some cases, may even require hospitalization.
  • It takes more time for the procedure to be accomplished. While in a calm horse a certain procedure is a matter of a few minutes, when the horse is stressed or not cooperative for whatever reason, it can take an hour or more. The longer the procedure lasts, the more stressed the horse gets and the worse his behaviour usually is. This circle can end up with a person or a horse being injured.
  • It is necessary to look for the alternatives. If it can’t be done this way, we have to look for another way. We may try to change a place where the procedure is done (if the facility allows doing so). Some of the horses are more comfortable in their box, while the others could be better in the aisle or even outside. Sometimes the course of the treatment has to be changed because the horse doesn’t tolerate it. If, for example, the horse needs to receive an injectable medication but he doesn’t tolerate injections, the vet needs to look for another option. In some cases, a suitable, effective or affordable alternative may not exist.
  • The treatment is more expensive. This is partly associated with what was mentioned above – when the type of treatment which the horse would tolerate costs more than the first option. However, the treatment can be also more expensive due to more time that a vet spends with a horse. Some veterinarians charge more for treating a difficult patient.
  • The horse may not get appropriate health care. Vet-related unwanted behaviour is one of the reasons why horses don’t get appropriate veterinary care. In order to keep the humans safe, the non-cooperative patient’s treatment might have to be reduced. In the most serious cases, the uncooperativeness of a seriously ill or injured horse might be the reason for his euthanasia.

As you can see, having a horse who doesn’t like vets can seriously affect his health and well-being as well as the cost of veterinary care.

"Hello! My name is Katerina, I am the equine veterinarian interested in professional and sofisticated animal handling through applied learning theory. I help the horses and their humans go through the medical care in easier, less stressful, more ethical and safer way." Read more >