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Pets Large & Small

Dress for the Vet

Dr. Kim Brokaw DVM
Walkersville Veterinary Clinic

(May, 2011) My editor asked me to try and write a happy or funny article, since the last article was a sad article about a horse that died of colic. Currently it is the middle of foaling season. Last week I saw two septic/infected foals and I treated another sick foal today. Itís hard to think of a cheery topic when in the middle of foaling season. While foalings can go well, I am only called if they go poorly. After all, if everything goes smoothly, the vet wonít be needed until several hours after the foal has nursed to do a physical exam and bloodwork. This makes it difficult to write a happy article at this time of year when foalings have the potential to go very badly and result in death for both the mare and foal.

Many owners do everything right (e.g, good feeding program, good vaccine program, constant monitoring to be sure a human is present for the birth, and a snap test to make sure the baby has gotten enough colostrum right after birth) Even then, sometimes things go wrong. Well managed barns monitor their mare for a few weeks before she is due until she has had the foal. Through the use of technology, such as foal cameras and foal alerts, people can monitor their mare from the comfort of their bedroom. If they notice that something isnít going the way it should they can quickly call the vet, jump out of bed and run out to the barn. Needless to say when I arrive, I frequently find my clients in interesting outfits. While pajama bottoms, a t-shirt, uncombed hair, and flip flops are the most common attire, I have had the opportunity to see some unique garments.

One of my most memorable calls involved a gentleman who had rushed out to the barn wearing nothing but a bathrobe and boots. He had been napping on his sofa while watching the foal camera when the foal alert went off, sending him running to the barn. The foal was born with some human assistance as contracted tendons were preventing full leg extension. Her legs had not fully straightened which made it difficult for her to pass through the birth canal. Luckily the owner was experienced enough to know that assistance was needed. The foal was manipulated and successfully pulled.

After the foal was born, the contracted tendons also prevented her from standing. It is extremely important that a foal stand up and nurse quickly after birth. The colostrum, or first milk, is full of antibodies that are essential to keeping the foal healthy and preventing it from becoming septic and dying. As the gentleman assisted me in getting the foal to stand and nurse, his bathrobe kept untying and slipping, revealing that he truly was wearing nothing but a bathrobe. Luckily the foal did well and after a few hours was able to stand with minimal assistance. The owner continued to monitor the foal and ensure that she continued to nurse and remained healthy. Her snap blood test for antibodies from the colostrums was normal and she continued to thrive due to the diligence and quality of care that her owner provided. Initially I wished the gentleman had taken an extra two seconds to put on underwear, in the end I was grateful that he had raced out to the barn and called me immediately, rather than wasting 15 minutes getting properly dressed.

While for unplanned emergency visits, I can understand when people are wearing clothing or footwear that is less than appropriate for the task at hand, it baffles me when I show up for a scheduled appointment and their attire is still questionable. One time I was floating teeth as a part of a routine, scheduled dental exam for a womanís horse. She was wearing pajamas and fuzzy bedroom slippers. She noticed me staring at her feet and said "oh these are my mud slippers" as if everybody has a pair of fuzzy slippers that they wear to the barn.

On one occasion, when I was working in Virginia, I was out at a farm for routine Coggins test and vaccinations. As the vet truck pulled into the driveway, a woman came out of the house without her shoes on. Instead she had multiple pairs of socks on her feet. She then proceeded to run through the mud after her horses, trying to catch them and get halters on so that they could be treated. As this was a scheduled appointment, I was surprised that she wasnít wearing muck boots or something in the very deep mud. I was also disappointed that the horses hadnít been caught prior to my visit.

One of the reasons that clients are told what time to expect the vet is so that they can be ready when the vet arrives and have the horses caught. There are many intelligent horses who recognize the vet truck and realize that when it arrives on the farm they are going to get poked with needles. As one can imagine, this makes catching these horses somewhat difficult once they have seen the truck. Experienced owners are usually aware of the intelligence of some horses, and catch their horses and lock them in their stalls before the vet truck arrives.

I have to admit that I am not known for always wearing the most appropriate clothing. When riding and working on my own horses, I have been known to wear flip flops when I am too tired to walk into the house to put on boots. However, when I am on call and know that I could be called in the middle of the night and need to rush out the door, I have a clean pair of pants, shirt, as well as boots set aside in case I get a midnight call. Now these boots may be green with pink stripes or have a multicolored dog print on them, but they are comfortable mud boots none the less.

If you are dressed in a fancy dress and high heels when I arrive for an emergency call, I will understand. However, when you are in smiley face boxers with suspenders, no shirt or pants, and bare feet when I arrive on time for your scheduled visit, remember that your visit might make it into one of my future articles!

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw