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Decoding Your Vet Bill
by Howard Zucker (trainer)

 

An Owner's View
by John C. Harris

 

Decoding Your Vet Bill

By trainer Howard Zucker

One of the least understood factors in the cost of owning a racehorse is your vet bill. Vet expenses are an unwelcome but necessary part of maintaining your racehorse in peak condition.

Hopefully your horse was raised with few veterinary costs other than routine wormings and vaccinations. Perhaps you had to pay for antibiotics to treat an illness or field injury. If there were no problems during early training at the farm or training center, you paid for routine X-rays to check on knee closure and bone maturity, and if all went well, your steed went off to the track.

Then what happened? All of a sudden you see a seemingly endless list of charges, mostly for unfamiliar medications adding up to a vet bill which averages $100, $200, or upwards of $600 a month. What’s going on? Is your horse hurt, dying, or has he become drug dependent from job-related stress? ASK YOUR TRAINER!

Good communication between owner and trainer, resulting in a thorough explanation of the vet’s bill, can keep a healthy business relationship alive and well. A smart trainer informs owners of veterinary work being done on a regular basis, either week-by-week or whenever progress reports are regularly given. Such updates avoid the shock at month’s end when the bill arrives. It is also a good idea for trainers to personally check and approve all items on a vet’s bill before it is sent to the owner. Such practice eliminates one potential trouble of charges mistakenly applied to your bill. It is also useful for the trainer to add a brief note of explanation for exceptionally large charges as to the procedure employed, why it was necessary, and what medication was used.

Some trainers, myself included, use preventative therapies such as electromagnetic therapy, massage, chiropractic adjustments, ultrasound, and ice. Such therapeutic remedies may also work to reduce your monthly vet statement, and keep your horse at its athletic peak.

Following are some common items that appear on a statement from your veterinarian, with some basic explanation of what they are and why they are done.

ROUTINE ITEMS

Treatment How Often Performed Cost

Flu/Rhino Vaccination Every 2-3 months
$25.00

De-worming Every 2-3 months
$25.00 to Tube Worm by Vet
$10.00 to Paste Worm By Trainer

*Dentistry (Floating teeth) Every 3-4 months $50.00

*A specialist is used to "float" a horses teeth, or file away the rough edges on the sides of a horse’s molars. A horse’s chewing action periodically causes sharp edges to develop that can cut their mouths and make eating uncomfortable. If left untreated, a horse’s athletic performance may be compromised.

COMMON MEDICATIONS

TYPE USED FOR COST

Antibiotics Treatment of infection $25-$40 / day

Penicillin, Tetracycline, Genocin Administered by injection,
via throat flush, or a neubilzer solution (horse breaths in).

Sulfa Drugs Colds, Coughs $8 / day

Tribrissen, trimethalsulfate Administered orally

Anti-inflammatories Reduction of fever or inflammation in muscles and joints.

Bute, Banamine May be administered either orally or by injection
$15-25 / day (Injection)
$2-4 / day (Oral)

Naproxin, Azium, Naquazone Administered orally $2-4 / day

Ulcer Therapy Treat stomach ulcers $60-150 / month
Tagamet, carafate Administered orally

Bleeder Treatment Reduce Exercise-Induced
Pulmonary Hermorraging (EIPH)

Lasix
Most commonly used medication $15.00 for a.m. workout

$25.00 *Pre-race
* Vets add an extra charge for filing necessary paperwork with the California Horse Racing Board showing that medication was administered within a restricted time frame.

Premarin Used with Lasix for problem bleeders $25-50
Robinul Used with Lasix as a breathing aid for workouts only $15.00. Cannot be used pre-race.

Muscle Relaxants
Robaxin $15 per shot
$5 orally

DIAGNOSTICS

X-rays Determines injury in bones or joints $60-85 per area

Ultra-sound Determines injury in soft tissue (tendons & ligaments). $100 per scan

Endoscopy Diagnose breathing problems, (Examine upper respiratory system) such as malfunctions, infections, or for bleeding.$50

Soundness Exam Palpation, gait analysis, hoof-testing, etc. No charge

CBC (Complete Blood Count) Additional charge for enzyme levels and blood chemistries.
$ 35.00

HORMONES

Winstrol, Equipoise Anabolic steroids used to stimulate muscle development and appetite.
$45-50 / month

Testosterone Also used to stimulate muscle development and appetite.
$25 per treatment

Progesterone Represses ovulatory cycle in fillies and mares
$25 per treatment

Subcutaneous implants, which are effective for 2-3 months, cost $60-80

VITAMINS AND FLUIDS

ESE (Vitamin E & Selenium) Used to treat muscle soreness $25.00

Misc. Vitamin Shots Used to treat anemia or vitamin deficiencies.$15-25

"Jugs" Electrolyte solutions used to replace essential ions depleted by workouts, races, or Lasix use. $25-35

JOINT THERAPY

Corticoids Intra-articular injection which provides short-term relief of joint pain and inflammation. $35-40 / joint

Hyaluronic Acid Intra-articular injection provides longer-lasting more therapeutic effect than corticoids $100 / joint– They’re better for your horse!

Adequan/Legend Intramuscular/intravenous injections that promote joint health and prevent degenerative joint disease. Expensive, but the long-term benefits can be cost-Effective.
$65-75 per week

Cosequin, Chondroitin Sulfate, Natural products found to be effective in maintaining joint health
Shark Cartilage
$60-120 / month

ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES

"Dr. Green," or "The Friendly Farm" Old-timers will tell you that the best therapy for illness, lameness, bleeding, etc. is a visit to "Dr. Green." A short rest at a friendly farm is an effective cure-all and will go a long way towards reducing your vet bills.

Kinder Racetracks Track management, owners, and trainers must continue efforts to improve our racing surfaces. Improved track surfaces will decrease both the frequency of injuries and the cost of ownership.

Is it Better to Administer Medication Orally or Via Injection?

There are basically two ways of administering medication to horses, either orally or by injection. On California racetracks, only a licensed veterinarian can legally give an injection, so any injection will require a veterinary fee. "Injectables" may be give subcutaneously, intramuscularly, or intra-articuarly (directly into a joint).

There are a number of ways to administer drugs and medications orally. It may be done by drench (dissolving the medication and squirting it into the horse’s mouth with a syringe), or by paste (many common wormers and anti-inflammatories are sold in this form). Some can simply be added to the feed, either as powder or pulverized pills. Oral administration can be done by your trainer, and is thus usually cheaper than injections.

For example, 25 oral doses of bute costs about the same as one injection. Why then would you want to use an injectable if the same medication is available orally?

An injection is preferable – sometimes necessary-when a horse needs immediate relief from severe pain. Medication is given in an injectable before a race to ensure that the horse receives the full dose, and does not leave a part of the dose uneaten in its feed tub. Additionally, some trainers prefer injections because they eliminate the risk of the wrong horse receiving a medication mistakenly placed in its feed tub.

Of course, as in every other aspect of racehorse training, opinions vary. Different trainers and different veterinarians use different approaches to using an injectable vs. an oral dose. Many owners trust their trainers to make these decisions. If an owner is interested in or concerned about how his or her horse is being "vetted," have a conversation with your trainer and/or veterinarian.

With regards to your overall vet costs, don’t be afraid to discuss them with your trainer and/or veterinarian. Good communication makes good business, and will enhance your ownership experience.

Howard Zucker has been a licensed trainer for 19 years, during which time he has developed 1993 California-Bred Juvenile Champion MOSCOW CHANGES. He has a B.A. from City College of New York, majoring in Finance with a minor in Biology.


An Owner’s View

By John C. Harris

As trainer Howard Zucker writes, good communication is crucial between owners, trainers, and veterinarians. All three parties should be striving for cost-effective measures that provide long-term benefits to the horse.

With Thoroughbred horses, we do have the luxury of being able to spend considerable amounts of money on veterinary-related treatments if we feel there is at least some chance such action will allow the horse to be more competitive. However, such luxury is both a blessing and a curse, as it encourages expenses that are less-than-certain to be cost-effective. In our cattle operation, we have large-scale trials to review before we consider any medications. With horses, although there are good trials on such as things as vaccinations and wormers, a lot of individual equine treatments are hard to quantify. The numbers just aren’t there.

Personally, I think we should develop financial relationships with vets that are not so much based on individual treatments, but more on some sort of retainer to cover the horse’s total health care. In addition to saving owners money, veterinarians would be provided a more stable source of income, and a greater ability to practice medicine in the manner that they were trained. For example, a fee could be set that would cover normal vaccinations, dental work, and wormings. Additional treatments would be billed for the drugs at cost. A managed-care arrangement could also be made for X-rays and scans.

In our own farm training operation, we now employ a resident veterinarian. We feel that this will be cost-effective. Hopefully we can use this relationship to help manage the veterinary care at the tracks, working in conjunction with the trainer. However, this will require a degree of mutual understanding, trust, and openness, which sometimes can be hard to achieve with all of the egos involved. So far, though, our experience with this relationship has been good.

Regardless of the decision-makers involved in a horse’s health, I think in cases where a horse is in serious trouble, and/or the vet costs look to be significant, it is always good to get a second, or even third, opinion. Such practice is cost-effective and gives one more confidence that their horse is being treated in the best manner possible.

I think owners should be involved in their horse’s care. They are paying for it, and are the ones most impacted by the horse’s success or failure. Yet we must have confidence in the trainer and the vet, and give them the authority to proceed when time is of the essence. Once again, the key is good communication, backed up by sound reasoning and appreciation for the use of cost-effective measures.

John Harris is Chairman and CEO of Harris Farms and is President of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association. He has approximately 50 Thoroughbreds in training, and has been an active participant in the Thoroughbred industry for over thirty years.

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