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Equine practices deliver essential care through vaccinations

By MWI Animal Health

Create messaging around why they matter
White male veterinarian examines  horse to administer equine core vaccines

Equine core vaccines are an essential part of horses' health, yet sometimes, clients need additional nudges to get in line. Veterinarians can rely on their expertise to align owners to a vaccine program.

Busting myths around equine core vaccines

The primary myth that needs addressing is the belief that horses are over-vaccinated. Clients may feel their horses should have protection from the equine core vaccines — eastern and western equine encephalomyelitis, rabies, tetanus, and West Nile virus — for longer than one year.

Dr. Kate Frazier, DVM, an associate veterinarian at Ocean State Equine Associates, headquartered in North Scituate, Rhode Island, explains, "The way I handle that with clients is I explain to them, our immune systems are different, every species is different."

The equine veterinarian's job is to inform the owner that skipping the dose, even if they can still protect the horse, is not worth the risk of disease or even death.

"There's a reason that these intervals were made and labeled the way that they are and so to make sure that the horses have the protection they need, we need to follow the manufacturer's directions, or the horse will be at risk," says Frazier.

Using conversations to foster compliance for equine core vaccines

Surprisingly, the most pushback she gets is around rabies, which is 100 percent fatal. Owners may think their horses are safe because they don't bite each other, but other wildlife could spread the disease. To get the message across, veterinarians like Frazier and her colleagues sometimes need to rely on tough love, explaining that horses with rabies are a public health risk and need euthanizing. These are difficult conversations but essential for the health of the horses and the general public and the emotional well-being of the owner.

Beyond the equine core vaccinations, the veterinarian will consider the risk of exposure to other diseases when creating a vaccine protocol. For horses residing in boarding barns, with people coming in and out, and for show horses, most veterinarians will recommend the risk-based vaccines for strangles, influenza, and rhinopneumonitis. The primary consideration when recommending vaccines to owners is: Does the horse travel? If yes, additional vaccines are part of the recommended protocol.

The veterinarians at Ocean State Equine Associates have found owners of one or two backyard horses are often the hardest to educate around vaccine compliance. Veterinarians need to create chances to have compliance conversations with such clients.

Dr. Anne Marie Skiffington, DVM, also an associate veterinarian at the practice, says, "If you suspect someone might not be as knowledgeable, take the opportunity to explain to them why we do the core vaccines. It has nothing to do with whether your horse goes anywhere, they can still get those diseases."

Who administers vaccines matters

Another crucial message to get across is the veterinarian is the best person to administer equine vaccines. With vaccines for sale at retail locations, some clients may want to take matters into their own hands.

Skiffington, for one, puts her foot down and does not permit her clients to engage in such activities.

Equine veterinarians need to communicate the dangers of clients' vaccinating the horses, which are medical and financial.

She tends to get pushback from people with one horse who don't want to pay the travel fees for the veterinarian to come to the barn to deliver a single vaccine. The message to such clients is they can trailer the horse into the practice and avoid those additional fees. For others who are stubborn financially around equine core vaccines, veterinarians can use the argument that often, pharmaceutical manufacturers will contribute to the cost of care if the horse gets a disease after vaccination. However, that financial help only comes if a qualified professional administered the vaccines.

When owners buy, transport, and store vaccines, there are also concerns about efficacy. The medications need refrigerating. Veterinarians use coolers with multiple ice packs on trucks to travel to the barns. Will owners keep the vaccines at the proper temperature as they go from the store to the barn?

The biggest red flag that equine veterinarians need to communicate about owner-administered vaccines is the risk of harm to the animal. If the horse has an anaphylactic reaction, it is often too late to do anything. Less fatal, but disturbing effects are a risk. Skiffington told the anecdote of an owner whose horse was left with abscesses in its neck because of botched administration.

"We're lucky in our population. The large majority of our trainers and boarding barn owners are knowledgeable and know how important vaccines are."

Anne Marie Skiffington, DVM

Wellness plans as business safety nets

Veterinarians can leverage equine core vaccines to increase wellness plan enrollment. Ocean State Equine Associates has created a successful business framework around such plans that other equine practices can emulate.

Clients pay an annual flat fee to enroll their horses in the plan, which includes equine core vaccines, a physical, and dentistry. The office reaches out and schedules the appointments at the appropriate times. Owners appreciate the convenience of not having to remember when their horses need which vaccinations. Enrollment in wellness programs therefore boosts compliance.

From a business standpoint, offering such programs financially benefits practices because they bring in guaranteed income. Because Ocean State is in New England, business slows to a crawl in the winter, and other equine practices may relate. However, the wellness program fees help with cash flow.

Wellness program coverage splits into three visits. In the spring, horses get a physical exam, eye exam, nutrition consultation, and their first set of vaccines. Next visit is the rest of the vaccines, some of which are season-dependent, and the final visit, in the fall, is the dental exam and the recommended biannual vaccinations, like influenza and rhinopneumonitis. Other practices can adjust this recommended schedule to best meet the needs of their population and to accommodate the demands on their staff's time.

Some equine practices will cap the number of clients enrolled in their wellness plan to accommodate their veterinarians' workflows. Practices can use scheduling to their advantage and book those first wellness appointments in early March to even out the hectic nature of spring and summer.

Create messaging that encourages wellness plan participation

Veterinarians may appreciate the value of wellness programs, but owners may need an extra nudge to enroll. Practices should deliver messaging around the benefits, tailored to different audiences. Communication with barn managers should emphasize how such programs can end overwhelming feelings. The equine veterinarians can convey messages around convenience and how they can schedule appointments for all horses in the barn on the same day. Every horse will get what they need, and the manager can stress less about keeping all the protocols straight.

When communicating with individual owners, equine practices can explain that wellness plan enrollment will save them some money in the long run. For confused new horse owners who are wondering about what needs to happen and when for their animal's health, the primary message is convenience. The wellness plan will help them keep their animals compliant and safe.

Another idea fellow equine practices can borrow from Ocean State is the report card with a horse's physical exam results and vaccine status that veterinarians deliver to clients. This extra touch impresses clients and drives home the importance of personalized care in creating loyalty.

"We're lucky in our population," remarks Skiffington." The large majority of our trainers and boarding barn owners are knowledgeable and know how important vaccines are."

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