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Equine Health Resource

Assess Effectiveness of Treatment Objectively

Your vet has diagnosed your horse’s condition and you have proceeded with a treatment plan.

Now, the question becomes whether the treatment is working? This is a simple question but it isn’t always easy to answer.

In many cases, the horse seems to improve. Is it because of the treatment or would the horse have improved anyway?

The most important question is: How do you perceive the problem prior to treatment? Can you evaluate the severity? Only if you can quantify it objectively to start with will you be able to determine a difference after treatment.

Vets evaluate an animal’s condition as objectively as possible. We quantify as many signs as we can – temperature, heart rate, attitude, degree of swelling or digital pulse are examples. We describe or document those things in as much detail as possible. We try to be as objective as possible. For example, if we are evaluating and treating a horse that is lame, we reevaluate the horse on the same surface every time.

It can be hard to know whether improvement can be attributed (in whole or in part) to one treatment or another. Even vets struggle with this issue. Ultimately we simply want the horse to get better.

Objectively determining whether a particular treatment is effective is a helpful skill, particularly when the diagnosis is grave or life-changing or the treatment is expensive or novel.

When you become a more objective judge of your horse’s state, you are better able to ensure that a treatment is providing a high return on your investment.

Procedure

Depending on the healthcare problem it is always helpful to have a baseline to reference, a comparative context between your horse in health and in illness (or injury).

Do you have any photos or videos that you can use for this comparison? What else can you use to establish this comparison before and after? Is the horse currently in work? Do you have videos of the horse performing before you first noticed the problem?

It is equally important for your vet to explain the diagnosis to you in detail, including the severity of the problem, typical prognosis and complications.

If you choose to use one or several treatments, talk to your vet about how each of them work. Do they compliment each other, or is it better to try one first and then reassess your horse before you invest in another treatment?

Establish a timeframe in which a certain result is expected and reevaluate your horse on a regular basis. If the problem only occurs under certain circumstances, talk to your vet about when to test the efficacy of the treatment by re-creating the circumstance.

Tips for safety & Success

Do not perform any treatments on your horse or hire anyone else to do the same without first talking to your vet. A team approach is only helpful if everyone knows who is on the team, what they are contributing, and why.

Likewise, some “miracle cures” can harm horses, delay healing or confuse the picture, making it impossible to evaluate the effectiveness of any treatment.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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