In preparing this guide, many owners were asked to comment on their vet bills. A river of complaints poured out. In a survey of monthly billings passed on to these owners, the source of the problem became very clear: in virtually every case, the owners DID NOT HAVE PRIOR APPROVAL of the medical expenditures, nor had they ever formally discussed with their trainers ways to manage or lower their vet bills.
As we mentioned earlier, the “average” vet bill per horse, per month, runs $200-$250 in Southern California, and about a third less in Northern California. (It bears noting again that whenever we talk about dollar figures, locale plays a big role in pricing.)
If your trainer is one who does not rely heavily on medications or veterinary consultation, the monthly fee will be considerably lower. But if you have a horse that’s ailing or suffers a serious injury or illness, the medical bill can go well over $1,000 in a month – and indeed nearly every racehorse is likely to go through such a period.
The only defenses against the monthly stab of the vet bill are: 1) to understand, as much as possible, the purpose of each treatment, 2) to have some realistic sense of cost of each, and 3) to keep in contact with your trainer so you are prepared for any unusual medical outlays.
In order to create an effective budget, a discussion must be held with your trainer in which you learn the trainer’s philosophy concerning the extent to which a vet is going to be used. You might also set a dollar ceiling beyond which your trainer must consult with you before ordering treatment. Also, though your trainer will (or should) inspect and initial the veterinary bill before passing it on to you, don’t be shy about opening a discussion directly with the vet or his office about the charges you will be expected to pay.
There is a complex formula to keep in mind when considering the overall trainer/vet symbiosis. Most vets will visit each of their trainers’ barns every day and take the time to examine any horse with a “questionable” condition. The trainer’s vet considers him or herself responsible for watching all his wards for medical developments, and is motivated to catch them as early as possible to prevent breakdowns, illnesses and layups. Usually, unless treatment is required, the vet renders this daily service without charge – but in fact the cost of this time is rolled into fees for treatments, so that the vet can balance out billing against time expended.
We could not receive an answer to the question: Would vets’ fees be lower if no “daily rounds” were involved? Obviously, this would make the vets’ billing a nightmare. But still, as owners, are we paying for the daily visit and extra exam that a trainer might be able to accomplish without the vet? It’s a good subject for discussion between the owner and trainer.
The second fact to keep in mind is that, by CHRB regulations, the trainer may not have a syringe on his person or in his barn. Therefore, the trainer cannot administer injectable potions to any horse – and that includes such common necessities as vitamin supplements, emergency colic remedies, Lasix, Hyluronic acid for joints, and even quarterly deworming. Since all injections must be given by the vet, he or she knows that these occasions – all chargeable – will help to make good on his or her many “for free” services.
Vaccinations for flu and Rhinopneumonitis (respiratory viruses) = $20-$30 per vaccination, up to 6 annually.
“Lasix”, a diuretic used for the prophylactic treatment of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH or “bleeding”), which is believed to work by lowering pulmonary-arterial pressure: Injection for racing = $25-$35 (due to the regulatory paperwork required for race-day treatment). Injection for workouts = $15-$20.
“Premarin” (estrogen compound), an old-style remedy for “bleeding” which is thought to work by strengthening capillaries = up to $60.00 per injection. (“Premarin” is the most expensive estrogen compound at $35 per 25 mg dose; an injection with a genetic compound such as Estrone will run less.)
Phenylbutazone (“bute”), an anti-inflammatory = $12-$17 per injection. (“Bute” is also available in tablet form: dispensing cost from the Vet is the $25-$30 for 100 1-gram pills).
Vitamin “jug” (vitamins and electrolytes in ½-1 liter of fluids) = $20-$30
Tetanus vaccination = $12.50-$17.50
Intra-articular injections (with Cortisone or Hyaluronic acid, or combination) for inflammation of joints = $50-$150, depending on the medication(s) and which joint or joints require injection.
“Adequan”, a common anti-arthritic medication used to stabilize articular cartilage = $50-$65 per injection (often administered weekly in 500 mg. doses).
Penicillin = $12.50-$15.00 per injection (given either once or twice a day, depending on the illness or injury).
Gentamycin, a broad-spectrum antibiotic, = $20-$40 per injection, depending on dosage and whether injections are given once or twice a day. (As with all antibiotics, therapy can run from 5 to 7 days.
De-Worming (necessary at least quarterly for parasite control) = $23-$35 per treatment. (Note: your trainer may choose to de-worm with oral paste, an effective option which does not require a vet.)
“CBC”, complete blood-count = $25-$35, depending on the scope of the laboratory tests.
Diagnostic ultrasound examination to check tendons and other soft tissues of the body = $90-$120
Endoscopic examination of larynx and pharynx, to check for “bleeding” = $50-$65
“Swabbing” (tracheal wash) to check for respiratory infection = $45-$60 to obtain sample for culture, plus $50-$70 for lab work.
X-rays are charged by the joint or per “view,” depending on the veterinarian. A typical X-ray of the knee or ankle (generally requiring 5 views) = $160-$200 per joint.
Colic: Simple, “uncomplicated” colics generally cost around $50 for all necessary treatment. Prolonged colics can run into the hundreds of dollars, if surgery is required, the costs can reach into the thousands…
Grabbed Quarter (while running, the horse “grabbed” one of its front hooves with a hind hoof, tearing skin and tissue) = $15-$50, depending on extent of injury.
Castration = $125-$175, plus cost of tranquilizers, local anesthetic, tetanus shot and antibiotics. (Cost is lower if done at a farm).
Routine arthroscopic surgery for a damaged knee, removal of a bone or ankle chip = $1,500-$2,000 plus up to 3 months of farm rest and an additional 3-4 months of re-training.
Surgery for a fractured leg (requiring the placement of screws in cannon bone or pastern) = $1500 for simple fracture; $2500-$3000 for very complex fractures, plus 4-8 months of recovery and re-training.
Acute Respiratory illnesses such as pleural pneumonia require extensive, and expensive, treatments which can last for months and run into thousands of dollars. The average equine athlete is likely to develop less severe respiratory illnesses at least twice in its career.
Torn Suspensory Ligaments will require 6-9 months farm rest (there is very little, “medically” that can be done) and an additional 3 months of re-training.
Bowed Tendons may require 6 months to a year of farm rest (again, there is no truly effective medical or surgical treatment for this injury). Less than 50% of horses suffering tendinitis come back successfully.
An interesting note: The average career of a pro football player is 3 years; the average career of a racehorse is 1-½ years. These are fragile animals…
Depending on the billing practice of the trainer, the vet bill may be sent to you directly from the vet, or a copy of it will be sent with your trainer’s monthly bill. In some cases, there is a “summary” figure—in others, a full billing report. An actual vet bill may either describe in technical jargon the treatments given your horse, or have four closely spaced columns of possible procedures with check mark beside what was done to improve your horse’s health. Another “hurdle of discovery” for you, the owner.
Nowhere in the process is lay language visible – but medical practice is like that, whether on human beings or animals. Once again you must rely on your trainer’s interpretation of the bill. The involved owner might be advised to get to know enough about equine health to become a part of the decision-making process, up to and including calling for a second opinion. [To view an example of a veterinarian’s bill, see Sample Forms & Charts, Figure 9].
The individual charges for every procedure can and will vary by locale and vet, apparently according to what the market will bear. In every case, fees are negotiable (excluding the actual list price of a given drug).
In summary, if you are a prudent investor, then participation in the decision-making process concerning your horse’s health relates directly to your pocketbook, and therefore the potential of finding yourself an economically viable niche in the racing industry.
Note: Every veterinarian working on a racetrack must not only be California-licensed but must also possess a license issued by the CHRB. Veterinarians may only administer CHRB-approved medications, and must submit in writing every treatment they perform, noting the horse, its trainer and time of day the procedure was performed.