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Top Tips for Preparing for an Overnight Vet Visit

Sending our horses for an overnight visit to the vet can be as stressful as our own family members being in the hospital. In some cases, your horse spending the night at the vet is an emergency situation and you don’t have the opportunity to prepare for it. However, there are also non-emergency reasons for your horse to visit the “horsepital,” like a recommended surgery or because your regular veterinarian has referred your horse for an evaluation. Because those non-emergency instances are usually planned in advance, there are ways that you can help prepare your horse and yourself for a successful overnight vet visit.

Recently, my horse Sasha made one of those non-emergency visits to a large animal hospital for a lameness evaluation and to take advantage of their advanced diagnostics. She was scheduled for a bone scan, which meant that she would have to stay for at least two nights (and probably more, depending on what the results showed and what other diagnostics her vet wanted to do).

Getting your horse ready for an overnight visit to the vet is stressful, especially when you don’t know what you’re going to find out as a result of the visit. Based on my own experience, here are my top tips for preparing yourself and your horse to help make it as least stressful as possible for both of you:

For your horse:
1. Pack your horse’s “overnight bag” ahead of time
You’ll want to check in with the facility your horse is staying at to find out how they want to handle your horse’s feed, but it’s often helpful to pre-package your horse’s grain servings into baggies. It not only makes feeding fast and easy for the facility, but it also ensures that your horse is getting the same type and amount of grain that he’s used to. That’s important because studies have indicated that changes in grain can increase your horse’s risk of digestive upset. Along with grain, don’t forget about the foundation of your horse’s diet – forage. Consider bringing your own hay from home, too, because studies have shown that changes in hay, including switching types or feeding a new cut, can increase your horse’s chances of developing colic by 10x! (Want to learn more about the risks of colic? Check out this article!)

Along with pre-packaged servings of grain, I sent Sasha with her SmartPaks. Consistency is key with supplements, so I wanted to make sure that she was continuing to get that support. Plus, I knew her SmartPaks would provide her with the support she needed to help keep her healthy during the stress of an overnight hospital visit. Her daily SmartPaks include SmartGI Ultra Pellets, which provide clinically studied ingredients to help maintain stomach in health in horses under stress and yeast, prebiotics, and enzymes for researched hindgut support.

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Sasha went to the hospital in her shipping halter, so I also packed her everyday halter to wear during her stay. Because Sasha’s visit was during the summer, I didn’t need to send any blankets with her. If your horse is making the trip during cold weather and normally wears blankets, don’t forget to pack their “clothes,” too.

2. Consider providing extra support for stress
Because Sasha has had gastric issues in the past, her stomach health is always top of mind for me. Her visit to the hospital meant that she was experiencing several risk factors for gastric problems, including travel, increased stall time, and a change in routine. To help protect her stomach, I started giving her UlcerGard a few days before her visit and sent her with a few tubes for the duration of her stay. If you’re concerned that the stress of your horse’s visit could lead to stomach issues, talk to your veterinarian about whether using UlcerGard is an appropriate choice for your horse.


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For you:
1. Be patient, and resist the urge to Google.
When your horse is at the vet hospital for an evaluation and needs a variety of diagnostics, it may be a few days before you have the final answer on your horse’s condition. In Sasha’s case, she had a bone scan one day, x-rays the next day, and then an MRI the day after that to determine the cause of her lameness and the best way to treat it.

Each day, I would get a little more information that made the researcher in me turn to the Internet and look up everything that could possibly be wrong based on the incomplete information I had. The problem is in her fetlocks? Great. Let me look up everything fetlock-related that could end her career as a show horse. The problem is related to bone, and not soft tissue? Great, that just narrows down my search!

Take it from someone who’s been there – don’t follow my example. You’re only going to stress yourself out even more as you imagine every doomsday scenario you find happening to your horse. Be patient, and wait until the experts have all of the information they need to properly diagnose your horse and determine a treatment plan.

2. Ask questions
Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t quite understand what’s wrong or you feel like you need more information before agreeing to more diagnostics or treatments. Your horse’s vets are there to help you make the best possible decisions for your horse, so they’ll be happy to help answer all of your questions.

3. Read your horse’s discharge instructions carefully
It’s likely that your horse will come with a discharge report that details out what diagnostics your horse went through, what the findings were, and any recommendations for continued care. While you may have talked to your vet about all of those things in person or over the phone, it’s helpful to take the time to read your report carefully. After all, you never know what small detail you may have missed because you were stressed out during your horse’s visit! In Sasha’s case, reading her discharge report carefully ended up being really important, because we had misunderstood her exercise instructions and had to follow up with her vet to confirm what instructions were correct.

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