by Dr. Beth Johnson, DVM
In June of 2023, FDA has mandated that all antibiotics (OTC, water soluble, included) will require a prescription. Obtaining these drugs under a veterinarian’s supervision can help guide the judicious use of antimicrobials and slow the development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). This will require a valid Veterinarian Client Patient Relationship (VCPR) for a veterinarian to write a prescription for these antibiotics. Also, there are many times you may have a sick small ruminant which requires veterinary intervention and you have never established a relationship with a veterinarian. So you can see the need for establishing a relationship with one BEFORE you need them.
So what would you’re expectations be in a small ruminant veterinarian? One of the requirements I would like to see is that they are a mixed or large animal practitioner. A veterinarian who practices on large animals usually has the medication, facilities, and knowledge that is needed to practice on small ruminants. A mixed animal practitioner is one who practices on small (dogs & cats) and large animals. An important consideration is that the veterinarian and staff are willing to learn about small ruminant medicine, if not knowledgeable. An important resource for many veterinarians is the American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners (AASRP). Remember that the willingness to learn is a two way street, so be ready to work with your veterinarian to provide education and resources that they may need to provide the best care possible for your flock/herd. Your veterinarian has been taught the basics of veterinary medical care for ruminant animals and now they need to fine tune their skills for small ruminant medicine.
In today’s economy, our profit/loss ratio is shrinking but veterinary medicine is not always the best place to cut corners. When considering a veterinarian, ask the staff what some of the common costs are such as Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (Health Papers), reproductive services (e.g. blood tests for pregnancy, ultrasound exams), laboratory services (e.g. fecal exams, CAE/OPP Testing), dewormers, commonly used antibiotics, etc. One of the shifts that have occurred in veterinary medicine is the increased need for veterinary consultation and herd health management. Preventative medicine is always more important than treating a preventable disease. Kind of like shutting the barn door after the goats have left the barn. Please remember that the cheapest isn’t always the best when it comes to practicing veterinary medicine and the reverse can also be true so, do your homework.
Along the same train of thought, discuss with your veterinary clinic if they have a financial assistance plan in the case of an emergency. We never expect to be in a predicament and unable to afford a C-Section or other emergency, but if it does occur, does the veterinary practice provide a payment plan that would allow them to be paid without a huge financial burden on the producer?
When I was in practice, I always tried to return any phone calls that came in during the day. Veterinarians are extremely busy today so be considerate of their time and patient when searching for answers to a problem. Another consideration when evaluating a practice is to evaluate the staff. A veterinarian is only as good as the staff that are under them. Try to find a practice with veterinary receptionists who are pleasant, and able to accurately schedule visits for the veterinarian. Also evaluate the technicians/assistants for knowledge about performing and interpreting laboratory tests, dispensing the appropriate medicines prescribed by the veterinarian, and ability to accurately ask and relay messages from the veterinarian about your animal(s).
Remember, your veterinarian is only human and mistakes may occur. Hopefully they will be small ones and not impactful. Laugh at those you learn from and remember a small token of appreciation can go a long way to establishing a great working relationship between you and your veterinarian.
Dr. Beth Johnson, is a Staff Veterinarian in the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and has 40 years of experience raising and treating small ruminants. Her family farms in Parksville, KY where she raises Gelbvieh cattle and Boer goats.