Ethical Challenges of Veterinary Practice in a Pari-Mutuel Setting

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Scott Palmer, VMD, Dipl. ABVP (Equine), presented at the 2012 AAEP Convention on the highly emotional and political topic of medication and care of racehorses as they relate to a veterinarian’s responsibility.

“Veterinarians cannot abdicate this responsibility,” noted Palmer in talking about practitioners being the “ultimate provider of healthcare of the horse” in a pari-mutuel environment. “We must act on our professional obligation to put the horse first. We must be the advocates for the horse in all matters pertaining to racing.”

Palmer was intimately involved in creating the 2010 AAEP Clinical Guidelines for Veterinarians Practicing in a Pari-Mutuel Environment. 

He noted that it was “written to provide guidelines for practitioners who practice on the backstretch and in training centers to recognize and promote practices that many veterinarians currently use to place the health, safety and welfare of the horse uppermost in their daily work.”

Palmer recommended that racetrack and training center vets use billing software that contains medical records for each horse. These records can be used to document treatments and procedures to regulatory authorities.

He said it is the veterinarian’s responsibility to notify regulatory officials if a trainer enters a lame horse in a race. Palmer said the veterinarian plays an important role in guiding the transition of racehorses to other careers.

Palmer said one of the problems with practice in the pari-mutuel setting is that services are “conducted largely at the direction of trainers, who view veterinary services as [a] commodity. This economic context defines the fundamental ethical challenges of vets who practice in the backstretch of racetracks or training centers.”

In addition, to a very large extent, the use of medication in the current business model of racing is driven by entry date. The entry date is the date when a horse is entered into a race, and this date varies between racing jurisdictions. The AAEP believes that making health care decisions based on the entry date is not fundamentally in the best interest of the horse. Palmer noted that “all medical treatments of the racehorse instead should be based upon a veterinary diagnosis with appropriate time allowed following the treatment of an injury to assure that the horse is recovered prior to racing.” While this medical philosophy seems obvious, it represents a departure from the current practice model in a pari-mutuel racing environment.

Palmer’s presentation is available in the 58th AAEP Convention Proceedings.