What do Grandma and Mr. Ed Have in Common?

Happy Birthday! With each year that passes, we grumble a little more about our aching backs, creaking hips and stiff knees, but do we ever stop to consider how aging effects our four-legged friends? Many of us have watched our older dogs slow down, avoid stairs and stop jumping on furniture. We often dismiss this as “he is just getting old,” but it is important to realize that these changes in behavior can be our pet's way of telling us that something hurts.

Signs of pain in the horse are often even more subtle. A horse's instincts as a prey animal are to hide pain. With the exception of Mr. Ed the talking horse, it can be hard for horses to tell us exactly what is troubling them. Like humans, horses often suffer from arthritis and back pain as they age; they just complain about it differently.

So how do you know if your horse is uncomfortable? Horses vary in how they express pain. While the sensitive ones may pin their ears and swish their tails when certain areas are brushed, when saddles are placed or when girths are tightened, more stoic animals may show only decreased performance under saddle. If your horse starts missing a lead change, knocking down rails or otherwise under-performing in the ring, it may be time to look closer.

Too often, what is labeled as a training or behavioral issue is, in fact, the horse's response to physical discomfort. Your veterinarian can be of great help in determining the underlying cause. Even when a full lameness exam is unable to locate a cause of decreased performance, it may be helpful to have your horse's acupuncture points scanned by a veterinarian trained in acupuncture. A “scan” of the acupuncture points simply involves applying gentle pressure to a series of specific points on the body while paying close attention to the horse's response at each point. Specific patterns of reactive acupuncture points can help localize a problem. These non-invasive scans, which take only a few minutes to complete, are often sensitive to subtle musculoskeletal problems, even when the horse does not show an overt lameness.

Dr. Rathbone and Sherlock enjoying a Seattle Ferry Ride

As horse people, we develop special partnerships with our equine companions. We depend on each other, and when we communicate well, we excel as a team. We are accustomed to telling our horses what we want. Next time you are in the saddle, I challenge you to take a moment to listen to your partner.  

The Life of a Veterinarian: More Than Just Helping Animals

The story of my unconventional journey into veterinary medicine

Most veterinarians had their careers picked out by the age of seven; this is not my story. If you had asked me as a child what I wanted to do when I grew up, I wouldn't have known what to say. I was drawn to the idea of helping others, yet was hesitant to pursue the careers that had been modeled for me. Field trips to the firehouse portrayed firefighters as heroes, but I didn't really fancy running into burning buildings. Our local police force had a mounted unit, and I remembered wondering if there was any way to be one of the officers that got to ride a horse without having to perform the other parts of police work, like risking being shot. I guess I had a decent sense of self preservation. The idea of being a human doctor never really appealed to me either. Sure, doctors save lives, but my visits to the pediatrician usually ended with a needle in my arm, and somehow that didn't inspire me.

Out on the trail, one of my favorite places to be!

I was a late bloomer. The idea of going to vet school came to me my freshman year of college, and I owe it to my best friend. It was Thanksgiving day. We had all piled into the family minivan for the two hour drive to my aunt's house. At some point during the drive, conversation turned to what classes my friend and I were each taking. She mentioned something about animal science classes and that she was thinking about a career in veterinary medicine. I remember thinking two things. First, I was insanely jealous that my small liberal arts college didn't offer animal science courses. Second, would I be a total copycat if I decided to go to vet school?

I began volunteering with local veterinarians to find out what life as a vet was really like. I soon discovered that being a good veterinarian was much more than diagnosing and treating a wide range of species. Good vets take on the role of teacher when explaining complex medical conditions and treatment options to owners. They are called upon as advisers when owners struggle with difficult decisions, and counselors when owners experience loss. The more I saw, the more confident I became that I finally had the answer to that question posed over a decade earlier. I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I couldn't get enough of it. I volunteered in small animal hospitals, rode along to farms with large animal vets and jumped at every opportunity to gain exposure to veterinary medicine.

Sherlock, my favorite puppy

It was during those early years that I first saw a horse receive acupuncture. As someone who is not terribly fond of needles, the concept of acupuncture was a little hard to stomach. Why would anyone let someone put not just one, but a couple dozen needles in them? And how could this possibly be a good thing? The horses changed my mind. The nice thing about horses is that they don't lie. I watched horse after horse go from alert and slightly anxious to completely relaxed, with head held low and lip drooping, just minutes after acupuncture needles were placed. It's hard to argue a placebo effect when a horse resembles a pin cushion, but is so relaxed he looks like he's been given IV sedation. I promised myself I would learn how to do that someday. Many years later, not only can I produce these results in my patients, but I have also personally benefited from acupuncture treatments. I have the horses to thank for convincing me to give it a try.

I love them in all sizes!

I became a veterinarian because I wanted to help people. Don't get me wrong, I do love animals. One doesn't sit through four years of undergrad lectures followed by four years of intensive veterinary medical training just because puppies are kind of cute. A passion for working with animals is a prerequisite, and one that I was born with. The beauty of veterinary medicine is that it gives me the opportunity to assist animals in need, while simultaneously building relationships with their people. Too often, I hear people say that they want to become a veterinarian because they hate people. They've got it all wrong. Veterinary medicine is about teamwork. It's about finding the best course of treatment for an animal and his person in a given situation. If the owner isn't on board, treatment is bound to fail. So much of veterinary medicine is making sure that the humans are working together toward a common goal. There is nothing more comforting to an owner than to know that her vet is on her side.