By now, it’s less than twelve days until Christmas, and all through this house, things are relatively quiet. From between mid-November until about mid-February, the large animal veterinary realm is hushed. Except for the spattering of emergencies, of course.


To showcase some of the cold-weather oddities I have seen, I now provide you with “The Twelve Days of a Vet’s Christmas”:


On the first day of Christmas, my profession gave to me:


A goat that ate an azalea tree.


(Azaleas are toxic to sheep and goats, causing abdominal pain and vomiting. There’s no antidote, so we treat them symptomatically with pain relievers for the tummy ache and fluids and electrolytes to combat dehydration.)


One the second day of Christmas, my profession gave to me:


Two bloated ponies.


(Occasionally, a horse will break into the feed room and gorge on grain. This is very dangerous, as grain overload can cause colic and laminitis, an extremely painful inflammation of the hooves. We administer mineral oil and anti-inflammatories in such cases to try to reduce the amount of carbohydrates that are absorbed in the intestines.)


On the third day of Christmas, my profession gave to me:


Three dead hens.


(I don’t do much with poultry. Fowl die frequently and for many reasons [I call it fowl play]. I usually recommend the client send the bodies to the local county diagnostic lab if they want a diagnosis.)


On the fourth day of Christmas, my profession gave to me:


Four lame horses.


(When weather is unsettled — going from dry hard ground to wet mud — this causes a horse’s hooves to expand and contact repeatedly. If there are tiny cracks in the sole of the hoof, this allows bacteria to get into the tissue, causing a hoof abscess. While very painful, it is easily treated by digging it out with a hoof knife.)


On the fifth day of Christmas, my profession gave to me:


Five ringworm rings.


(Ringworm — actually a fungus, not a parasite — is common in cattle and small ruminants during damp conditions and in crowded, poorly cleaned environments. It can be a pain to treat if conditions aren’t favorable, but the key is to keep the lesions dry so they can crust over and heal. It’s zoonotic, which means humans can catch it, too.)


On the sixth day of Christmas, my profession gave to me:


Six Holsteins calving.


(Dairy cows calve any time of year, as opposed to beef cattle, which tend to be more seasonal.)


On the seventh day of Christmas, my profession gave to me:


Seven steers a squinting.


(Pink eye is a common infectious eye disease in cattle caused by bacteria transmitted by flies. It causes signs ranging from mild squinting and tearing to corneal ulcers and even blindness. It is treated with antibiotics. In herds where it is a frequent problem, a vaccine can be administered.)


On the eighth day of Christmas, my profession gave to me:


Eight alpacas spitting.


(Alpacas and llamas, like their cousin the camel, are known for spitting to communicate malcontent. It’s a veterinary problem only in that we are frequently in the line of fire.)


On the ninth day of Christmas, my profession gave to me:


Nine piglets coughing.


(Respiratory disease is a frequent occurrence in hog barns. Proper ventilation and vaccination can prevent most of it.)


On the tenth day of Christmas, my profession gave to me:


Ten does a lactating.


(Goats can have funky hormonal things happen every once in a while. One weird goat condition is called precocious udder, where a female goat — called a doe — will produce milk even though she’s not pregnant.)


On the eleventh day of Christmas, my profession gave to me:


Eleven steers a circling.


(Circling disease is sometimes seen in cattle and small ruminants due to a sporadic bacterial infection called listeriosis. This bacterium travels to the brain and causes neurological signs such as walking in circles. If caught early with aggressive antibiotics, it can be treated.)


On the twelfth day of Christmas, my profession gave to me:


Twelve donkeys drooling.


(When one animal drools, we think of dental disease. When multiple animals drool, we think of something in the feed. Red clover grass and hay can sometimes be infected with a particular fungus that produces a toxin called slaframine, which causes excessive drooling. Although not lethal, it can be a little disconcerting to owners. Treatment is as easy as removing the offending food.)


Perhaps after twelve days like these, Christmas isn’t so slow after all! Hope everyone is having a happy holiday season.


Dr. Anna O'Brien



Image: WilleeCole Photography / Shutterstock