For many would-be veterinarians, excuses to not work on large animals tend to fall in the size category. I mean, after all, they are LARGE animals. If a Poodle steps you on, you don’t think twice. But if a Holstein steps on you? Something’s getting squished. 


Likewise, if a kitten or a cockatiel poops on you, people think it’s cute. Pooped on by a Thoroughbred? Not so cute. Believe me.


For me, the size issue gets personal. Countless times, clients make the comment that goes something to the tune of, “Oh, you’re so small! How do you manage with all these big animals?” Or better yet, from some of the ol’ farm hands who have been around the silo a few times: “How does a little girl like you work with these animals?” 


First things first: I’m not small, or little, or tiny. Most anyone compared to a one thousand pound Angus bull is small, little, and even tiny. I prefer to think of myself as slightly vertically challenged… although 5 feet 4 inches is still considered normal, right? And secondly: “Little girl”? Who are you calling little girl?


Personal issues aside, there are two answers to this common size-disparity question. Firstly, have no fear, they do actually teach us how to handle large animals in vet school. Secondly, drugs. That’s right, good old-fashioned pharmaceutical intervention works wonders. 


Before the real advent of our modern tranquilizers over the past twenty years, large animal medicine was a bit of a circus. Placing nasogastric tubes down completely conscious horses’ noses or suturing up an eyelid laceration would be virtually impossible, not to mention dangerous, for me to do without the proper sedative. However, a little xylaxine, detomidine, or acepromazine (all common equine tranquilizers) and voilà! Stand back, sir, I have veterinary medicine to do. 


It’s also an awesomely convenient fact that the creation of better, safer, more effective sedatives and pain medications has evolved simultaneously with better, more effective diagnostic tools that require the animals to be very quiet and still in the presence of these big, expensive hospital tools. 


The funniest and most counterintuitive thing about this size debate is that sometimes it’s the smallest of my large patients that cause me the most grief. For example, large draft horses like the Clydesdales (the ones everyone recognizes for pulling the Anheuser-Busch wagons) are known for their calm, docile natures. Ponies on the other hand? Mad, I tell you! To add fuel to the fire, the sweeter sounding the pony’s name is, the more crazy the animal is. Cases in point: Sugar, Sweetie and Twinkle are all Shetland ponies that have had very strong opinions regarding vaccines and other such veterinary nonsense.


I’ll leave you with Large Animal Vet Med Axiom #1: A draft horse called Thunder is a guaranteed sweetheart. A Shetland pony named Candy, on the other hand?  You’d better run in the other direction.



Dr. Anna O’Brien



Image: Rita Kochmarjova / Shutterstock