Veterinarian Rose Paddock recently celebrated her first anniversary of working with Amherst based Dr. Frederick Hess. They treat only large animals, horses, cows, sheep and goats. “I attended calls with him for one day and then he kicked me out on my own, a little bit of a quick transition,” laughed Dr. Paddock. The 30-year old South Deerfield, MA resident was ready, having worked two years in Michigan after attending Cornell University as an undergrad, then Veterinarian School at Purdue University. “I love working with horses and cows and their owners and being outside,” she said “being a large animal vet is one of the most rewarding careers out there and I love it.”
My husband Jim and I met her when she came to float my horse Cinnamon’s teeth. She wielded a five to 10 pound power tool, a Swiss float with a diamond head, to file down her teeth. First Cinnamon was sedated, within five minutes. We helped keep Cinnamon’s head on a headrest so Dr. Paddock could see the inside of her mouth. Though the rest of her was sedated, Cinnamon’s tongue was not and had to be held to the side to avoid scraping it.
The good news was that she had no broken or infected teeth and had all of her molars. However, the first premolars on each side of her lower jaw and the third premolar on her upper right were starting to move. A horse’s teeth grow all their life, until they reach their mid-20s, then come loose, which is why checking teeth and floating is so important. Cinnamon, a Halflinger-Morgan cross, is 27.
The bad news is that Cinnamon exhibited all the symptoms of Equine Cushing’s Disease (Pituitary Pars Dysfunction or PPID): a long hair coat that doesn’t shed out in spring; pot belly appearance; muscle wasting along the top of her spine. Dr. Paddock noticed this right away and extracted a blood sample to be tested at the Cornell University Animal Health Diagnostic Center. The disease is common in older horses, she said, caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland that alters the release of hormones governed by the pituitary gland, most importantly, elevating the POMC hormone.
Diagnosis is obtained by testing horse’s ACTH levels. “They get the tumor and get the hormone release. The tumor is not malignant or invasive and can stay stable for years. Most of the signs come from the altered hormones,” she said. It is the elevated hormones that concern them, treatable with Prascend (pergolide). If not treated, “They get worse, have a harder time getting weight on, and are prone to laminitis and foot abscesses,” she said. Also, because their coat doesn’t shed out, they can get hot and have other skin issues. They don’t see the personality changes in horses sometimes exhibited in dogs with Cushing’s disease.
The results returned in a week. By that time, Cinnamon had completely shed her coat, but not the cause of Dr. Paddock’s concern. Normal ACTH baseline runs 9 to 35 pg/ml; Cinnamon’s was 110, confirming her suspicions. Cinnamon is now taking Prascend (pergolide) in pill form added to her feed. “It will prolong her life.”
This is the second time Dr. Hess’ practice has prolonged Cinnamon’s life. On Jan. 17, after a series of minus 18-degree days and a barometer change with rain predicted, Cinnamon didn’t eat her feed, or hay or drink any water. Then she lay on the snow-covered ground, head flat, looking up at me with one eye and curling her lips as she does in a laugh to make me smile. But this wasn’t funny. She lay very still, only reluctantly rising. It was late Saturday afternoon, and Dr. Hess was the emergency vet for the weekend. He arrived in a matter of hours; she had a fever and was dehydrated. He shaved the side of her neck to take a blood sample. He tested the sample in his truck to determine which antibiotics to give her, her glucose level also tested high. Dr. Hess injected an antibiotic intravenously through her jugular vein, then threaded a hose down her nose and siphoned down a couple gallons of water into her stomach with what resembled a bicycle pump. He noted what a sweet nature she had, as he has decades of experience working with racehorses, which are more temperamental.
Cinnamon responded almost immediately to the antibiotics and water infusion, and she started eating. It was like a miracle. Dr. Hess’ clinical diagnosis was anaplasmosis, from being bitten by a tick in the summer, lying latent in her system and kick-started into action from the stress of the severe continuous cold. We followed the vet’s instructions, giving her doses of antibiotics twice a day; she made a full recovery.
Cinnamon cannot recover from PPID, but the disease can be carefully managed and treated for the rest of her life. It is quick diagnostic eyes of veterinarians like Dr. Paddock and Dr. Hess that farmers rely on as their invisible backbone, to hold them up by being available during emergencies and daily living.