Don’t give your pet marijuana. Seriously. Don’t.

I’m not very happy about marijuana, legal or not.

Legalization has opened up a host of dangers for my patients, mostly the dogs. As a veterinarian, I am appalled at the people who, through carelessness or on purpose, allow it to be shared with their pets. Over the years I have cared for several dogs that were “stoned”. Marijuana-laced brownies or other food items were usually the culprit, but about half the time the item was shared with the dog because their owner was high and thought their dog should be allowed to experience the same “joy”. The reason I saw the dog was because even in their fog, the owners recognized something was terribly wrong and sought emergency care for their pet.

A pet affected by marijuana toxicosis will exhibit a host of neurological abnormalities. Dogs may become so agitated they appear manic, drooling, dilated pupils, constant vocalization and walk uncoordinated. Seizures, coma and death may occur. There is no ready test at present to detect marijuana levels in a dog, so we must rely on the owner’s honest history if we are to help their pet. That said, there is also no true antidote – we must watch the dog suffer the effects, which we try to minimize and flush out the drug with IV fluids, oral charcoal, sedatives and sometimes enemas. The active chemicals in marijuana are stored in body fat, broken down in the liver and exit the body in the feces. It can take 24 miserable hours or longer for your pet to recover. Some trip. I am not impressed.

Years ago, fatalities related to marijuana exposure were rare. Most pets ingested only small amounts of a natural plant, containing a relatively small amount of the primary psychotropic chemical THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). That is no longer true. You see, in developing medical-grade marijuana products they have synthesized and concentrated the most potent chemicals in marijuana. Pets that ingest these medical-grade products have a much higher risk of toxicity.

The American Veterinary Medical Association is undertaking research to see if there are any medical benefits to the non-hallucinatory, non-psychotropic chemical CBD (cannabidiol) that is also found in marijuana. Could it be part of a treatment plan for problems such as arthritis in pets or epileptic seizure control? At this time there is little scientific evidence on this subject. Legitimate research has been hampered by the fact that while many State laws have legalized restricted uses for marijuana in people, the Federal Laws have not changed. Until the safety and risks of CBD products have been studied there is little advice on the subject from veterinarians. In the meantime, PLEASE prevent exposure of your pet to any THC / marijuana products!

Christine McFadden holds a license to practice veterinary medicine and surgery. She has cared for the family pets of Merced at Valley Animal Hospital for more than 30 years. Send questions or comments to

My Christmas-motif salad wreath emoji

My staff said they needed to speak with me this afternoon. Well, of course. Had we not just enjoyed a dinner and dancing together on Saturday to celebrate the holidays? I met their loved ones. We shared food together. There were contests and prizes and drinkable holiday cheer and overall it was quite the festive occasion. With a day in between to recuperate, everyone was at their sparkly best back at work.

Monday started with a raccoon from the zoo. Her swollen cheek was returning to normal and no abscessed teeth were found, so we shipped her back to the zoo. We tackled two broken legs, a cat and a Great Pyrenees puppy. Both are expected to heal. We saw several birds. One, an enormous 30-year-old Blue and Gold Macaw parrot, screams the entire time we work with him. Oh, sorry, you heard him, too? My ears are still ringing. He was having his annual exam and a nail trim, for pete’s sake. We tended to an elderly rabbit whose x-rays revealed severe arthritis in the lower spine. We prescribed both an anti-inflammatory medication and one for nerve pain (neuropathy). We enjoyed a visit (with vaccinations) with a young Shepherd puppy that just found its Forever Home.

Good news arrived on another front : A 7 pound little stray with breast nodules and rotting teeth had been adopted. For Christmas this little dog not only found a Good Samaritan (shout out to the Stouts!) to address all of her considerable medical needs, but today the biopsy of the breast masses showed that they were benign! With no evidence of a deeper cancer, she can look forward to many healthy years to come. (Side note: I’ve said it before, but can’t help point it out again: Older unspayed female dogs run a 25-percent risk of developing breast cancer, usually malignant. Have your puppy “fixed” while she’s young to prevent this. It really is that simple.).

I fielded questions about pet snakes, lice on rats, a pet pig, and found time to do a little surgery. So when my staff flagged me down I slowed down to give them my attention. “DrMac, when you send an emoji on your phone, do you think you’re sending a Christmas wreath?” First I had to redirect my mind, away from veterinary medicine and onto “emoji”.

Just in case you’ve spent the last 20 years stuck in a Jumanji game, an “emoji” is a cute little symbol meant to convey a person’s thoughts or facial expressions or a symbol. Emoji’s can be inserted into a conversation during text messaging on the ubiquitous cell phones. You needn’t say you are happy, you can simply send a smiley face. Same with “sad”, “embarrassed” and a host of other feelings. These little cell phone symbols also pop up unexpectedly, as your “smartphone” detects the theme in a sentence and suggests a complementary emoji. A turkey showed up around Thanksgiving on my phone, and with the advent of the Christmas holidays, I noted a tree symbol pop up, trimmed in holiday ball ornaments, and another of a Christmas wreath.

So I began to include a Christmas tree in my text messages, whether or not it was pertinent to the conversation. I was being festive. As soon as I saw the wreath, I began to send that out, also, alternating one with the other.

On Monday afternoon this non-medicine related question came out of left field and I took a moment to adjust. Yes, I admitted, I’ve been sending out text messages with Christmas wreaths. I was puzzled.

Three of them began to howl, collapsing into themselves with laughter, barely able to sputter out “You’ve been sending salads!”


The sad truth came out. Those tiny little colored balls decorating my “wreath” were cucumber and tomato slices. Worse, when the emoji was sent from my I-phone to an android phone, it transformed into a bowl of….salad. Not remotely wreath-like. Well, you can’t let little things like this get you down. I have now sent out a text to my nearest and dearest saying “Greetings! I’m sending you my exclusive Christmas-motif salad wreath emoji, which I mistakenly thought was the accompaniment to the tree….” So here’s to happy holidays to all and if I send you a salad wreath just enjoy it, ok? Related image Image result for salad emoji

Christine McFadden holds a license to practice veterinary medicine and surgery. She has cared for the family pets of Merced at Valley Animal Hospital for more than 30 years. Send questions or comments to

Saying goodbye to Mac the Mountain Lion

Mac the Mountain Lion died Saturday night, October 13th.

He was wearing spots when I first met him. One of two foundling cubs, Mac was the lucky one. The sibling he was cuddled against had already died. He barely weighed 5 pounds.

At the Applegate Park Zoo, the little orphan was bottle fed by Donna, the head zookeeper. We all fell in love with him. Mac created a stir when he came to the clinic for his health exams. He had a trilling call that was most like the whistle of a firework headed skyward, before the explosion. It was lovely and wild and totally magical. It was fascinating to watch him grow.

His last “kitten” vaccinations required advance strategic planning. Donna withheld his milk, bringing him in close to feeding time. I quickly jabbed him with the needle while she simultaneously dropped the bottle into his mouth — success! Although only 36 pounds on that day, his “playful” paws were already tools to be respected. In fact, in only a few short weeks he shed his spots and took up the very important cat sports of swiping, stalking, and stealth.

Donna was Mac’s first love, his “Mama”. If he heard Donna’s voice he would come running, rubbing against the fence so she could scratch behind his ears, sending out a gruff “meow” in answer to her calling his name. All day long he would “sing” to her. The noise he made as a young kitten was long gone, replaced by his loving meow or an unearthly scream.

A mountain lion is a truly magnificent animal. He is the fourth largest cat in the world. Their territory ranged across all the Americas. Deer are their preferred dinner.

A solitary and shy individual, the mountain lion is not drawn to humans and rarely seen. One of the reasons that Yosemite National Park strongly urges people not to feed deer is to prevent their unnatural accumulation which in turn attracts their natural predator — the mountain lion. If a mountain lion is lured by the prospect of an easy meal to an area heavily inhabited by people it may be seen as a threat. For the lion, it risks death as a “nuisance,” the only reason a mountain lion may be hunted or killed by man in California since 1990. The Miwok Indians, Native American people of California, described the mountain lion as the ideal hunter, strong and brave, chief among the animals (quotation from the Mountain Lion Foundation; Montijo,Y).

In late October 2016, Mac ate part of a fireman’s hose that had been given to him as a toy “scratch pad” for enrichment purposes. The little darling (Mac weighed about 140 pounds) shredded the 40 pound hose and ate it instead, forcing an abdominal surgery, a gastrotomy, to remove the obstructing foreign object from his stomach. His recovery was rapid and he continued to thrive. But Mac always had a sneaky habit of eating things he shouldn’t.

When the first call came in late Saturday morning that Mac had thrown up I wasn’t too concerned. Always on top of things, the zookeeper who called me was keeping me informed. I said I would come by later and look him over (“look” in this sense is all that I could do — without an anesthetic I couldn’t examine Mac in any physical way.

Within a few short hours it became obvious that Mac was seriously ill. Under sedation, the picture looked grave. Running a fever of 105.6, Mac was septic and shocky. Another intestinal problem. We took him to surgery. Terrible news: something had perforated Mac’s intestine. This hole through the intestinal wall allowed leakage of bowel material into his entire abdomen, creating an overwhelming infection called peritonitis.

The normally clear fluid inside the abdomen was a murky brown color, spreading infection everywhere. The prognosis was poor. But we had to try. This was Mac.

I performed an intestinal resection, removing the section of intestine that had the hole in it. We lavaged his abdomen with liter after liter of sterile warmed saline to flush out all the infection. After several hours of surgery, we prepared to recover Mac and return him to the zoo. But it was too much for him — the septic shock overtook him and he simply stopped breathing. At 12 years of age, Mac was gone. Mac’s majestic presence will be missed at our zoo.

In “Cougar: The American Lion” by Kevin Hansen, he reports that in the mythic world, the mountain lion was the protector of the cosmos. The Zui of New Mexico said that the ancient ones wanted the world to be guarded by those keen of sight and scent, and the mountain lion was the sentinel of the North. I like to think of Mac up there, protecting our cosmos, immeasurably extended over time and space, the Milky Way and far off galaxies.

Christine McFadden holds a license to practice veterinary medicine and surgery. She has cared for the family pets of Merced at Valley Animal Hospital for more than 30 years. Send questions or comments to

Well your cat doesn’t have lice, but…

It is remarkable what word associations may trip in your brain.

Someone was talking about head lice in children the other day and I found myself mulling over my encounters with the louse, an ectoparsite (“ecto” pertaining to bugs found crawling around on the outside of the body, as opposed to those living in your intestine, lungs, blood or brains, which would be “endo”parasites and even scarier). Infestations with lice are called “pediculosis.”

I have had the possibly unique experience, compared to the average person, of contracting a brief case of horse lice and another of ostrich lice. In my line of work I have also been called upon to identify and treat lice on chickens, pigeons and guinea pigs. Probably the lice on the ostrich and that of the other birds was the same stuff – namely, avian lice, but I’ve never researched it at any length to determine if they might have been different between KINDS of birds. My sole concern was how to get rid of the pests. My methods have been successful for my patients.

The big message I wish to convey is that all lice are “species-specific.” What this means is that a bird louse can only live and multiply on other birds-of-a-feather. An equine louse can only thrive on horses or other equus species. Sure, they may jump onto another creature, an example being the veterinary student trimming the horse’s hooves with her head buried in its flank – but apart from running around for a few riotous minutes, once scraped off, they are of no further concern to a different species. Period. Bird lice can’t live on people, horse lice can’t live on people. Bird lice can’t live on horses. I know, I’ve tested this theory! I was not a willing participant, but I will bear witness that indeed, the louse of one kind of animal cannot live on another species. Species-specific! Promise! Big sigh of relief.

Many years ago I encountered the only case of lice I have ever seen in a cat. Her owner dropped her cat off in the morning on her way to work, stating that the cat had “bugs” and for heaven’s sake fix it because the cat slept with her.

Lice can often be seen with the naked eye and I quickly found a few on this black cat. Ensnared on some scotch tape, I examined the sample under the microscope. This was more than 25 years ago. There was no Internet to speak of, no cell phones, no Google or other search engines.

What I had was good old text books, several devoted strictly to the parasites of animals. And what showed up on the microscope didn’t look like any lice I recognized. Odd. Searching my books, I came across a photo demonstrating the finer points of the human head louse. I called Public Health. I called the owner, hesitating to discuss my findings. How to delicately convey that her cat was fine.

She was horrified. Turned out she taught first graders and there was a notice circulating that a head lice problem had cropped up in class. She realized that she had contracted it from her student and brought head lice home. I gave the cat a medicated bath, which cured the cat. And although this was one louse I avoided, it made my head itch every time I thought about it!

Christine McFadden holds a license to practice veterinary medicine and surgery. She has cared for the family pets of Merced at Valley Animal Hospital for more than 30 years. Send questions or comments to

New Life for an Old Dog

She had been all black in her youth, but now at the age of 14 she is showing some gray around her muzzle. She used to jump and romp and play. Now she walks sedately across the yard, a faint weakness in her hindquarters. But always, Bella has class. Always, the gentle tail wag to let you know that she’s listening, she’s here.

Two years ago, Bella exhibited marked signs of difficulty when she tried to stand up in the morning. Upon examination, it was obvious that she was losing feeling in her back feet. Our X-rays showed degeneration of the spine in her back. We discussed options and Bella’s owners decided to see a specialist, where Belle underwent laminectomy spinal surgery. She recovered beautifully and even though she needed to stay on arthritis medications she moved quite fluidly again. Bella enjoyed her people and her life.

Bella is a Labrador Retriever, and though I don’t believe she has ever retrieved anything more interesting than a goodie from her owners’ hands, she shares a fate common to many Labs. Bred to be high energy dogs, capable of hunting all day and swimming in frigid waters to retrieve ducks, these dogs seem to naturally have an extra layer of protective fat. Given snacks and a soft life in the suburbs, many a Lab will put on a few extra pounds.

As I surveyed Bella in the exam room on Tuesday, I felt a deep unease. By no means obese, Bella could have stood to “lose a few” but not like this – Bella had lost 10 pounds over a two month period of time. Nothing in her diet or routine had changed, though her owners noted that she frequently passed a soft stool. Given her weight loss, I recommended that we start with a blood panel for diagnostic tests. Her physical exam was unremarkable for her age and existing medical history.

When the lab tests returned, the “biggies” were all good. No sign of diabetes, liver and kidney function within normal limits. Her body proteins were low. Hmmm.

Bella’s body either wasn’t making proteins or it was losing protein. In this case, with further testing, we were able to verify that she wasn’t losing protein in her urine, and that her small intestine wasn’t absorbing nutrients properly (her cobalamin levels, or vitamin B12, was too low). Of course, we knew she had chronic diarrhea, so it was only a small step towards the diagnosis of a protein-losing enteropathy, or PLE. Plowing ahead, what was the underlying cause of THAT? We asked that Bella return for abdominal x-rays and ultrasound. While corroborating thickened bowel loops, we also found a mass on her spleen. We didn’t know if that mass might be cancerous or not, but we hadn’t found any other signs of cancer and dogs can get along without their spleens very nicely. If it wasn’t cancer but a hematoma on the spleen, there was a risk of it rupturing and Bella bleeding to death. After several talks, we scheduled Bella for surgery. She would undergo a splenectomy to remove the spleen and have her intestine biopsied to confirm the cause of her PLE.

This was a lot to ask of an old dog. Bella was in surgery for over an hour, requiring her to lay on her back, not a terrific position for a dog that had undergone major back surgery. Positioned in a foam support tray throughout, I still worried. Surgery was successful and her recovery from anesthesia rapid.

We kept her on intravenous pain meds, but there was no denying that Bella was slow to “bounce back”. Her owner cried that first day. Because of her IV fluids, Bella couldn’t move around easily. She struggled. We disconnected the fluids to take her outdoors to walk in the sunshine. Pain medication can cause a loss of appetite. I hand fed her. We slowly decreased the pain meds and upped her recreation. On Day four post-op, Bella met her owner in the parking lot. Moving slowly, she walked over to her, tail gently wagging. Bella went home. Her biopsy report diagnosed Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) which responded well simply by feeding a specialty diet. The diarrhea disappeared. Her spleen was cancer free. Bella was on the road to a full recovery, as classy as ever.

Christine McFadden holds a license to practice veterinary medicine and surgery. She has cared for the family pets of Merced at Valley Animal Hospital for more than 30 years. Send questions or comments to

A Border Collie called ‘Dunkin’

The afternoon was humming along as I made my way from one exam room to the next. Behind Door No. 1 was a kitten with a snotty nose. Behind Door No. 2 was a tiny parrot with a broken leg. And behind Door No. 3 there was Dunkin.

Dunkin (not, his owner assured me, named after the doughnut store) was a gorgeous Border Collie, marked with crisp whites blending beautifully into black highlights. Not quite yet a year old, both he and his owner appraised me as I entered. I greeted them and settled in to hear the story behind their unexpected visit.

Dunkin and his owner had been playing a game of fetch. Lithe, athletic, I could see the dog in my mind making a fantastic leap into the air to grab the flying stick. Nothing is more beautiful to me than a good athlete at the top of their game. Only when Dunkin caught the stick he’d made an odd sound, and blood had trickled out of his mouth. They had come straight away to the vet clinic.

I first performed a full physical exam, then gently asked Dunkin if I could look into the back of his mouth. Say what you will, politeness counts with dogs who have been taught manners. Sure enough, way back, I could see a bruised area, though not terribly well. I asked his owner for permission to anesthetize Dunkin for a full exam of the back of his throat.

On the surgery table, Dunkin lay in a deep, non-painful sleep. He was intubated and his heart rate and blood-oxygenation levels were excellent. We examined teeth, gums and around his tongue. All fine. Farther back, I could see the source of blood coming from his right tonsil area. It looked odd. Stretching out his neck, I could see the tonsillar crypt, a pouch-like indentation in the back of the throat, behind the base of the tongue. Something that looked like a fuzzy caterpillar was suspended below the purple, bruised and bloody hole. Momentarily puzzled, I examined his left side, where both tonsillar crypt and tonsil were intact and a normal glossy pink. Wow! The stick that Dunkin caught had sheared off his right tonsil in a near perfect excision. It hung on by a tattered shred. There was no question of reattaching it, so I completed the tonsillectomy and sutured the battered crypt back together. Some antibiotics, some anti-inflammatory and pain medications and Dunkin was set to go.

And go he did. I followed up with Dunkin about two weeks later and he sat perfectly still as I examined the back of his throat. He had healed beautifully. His owner reported that she had stopped tossing sticks for him but it seemed hopeless – if she wouldn’t play, Dunkin would happily toss a stick as high into the air as he could and then leap joyfully after it! You just can’t keep a good dog down!

Christine McFadden holds a license to practice veterinary medicine and surgery. She has cared for the family pets of Merced at Valley Animal Hospital for more than 30 years. Send questions or comments to

Starbucks Drama

Sometimes it is difficult to find the thread where it all began. Maybe this story started when I first stopped giving out my real name to people taking my order for pizza or coffee or things. People never seem to be able to spell my name. What with the influence on “finding yourself” and being recognized as a unique individual, it seems that all the rules of spelling went out the window and people came up with very creative ways to write their names. I just gave up. The time it took to spell out my name required too much effort for a combination pizza, hold the bell pepper, regular crust, please. So after noticing that a friend was never asked how to spell her name, I adopted it for myself. Across town, if you can order it by phone, chances are my cell number comes up as “Amy”. I assure you, everyone knows how to spell “Amy”. Irritating.


So on this morning I had just finished some minor surgery on an alpaca at the Zoo. One of my staff, Courteney, assisted. The alpaca had formed two large abscesses under its jaw, suspicious for a disease caused by the uncommon bacteria Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis. These fist-sized masses were painful. The alpaca had to be sedated and the abscesses lanced open with a scalpel blade, then surgical drains placed to allow continued drainage while the antibiotics took effect. The operation went smoothly and best of all, neither of us were spit upon. This was excellent, as we still had most of the day before us. To celebrate, I offered to buy her a drink at Starbucks as we returned to the clinic.


She placed our order and the man behind the counter asked for a name. “Amy”, I declared without thinking. Courteney shot me a look, eyebrows raised, but the guy behind the counter said “I’ll just make that “Dr Amy”. Startled by all this attention, I mumbled that my real name was Christine but no one could spell it and retreated to a spot near the door where I tried to melt into the wall. Courteney came over to cheerfully inform me that he was a client. Had the dog been there I had a good chance of making the connection but as it wasn’t I stayed glued to my wall.


So when the Starbucks man came in today with his two dogs, one an adorable Golden Retriever puppy that looks like an overgrown stuffed toy and his chocolate Lab, I recognized him immediately and was again mildly embarrassed not to have identified him at Starbucks.

And then I remembered That Other Starbucks Drama. Talk about Déjà vu. I’m going to have to write the company a personal apology. Again.


Flashback about 4 years. Another Zoo call, this time in winter. For some reason I became completely chilled, my fingers painfully numb from the cold. My assistant that day was Tim. I offered to buy us both a hot chocolate to warm up. We pulled up in front of the Starbucks store, delighted to find parking directly in front. Large glass windows allowed everyone inside to watch us get out of the Jag. Wearing green scrub tops, we looked important, like proper doctors. It was only after placing our order that I realized I had left my purse at the clinic. I turned to Tim for help, but he didn’t have any cash on him. All eyes were upon us. Our drinks were ready. Horrified, I tried to explain the situation but the kind barista waved us off, telling us to take our drinks. This was worse, obviously they’d been scammed before. Red faced, I fled the scene. Once back at work, I immediately sent Tim back with $20. (I’d have gone myself but there was a surgery waiting for me.)


Tim returned, now red faced himself. After paying our tab, Tim apologized again while backing towards the door. Unfortunately he backed into a display being used as a room divider, which exploded as he bumped it.  Tim got down on his hands and knees to gather up items as fast as he could, but they asked him to leave. Please. They seemed to feel we’d done enough for one day. Back at work, the staff created a Starbucks “ Most Wanted” poster with Tim’s face on it.


So now you know why I pass myself off as “Amy” sometimes and as for personal apologies : I swear I won’t combine Zoo visits with Starbucks again and  oh yeah – I don’t even drink coffee!


Christine B. McFadden, DVM

Racetrack Reveries

Along the way to Vet School I shopped several practices, looking for that perfect fit. As a child I had kept cats, dogs, hamsters, fish and a pony and saved my babysitting money towards an opossum. My mother was in charge of the bank book and somehow I never quite reached the amount necessary to buy that ‘possum! I worked at a variety of veterinary practices before and during my years at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Each practice offered something interesting, each unique. I considered equine practice for awhile.


There was the Racetrack practice. I hailed from Arizona, where we had a Grade B track – no threat to the Kentucky Derby but an endless parade of beautiful and athletic Thoroughbred horses. Later I fell in with the Endurance Group with their Arabian and Morgan horses that could cover endless miles in a day. These were not the Arabians found in the Show Ring. Lean and wiry, they were the equine equivalent to today’s human marathoner. We students volunteered to man the check points, looking for lameness, taking each horses’ pulse, respiration and temperature to judge that they were fit to continue.


And then there was Dr. M. A mountain of a man, standing over 6’4” and weighing in well over 250 pounds, he was a fine Equine practitioner with whom I rode over 3 summer months. I was skinny and insubstantial next to him. I looked very young. I WAS very young. My job as his assistant was to handle the horse. We raised a lot of eyebrows that summer.


We had a routine. Every morning I’d wait in his Large Animal truck, which was outfitted with running water and a refrigerator, ropes, medicines, tubes and twitches, all the trappings of equine practice. Every day his wife sent him off with a protein shake she’d prepared for him. It was a healthy potion, meant to both fortify him and make him lose weight. We would drive around the corner and he’d pull over long enough to open his door and dump the drink out onto a certain mesquite bush. We’d then drive straight to a diner that served substantial portions of ham steak with eggs. He’d chase that with a milkshake to go. Mesquite bushes are tough, but that one didn’t survive those protein shakes.


He took good care of some very fine Arabian horses and I learned a lot. Equine restraint was something I was good at, hampered only occasionally by my lack of weight. Once I’d grabbed onto an ear I didn’t let go. Occasionally I think Dr. M got a charge out of watching client’s faces as he sent me to “bring ‘em up”. These horses were all well trained, but even a well-trained horse protested against needles and examinations on occasion.


The end of summer was coming and soon I would be returning to Vet School. We stopped off at a small stable that had a young colt who had lost weight. The client wanted it dewormed. Back then we didn’t have the oral deworming pastes used today, which clients can administer themselves. We performed “tube worming”. You literally take a length of plastic hose and run it up the horse’s nose, watching it travel down the left side of the esophagus by tracing its route along their neck. Misplaced into the trachea, you could kill a horse by pumping the medication into their lungs instead of their stomach. On this day I had a good grip on the halter and was using my hand as a “twitch” on the ear. The colt started to act up and his owner stepped in, unasked, to assist. She succeeded in pushing me into his rearing head, breaking my nose and spreading a wild spray of blood across all of us. Back in the truck, Dr. M was full of admiration. “You got him! You never let go!” he enthused. I finished my summer with two spectacular black eyes before heading back to Davis for corrective surgery.


Many years have since passed. I traded horses for companion animals and exotics. My nose is still a little crooked. I‘ve never forgotten the lessons learned with Dr. M : Hang on! And avoid protein shakes. Some lessons you just accept at face value.



Christine B. McFadden, DVM



Job Shadows

Job shadow. Verb? Noun? We aren’t talking ghosts here, nor what Peter Pan lost. A rather loose definition of a person who “job shadows” is someone who accompanies another on their job site all day, watching and learning what they do at work. Children are often paired with their parent. My own have never shown much interest in how the uterus is removed from the body or the many fascinating possible causes behind vomiting, so no luck there. People requesting to job shadow with me are usually students seriously contemplating a career in veterinary medicine. Because most veterinarians believe in the importance of education and love to share what we do with others, our clinic frequently has a student following one or another doctor around for a few hours to a few days. Over the years we’ve had several fine young people go on to find success at veterinary school. Currently I have just wrapped up a week with a young woman who has come up from Arizona every year for the last 7 years. She is not yet in high school.


What the Shadow sees on any particular day is entirely up to the stars and perhaps the humor of the receptionist taking in appointments. At best our schedules are a suggestion of how the day might go. At worst, emergencies and unexpectedly sick pets are rushed in or dropped off, disrupting the planned schedule. Although these cases are often highly challenging for the veterinarian, the pace and variety of pets and their injuries can place a strain on the interested but naïve observer.


A Shadow is not expected to actually handle animals. What they observe, however, is indeed our daily life. For the uninitiated, medicine can be extreme. I have personally dropped three (3) people into a dead faint over the years. In one case, as the young man collapsed in my arms, I initially thought he was making a grab for me and had started to back away. I caught him before he hit the floor.


Dentistry is a safe place to start for most Shadows, as they get to watch fossil-like brown teeth turn white under the skilled hands of our assistants and veterinarians.


Surgery is best approached slowly, with the Shadow seated strategically near and the case chosen deemed bloodless. We discuss anti-fainting tactics and monitor the Shadow for signs of sweating or turning green (who knew that was true, huh?).


The real test comes with exotics. Under this heading fall birds, snakes and lizards, hamsters and rabbits and the Zoo animals. Many Shadows are not familiar with these animals and have watched one too many horror films featuring same. Interestingly, some of my staff must have watched the same films. Over the years the pet phobias of my staff have come to light: this one trembles at frogs, another begs off assisting with snakes, several scream at wing-flapping birds. Ants are not seen as veterinary patients but someone at work has a marked phobia to ants. The Shadow’s phobias are unknown, sometimes by the Shadow themselves, until exposed on the job. Fireworks! Just another test of your devotion to this career. After all, as a veterinarian, we practice medicine and surgery on every living species on Earth – with one marked exception. And that species, of course, (homo sapien) is the ultimate exotic!




Christine B. McFadden, DVM




The French Fry Challenge

Beware! Traveling veterinarians are everywhere!

Along with the vast hordes of people who undergo summer migration in odd patterns they refer to as “vacations,” we made our way across the North Pole to Europe, specifically France.

You may (or may not) recall that we had entertained an exchange student from that country earlier this year and that she had left us with the declaration (politely) that no where on Earth could the fabulous French Fry be found as it existed in her country, specifically the north of France.

The gauntlet had been thrown. Valiantly I threw all my free air miles into the purchase of plane tickets and we set off on our summer adventure. Our first venture with the French pommes frites (french fry) was …. drum roll, please : at an airport McDonald’s. Oooh la la!

Oddly enough, they tasted like a McDonald’s french fry here. Except they were accompanied by a lime green packet of “pommes-frites-sauce” which was a mysterious white color inside and tasted a bit like sweetened mayonnaise (if you’ve ever had sweetened mayonnaise?).

We passed. It must be an acquired taste, and in all fairness, we had to ask for ketchup everywhere we went, but they did have it.

I suspect when the shoe is on the other foot and the French are visiting us, we may not be so accommodating. We sampled the frites in Paris and across the south of France, then headed north to Lille, almost on the border with Belgium.

Here we met up with our exchange student, whose family welcomed us into their home. We sampled “les frites” in restaurants and roadside stands across Northern France and into Belgium. We ate them with dishes whose names we couldn’t pronounce and sometimes ingredients we couldn’t guess at.

We ate them wrapped in newspaper cones, served in clever tiny wire baskets and scattered across plates. Without exception they were served fresh from the fryer, hot enough to burn the skin off your fingers and tongue, and were indeed crispy/crunchy on the outside and soft and melting on the inside (or was that my tongue giving way?).

With a deep bow of respect, may I say that round one went to northern France in the “Pommes Frites Contestation.”

Wish this could become an annual event! We made the acquaintance of their cat, Plume, and several other pets along the way. We very much enjoyed our trip to another country and found ourselves, delightedly, also happy to come home.

There was much fun with “bonjour” and the French kiss, kiss greeting upon our return and then I got down to work. What a joy! I truly love my work and the people with whom I work.

In my absence, at the Applegate Zoo, our new Black-tailed Mule deer, Lily, had birthed twin fawns! Lily came to our Zoo only weeks before giving birth. She had been taken in by Fish and Game staff after reports of a deer coming up to people in traffic and trying to climb into their cars or mooch something to eat.

Obviously she had been hand-raised (surreptitiously, not legally) then released. Too imprinted on humans to live safely in the wild, Lily found a home here with us, where Donna, the head Zookeeper, watched over her vigilantly and assisted in the twins’ safe delivery on June 15.

Mule deer have a gestation period of about 200 days (compared with a human pregnancy of 280 days). Anxious that the mother and babies bond, Donna kept everyone away initially – not to worry, the little ones are as wild as the proverbial March hares! Right now they have their spots and are slightly smaller than the rooster they share a pen with. Both little does, the fawns will be able to stay with their mother at the Zoo.

Please come visit our City of Merced Applegate Zoo to welcome these newcomers and celebrate summer! A lively Special Celebration is offered this Sunday, July 22 from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Applegate Zoo. Meet the twins! A bounce house, water games, snow cones, popcorn and more will be offered.

Kids : Wear your swimsuits, shoes and shorts required! The zoo address is 1045 West 25th St. in Merced. Free parking.

Christine McFadden, DVM