Colorado On-Site in the Vail Daily
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Colorado On-Site in the Vail Daily

Local vets help overweight pups, stressed pigs, anoerexic chickens & more with advanced technology

Laura Bell
Special to the Daily

It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke; how do you treat an anorexic chicken?

But actually it is a medical condition and Dr. Susan O'Brien, owner of Colorado On-Site Veterinary Services, has a cure not a punchline: acupuncture.

The good doctor is based in Gypsum but travels the Interstate 70 corridor mostly from Avon to Gypsum and treats all creatures great and small from hedgehogs to horses and, of course, anorexic chickens. Sometimes the chicken is picking at its feathers or other times it can be bullied, which causes stress.

"It's not a great situation for a chicken to be anorexic," O'Brien said. "They can be easily stressed by something as simple as a dog barking at the coop. If they stop eating and drinking, then they will not get their antibiotics which are delivered through the water."

Chickens, she continued, can be in such fear that it can lead to a respiratory issue. Acupuncture not only comforts the animal but also works on its well-being.

After pursuing a traditional veterinary degree, O'Brien received several advanced certifications in the modalities of acupuncture, chiropractic care and laser therapy. She completed her acupuncture certification at the Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians course through the Colorado State University, is certified by the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association and is a graduate of the Options for Animals College of Animal Chiropractic. She uses these modalities on almost a daily basis and her humorous stories would liven any office — or for that matter — any party.


The diminutive 5-feet-2 inches vet must stand on something when performing chiropractic skills with horses.

"The horses' shoulders are above my head and I need to be aligned with the joints I'm adjusting" she said.

Some horses can be extremely skittish and, as O'Brien explained, when such a horse sees an unknown person approach with a block or stand, that can heighten their anxiety level. However, once she begins treatment the animal will relax and adapt to the treatment. Then they look forward to her visits.

"Horses are very sensitive and can feel a fly on their skin and I'm sticking them with needles," she said.

So in order to gain the animal's trust, she begins with a calming point and then proceeds to other areas.

"We never practice with restraints on any animals," she added.

One horse owner swears his horse knows O'Brien's truck and will run up and down the fence when he hears her approach.

Other times, O'Brien laughed, "a horse will know I'm working on a different animal in a barn and start pacing and making noises to get my attention."

There are similarities and dissimilarities in treating humans as opposed to animals, O'Brien said. Whereas a human is compliant, the animals aren't sure at first as to what you are doing.

Cats, she said, are very personal and sensitive.

"When you are holding a cat and doing chiropractic manipulations, you are actually hugging them," she said.

They don't understand what she is doing, so again she begins with a calming point and the animal relaxes.


And what about pigs that are stressed or depressed? The Pig Site recognizes this as Porcine Stress Syndrome. The Happy Tails Farm Sanctuary even has a video of Shelly, a pig who became depressed when her human family sanctimoniously "dumped her."

Before treating a pig, O'Brien said she would start with a full assessment of the patient, what is the housing like, are their house mates, what is the substrate or footing like and what are meals made up of. These can all contribute to stress in our animals if not addressed properly.

"Next, depending on the examination, I would perform acupuncture focusing on calming points and any points deemed necessary during the examination," she said

When a pig is upset it squeals and as you can imagine, O'Brien said, working with a 320-pound pig can be difficult, but once you start treatment they too relax.

And as one might imagine, working on a kitten or hedgehog is different than a horse or a cow.

"I only would use my thumb and forefinger and produce a little thrust for a kitten whereas with a cow or horse I would use my whole body," she said.

Chiropractic adjustments help to restore comfort, enforce normal muscle memory and relieve nerve tissue compressions.


There are certain safety procedures that O'Brien adheres to.

When she and her assistant veterinary tech Baylee Bezona-Jackson use lasers on pets — yes, lasers — they all wear doggles to prevent eye injury. They are goggles for dogs.

"The doggles look adorable on the dogs, but not so much us," she laughed.

Lasers reduce inflammation and O'Brien uses warm lasers, as opposed to cold. The therapeutic laser interacts with cells of the body by creating a biochemical change. This change promotes healing of tissue by improving lymphatic drainage and improving blood flow. Small animals at first are nervous, she admitted, but in time they settle in and they too re-lax.

Dogs with hip dysplasia and horses with back pain are among the four-legged patients that respond well to laser treatments.

Being a full-service vet doesn't end with treatment and wellness visits.


O'Brien facilitates everything from artificial insemination to peaceful euthanasia at a pet owner's home.

"If a horse owner has chosen a stallion in Texas and the mare in Colorado, we can have the semen shipped and inseminate at the time the mare is in ovulation," she said, adding that, "of course we certainly love dealing with foals. One of our favorite parts of the year is February through May, because of the foals."

With many different tools at her disposal, O'Brien is able to work with so many animals.

"I'm so glad that I did the training and can offer the different modalities," she said. "It really wows me with the treatments available and coming up with different treatment plans."

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