TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Tulsa veterinarian Steven Hodges often likens his work to that of a pediatrician.
Though his patients are four-legged versus two-legged, many are regarded as children, or family members, by their owners, Hodges said. And like infants and young children, dogs and cats can't verbalize their feelings or symptoms, so to diagnose and treat illnesses can be challenging, he said.
But they are challenges Hodges said he finds extremely gratifying.
AP Photo - - Veterinarian Bennett Wilson examines arthritic Maggie, a 12-year-old black Labrador retriever mix owned by Samantha Lowe, right, in Portland, Maine.
Hodges is not a general practice vet. He's a board-certified internal medicine specialist who diagnoses and treats back problems, diabetes, cancer and other illnesses.
Similar to their human medical counterparts, such specialists must complete an internship and residency in their specialized field, or an additional three to five years of training over and above their undergraduate training and four-years in vet school.
Oklahoma City's Mollyann Holland was more than willing to invest in the time and education.
"I love improving an animal's quality of life, and developing relationships with their owners," she said.
Holland said she especially enjoys getting to the know quirks and idiosyncrasies of all of her patients - from the retired show dog, Elvis, who every visit had to make an entrance, to her own three-legged, people-loving cat "Truman," who she adopted after he showed up dragging a paralyzed leg.
Holland's goals are the same with all of her patients: Remission and quality of life.
"We want as much time as we can get with them, as long as they're not miserable, and can still do the things they enjoy," she said. "For dogs, that may be long walks with their owners, playing ball or going on family vacations. For cats, it might be sitting in the window and sunning themselves."
Holland knows what it's like to lose a pet to disease. She had a white standard poodle, "Peyton," that after several months of treatment died of nasal lymphoma 18 months ago.
"I still miss her terribly," Holland said, teary-eyed. "I think most of us in our lifetimes have one special dog or cat. I call it your 'heart dog,' and Peyton was mine."
Holland treats many pets that have important jobs, including service and police dogs.
Mary Bowles, an internal medicine specialist in Stillwater, said her job can be discouraging when she sees pets that have widespread illnesses without good prognoses.
"But other times, we can help and I'm glad to be able to do that," she said. "We see a variety of problems that we can approach in a lot of different ways. Every day is different."