Employee Q&A: Veterinarian Peder Cuneo

Employee Q&A: Veterinarian Peder Cuneo

By Alexis BlueUniversity Communications
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Peder Cuneo provides veterinary care for the UA's large animals.
Peder Cuneo provides veterinary care for the UA's large animals.

Peder Cuneo

Extension veterinarian, department of veterinary science and microbiology
Associate director, University Animal Care

Number of years at the UA

Favorite part about working at the UA
It's (given me) the opportunity to continue to do some clinical veterinary medicine but also get involved in research and extension and teaching. I've had a chance to do a lot of a variety of things and it's all been really interesting. The University of Arizona is really committed to a quality animal care program, so to be part of that team has been really rewarding.


Driving near Campbell Avenue and Roger Road, the green and picturesque Campbell Avenue Farm, with its cattle and grazing horses, makes it feel for a moment like you've left Tucson. But not only is it a part of Tucson, it's part of The University of Arizona's 180-acre Campus Agricultural Center, home to three greenhouse complexes, a 300-animal dairy research center, an equine teaching and research facility, beef cattle research facilities and more.

Charged with caring for the farm's large animals is Peder Cuneo, the UA's extension veterinarian and associate director of University Animal Care.

In addition to the farm, Cuneo also provides direct animal care to more than 500 cattle at the UA's V Bar V Ranch in Cottonwood, Ariz. When not interacting directly with animals, Cuneo works with livestock producers across the state, teaches courses in veterinary science at the UA and does research, particularly in the areas of livestock disease and cattle reproduction.

Lo Que Pasa sat down with Cuneo to learn about some of the highlights of a career working with animals and some of the dangers associated with being a large-animal vet.

When did you know you wanted to be a veterinarian?
I was in college. I was an anthropology major. I was going to (University of California) Davis. I was raised on some small acreage, and my horse was inadvertently poisoned. My dad inadvertently sprayed some weed spray in the pasture. The vet came out to work on the horse, and she survived, and I thought, "Man, that looks like a pretty cool job." So I decided I wanted to go to veterinary school. I practiced for several years in northern California before I came to the U of A.

What's the most unique animal you've worked with?
When I got here, we started using ultrasounds for work on horses' reproductive management. Ended up, there was a graduate student in wildlife biology, and – make a long story short – we ended up ultrasounding some rattlesnakes for him. He wanted to know if theses snakes were pregnant or not, and he restrained the snakes and you could see the little baby rattlesnake's heart beating and everything.

What's the largest animal you've worked with?
We've had a couple bulls that have weighed close to a ton, 2,000 pounds.

Have you ever been injured by an animal in your care?
Yeah. When we were first-year students they used to have clinicians come in to talk to us about practice and what it was like, and they said, "If you're going to be a large-animal veterinarian you have to have disability insurance because you will get hurt so badly at some point that you can't work for a while." My finger got fractured at the knuckle once. I was recovering a cow from anesthesia; she threw her head and my finger got caught between the cow's head and a pipe. I had this humongous cast on my hand so I couldn't really do anything.

When you're not doing direct animal care, what are your focuses?
All land grant universities have a cooperative extension program and I'm the extension veterinarian for Arizona. Basically our responsibility, as with all extension, is to be the interface between what goes on at the University and our constituency, which, for me in Arizona, represents primarily livestock producers – dairy, beef and horse producers. The University has extension offices in all the counties in the state as well as several of our Native American nations, so I work closely with extension agents in those locations to put on educational programs. Quite a bit of what I try to do is keep up on current topics. ... I also teach. I have my own class in vet science – "Principles of Livestock Health Management." I also teach a calving management class. It's limited to 12 students a year. We have a couple weeks of orientation on campus to talk about principles, and then the students are divided up in groups of six and they go up to the (V Bar V) Ranch for the weekend and they deliver calves. And I do lectures in other veterinary science classes, animal science classes, College of Pharmacy.

What are some of the most unique projects you've worked on during your career?
You get a chance to go to some really interesting places in Arizona. It's a really diverse state, so getting the chance to get out and see some of these really unique rural areas is pretty interesting. Through cooperative extension I've had a chance to do quite a bit of work on several of the different Native American nations in Arizona and gotten to know some Native Americans really well. We've had a chance, with the animal sciences department, to do some agricultural development projects in Mexico that were very rewarding. And last year I had a chance to go to Russia on a USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) project. It was a farmer-to-farmer program and they were looking specifically for veterinarians to work with Russian veterinarians in dairy veterinary medicine.

One of the other things I've been working on quite a bit here is emergency response and emergency preparedness, particularly in the area of diagnostics and response to possible foreign animal diseases, so with the animal sciences department we've developed the Arizona Livestock Incident Response Team (ALIRT). It was a cooperative effort between the University and the (Arizona) Department of Agriculture and livestock producers to try and find a better way to respond to unexpected or unanticipated livestock death losses, and it's been a very successful program.

... One other unique experience I had (was) through the Medical Reserve Corps. I spent three weeks in Belle Chasse, La., south of New Orleans, after (Hurricane) Katrina. Originally I was working with one of the small counties, parishes. They had established an animal control facility and I was working with a local veterinarian. It was pretty chaotic; people were bringing animals in, and we would try to just care for them – do physicals, rabies shots, the basics. Then one day when (Hurricane) Rita started to come on shore, they sent us over to St. Bernard Parish, which was being completely evacuated. Their animal facility was an open barn with no water, no electricity, and the dogs and cats were just stacked up in crates. The Marine Corps showed up with these huge trucks and we just loaded these crates in the back of these trucks, just like we were loading oranges.

Do you have any animals of your own?
Two cats and two dogs. They're great.

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