Charles Rutherford qualified as a veterinarian (MRCVS, Edinburgh) in 1879 and that same year joined the (British) Army Veterinary Division. He served in Natal, South Africa, on two occasions, in 1881-1882 and 1884-1886. During the latter period he took part in the Warren expedition to Bechuanaland (now Botawana). On 19 and 20 August 1885 a long article written by him entitled "Horsesickness in South Africa" was published in the Cape Times, in which he stated his opinion that horsesickness and anthrax are one disease which manifests itself in four forms, namely the acute, dikkop, blue tongue and bilious forms. This theory was considered of such importance that it was republished in full in (Natal) Government Notice 44/1886 in January 1886, as well as in the form of a 36 page pamphlet (Pietermaritzburg, 1886). He obtained his FRCVS that same year.
Rutherford was subsequently promoted to Captain (1889), Major (1899), Lieutenant-Colonel (1902) and Colonel (1907). He served again in South Africa from 1899 to 1903, first as a participant in the Anglo-Boer War and then as a district veterinary officer in the Natal Command. From 1908 to 1913 he held the post of principal veterinary officer in India. He was honoured as a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1900, and as a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1911. He retired in 1918.