A dog named “Bellah” lies unconscious on a theatre table as Dr Desmond Tutu nips off its ovaries.
Dr Tutu, a veterinarian is at his clinic, Yaya Vet Clinic in Nairobi. He has been taking care of “fur babies”, a common term that pet lovers use for their cats and dogs, for 12 years now.
“I wanted to be a civil engineer but once I got to vet school, it was a whole adventure and I gained interest through the right mentorship. Then I fell in love with the practice,” he says.
The 37-year-old says the most common surgeries that he does at the clinic are the castration of male animals and the spraying of female ones.
The spaying surgery involves the removal of the uterus and ovaries to eliminate the reproductive hormones, ensuring that a pet cannot be on heat.
“Conditions like pyometra [a serious and potentially life-threatening infection of the uterus] affect dogs while they are on heat and are not served. When they are on heat and the cervix is open, infections can easily get in and if the body is not able to clear the infection in good time, it can cause death,’’ Dr Tutu says.
The birth control procedure, he says, also reduces the risks of your female pet getting cancer. In males, castration modifies its behaviour making it less aggressive.
At his clinic, there is also “Delilah”, a cat. She has been on a six-week recovery from an eye condition called photosensitisation. This is a condition that affects pets or humans when they become abnormally reactive to sunlight.
“Delilah” is getting better and has almost finished her medication before she is shipped back to the owner in the UK. He left it behind because of the illness.
A growing obsession with keeping pedigree pets has fuelled awareness of health care in pets, pushing up demand for veterinary services. Other pet owners come for consultation.
“Sometimes with no proper consultation, you find after a dog grows so big that the owner wants to get rid of it because initially it was meant to be a house pet,” Dr Tutu says.
He also does X-rays and ultrasound tests. I am curious to know how one does diagnostic tests on a pet.
“When your pet is injured, probably in a fight with another pet, it gets cut. However, there are internal illnesses where the pet has a bacterial or viral illness, you might not know what is happening to it,” the 37-year-old says.
As a pet owner, he advises, you need to know the normal behaviour of your pet. The pet can be dull and refuses to eat or it is active and playing around but does not finish its food.
“Know the normal, like what time it eats, how much food it eats, the consistency and colour of its stool. If anything deviates from the normal, do not wait and see or buy time. It could lead to a worse situation and cause death,” Dr Tutu, who has two dogs and two cats says.
“I adopted them in my rural home because in Nairobi I consciously try to be there for all animals and my time is really limited to family and work.”
If you want to take your pet to a vet, consultation charges start from Sh2,000 onwards depending on the vet, test costs and location.
“Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and CT scan machines for animals are not common in Kenya. However, we work with the X-ray and ultrasound tests. X-ray also picks anomalies in the internal organs like the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and tumours,” he says.
Ultrasound on the other hand can detect an embryo which is three to four weeks old.
Such tests also help pedigree breeders plan as buyers book the puppies in advance. Some even make deposits before the puppy is born.
“There are also cases of false pregnancies which are spotted by an ultrasound. The stomach may appear big, and milk is detected on the breasts but it is just water that has filled the space. We usually induce abortion, expel the content, then treat the animals with hormonal drugs and the pet is back to cycle and able to breed again,” he says.
With injuries, if you suspect a fracture in your pet, it will be limping or dragging in walking. Then you must do an x-ray. Do not buy time because the pet is in pain.
“Fracture or dislocation must be fixed physically. Sometimes for animals, you cannot control movements, operating and fixing is better unlike putting a cast. When putting a cast it takes about 8 weeks to heal, it might even react with the pet’s skin causing more harm. Although some owners prefer to amputate the injured part,’’ he says.
Vets also do pet postmortems.
“A lot of times necropsy [a post-mortem examination on an animal] comes out of curiosity. As a vet, you are like a scientist, when a pet dies while you're treating it, you would want to know the cause,” Dr James Nyariki says.
Not many Kenyan pet owners ask for postmortems, which range from Sh4,500.
“Generally, it comes from the veterinary doctor. It will come from the owner in instances where they don’t believe the pet died probably because it just dropped dead without being ill, or they suspect poisoning. Additionally, if there were cases of negligence by the vet when the pet was sick and the reasons for death were not satisfactory to the owner,’’ he says, “it is also important especially if it is a suspected infection that can cause harm to other pets around the home.”
Vet as career
What is the most fulfilling part of being a vet? I ask.
“The joy people have when you treat their animals, every time you successfully handle a case is more fulfilling,” Dr Tutu says.
However, despite the growth of pet ownership and care, Kenyans still have misconceptions.
“People think that pets are very expensive and that they’re for a certain class of people. We have had sarcastic comments from Kenyans comparing pet owners to White people for having an animal. Through education, we are building a society of more people adopting pets and starting to appreciate veterinary services,” Dr Tutu says.
On vets, he says some people assume that they are not qualified professionals.
“People are used to herbal doctors in villages and want to pay a vet like they do in the village. They still believe that it cannot cost more than Sh500 to treat a dog. It is not perceived that you have gone to school and consultation fees are mandatory before you can treat an animal patient,” he says. Yet it takes five years to study veterinary medicine, then another year of internship. After graduation as a vet, one can specialise in research, pharmaceuticals, or surgery, or join the government to do policy implementation and oversight roles.
His advice to young people mulling over whether to pick veterinary as a course?
“Choose veterinary medicine as a career. It is very rewarding and just as lucrative as human medicine,” he says.