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The Mangy State Of Veterinary Care In India

22/02/2016 9:06 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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NEW YORK, NY - MAY 09: Tomo McLoyd holds the paw of her dog Rocky, 14, as veterinarian Wendy McCulloch euthanizes the pet at their apartment on May 9, 2012 in New York City. McLoyd had made the difficult decision to call McCulloch to perform the procedure after the pet could no longer walk. End of life issues have become increasingly important for pet owners, as advanced medical treatments and improved nutrition are extending pets lives well into old age. McCulloch runs Pet Requiem, a home veterinary service designed to provide geriatric care and in-home euthanasia for dying pets in the New York and New Jersey area. Many pet owners are choosing such in-home care to try and provide a humane and compassionate 'good death' for their beloved pets. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Animals fall sick just as humans do.

The downside here is there's a lot that slips between the cup and the lip when it comes to veterinary care in India. The skill deficit is ginormous and the veterinary health care ecosystem suffers from complete inertia.

Veterinary colleges are churning out veterinarians, many of who enter the field because they could not get into medical college or an engineering institute. The curriculum leaves much to be desired and does not cater to all aspects of clinical veterinary medicine. As a result, you have veterinarians who may graduate with some knowledge of pathology but know little about anatomy or diagnostics. For the most part, 80% of fresh graduates do not possess the requisite skills or expertise for the job, and are more preoccupied with life on easy street in a government institution. The balance 20% joins existing clinics and over a period of time are confident enough to open their own practice. Some have fairly well-equipped clinics and have succeeded commercially.

80% of fresh graduates do not possess the requisite skills or expertise for the job, and are more preoccupied with life on easy street in a government institution.

If you are an informed pet owner, you'd know that that there are very few veterinarians you could take your pet to confidently. For the uninformed, it's a roll of the dice. And for the pet it is sometimes a matter of life and death.

There are countless stories of pet owners who have faced negligence, ignorance and pure arrogance. Worse is the suffering to which the pets are subjected.

Here are some disturbing observations I've had first hand.

  • Try taking your pet for an ultrasound -- a lot of vets have the machine but very few know how to interpret the scan. Some premier vets are unable to even spot a tumour on a digital scan.
  • If you want to do a CT or an MRI, you might have to turn to human diagnostic centres that offer the facility late at night. Some cities like Delhi have nothing till date.
  • Some vets now have in house diagnostics like labs for blood work etc but testing is one thing, interpreting results to come up with a diagnosis and an optimal treatment plan totally another.
  • Dogs are a different species than cats, and they cannot be treated using identical protocols. Lots of medications on cats have contraindications which can be fatal, dosages are different. One size fits all does not work.
  • You cannot give IV fluids to a cat in large quantities at a time like you can give to dogs. You cannot prescribe paracetamol to cats, it is fatal. I have seen this happen many a times.
  • Dogs get tick fever and veterinarians are quick to start treatments without properly diagnosing the disease. Sometimes, the disease may be latent and the diagnostic test may return a false negative.

The list is long and agonizing.

Up to 30-40% cases get complicated due to negligence or otherwise.

The moot point? Are the diagnostic tools and clinical skills up to the mark? Can they even give a correct diagnosis?

  • Vaccine peddling is another problem. Yearly boosters for core vaccines are a cash cow which is milked ruthlessly.
  • Vaccine peddling is another problem. Yearly boosters for core vaccines are a cash cow which is milked ruthlessly. Research has already established that there is no need for yearly boosters. Antibodies to the disease stay in the animal sometimes for their lifetime. Boosters are recommended every three years and that too if the immunity is low which is measured by a titer test. Vaccines have adverse reactions which manifest years later sometimes. One has to be especially careful with cats as the adjuvants in vaccines are known to cause injection site sarcomas. But how many veterinarians follow this protocol?

    In the midst of all this controlled chaos are some vets who are diligent, follow proper protocols and keep themselves abreast with the latest treatment methodologies. But they are very few and far between. They are stressed to the limit, overworked and disillusioned with the system.

    There was a ray of hope when a British chain opened a fully equipped hospital in Delhi in 2012 with a team of vets from the UK. However, they shut shop within four months. I will not go into why they did so, but suffice it to say they closed down within 48 hours of their decision and did a 'One flew over the cuckoo's nest'.

    Need of the hour?

    While the education system revamps and starts churning out dedicated and skilled vets in time, start using veterinarians in the West for their expertise.

    Revamp veterinary education. Make the veterinary degree purely clinical and offer the other stuff -- like dairy, poultry, meat science etc -- as a separate BSc degree. Admit people with aptitude and desire, not all and sundry. Look at the curriculum and evaluate if it is preparing veterinarians for the real world.

    While the education system revamps and starts churning out dedicated and skilled vets in time, start using veterinarians in the West for their expertise. Call it reverse outsourcing but it's about time. They fill the gap in the short term and help train local vets so over a period of time the gap in skill sets reduce.

    Regulatory restrictions in major metros that prevent hospitals opening up in commercial market places need to change, since the area required for a veterinary practice with in-patient facility can start even with 5000 sq ft of space.

    Corporate entities need to take a serious look at this industry as it's a viable business. What is lacking is professionalism, skills and expertise and it desperately needs structure and organization.

    I write in hope that perhaps a certain Mr Ratan Tata or Malvinder Singh is listening!

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