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         Volume 10 |Issue 11 | March 18, 2011 |


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Anika Hossain

Adopting an animal comes with many responsibilities.
Photo: Proma Rahman

Bangladesh is a country where many rely on animals to make a living. Poultry and cattle are raised on farms for human consumption and business purposes. Although the culture of adopting animals as pets has been present over the years in some parts of the country, it has recently become more popular within the capital.

Nowadays, different breeds (both domestic and foreign) of small animals, such as dogs, cats, birds, etc are becoming newly recruited members of urban families. Adopting an animal however, comes with many responsibilities and in various ways it is like taking care of a child. They need proper food, proper grooming and most importantly, proper healthcare.

“When my little puppy was about 3 months old, he swallowed a chicken bone and it got stuck in his anal tract,” says Aamna Hossain, the owner of a Japanese Spitz. “I could see he was in pain, but I had no idea what was wrong. In the end I called my vet and explained the symptoms and he advised me to either take him to his clinic or pull it out myself. He also warned me never to feed my dog chicken bones again,” she continues.

Unfortunately, not all pet owners are as concerned about their pets. Dr. Siamak Bahar, a veterinarian practicing in Uttara says, “There are two types of pet owners. Those who love animals and those who love keeping them for show. The second type, will not bother much with their pets and will leave them to the care of their domestic help. These animals are then neglected and not fed and cared for properly.”

Pet owners, who neglect their animals, will often do so to avoid the cost of looking after them. Pet food is expensive and not available in most places, therefore human food is used as a substitute. Grooming, i.e. fur trimming, washing, de-clawing etc are also pricey and people prefer to get these done at home or simply overlook the need to groom their animals.

While neglect in these areas is harmful, ignoring their medical needs is far more dangerous. Having said that, it must be noted that obtaining medical help for one's pet is not that easy in this country. For one, the government has set up only one veterinary hospital in each district, and two, the hospitals specialise in treating large, farm animals.

“Most universities which offer veterinary studies do not have a curriculum which teaches the care of small animals,” says Dr. Mutahar Hossain, a veterinarian who has set up practice in Gulshan. “If small animals are taken to these hospitals, the doctors use their general knowledge to treat them,” he shares.

Dr Hossain is a dog lover, and was inspired to learn more about small animal treatment. “Small animals are mostly treated in private clinics. Unfortunately, most of these clinics, including my small office space are ill equipped for surgery. It is of course possible to arrange for the instruments required, but it is not economically feasible,” says Hossain.

There are nine different vaccines against viral diseases for dogs, and not all of them are available in this country. Photo: Anika Hossain

“To be a good vet in this country, one has to be intelligent and innovative,” shares Hossain. “Suppose an animal needs an x-ray. The machine at the Central Veterinary Hospital of Dhaka has been broken for a long time. In such cases I have to take the animals to a human hospital. This poses to be a problem at times because most human hospitals do not allow pets, as they are considered unclean. The ones that do, charge four times the amount they would, for a human x-ray, but I don't have much of a choice.”

According to Hossain, some biomedical tests such as blood tests etc can be done in clinics using microscopes, but this is not always possible. “I have worked at ICDDRB, at their small animal clinic for a long time, so I have connections there. I often get tests done in their laboratories,” says Hossain.

“I once suspected that a cat belonging to one of my clients had cancer,” shares Hossain. “ I took a tissue sample from the animal and sent it to an oncologist, saying it was a human sample. It turned out I was right about the cancer and the oncologist did not suspect a thing,” says Hossain who had to pull many such stunts to give proper care to his patients.

One such exploit brought about a new invention. “I had to perform a hysterectomy on a dog once, and since we do not have the facilities to keep animals under observation after surgery, I released the dog to the care of its owner,” shares Hossain “The next day, the owner called to say that the dog had chewed through the stitches and its intestines had fallen out. This got me thinking about ways to prevent this, and I came up with a brilliant idea. I cut the bottom half of a wastebasket and attached it to the dog's neck after redoing the stitches. This prevented the dog from doing further damage. So you see, one has to be innovative when limited resources are available,” says Hossain.

Although medication is widely available, they are designed for the consumption of large animals such as cows. “I usually cut the tablets into small pieces for the small animals,” says Hossain, “Sometimes, vets will use human medication as substitutes for the ones which are not available, and most of these usually work, however sometimes human medications may have a negative effect on animals,” he continues.

According to Hossain dogs and cats have to be vaccinated almost every year, unlike humans who can get different vaccines only once in their lifetime and stay safe. There are about nine different types of vaccines against viral diseases for dogs and about six to seven for cats, and not all of them are available in this country.

Dr Siamak Bahar agrees with Dr Hossain when he says “There are no vaccines available in this country which protect animals against all diseases. Some companies import five in one or six in one vaccines, but that is not enough. The government can take some initiative to import more vaccines for domestic animals.”

According to Bahar, the existing hospital in Dhaka does not have medication, vaccines or proper facilities. Small shops, which carry medication, do not preserve vaccines properly. “There should be proper centres that specialize in giving vaccines and laws that say only vets can give vaccines. Often, vaccines are injected at pharmacies and they make mistakes because they are not qualified to do so,” says Bahar.

“I also don't trust local vaccines so I import them from abroad,” says Bahar. “Same with anesthesia. I get it from abroad and I try to give the amount each animal needs according to its size. It is inhuman to use less than they need during surgery. I even use anesthesia when I have to put an animal down because it makes it less painful,” he shares.

Like Dr Hossain, Dr Bahar sends his clients to laboratories that test humans and pays extra to do so. “I am only allowed to bring the animals in after 8,” he says. “There really aren't any proper labs or testing facilities anywhere in this country, I diagnose the diseases by questioning my clients about the symptoms and prescribe medication accordingly. Sometimes I have to do this over the phone if my clients cannot bring their pets in,” says Bahar.

“I try my best to perform surgeries in my office,” shares Bahar. “Some of my colleagues perform surgery at home and this is extremely risky,” he says.

While the vets struggle to give the best care they can with all their limitations, pet owners also struggle to find proper vets for their beloved companions. “When my dog was sick, different vets were diagnosing him differently and I did not know who to trust,” says Shudip Zaman, the proud owner of a Pug. There are also many people in the city posing as veterinarians and pet owners often fall victim to them.

With a little more funding and attention from the government, private sectors, animal rights organisations and all pet lovers, proper clinics can be set up to give these animals better treatment. Foreign funds can also be applied for. So if you are an animal lover, show some initiative and do what you can to help these loving, devoted pets get the care they deserve.


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