Ask the vet

Our classmate Dr. Keith dela Cruz is proving to be a quintessential jack-of-all-trades.We have written about  him as a model, and this time we are featuring him as a newspaper columnist. “Ask the vet” is the title of Keith’s column for the BusinessMirror, where he shares his insights into the various aspects of his job as a “highly regarded” veterinarian in the Philippines. Below is Keith’s maiden article in yesterday’s issue of the business daily.

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For the love of four-legged friends
Written by Keith dela Cruz

Editor’s note: Beginning this Sunday, Keith Dela Cruz, a highly regarded Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, will be sharing his insights, experiences and expertise in the field of companion animal care. Reader’s may seek advise on their companion concerns by writing Dr. Dela Cruz at askthevetBM@gmail.com.

As a child I always dreamt of becoming an animal doctor. Regardless of the species, there has always been a soft spot in my heart for God’s creatures great and small. I share a passion with Doolittle and Herriot, the desire to make life a bit easier for animals in times of illness.

It wasn’t long ago, however, when establishing a decent practice for companion animals was something unpopular for veterinarians here in the Philippines. Only a handful ventured into it, most of them from families of the same discipline and specialization. Maybe it was because, at the time, most people would seek out veterinary help only when their pets were already very ill or in need of emergency treatment, perhaps not even then. Also, only few had knowledge of how to properly care for their pets. For a new graduate whose priority was to find a lucrative practice with the best practical training, this meant temporarily shelving that dream of a not so feasible, yet very fulfilling, practice. Exposure to the different aspects of animal disease diagnostics, plus the years of toiling to achieve financial stability, finally ripened me to make things happen five years ago.

It is such a rewarding endeavor to be able to cure what ails these wonderful creatures who give unconditional and untiring affection to their masters. I strongly believe that they were given to us as a present to make everyday life more bearable. They teach us the simple, but nonetheless profound, pleasures that life offers. Indeed, they are the salt of the earth. This served as my guiding principle in conceptualizing how my practice should be. It is not enough to cure their afflictions; it is always better to provide them the utmost care and a clean environment while they recuperate from their ailments.

Seldom do you find a pet owner nowadays who doesn’t know anything about his/her pet’s welfare, this is no small thanks to the Internet for helping us vets to disseminate information and enlighten pet owners everywhere. Likewise, the advent of modern medical technology has made practitioners become more competent and adept in treating diseases. Unlike human doctors, however, veterinary practitioners deal with patients that do not have the ability to express their pains and discomforts. Besides relying on the outcome of laboratory tests, we spend a good amount of time in using our clinical eye and our natural skills to understand an animal’s need.

I remember this one patient, a Shi Tzu, named Bart, who was brought to the clinic sometime ago for his monthly grooming. He had a history of liver ailment but had been cured from it. When Bart came to our clinic, however, he looked like a disfigured ewok on account of the matted coat all over his body, this adorable little creature walking like a duck from the tangled mess.

We had no choice but to recommend shaving his coat entirely to make him look tidy and relieve him of such great discomfort, not to mention spare him from pain similar to what one experiences when his hair gets pulled in brute force (which is how a dog feels when somebody attempts to comb through matted hair). His usual check-up after grooming was unremarkable.

Two days later, however, Bart’s owner called us to say in a very worried voice that the dog’s disposition had shifted from his usual jolly, mischievous demeanor to a behavior that was unnervingly melancholic. He liked to be left alone. He seldom went to his feeder to eat. Rather he would stay in bed all day with a blank look in his eyes. I thought something must be wrong with him, as I knew for a fact that he always had a hearty appetite.

Could it be that his liver problem had recurred? I wasted no time and ran some blood tests to rule out all possible causes of Bart’s sudden lack of spirit. I found no significant values in his blood profile that would pin down a cause. I decided instead to pay Bart a visit and probably observe things that might have been overlooked.

While carrying out my investigation, I noted that Bart not only liked to stay in bed but he would also burrow his muzzle under a towel, sliding it over his head until it covered his entire body. I asked the owner if they had seen him do that stunt before, and she said they hadn’t noticed because her daughter would always put a towel over him whenever he went to bed. Bart cowered under the couch when I tried to remove the towel.

“Now I know what’s happening to him”, I said. “He misses his thick coat”. It could be that Bart was feeling cold but it was more likely that he was feeling out of sorts from having lost the fur that once covered and protected his body. I advised the owner to try putting a dog shirt on Bart and see what happens. They did, and a few days later, the owner called to report that Bart was back to his old self doing all kinds of mischief. This time, however, she had another problem. Bart now wouldn’t allow them to take off the shirt no matter how stinky it had gotten!

This is just one of the hundred interesting stories I have encountered in my daily work. Looking back, it makes me realize that the practice doesn’t always demand for scientific skills.

Sometimes, it requires a lot of sensitivity as well – and, most of all, a genuine love for these four-legged friends of ours.

(Dr. Keith Dela Cruz is a companion animal practitioner and an avian specialist. He is a graduate of De La Salle Araneta University (former GAUF) where he is also a member of the faculty. He owns Petropolis Animal Clinic and Grooming Center on Timog, Quezon City. For information: www.petropolisacc.com/.)

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