tpvets_logo.jpg (2726 bytes)TOA PAYOH VETS

Date:   28 December, 2009  
Focus: Small animals - dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pig & rabbits.

Toa Payoh Vets Clinical Research
Making veterinary surgery alive
to a veterinary student studying in Australia
using real case studies and pictures

Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow), MRCVS
First written: Dec 28, 2009

This dwarf hamster of around 2 years of age lives life to the fullest. He does not stay still for me to take a good picture. He has to be on the move, trying to escape from the cage. Even though my hospitalisation cage has no bars, but just plain glass.

This hamster personality reminded me of people with a "Type A" personality. Burning a candle at both ends and achieving performance, productivity and profitability if the person is on the right path.

Are there "Type A" hamsters in this world? If there are, I presume that his immune system has no chance to repair. So the viral warts came in and build warts in his right ear lobe. Then warts appear above his purulent swollen nose. Yet he was still active. With a swollen infected nose, he now found it painful to eat.

Could I resolve his problem and bring him back to health? You can't ask a hamster to meditate and find the path to enlightenment.

I had to hospitalise him. Gave him antibiotics daily. Got his warts cut off and stop the bleeding by cauterisation with potassium permanganate powder. The firm round abscesses in his lower body and legs popped up like solid globes. He had a bacterial infection of the blood stream and yet he was still alive. This bacteria localised under his skin and formed virulent abscesses. More than ten of them. What bacteria is it?

To reduce veterinary costs to the lowest, I did not do bacterial culture and antibiotic sensitivity tests. Many Singaporean owners don't even get their hamsters treated as they feel that vets are "expensive".  

"The hamster has lost weight," a young teenaged girl commented when she came with her family on Christmas Day to bring the hamster home after 7 days of nursing and treatment. I did not reply nor felt the need to defend myself.

Sometimes, silence is golden for me. After all, the hamster had a very serious infection and the parents and 3 family members were happy to see a great difference in the health of the hamster. It was a miracle that he was still alive as most hamsters would develop a sticky wet skin-filled pus and skin rot. This hamster's bacteria would be a different type.

The various pustules and abscesses just reminded me of Corynebacterium in sheep. Some 40 years ago when I was an undergraduate in Glasgow University, I had to study sheep bacterial diseases. At the post-mortem room of the University, the lecturer showed us an ewe carcass with abscesses all over the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, kidneys and spleens. Solid abscesses like what I saw in this hamster's skin. The sheep's condition was called Caseous Lymphadenitis and the bacteria was called Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis.

Caseous lymphadenitis
was a wide spread disease in mature sheep due to shearing wounds during my time at Glasgow. At abattoirs, such infected sheep carcasses are condemned. This bacteria also causes polyarthritis in sheep involving one or more leg joints. It produces pus about the joint and in this hamster, there were some abscesses around its joints too.

I wondered whether Corynebacterium in sheep is still a prevalent disease in the UK sheep industry in 2009? Farmers were advised to shear lambs first, disinfect the shears between sheep.

Singapore has no sheep farms although Muslims do import sheep from Australia. I have not done any veterinary practice on sheep for many years. Is Corynebacterium still present in sheep in Australia where most of our Singapore students are studying? Apparently this gram-positive rod-shaped bacteria is widely distributed in nature and are mostly not harmful. C. bovis causes mastitis in cows. C. diptheriae causes diphtheria in people.

Could this hamster be suffering from Corynebacterium? I google "Corynebacterium in hamsters". There was one Japanese laboratory report of Corynebacterium kutscheri isolated from the oral cavities of aged Syrian hamsters. See:

In private practice, it is possible to get the bacterial cultures done and make the owner pay for it. But laboratory testing would increase costs 10X the price of a new hamster.

As it is, the bill for treatment and 7 days of nursing was around $200 and may be considered by some owners to be too much. An additional laboratory cost may mean that this poor hamster will cost over $300 to be treated. So, he will not get any treatment again.

The vet has to be aware of the economics of hamster veterinary practice and try not to send tumours and bacteria for laboratory analysis in an effort to reduce veterinary costs for the hamster owners.

In undergraduate life, our professors recommend laboratory tests and all tests to reach a diagnosis. In real life, hamster and many pet owners in Singapore try to look for "inexpensive" vets. They discuss about veterinary charges in  internet forums. Inexpensive vets can't  perform, be productive or produce profits over the years. They will just have to do something else after a couple of years. He has to survive unless he is very rich and can ride out the first few "under-cutting fee" years to build up a good clientele and sustain their business model.     

With rising costs, it is extremely difficult to be a cheap vet in Singapore nowadays. New vets undercut my professional fees to get large numbers of patients. Older vets may need to retire to pasture if they can't compete on prices. Ironically, the more experienced the older vet is, the less demand for his services from many price-conscious pet owners due to under-cutting of prices by new vets. Competition is great for the consumer, no doubt about it. 

Beauty and youthfulness attract but experience is valued in matters of life  and death.  Add "cheap services" to beauty and youthfulness and this is a powerful marketing combination for a start-up veterinary practice.

One young vet starting practice was described as "eye candy" in the internet forum. Well, that is a USP (unique selling proposition) for this practice.  The picture of this vet was posted by fans. Fantasize and fantastic fans?  You are young only once, enjoy the fans but don't fall to temptations and be a "Tiger". I am not talking about "Tiger" beer.               

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 Clinical Research

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