Veterinary Care in Singapore
Singapore is a very small and densely populated Southeast Asian city-state at the bottom of Malaysia, benefiting from a very hot and sunny (yet very wet!) climate. To give you an idea of just how small it is, there are currently 5.6 million people living in what fits into a portion of London. Singapore is truly one big city, where convenience is a way of life. Many grocery and convenience stores are open 24/7, and public transport is extremely efficient, safe, clean, well-connected and cheap.
For example, a journey by MRT (Mass Rapid Transit – the railway system) from one end of the island to the other would take just 75 minutes and cost you less than $3 Singapore dollars (~£1.65). It was quite a shock learning how much it would cost me to get around London!
The veterinary industry in Singapore has been expanding rapidly with increasing pet ownership and standards of animal care. A large proportion of Singaporeans live in government high-rise apartment blocks, which have a specified list of approved dog breeds allowed to reside there. This is probably why the pet population is mainly comprised of small dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters. From my experience as a Vet Assistant, the most popular dog breeds include the Maltese, Shih Tzu, Miniature Schnauzer, Toy Poodle/Miniature Poodle, West Highland White Terrier, Welsh Corgi, Pug and French Bulldog.
Singapore has a huge population of stray cats, which are generally well managed through spay/neutering programs by welfare organisations, and community feeders – volunteers that provide food and water at parks, streetside food centers and void decks (the bottom of a high-rise building). As such, it’s quite difficult not to find yourself adopting the odd cat here and there! My family found 3 2-week old kittens on a piece of newspaper outside a condominium one day, and despite my mother’s protestations, they were promptly brought home. My current cat, Squeaker (pictured) (yes she is on a diet), is a rescued stray whom we found as a tiny kitten outside my brother’s work building.
Though smaller, there is also a stray dog population in Singapore. These are generally contained to industrial areas and are quickly rounded up by the governing veterinary authority. The strays are always mixed-breeds and affectionately dubbed “Singapore Specials” due to their unique and easily identifiable aesthetic. Many not-for-profit organisations like Save our Singapore Street Dogs (SoSD) are involved in rescuing and rehabilitating these strays and organise regular fundraising and adoption drives. SoSD has seen significant success with their Project ADORE, working with the government to allow Singapore Specials that are up to 15kg to be housed in high-rise apartments, in order to encourage their adoption.
Pet care in Singapore is becoming increasingly important as well as advanced, with most vet clinics offering in-house blood tests, imaging (x-rays and ultrasound), 24-hour hospitalisation, and even CT/MRI scans and endoscopy. Pet owners in Singapore are generally very dedicated to their pets, and often spend thousands on disease or post-trauma treatment. Pet insurance is unfortunately only just gaining traction there. In my previous clinic there, most emergencies were male cats with blocked bladders, “high-rise syndrome” (falling from multi-storey apartment), and heatstroke.
Tick fever caused by a blood-borne parasite introduced by ticks of the genus Ehrlichia and Babesia poses a very significant threat to dogs in Singapore due to the hot and humid climate. Tick fever can cause severe anaemia and platelet depletion (necessary for clotting) and many afflicted dogs require blood transfusions to survive. Heartworm disease (similar to lungworm disease in the UK) is another deadly disease affecting dogs in Singapore, with larvae being transmitted to dogs via mosquito bites. Subsequent maturation of worms clog the blood vessels of the heart and lungs over a period of months, and is fatal without prompt treatment. As such, tick and heartworm prevention are vital in Singapore, just as lungworm and tick/flea prevention is necessary in London.
A typical day as a vet assistant in a busy clinic involved assisting the vet with consultations (restraining patients, nail trimming, ear cleaning, preparing drugs and medications), restraining patients for x-rays and ultrasound, preparing, anaesthetising and monitoring patients for surgical procedures, and looking after all animals in the hospital. As opposed to the UK, Singapore does not have any sort of vet nursing governing body and as such no legislation relating to what vet assistant/nurses can and cannot do. Animal welfare laws are slowly becoming more developed and all-reaching, however still have a long ways to go in relation to illegal breeding farms and cases of neglect and cruelty.
Due to the saturation of vet clinics in Singapore, most are open quite late and in my previous clinic nurses and vets worked long shifts (11-12 hours). One consolation was being able to go out to nearby food centres (called hawkers) with my colleagues and get an amazing-tasting meal for S$6 or less. My favourites were always chicken rice (with a healthy dose of garlic chili sauce), wonton noodle soup, and “economy rice” (like a pick’n’mix of traditional Chinese dishes such as sweet and sour pork, fish head curry, steamed egg etc., served with rice).
Life as a Vet Assistant in Singapore was definitely busier and more tiring than in London, but was just as rewarding getting to care for animals in need. It’s definitely exciting to now be working in a country in which animal welfare legislation has a long history and is cemented in the pet and animal care industry.
Written by Student Veterinary Nurse – Siobhan Fury