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It’s a Vets Life, Koh Tao Animal Clinic

Last year we had the pleasure of welcoming Emma to Master Divers to complete her Dive Master and Instructor Courses. As a qualified vet she also spent some time volunteering at the animal clinic too – you know we love our animals here at Master Divers so we enjoyed having our in house vet too –  here’s her take on island life for a vet …..

Master Divers Cat – Grumble

 

In my spare time when I’m not being a ‘scuba bum’ (aka Dive Master in training) I’m a vet. I qualified 5 years ago in the UK, and whilst I love working with animals, I am always looking for ways to combine my other passions – travel and diving – with my day job.

Emma after her Instructor Course
Emma after her Instructor Course

 

So Koh Tao was a great idea as I could dive and volunteer at the Koh Tao Animal Clinic which is a charity clinic and the only veterinary service available on the island. For six weeks, it was my full-time home as the permanent Thai vet, Jae, took a well-earned break. There’s no such thing as a typical day at the clinic on  Koh Tao. There is no appointment system so you never know what is going to walk through the door each day – so here is the story of one busy Monday!

 

Master Divers Dog - Sandy
Master Divers Dog – Sandy

When I arrive, my assistant Nai is already here and has started the morning cleaning. I busy myself with checking over our inpatients, today I have two, a poodle who was hit by a car 2 days ago, and a Labrador recovering from extensive surgery on a shoulder wound last week. For the Labrador it’s good news, I’m very pleased with the healing of the wound and I remove the drainage tubes and decide that he can go home today. The poodle I’m still quite concerned about, whilst she has recovered from the initial shock after the accident and is now stable, I suspect she has broken her hip or pelvis. I ask Nai to arrange for her to have some x-rays taken. We don’t have our own x-ray machine so we use the one at the human clinic.

 

Jae
Jae

As well as our inpatients, we have a collection of animals living at the clinic that all require checking and feeding. There are around 8-10 dogs and 1 cat which are more or less permanent residents or needing homes, and at the moment there are also 3 kittens all looking for homes. As we’re doing this our first new patient of the day is rushed in which is an emaciated 4 week old kitten who hasn’t eaten for several days and has collapsed. I quickly place an IV, inject some glucose and place her on a heat mat to warm her up as she has been outside in the rain this morning and is very cold. As soon as that is done however, patient number two turns up, a local dog I saw a few days ago showing signs of Ehrlichiosis, a tick-borne parasite that infects many dogs on the island. I don’t have the luxury of confirming the diagnosis with a blood test, but the disease is very common here so we have already started presumptive treatment. She is doing a little better, but is still weak, feverish and now dehydrated, so I admit her to go back on a drip and receive more supportive care. The dog settled in, Nai goes to take the poodle for her x-rays, and I check on the kitten – which sadly hasn’t made it. She was just too far gone to help.

 

Master Divers Cat – Greedy

After the initial morning rush, things calm down a little and I have some time to make and return some phone calls, checking on how some patients are getting on, planning visits for the afternoon, and arranging to collect a stray cat from a dive shop in Sairee for neutering. Dealing with the stray population on the island is a large part of the clinic’s work, and neutering, vaccination and parasite control – especially tick control – are all important.

 

One of our cats watching the footie!
One of our cats watching the footie!

A steady stream of people and animals turn up throughout the morning, to pick up medications, for advice or with their pets for vaccinations or with problems, and I deal with a cat with a cough, a dog with a skin problem, and a stray tom cat with a horrible festering wound on its neck, who I admit for sedation, cleaning and wound management. He has no owner so he’ll have to stay for at least a few days to receive treatment He will be neutered whilst he’s with us too. The tom cat doesn’t seem too pleased about this, and tries to escape his cage, but it’s in his best interests!

 

Clinic Resident - Deco
Clinic Resident – Deco

Nai comes back with the poodle’s x-rays, and my fears are confirmed – she has broken her pelvis. Nai helps translate as I discuss treatment options with the Thai owner. We don’t have the equipment or facilities to perform complex orthopaedic surgery on the island, and being transferred to the big animal hospital on the mainland is expensive and logistically difficult, so it is decided that a plan of strict cage rest and pain relief is our preferred choice.

 

Gin, Tonic and Ice - Our cats when they were little...
Gin, Tonic and Ice – Our cats when they were little…

After lunch, I get on my bike and head out for some visits. For various reasons, many people can’t transport their animals to the clinic so afternoons are often spent driving around the island to see animals at home. First up is the dive shop to collect the cat for neutering but he obviously heard the earlier phone call and has done a runner! I leave our cat box at the shop, and they will call me later when they catch him. I visit a resort to vaccinate a litter of 8-week old puppies, and then an elderly dog belonging to a long-term expat resident who has requested a blood test to monitor liver and kidney function. We have to send the blood sample on the night boat to a lab on the mainland, and we will receive the results via email in a few days. The last visit is for rabies vaccination and tick injections for two large dogs whose owner doesn’t have a way to transport them to the clinic.

 

Clinic
Clinic

At the end of the afternoon I head back to the clinic, and check on the animals admitted throughout the day. The poodle has recovered from her sedation for the x-ray and can go home for her cage rest, and the Labrador’s owner comes to collect him too. The dog with Ehrlichiosis is much brighter, so much so that she has chewed through her drip!  I replace it and keep her in overnight to continue her treatment. The tom cat is still unimpressed with his situation, but at least his wound looks a lot cleaner now, and within a few days he will be released to prowl the jungle again. I also speak with the owner of the kitten that died, and discuss the welfare of the rest of the litter, and it is agreed they will bring them tomorrow to be checked over.

 

Clinic
Clinic

The clinic is closed up around 5pm and Nai gives final feeds to all our residents – but that’s not the end of my day yet! A conservation-minded dive shop are rearing a group of baby turtles in a ‘headstart’ program, to be released when they are older and stronger and have a better chance of survival. They have had a few health issues so at the moment I visit them daily around feeding time for treatment and monitoring. Watching baby turtles dive for their dinner is not an unpleasant finish to the work day! When I go for my own dinner, and throughout the night, I keep the clinic phone switched on whenever I can, in case of emergencies. Tonight thankfully it’s quiet, but last night I saw a dog suspected of being poisoned, unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence on the island. This dog luckily seemed to have had a small dose, and responded well to the antidote.

 

Dog vs Monitor Lizard
Dog vs Monitor Lizard

I enjoyed my time as the island vet – although I missed diving every day, only being able to squeeze in the odd night dive apart from on my 1 day off each week. It wass great getting to know Koh Tao in a different way and be able to use my professional skills to make a difference. The job doesn’t change that much whether I’m in a sparkly hi-tech operating theatre in London, or in flip-flops on a beach in Thailand – my approach to each case is the same, and it’s an interesting challenge to deal with limited facilities, equipment and medications but still provide the best possible care to the island’s animals.

 

Fund Raiser
Fund Raiser

The animal clinic is lucky to have the support of the dive community in general, and very grateful for Master Diver’s efforts in raising awareness and donations, so when you come and visit Koh Tao and are spending your days diving, spread the word about the work the clinic does – pop up to visit the clinic and buy a t-shirt to show your support! If you’re heading straight to Koh Tao from home, donations of unwanted veterinary supplies from your local veterinary practice are always welcome as well. Do get in touch if you think you can help. If you are staying on Koh Tao for a longer time you might consider organizing a fund raising event. One of the dive centres here run Bikini Bike Washes – which as you can imagine are always popular…

Bikini Bike Wash
Bikini Bike Wash

One of our friends recently donated the sponsorship money from swimming around the island too – raising close to 20 thousand baht and many other businesses get involved in fund raising efforts to support this valuable service.

Join their Facebook Group here.

Make a donation here.

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