I opened the clinic for half a
day on this Chinese New Year so that I could check on the sick animals, feed and
clean up the kennels with my helper. My assistant Min had taken two days off and
this would be his last month of work as he had another employer. Singapore is a
developed country that is thriving and has low unemployment rates. This leads to
employees job-hopping as a norm. The high rentals, manpower and operating costs
are common nowadays resulting in businesses that can find difficulties in
sustaining their operations. The vet must be hands-on as it is costly to employ
more and more inexperienced staff who will job hop after a few months of
experience. Other vets poach experienced staff and that is part of life and so
loyalty of staff in Singapore is extremely rare in view of low employment
The phone did not ring throughout the morning of Chinese New
Year. I reviewed the severely dehydrated hamster with the ear gangrene and large
nose abscesses operated yesterday at 4.30 pm. 17 hours after surgery. Would she
be alive? She was less than one year old but from her hagged appearance with leg
skin folds raised due to dehydration, I thought she was very aged. "This hamster has very little
chance of surviving anaesthesia and surgery as she is barely moving and is
severely dehydrated," I told the young lady who brought in this hamster on the
eve of Chinese New Year. I lifted up the skin fold from above the neck and the
skin fold did not shrink back as is did not have water unlike normal hydrated
"You have two options," I said yesterday. "Euthanasia or surgery
with a high possibility of death during or after surgery." The hamster was not
eating or drinking as her upper lip was bursting with pus starting from the
bridge of the nose towards the upper incisor teeth. In addition, two black
gangrenous tumours filled up the right ear pinnae.
"She is less than a
year old," the young lady said and picked up her mobile phone to dial. "I will
ask my mum what to do." This was the last case on the last day of the old
Chinese year and I did not want to end the year with a death of a pet on the
It was 4 pm and I would close at 5 pm to get ready for
the reunion dinner at the Beng Tin Restaurant in Toa Payoh at 8 pm. The mum gave
permission to operate.
"Why didn't you get the ear tumours operated by
your vet when they were small and not black and gangrenous?" I asked the young
lady. "There is now a very high chance of this hamster dying on the operating
The lady gave some reasons which related to a previous hamster
having been sick and dying soon. "If there are bad news, can you phone us early
in the morning on Chinese New Year?"
"No news is good news," I dislike
deaths on Chinese New Year and here, there was a very high risk patient that
could not wait for surgery as she was downhill in her health, being scarcely
"I will give a 0.1 ml of dextrose saline under the skin now and
operate soon." With a heavy heart, my assistant Min and I anaesthesized the
hamster using 5% isoflurane gas inside a small plastic container. A few seconds
of gas and the hamster was sleepy. I clamped a curved forceps on the right ear
after ascertaining that the two gangrenous tumours were adhered to 80% of the
ear pinnae and so there was no alternative but "amputate" the whole ear. After
clamping for a few seconds, I sliced off the ear and unclamp the forceps.
Surprisingly, there was no bleeding. My joy was short-lived as a large gush of
red blood flowed as if a dam had burst. There was a 4-mm gap in the skin where
the ear had been cut off and the blood vessels were hemorrhaging a few seconds
after ear surgery.
Speed was of the essence in this hamster as she would
not survive too many bouts of gas anaesthesia. I incised the two large yellow
abscesses above the bridge of the nose. Thick yellow pus seeped out. There was
pus at the upper lip which was much swollen. The abscesses seemed to be only on
the right side of the nose, as if the hamster had been scratching and scratching
over the past weeks to get rid of her painful gangrenous ear tumours. In the
process of traumatising the right side of the nose by scratching, bacteria
attacked the inside of the skin and formed two big swollen abscesses. This
infection spread to the upper lip and it eventually stopped the hamster from
being able to eat and drink. Severe dehydration set in.
the abscesses, I decided to stitch up the ear wound and the abscesses with fine
6/0 sutures. The hamster was too weak to object. Two interrupted sutures closed
up the ear wound and two closed up the nose wound. I cleaned up the red blood
swamping the whole face and neck area. There was nothing more to be done as it
is not possible to give an IV drip to such a small animal. A subcutaneous
dextrose saline with baytril totalling 0.1 ml was given under the neck skin and
I expected no hope of survival.
So imagine my surprise that the
hamster was still alive 17 hours after the surgery when I checked her on Chinese
New Year. Not moving but alive. This was a very tough cookie. The water bottle
had leaked and the hamster was wet. She had hopped onto the food bowl to avoid
the damp litter. Water bottles for hamsters are of poor quality and I had
changed several. I quickly dried the hamster and put her on dry towel tissues. I
gave her the eye drops as her eyes were shut and the medication orally.
5950 - 5956. Ear
February 11, 2013. Chinese New Year 2nd
I opened the clinic from 10 am to 5 pm but I believed most vets
closed for the 2nd day. Most Chinese pet owners would not seek out vets unless
they had no choice as they would be busy visiting friends and relatives,
exchanging Mandarin oranges and the single ones getting ang pows (red packets).
Some vets would be on holidays overseas as they could take 3 days off and get 9
days of holidays as Chinese New Year's Eve started on a Saturday (February 9)
and most employees would be off on the following Monday and Tuesday. One vet in
Jurong West closed for 7 days and employees would be most happy with such good
employers. A pet shop in Toa Payoh closed from February 8 to 15. There was no
hunger or need to open during the Chinese New Year holidays for most businesses
as employees must be kept happy or they work elsewhere.
Back to the
tough cookie hamster. She was seeping water from the new water bottle for some
time. I could hear the "click, click, click" sounds as she put her less swollen
upper lips to sip the water. I videoed her drinking from various positions.
This was a good sign that the hamster was recovering well. Yet she
seemed to take so many seeps. I checked the water bottle's nozzle. Was there any
water coming out? The previous one was licking and this one seemed to be dry. I
pressed the ball inside the nozzle and water seeped out onto my fore finger.
There was water but there could be a temporary obstruction by the ball inside
the nozzle. Finally the hamster had her drink.
I phoned the young lady
to take her hamster home. She was most happy that her hamster was still alive.
"I have to go visiting relatives and friends," she said she would bring the
hamster back on the next day.
A dwarf hamster with generalised
ringworm. On this February 11, 2013, the second day of Chinese New Year,
there was another dwarf hamster patient to go home. He had come in to see me as
he was scratching his armpits and shoulder bare of hair. I had given an
anti-fungal wash some 4 weeks ago but the hamster was still scratching and so I
hospitalised him for clipping and review as there was a ringworm infection. On
Chinese New Year's eve in the morning, I went to Chinatown to buy the small hair
clipper ($35 battery operated, made in China). The previous one was not well
maintained with cleaning and oiling and had rusted. It is extremely difficult to
get employees including associate vets to take good care of the tools of the
trade and so scratches on the $7,000 operating table and damages to scopes and
the electro surgical equipment were common when used by a particular associate
vet and vet assistant. As they don't have to pay for repairs and replacement,
why should they bother?I had this dwarf
hamster clipped. He was very well taken care of because he was plump and had a
very thick coat of several cm long. He was one and a half years old and he was
more active than a 6-month-old dwarf hamster, zipping here and there inside my
box. I had to sedate him to let my assistant clipped his thick coat as he would
never permit the clipping. I videoed this clipping and the subsequent bathing by
me to get rid of as much ringworm on the skin as possible. A few bald spots on
his skin could be seen after clipping bald. The European couple loved him very
much, especially the lady who could only communicate with me in English via her
male friend. I prescribed some anti-fungal medication for 14 days in addition to
the twice weekly baths of anti-ringworm solution. The European lady fed the
hamster a white cloudy food like yogurt and the hamster licked greedily as if he
had been in prison for a long time and deprived of his good food. "What is the
food?" I asked. "Cheese," the male friend said. So this was one reason the
hamster was so solid and had such a thick coat. Like a panda bear with a thick
"Do you know there are two warts on the right front and back toes
of this hamster?" I asked the couple. "They would be viral warts and ought to be
removed when they were much smaller. One of them is yellowish as if there is an
"They were there for a long time," the man said. "Now,
they are bigger, more than 3 mm in diameter for the front paw tumour," I said.
"In time, they would be very big as the hamster licks them." "Will the
hamster die if you remove them (under anaesthesia)?" the lady was most
concerned. "No," I said. "But I would need to remove the whole digit now as
they cover most of the digit." The lady was most distressed as she thought I
meant the whole paw would be amputated. "Think about it," I said. The couple
brought the hamster home today and gave me a box of chocolates as a present.
Small warts on paws are easily removed but procrastination can lead to large
warts necessitating the amputation of the whole digit or paw. As hamsters and
people age, some tumours will recur in some of the population. Growing tumours
which are not cancerous will take time to expand but it is best to get them
The 2nd day of Chinese New Year had a few cases of
vomiting and diarrhoea in cats and dogs. A dog's nose was cut by the mother's
knife. A very sick vomiting old cat was requested to be euthanased. Another cat
was suspected to be pregnant as the owner sought advice from Dr Daniel. The
owner had told him that he was not happy with a vet who did not know how long is
a cat's pregnancy. "It is not easy for a new vet to remember every gestation
period of every animal," I said to Dr Daniel. Human medical doctors only need to
remember how long it takes a woman to give birth. Vets are supposed to know
every animal on earth.
This was the 2nd day of Chinese New Year. I was
most happy that two dwarf hamsters had their problems resolved and that I could
deliver a service to the satisfaction of two owners, one from the eastern part
of Singapore in Changi and the other one from the northern part of Singapore in
Woodlands. Referrals come from successful outcomes and these are better than
slick advertising strategies.
Case written 6.13 am, Feb 12, 2013, 3rd
day of Chinese New Year.