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Cait in Malawi

Thu 19th May 2016

Ever wondered what it is like for our vets who are working world-wide to help animals in need? Wonder no more, as Cait who is one of our fantastic vets has written a blog piece on her recent participation in World Spay Day in Malawi. 

Over to you Cait!

World Spay Day was Tuesday, February 23rd this year.  It gives an opportunity for animal welfare organisations, veterinarians, nurses, rescue and re-homing centres and pretty much anyone involved in animal welfare education to get the word out about the benefits of sterilisation.  In many places, convincing owners about the benefits of spay/neuter can be an uphill battle. I have worked in a variety of places from England to Thailand and now to Malawi and a lot of the arguments and concerns are common.

Sterilising female dogs early lowers the risk of them developing mammary cancer later in life.  Spaying a female also means eliminating the chance of development of pyometra, which is an infected womb that can quickly turn into an emergency, life-threating clinical condition. I have performed pyometra surgery in all the countries that I have worked. In England, I had the benefit of having an ultrasound machine and blood analysis to help aid my diagnosis and tailor my treatment for each particular patient.  In other countries, it comes down to trusting the clinical signs and heading straight for surgery. 

Castrating male dogs eliminates the risk of testicular cancers, as the testicles are removed during the castration.  They also have a much lower risk of developing prostate cancer, infections and abnormal growth after castration.  We usually see less of a desire for these males to roam and chase females and some aggressive behaviours can quieten down.

Both male and female dogs in Malawi can suffer from a sexually transmitted disease called TVT – transmissible venereal tumour.  This can be debilitating and grows on the sexual organs of both sexes – I have seen dogs put to sleep because of the severity of the tumours.  Luckily, we have a treatment that can be given weekly for these cases that, often times, can completely rid the dog of any signs of tumour and bring back a good quality of life.  Obviously, this tumour will spread through the population less if there are more sterilised animals as the drive for reproduction will be low.

Most importantly, sterilisation stops the creation of yet more puppies (and kittens!).  In countries like Malawi, where there is risk of serious zoonotic disease especially Rabies, the fewer free-roaming animals we have on the streets means less opportunity for the spread of a virus like Rabies.  The fantastic team from Mission Rabies is arriving again this year for the 2nd year in a row to conduct a huge mass-vaccination campaign in the area of Blantyre to continue the fight against Rabies and work towards the eradication of this horrible, fatal disease.

WVS and Mission Rabies joined efforts last weekend with the fantastic Blantyre SPCA to run a World Spay Day sterilisation campaign over three days in a Blantyre village called Mbayani.  We had help from Richard and Mwamba, two fantastic vets that travelled down from Lilongwe and Zambia respectively, to assist over the weekend.  We also had the amazing Mission Rabies Malawi team to help run the anaesthetics, registration and general handling of all our patients – great team work!  Prior to starting the work, we drove through the village announcing the free sterilisation days and took the opportunity to answer questions from local people and address concerns.  This work was done with the Malawi Rabies team so many of the people in the village recognised the MR shirts from last year’s huge vaccination drive!  Obvious concerns from owners had to do with long-held beliefs that female dogs should have puppies before sterilisation – which is untrue – and also the concerns based around anaesthesia.  Not so different from concerns of owners in England!  Even in field surgery programmes, there is no exception - we use gold-standard surgical technique that we teach at our training centres in India and Thailand and also use anaesthetic protocols that are tried and true and very predictable.

For the three days we worked out of local Mbayani classrooms with no windows and a view of the entire village below.  We had our drive on the weekend as it is usually the children of the villages that bring the dogs for sterilisation/vaccination.  Most dogs in Blantyre have a home/owner although are classed as free-roaming as they have access to the whole village and inevitably make their territories.  We had children start walking their dogs up to us once we arrived and we quickly had them registered and marked ready for surgery.  These dogs all had collars and leads fashioned from what could be found in the village – wire, cloth, chains.  The children were curious and ended up staying most of the day, even after their dogs had recovered from surgery, to peer in through the open windows and watch what we were doing. The dogs were generally very sweet and treated with care by the children and were walked home after their operations.  All dogs had rabies vaccinations given, along with pain relief and flea/parasite treatment. 

Some of the dogs had mammary tumours, a previously mentioned risk with unsprayed females.  These were removed at the same time.  We also had a few infected wombs, a couple of TVT cases which we started treatment for and also many cases of skin complaints and fleas.  We battled extremes from blazing heat, to a day where there were torrential rains coming in sideways through the windows, the skies so dark we needed to operate by torchlight!

Overall it was a fantastic experience to be able to spread the word about responsible pet ownership and the benefits of sterilisation.  This also gave us an opportunity to start to get the word out about our big WVS and Mission Rabies teams that will be joining me later in April and May for the huge vaccination drive against Rabies but also our huge May sterilisation drive, in which we aim to spay/neuter 1000 dogs that month!