Monday, May 20, 2024

Tailoring facilities for wellness of pets

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The pet population in India, presently put at over 38 million, is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.2% between 2022 and 2027, according to a study. For, pet adoption has increased not only in metros, but also in tier-2 and -3 cities. The surge in pet ownership has led to a heightened demand for veterinary care, bringing forth a significant evolution in the approach of animal hospitals to ensure pet wellness. The Pioneer’s Tanisha Saxena sheds light on the challenges faced by veterinary facilities in India, emphasizing deficient infrastructure, shortage of skilled personnel, and financial constraints. The aim is to highlight the aspiration of a transformation of animal hospitals, incorporating advanced diagnostic technologies and affordable care initiatives. Global trends and certain initiatives, including that of influential figures like Ratan Tata, have been highlighted.
According to experts, India’s Veterinary Healthcare Market size is estimated at US $ 1.25 billion in 2024, and is expected to reach US $ 1.89 billion by 2029, growing at a CAGR of 8.63% during the forecast period.
While the progress achieved till date is significant, we need to acknowledge that there is still a long way to go for tailoring facilities for wellness of pets.
In recent years, the rise of pet ownership has contributed to a surge in the demand for veterinary care. Adulapuram Goutham, Anti-Cruelty Officer with the NGO- Stray Animal Foundation India (SAFI) says: “In India, veterinary hospitals encounter multifaceted challenges that impede the provision of effective animal healthcare. The foremost issue lies in the deficient infrastructure of many veterinary facilities, characterized by outdated facilities and a lack of essential equipment. Moreover, a significant shortage of skilled veterinarians, particularly in rural areas, exacerbates the predicament, resulting in inadequate veterinary services. Access to quality care in rural regions is further constrained due to limited veterinary infrastructure. Financial constraints, stemming from insufficient funding, hinder the hospitals’ capacity to upgrade facilities, procure advanced equipment, and provide ongoing training for staff. Concurrently, there is a pressing need for heightened awareness about the significance of animal healthcare and preventive measures among the general populace.”
Furthermore, the lack of essential diagnostic and treatment equipment poses substantial challenges in ensuring precise and effective veterinary care. The need of the hour is a comprehensive strategy that addresses various issues by tapping government initiatives, launching collaborative efforts with private sector players, taking up educational programs, and developing infrastructure in both urban and rural areas. Improved coordination between government veterinary services and private practitioners is paramount for fostering an integrated approach to animal healthcare.
A comparative approach
The Global State of Pet Care, published in September 2022, highlights key trends in veterinary care. Access to veterinarians varies globally, with developed nations focusing on small animals and developing markets prioritizing livestock. Veterinary caseloads are increasing, leading to burnout and stress among professionals. Medicine access and vaccine hesitancy pose challenges, while telemedicine is on the rise. There is a shortage of veterinarians for pets, impacting pet care needs worldwide.
Little steps
Over the years, animal hospitals in India have undergone a significant transformation in their approach to pet wellness. Initially, these facilities primarily provided basic medical care and treatments for pets. However, as the awareness of responsible pet ownership and the importance of preventive healthcare increased among pet owners, animal hospitals adapted to meet these evolving needs.
Modern animal hospitals in India now offer a comprehensive range of services aimed at ensuring the overall well-being of pets. One key aspect of this evolution is the incorporation of advanced diagnostic technologies. These facilities are equipped with state-of-the-art tools such as X-rays, ultrasound, and laboratory facilities, enabling veterinarians to diagnose conditions accurately and promptly.
Renowned industrialist Ratan Tata, recognized for his unwavering affection for animals, particularly dogs, has consistently shown his commitment to advocating for the well-being of our four-legged companions. In alignment with his vision, Tata Trusts has revealed plans for the inauguration of India’s inaugural state-of-the-art Small Animal Hospital, strategically located in the Mahalaxmi district of south Mumbai. This cutting-edge healthcare facility for animals is poised to accommodate over 200 beds, embodying a significant milestone in fostering the health and welfare of our furry friends.
Welcoming this initiative, Gauri Mulekhi, an animal welfare activist and Trustee of People for Animals, India’s largest animal welfare organization, explains: “Undoubtedly, this initiative represents a commendable step towards safeguarding the well-being of animals. However, there is a pressing need for additional initiatives, given the substantial animal population in our country. Expanding such endeavours is essential to address the diverse challenges faced by our animal companions and ensure comprehensive care for their welfare.”
Lack of knowledge
Raju from Crown Vet Clinic shares his first-hand experience of handling emergency cases. He points out, “In contemporary society, a concerning trend has emerged where individuals acquire pets such as cats and dogs more as a fashionable accessory than as lifelong companions. Many are drawn to the allure of having a furry friend without fully comprehending the responsibilities that come with pet ownership. This lack of awareness is particularly evident in the inadequate care provided, as these well-intentioned yet uninformed owners often feed their pets regular household food, disregarding the specific dietary needs essential for their well-being. Moreover, a disturbing negligence is witnessed in the realm of healthcare, where owners fail to prioritize proper vaccination for their pets. The repercussions of such ignorance can lead to preventable health issues and the perpetuation of an unfortunate cycle of neglected animals. It is imperative that prospective pet owners educate themselves on the responsibilities associated with pet care, fostering a deeper understanding and commitment to the holistic well-being of their animal companions.”

Affordability and accessibility
One of the key driving forces behind the opening of animal hospitals is the commitment to making veterinary care affordable. Traditionally, pet healthcare costs have been a concern for many owners, often leading to delayed or inadequate treatment. The new wave of animal hospitals aims to bridge this gap by offering competitive pricing, preventive care packages, and financing options.
“The challenge of affordable veterinary care can be addressed through various strategies. Encouraging pet insurance programs, establishing community outreach initiatives, and promoting preventive care education are key. Government support, such as subsidies and tax incentives, can contribute significantly. Integrating telemedicine services, collaborating with nonprofits, and offering flexible payment plans are practical approaches. By combining these efforts, the veterinary industry can make strides in ensuring accessible and affordable healthcare for pets, preventing delayed or inadequate treatment due to financial concerns,” suggests Anurag Tripathi of Furry Taxi.
Citing studies, Vipul Agrahiri from Happy Pettings, states: “According to the EPH Index findings for India, a significant 82% of the canine population is categorized as street dogs. A noteworthy 53% of the populace expresses concern, perceiving street dogs as a potential threat. A substantial 65% harbor fears of being bitten by dogs. Furthermore, an overwhelming 82% of respondents advocate for the relocation of street dogs from public spaces to shelters. This situation poses a considerable challenge in providing veterinary care for this large segment of the canine population, as their removal from the streets demands a comprehensive approach to ensure their health and well-being.”
In the veterinary field, the desire to provide top-notch care often clashes with the economic reality of limited caseloads.
Abhishek Kalundia, one of the senior veterinarians in Cornerstone Pet Clinic, amplifies: “Vet clinics face a challenge with investing in advanced equipment like an endoscopy machine because the number of cases in veterinary hospitals is much lower compared to that in human hospitals. For instance, while a human hospital might use the machine multiple times a day, a vet clinic may only use it once every 15-20 days. This poses a financial concern as it becomes difficult to justify the investment.”
He further explains: “Additionally, pet owners who adopt animals seem hesitant to spend money on their pets’ healthcare compared to those who purchase pets. For example, if a vet recommends a costly emergency procedure like a c-section, adoptive pet owners often take more time searching for cheaper alternatives, whereas those who bought their pets are more willing to invest in their pets’ health. This reflects a trend where people tend to place more value on things that  they have paid for, rather than on those acquired for free, such as adopted pets.”
Dr. M. V. V. S. L. Narayana Rao, a veterinary doctor, explains: “Ensuring the well-being of our cherished pets is both a moral obligation and a societal responsibility. Pet health insurance plays a crucial role in safeguarding their health, contributing to a compassionate society. Economic barriers often hinder responsible pet owners from accessing essential veterinary care. By addressing these challenges, we prioritize our pets’ well-being and ease the burden on public resources, fostering a community that values and supports the bond between humans and their animal companions. Similar to human health insurance, pet insurance should be made accessible to overcome economic barriers, promoting a better lifestyle for both humans and their pets in the days to come.”

Problems of veterinary services
A study conducted across five southern Indian states has disclosed that India is producing a lower number of veterinary graduates than the system demands. Additionally, there exists an insufficiency of faculty in Veterinary Universities (VUs) and a shortage of field veterinarians.
Doctor Smruti Smita Mohapatra and Doctor Radhika Sharma of the Department of Veterinary Physiology, Faculty of Veterinary & Animal Sciences, WBUAFS, Kolkata, highlight: “The escalating demands placed on veterinarians across various sectors, including medicine, research, the food industry, pharmaceuticals, academics, and wildlife, have underscored a shortage in their numbers over the past few decades. Veterinarians in India grapple with challenges such as economic instability, insufficient protection of animal welfare, fluctuating costs and payments, limited funding, conflicting interests, challenging working relationships, and the hindrance of legitimate clinical practice by unqualified practitioners.”
They further say: “Veterinarians navigate complex scenarios where human and animal interests often clash, prompting internal debates within the profession. The discussion, notably between vegans and veterinarians, revolves around the profession’s role in transitioning to sustainable animal husbandry. While veterinarians prioritize animal welfare, they also bear responsibilities for food safety, public health, and farmers’ economic interests. Amid global climate change and UN Sustainable Development Goals, there is a growing emphasis on animal welfare, aligning with societal expectations. Striking a balance between animal welfare, economics, public health, and environmental concerns is a challenging yet crucial responsibility for veterinarians.”

Amala Akkineni, Chairperson Blue Cross of Hyderabad, opines:

1. Government infrastructure is very limited, and that too only found in big cities. For effective implementation of animal welfare laws, the infrastructure must be increased and decentralised. Policy exists, but implementation lags due to lack of infrastructure and funding.
2. Possibly public resources are not allocated since animals are not considered at all. Recognition of animal cruelty (whether individual instances or institutional cruelty like animal rearing, agriculture, animal fights, trading) are a pressing, larger social issue crucial for crime prevention, for protecting environmental, planetary and human health.
3. Philanthropy — less than 0.06% of philanthropy in India comes to AW. In that, an invisible sliver to the issues with highest scale of suffering (farmed animals, animals used for experimentation). Within the movement there is disproportionate resource allocation.
4. Capability building of more social enterprise to handle animal related issues may help. We are hopeful that new technologies and progress in medical interventions, lab-grown meat and disease prevention will be a boon in future.
5. At the root of urban animal welfare issues lies the increasing amount of garbage. And till we revise our ways, adopt environmental conscious consumerism, reduce wastage, improve and decentralise handling of waste – advocacy and education constitute the need of the hour. As life gets more and more cosmetically comfortable, the damage caused and the cruelties to animals that we are breeding around us with our waste goes unseen and unknown.

Preventive care
Shelter Director, BlueCross of Hyderabad, Kumari shares a few of her insights for action:
Challenges faced by animal welfare volunteers
1. Being held responsible for all dog bites, where the garbage has attracted roaming packs of dogs.
2. Street dog feeder harassment- those supporting local street dogs that are sterilized and vaccinated. If fed and cared for, these dogs protect the areas against roaming packs of dogs.
3. Illegal dog breeding
4. Abandoned pets due to bad breeding and genetic diseases.
5. Pet negligence and abuse.

Role of economic support by government:

1. Government support for Animal Birth Control & ARV program for street dogs.
2. Vaccinating of cattle and farm animals against all diseases.
3. Providing water and placing water troughs/bowls at strategic places with the help of NGOs.
4. Conducting adoption drives of homeless animals with the help of NGOs

Beyond reactive treatments, animal hospitals are important for preventive care. Wellness programs, routine check-ups, and vaccination clinics should become commonplace, helping pet owners maintain their animals’ health proactively. These initiatives will not only contribute to the overall well-being of pets but also reduce the financial burden associated with treating preventable illnesses.

“Animal hospitals will continue to play a vital role in preventive care by implementing wellness programs, routine check-ups, and vaccination clinics,” observes Vikas Jain, animal activist. He further lists out:

1. Wellness programs: Animal hospitals will offer comprehensive wellness programs designed to monitor and enhance the overall health of pets. These programs include regular health assessments, nutritional guidance, and exercise recommendations tailored to individual animals. The goal will be to identify potential health issues early on and provide proactive measures to maintain the pet’s well-being.

2. Routine check-ups: Regular veterinary check-ups will remain essential for early detection of health issues. These visits will allow veterinarians to assess the pet’s physical condition, identify any developing problems, and offer advice on nutrition and lifestyle. Routine check-ups will be an opportunity for pet owners to discuss any concerns they may have about their pets’ health and receive guidance on preventive measures.

3. Vaccination clinics: Vaccinations will continue to be a critical component of preventive care. Animal hospitals will organize vaccination clinics to ensure that pets receive timely vaccinations against common diseases. This will help in building immunity and preventing the spread of contagious illnesses within the pet population. Vaccination clinics will also make it more convenient for pet owners to keep their pets up-to-date on immunizations.

By making these preventive measures commonplace, pet owners will actively participate in maintaining their animals’ health. This proactive approach will not only contribute to the overall well-being of pets but also has the potential to reduce the financial burden associated with treating preventable illnesses. Preventive care will help in avoiding costly treatments for diseases through timely interventions, ultimately benefiting both pets and their owners.

Community engagement
and training
Animal hospitals are increasingly becoming integral parts of their communities. Outreach programs, educational workshops, and partnerships with local shelters are common initiatives that extend the hospital’s impact beyond the clinic walls. By engaging with the community, these hospitals aim to foster a culture of responsible pet ownership while addressing specific needs within their locality.
“Pet owners will benefit from actively participating in educational workshops and outreach programs offered by hospitals. This engagement will provide valuable insights into responsible pet ownership, preventive care, and emergency preparedness. Simultaneously, hospitals will encourage pet owners to share their experiences, creating a supportive community. Collaborative initiatives like future local shelter involvement, such as upcoming adoption drives or volunteering opportunities, will strengthen the bond between pet owners and hospitals, addressing broader community needs. The establishment of open communication channels, planned regular feedback sessions, and mutual support will further enhance the symbiotic relationship between future pet owners and animal hospitals.”

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