14 February 2014

How to Find a Vet For Your Expat Pet

Having written recently about the challenges Expat Pets face when they move with their families I thought it would be appropriate to write a little bit about the challenges pet owners face.  

One of the first things we have to do, whenever we move to a new country, is find a suitable vet.  Usually a colleague, whether expat or local, will have a pet and therefore be able to recommend a vet to use but sometimes you have to canvass people you meet walking in the park or do a search on-line.  Of course facility with the language always makes this easier and the whole experience is often very different depending on which country you are living in.  I would not find it as challenging to find a vet in the US or Europe as I would in Nigeria or Mali.

Veterinary standards vary a great deal as well.  We are lucky to have some very good, talented and dedicated vets here in Astana but their surgeries look like something from a James Herriott novel.  When we first arrived here in Astana our dog, Bessie, was suffering from a growth on her eyelid.  This very big growth made her eye red and sore and there was no doubt that it needed to come off.  As this pre-dated the purchase of our car I had to ask a friend for the address of her vets and then find a street cab to take us there (many people will not allow dogs in their cars).  The vets do not offer an appointment system so I had to wait my turn – all animal life was there from gerbils to Rottweilers and some long term resident animals – rescued from the street by the kind-heartedness of the vet kept on wandering in to greet the waiting patients.  With no Russian to speak of all I could do was point to the dog’s eye.  The vet very proudly told me she spoke French – excellent news except for the fact that I don’t speak a word so we communicated in sign language.  

Was my dog aggressive?  No, very gentle.  Was I happy to hold her?  Yes of course.  She needs an operation is that ok?  Yes when?......

Before I knew what was happening my dog was then given a mild sedative, and with her body being held down by an orderly I was asked to hold her head.  The vet then took a pair of sterilized scissors and cut the growth off.  The whole operation took 5 minutes, cost about $7 and I was free to take my, rather shaky, dog home.  In the UK the vet would have charged a much greater fee and probably not allowed me to be present during the operation.   

I know I should take a translator but most of my friends are just too busy during the day.  The vets are very patient with us – regularly spending longer than they would with a local family just to make sure that we understand exactly what they are saying.  The dogs don’t get the treats and sweets they would get at a UK or European vets but they are treated efficiently and with kindness.

We are very lucky – I recall a terrible trip to the vets in Venezuela.  Our new rescue dog was due to be spayed and my mother took her in for the operation.  That afternoon we were able to collect her, complete with cone of shame to prevent her worrying the stitches.  We kept her quiet for the rest of the day but when I went to check on her before going to bed I noticed almost all her stitches had burst and her insides were coming out.  The family took turns holding the wound together through the night and the next day we went to another vet to have her stitched. Thank goodness she did not get an infection.  The vet responsible for the problem had an wonderful surgery, it looked professional and had all the latest gadgets in his office but I would take my dog to the Astana vets in preference every time.    

So my top tips for finding a good, reliable vet even when you don’t speak the language:
  • 1.       Ask local and expat friends with pets.
  • 2.       Check local internet forums and ‘Yellow Pages’ directories if available.
  • 3.       On arrival check the animals that are waiting and being discharged – do they look cared for.
  • 4.       Check the vet’s demeanor with the animals – do they trust the vet?  Does the vet appear nervous or callous? 
  • 5.       Be aware that cultural differences may mean animals are not treated in the same way that they would be in your home country.
  • 6.       Don’t expect an upmarket, designer waiting room that you might see in the US or Europe but check instruments and treating surfaces before allowing your dog to be treated.
  • 7.       Make sure that there is a refrigerator/lock up for medicines and if worried ask to see the expiry date.
  • 8.       Needles at vets may not be single use but they should be sterile for each injection.
  • 9.       Trust your instinct.
Click on the picture for more posts on expat pets.

The Ersatz Guide To Expat Pets


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  2. Hi there! My boyfriend and I just accepted jobs in Astana and will be moving there in August with our dog. We are coming from Ecuador, and would would love to get in touch with you over e-mail to pick your brain about a decent vet and general dog life in Astana ( and possibly some questions about people life too if you would entertain it)! I am not sure how to privately share my e-mail, or if this links to my account, but I do hope to hear from you one way or another soon! Thanks so much! Cheers - Bekki Gerard

    1. Dear Bekki - sorry for taking so long to get back to you - we have been in Kyrgyzstan for a short break.

      Feel free to email me any time on ersatzexpat@gmail.com and I will do my best to answer any questions. My friend's dog Nellie has her own blog on doggie life in Astana - you can find her at Scruffy Nellie the Diplomatic Dog on Facebook - it has lots of pictures of Astana from a dogs point of view.

  3. Choosing a vet for our pet is really a tough task. Yours blog is very helpful for me. I would definitely try for my dog checkup by vets in Astana. Thanks for this nice sharing.
    Posted by: Caitlyn | Vets in Chichester

  4. Sometimes its really hard for a pet especially for a dog if they are used to the kind of weather they came from. It is a really good idea to consult first in your Vet regarding on the changes that is happening in your pet.

    Vets Sheppey

    1. Dear Michael

      Absolutely - pets are family too and should not be taken somewhere that would be bad for their health or welfare. We always ask the vet to do a full health check before a move. Our older dog is getting on in years - when the vet tells us a move would be too traumatic for her will will have to take the hard decision of whether to try and find her a new family or have her put to sleep. Luckily for the moment the advice is that she is fine to travel and remain with us.

  5. If you really want to find the best vet for your pet, you should ask your friends or relatives who already visited a vet. They're the one who knows which vet is the best.

    Vets Somerset