Another interesting week in Kenya for the vet team

By: Hanna Hone and Chantel Doyle – QES Vet Interns
June 16, 2019

It sure has been another interesting week here in Meru County! Monday was another day with Bernard where we got the opportunity to diagnose and treat two severe mastitis cases. Both presented with systemic signs, significantly swollen udders, and what looked like yellow serum for milk. We hope that our treatments of anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, constant “stripping” and TLC will have the cows feeling better soon.  Thankfully Bernard has promised to keep us up to date on their progress, but little did we know that this would be just the start of the week’s theme: unique cases. 

pic1 IMG_2660Bernard, Hanna and Chantel stopping for a pizza break 

For the remainder of the week we continued to visit farms in Buuri while fighting to keep the gypsy in working order! Each day Chantel got an extra arm work out with the deteriorating non-powered steering, but honestly with all the delicious food we eat around here, she wasn’t complaining.

While our summer’s priority is the BVDV study and adding animals to the trial, we still take any given opportunity to treat any animals in need, including cats and dogs. This week we came across a couple of barn kittens with mange and were able to provide some relief by treating them with an Ivermectin injection. Our Ivermectin is formulated for large animals of course so adjusting the treatments for small animals gave us the opportunity to work on our dosing skills; great practice for the clinical work in our upcoming third year at AVC. We also discovered an adult dog whom was subjected to band castration: the application of an elastic band at the base of the testicles for the purpose of ceasing the testicle’s blood supply, resulting in castration. Cases like this are often a result of a lack of knowledge on animal welfare, and, after we explained the issues to the owners, they agreed to allow us to remove the band and provide pain relief, with our promise to return and perform a proper surgical castration. 

pic2 IMG_2536Hanna and Chantel giving a little extra TLC

This week’s cow cases encountered during our day-to-day physical exams and farm visits were a confusing mix of interesting and heartbreaking. First, we saw a cow with a unique blindness caused by a golden opacity of the lens, and another with a growth on her rump due to excessive sun exposure and, at least partially, photosensitivity that would likely be due to the consumption of certain weeds containing photodynamic agents. 

pic3 IMG_2525
Golden eye

pic4 IMG_2522
Hyperkeratosis aka “Bark Butt”

We also ended up on a farm where a cow had been treated previously for bilateral corneal opacities with no improvement, and also had a recent history of abortion. Now the cow presented with a fever, ulcerations on her vulva, teats and muzzle, bilateral corneal opacity, significant nasal and ocular discharge, foamy saliva, and significant hematuria (aka. blood within the urine). With this specific combination of symptoms our top differential diagnosis was Malignant Catarrhal Fever, a serious, contagious disease. 

pic5 IMG_2752
Potential MCF teat ulcerations 

Upon reaching these differentials we jumped into action, disinfected our equipment and ourselves, and made it clear to the farmer that the property should be on quarantine. We explained the need to be vigilant in not allowing the infected cow to interact with any other animals including their sheep and goats that would also be at risk. We were unable to visit any other farms that day, as we needed to disinfect our vehicle as well. We did our best to notify the dairy, local farmers and technician who previously treated the cow and made the important calls to report the findings to the local government veterinary entity. 

Finally, the case that was by far the most emotionally difficult for us was a 400 kg cow with a fractured distal hind limb. The veterinary technician that had seen the case initially decided to cast the leg. This decision left many questions in our minds about who is responsible for taking care of the livestock of these farmers, and the quality of the veterinary services available. The veterinary technician figured that a cast worked on calves, but did not realize that in larger cattle, casts do not provide sufficient stability for bone healing, and therefore such fractures in adult cows are not treatable. The trusting owner tried her absolute best to keep her cow going, but with no potential for a good ending. We explained this to the owner and that the humane thing to do was immediate euthanasia to end the suffering and to allow for a dignified death. 

This week definitely had its share of ups and downs but one thing was made abundantly clear: the quality of veterinary services in rural Kenya is quite variable, depending on the experience and quality of training in service providers. Some areas are lucky to have fully qualified veterinarians and/or veterinary technicians who provide good service, while other areas are deprived of quality veterinary care, leaving opportunities for modestly trained animal health providers. Farmers sometimes don’t realize that the “daktari” treating sick animals in their area is not actually a qualified veterinarian or veterinary technician. For example, we have heard, and now seen, that some daktaris treat with antibiotics when they are not indicated, and others have given steroidal anti-inflammatories to a pregnant cow which then caused abortion. This realization emphasized the importance of the continued presence in the region of Farmers Helping Farmers and our veterinary program from UPEI, along with the amazing education that they provide to farmers and animal health providers. Fortunately, there are great people like Bernard that get a proper history and provide a thorough examination before recommending treatment, and also utilize their time with the farmers to provide advice on cow comfort and care. 

Overall it was a long week that tested our ethics and resilience but also re-ignited our passion for the veterinary profession. To finish the week off, we spent our Saturday working from home doing data entry on the porch and enjoying the company of our adorable “lawnmowers”.

pic6 IMG_2543Work hard, play hard


Hanna & Chantel


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s