Once recovered from the unwanted advances of the creatures of the underworld, I stocked up with some highlights of the local cuisine (smoked sausages, alpine meadow honey and bread from the region) and it was time again to hit the road with the help of my trusted Bavarian carriage. A fair amount of German “Autobahn” mileage lay ahead of me, as I was now criss-crossing the country, both to meet more colleagues and to get a better feel for the state of veterinary medicine in my home country.
The first stop was still at the foothills of the Northern Alps in Rosenheim, where IVC/Evidensia, the company that had bought Virginia Water Veterinary Clinic, had purchased the clinic of Josef Schiele, an outstanding veterinary surgeon and ultrasonographer, who some years ago had taught me how to scan dogs’ hearts, very much to the benefit of a lot my older canine (and feline) patients in Surrey.
Florian Frey (from North Germany like myself) and Josef were extremely welcoming and it was great to see how friendly and relaxed their team was. Their clinic – one of the best in the area – featured very modern equipment, including their own CT and the footfall of the clinic certainly benefited from having a large pet supermarket just next door. What was striking was that despite the fact that this was one of the wealthiest parts of Germany, veterinary fees were much lower than in the UK.
We put this down to the lack of a well established pet insurance system and possibly due to stronger competition between vets.
After this brief encounter, I put the foot down and headed North passing Nuremberg and the Czech boarder and arrived late at night in Biesenthal in Brandenburg near Berlin. This was part of the former GDR and it took me a moment to get used both to the local dialect, to the choice of words (like Australians, people definitely are swearing here more commonly…) and to the directness of the people here. However, as my father was born here, there was a certain familiarity for me and I knew that behind the perceived rudeness, there was usually a big heart. I also had to get used to a – even for me as a fellow German – unusual cuisine, when I was invited to lentils with vinegar and sugar (!) for supper (which was actually very nice!…).
Sandra Lekschas, who probably has traveled more than me and who has not only a British and a German, but also a Chilean veterinary license, has here her clinic. Sandra had worked for several years in the UK and obtained during that time a Certificate for Avian and Exotic Animal Medicine. For many years she had been my “back up” if I was not sure about the treatment of one of my less “usual” patients. Because of Sandra I know now how to take a blood sample of a tortoise and how to do a penis amputation in an iguana…..
While “shadowing” her during her consultation, I was amazed how similar our case load was and how similar the expectations of the pet owners. A noticeable difference though was the very frequent use of homeopathic or herbal treatment. A range of medication was unknown to me and required some further investigation.
At Sandra’s house I also met “Schneewittchen”, the first of my friend’s cats, who had left the UK together with her owner and who was now supplementing her diet with Prussian mice.
After spending a couple of days with Sandra and her little team in the countryside, I made a detour into Berlin
to call on my colleague Conny Rossi, who I knew from a range of veterinary meetings in Brussels, where she was representing the German state veterinary service and I the European small animal veterinary profession. Conny is head of the Veterinary Office in Berlin Tempelhof and when I arrived she was busy preventing African Swine Fever from getting into Germany.
Thankfully this didn’t stop her to be my native guide at her local Italian for an excellent dinner including an outstanding Tiramisu.
Conny’s cat is an old boy called “Mau” who is clearly drinking too much and I left Conny the next day under strict orders to see her local small animal vet as a matter of urgency….
The next cat was called Dobby, like Harry Potter’s house elf, but rather than doing any house keeping for Barbara and Stephan Neumann his owners, he owed his life to the magical skills of Stephan, who adopted him following several operations after a car accident.
Whereas a lot of vets, by treating so many different species, are “jacks of all trades but masters of none”, Stephan is a real “renaissance man”: Stephan is the head of the small animal clinic of the University of Göttingen, South of Hanover. He is giving lectures on husbandry and diseases of farm animal at the Agricultural department. He is educating the Forestry students on wild animals and he is also a pathologist and a leading member of a range of national and international veterinary and pathology organisations. In addition to this he is active in various local committees and he also knows how to work a power drill and how to wire up his own house. With some reluctance he has just recently stopped to perform all mechanical work on his own cars. He is a passionate motorbiker and a skilled ballroom dancer……(I think I better stop here – I think you get the point)
It was impressive visiting Stephan’s spacious university clinic and to meet his team. At the university – similar to most privately owned clinics that I visited – I noticed both a sit down desk and a fairly high examination table in the consulting rooms.
Compared to the UK, more dogs are lifted on the table to be examined and the conversation with the owner is concluded after the examination, while both parties are sitting. Compared to then UK I also noticed the far more frequent use of long needles. I am not sure if this is always good and I am happy to stick to my shorter “British” ones. Size doesn’t always matter…..
Leaving the welcoming Neumann household, I travelled further West to Bad Honnef in the Rhine valley, not far from Cologne. Here I met another German colleague with a British history : Ariane Neuber is one of the few Diplomates in Veterinary Dermatology and a number of my referral patients were successfully treated by her. Sadly Ariane and her British husband Tom were frustrated by Brexit and decided that continental Europe was offering a better future for the whole family.
While quizzing Ariane about her experiences of working in Germany compared to England and about the current trends in veterinary dermatology, Tom was not only refilling our glasses at a steady rate with French champagne – a by product of his job in Strassbourg – he then engaged me in a well informed conversation on insects as a form of food and animal feed. This is a very new area of veterinary interest, which we had only discussed recently at our European meetings. However, it is an industry of huge growth potential, which had not eluded the observant eyes of Tom, who has a background in finance.
After an entertaining evening and after the demise of probably the best part of a crate of champagne (!), I tried to retreat to my bed, but found this already occupied by the fourth feline, similar to the Brandenburg mouser another British refugee, who was – when not sleeping on my bed – pursuing water rats in the Rhine Valley.
So, what were the conclusions (among others) of my travels so far?…..
- German vets are cheaper than British vets
- Needles in Germany are too long
- Nice dogs and cats (and their owners) are on both sides of the Channel
- Pets can be radiographed without sedation in Germany
- Cats are still exclusively spayed midline in Germany
- Cats are commonly blood sampled from the front limb rather than from the neck and this is often done with a plain needle without a syringe attached
- Dogs appear to worry less, when an i/v line is placed into the hindlimb while standing (on an examination table)
- Homeopathic treatment is more common in Germany (and apparently in South America ?!…)
This was enough of veterinary medicine though and the next morning the journey continued again South, for another completely different aspect of life………