Vets, pets and traditional Chinese meds

Dr Angeline Yang (right) with her husband Mr Choo Zheng Hao, their adopted cat Aunty Rosie and their yellow hatchback vehicle from which they run VetMobile.
Dr Angeline Yang (right) with her husband Mr Choo Zheng Hao, their adopted cat Aunty Rosie and their yellow hatchback vehicle from which they run VetMobile.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - There is Batman's Batmobile and then there is the VetMobile.

As its name suggests, VetMobile is a mobile veterinary service, but it comes with a twist. It dispenses Western medical treatment for ailing cats, dogs and other animals, but complements it with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), including acupuncture and herbal remedies.

The practice was started in 2017 by Dr Angeline Yang, 34, who has a degree in veterinary science from Massey University in New Zealand. Also a certified vet acupuncturist from Chi Institute in Florida, she is a firm believer in preventive medicine and holistic treatment.

Helping her to run the business is her husband Choo Zheng Hao, 33, a material science and engineering graduate from Imperial College London who used to teach circus arts to children.

The idea of VetMobile started percolating in Dr Yang's head a year after she graduated in 2011. She acted on it only in 2016 in Hong Kong, where she worked for a year. Her stint there included treating sick animals in trucks deployed to rural areas where vet services were not readily available.

She wants to provide convenient pet services at reasonable rates. "It will benefit not just those with money, but also those who don't have that much to spare," she says.

Depending on a pet's condition, she adds, a house call made through a vet clinic can be an expensive affair costing hundreds of dollars.

VetMobile charges $150 for a check-up and consultation for most parts of Singapore and $200 for the first acupuncture session.

Dr Yang says TCM for animals has been around for decades and should be viewed as a complement to, rather than a replacement for, Western medicine.

"Usually for Western medicine, we try to treat the symptoms," she says. "But with Chinese medicine, we try to boost the immune system so they can heal faster."

VetMobile's services include veterinary acupuncture, herbal medicine and food therapy for pets, which are prescribed alongside topical creams and oral medicine.

Some of its clients have seen improvements to their pets' appetites with food therapy - which involves dietary changes to regulate the body - while others have noticed better mobility in their arthritic pets' limbs after multiple sessions of acupuncture.

Mr Choo is the vet manager and nurse at VetMobile, aiding his wife in their daily appointments and managing their schedule.

He says: "We have a friend who owns a clinic and she let me work there part-time, so I learnt a lot on the job.

"I think when we started, it was a bit tough. But as we went along, I picked up the knowledge, and my engineering and science background helped a lot."

Having studied biomaterials and chemistry  in university, he quickly picked up tasks such as calculating dosages and dispensing medicines.

Business consultant Alexis Ho, 48, is a long-time client of VetMobile. Her seven-year-old male shiba inu undergoes acupuncture every other month with Dr Yang to manage a skin allergy.

She says: "TCM is a good way to maintain my dog's condition. The acupuncture helped with his skin healing. He has also been prescribed herbs to help strengthen his 'weak' spleen."

Ms Ho pays between $150 and $180 for each VetMobile home consultation, depending on the type of prescriptions and treatments carried out. A trip to a regular clinic can set her back by $200 to $300.

During the pandemic, many pet owners have found that house-call services allow them to remain in the safety of their homes and not breach Covid-19 safety measures.

Dr Yang and Mr Choo say their practice lets them foster close relationships with pets and owners alike, as appointments take place in a comfortable and familiar setting.It also allows them to better understand a pet's condition.

For pet owners, home consultations can also mean fear-free handling, especially with nervous or frail pets that do not fare well in a clinic.

Mr Choo advises people against thinking that TCM can "magically heal your pet" or seeing it as a last resort.

He says: "I think a lot of people turn to TCM only after they've exhausted a lot of the Western and conventional treatments, but we have to manage their expectations as it is a long-term and complementary treatment.

"So, with every session of acupuncture, we hope to see improved mobility or better pain scores and, hopefully, we see the pet get better after a few weeks."

For more information, go to the VetMobile website.