Veterinarian Interview Project – The Road to Exotic Animal Care – Dr. Kenichi Tamukai
In recent years, animals known as “exotic animals” have been attracting more and more attention as pets. Generally, “exotic animals” refers to animals other than cats and dogs, including small animals such as rabbits and hamsters, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Due to the recent situation in the pet industry, the demand for exotic animal care has been increasing rapidly, and it is a field in veterinary medicine that is expected to develop further.
Today, we interviewed Dr. Kenichi Tamukai, the director of Denenchofu Veterinary Hospital, who treats a wide range of exotic animals, including dogs, cats, small animals, reptiles, amphibians, and even tarantulas. He told us about his experiences from when he was a student to now, what he has been doing in the field, and the future of veterinary care for exotic animals.
【Affiliation and Official position】
・Denenchofu Animal Hospital (director)
・Tokyo Veterinary Medical Association (Manager of the Ota branch)
・The Japanese Society of Exotic Animal Medicine (Vice-president)
・The Japanese Society of Veterinary Science
・Japan Veterinary Medical Association
・Japanese Society of Veterinary Anesthesia and Surgery
・The Japanese Society of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine (Councillor)
・Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians
・Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians
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・Born in Obu City, Aichi Prefecture
・Graduated from Azabu University, Department of Veterinary Medicine in 1998
・Opened Denenchofu Veterinary Hospital in 2003
・D. in Veterinary Medicine in 2014
・TBS “Jounetsu Tairiku” (Continent of Passion) in 2011
・Appeared on NHK’s “Ryugi of Professional Work” in 2020
- About his student days
What did you like to do as a child? What kind of child were you？
I loved living things since I was a child, and I used to catch and keep many kinds of animals. My heart was set on becoming a veterinarian because I wanted to be able to treat a variety of animals.
After entering veterinary school, I brought my passion for living things into raising many kinds of animals, including exotic animals, and this experience is helping me in my current practice.
The opportunity to learn about exotic animals in school is gradually increasing. However, students have little opportunity to learn deeper about ecological and medical knowledge of exotic animals, so those who want to know about exotic animals have to study and learn by themselves.
What did you do as a student to study exotic animal veterinary medicine?
I didn’t do much clinical veterinary medicine, but I read exotic animal-related books in the library, including those with veterinary content. I also studied animal ecology and animal husbandry, which are the basis of medical treatment, through keeping my own pets.
Once you get a job, you will be treating animals every day even if you don’t want to, so I think it is not too late to start studying clinical veterinary medicine in earnest when you start a job.
When you were a student, you must have had some opportunities to go to practical training, but did you actively go to practical training and study with the idea of treating exotic animals in the future?
I didn’t go to practical training very often.
I think it is meaningful to go for practical training when you are in your fifth or sixth grade in order to get to know the atmosphere of the veterinary hospital or to choose a place to work. However, do you think that a high school student who wants to enter veterinary school can become an excellent veterinary student just because he or she participated in three days of practical training at a veterinary college? (laughs).
In the first place, once you get a job, you’ll have clinical experience every day, no matter if you want to or not, so I think you should learn clinical skills there. I think it’s much better to use the practical training as a useful way to find a job, and spend the rest of your time doing things that you can only do when you are a student.
That was an unexpected answer. I thought that because exotic animal care cannot be studied at university, students have to study specialized content on various animals and go to practice from their early years, but I was told that this was not the case. Especially when it comes to practical training, it must be difficult for students who have not yet mastered the basics to learn the advanced knowledge in the field of medical treatment, and needless to say, the same thing can be said about the techniques.
- About university classes
In veterinary school, students learn various subjects such as anatomy and physiology, but what subjects do you think are particularly good or important to study for the treatment of exotic animals?
The basic subjects such as anatomy, physiology, pathology, and microbiology. The basics are really important.
You can start advanced studies such as internal medicine and surgery once you get a job, and I think it is faster to learn through practical experience than the lectures in the classroom.
I was impressed by the words, “While you are a student, do what only students can do.” It may be more useful in the future to spend the large amount of time that students can spend on the basics and mastering their own field of interest rather than on clinical and applied content. It is precisely because there is little established information on exotic animals that the experience of breeding them myself since I was a student will help me make correct judgments when I treat them.
- After Graduation
To begin with, what do I need to do to work at a hospital that treats exotic animals?
Knowledge and skills directly related to exotic animal care can be acquired in earnest after you start working.
As far as the hiring criteria of Denenchofu Veterinary Hospital is concerned, the most important thing in treating exotic animals is to love various animals. In addition, it is very important for veterinarians to be able to talk with owners, so it is also very important to be cheerful and communicate clearly. Needless to say, staying in good health is crucially important as well.
In this sense, working part-time at a café or restaurant may be a good experience to become a good veterinarian.
You said that you have read through all the papers, including those from overseas, for your studies after becoming a veterinarian. Are there any other things you have done for your studies or any habits or experiences that have helped you in your current practice?
Nowadays, there are many books in Japanese, so I think it is good to study in Japanese first. If you feel that is not enough, I think it would be good to get information from overseas.
Especially in the field of exotic animals, there are many things that no one has researched yet, so you have to do your own research.
I can think of academic societies as a place to get information on exotic animals, but should I belong to an academic society? Also, what do you think are the advantages of belonging to an academic society?
I think that academic conferences are important as a place for social gatherings and exchanges.
Not only can you gain information, but also you would be able to refer a patient to larger variety of hospitals by gaining personal connections. You would be able to have more colleagues whom you can consult with when you have problems in your practice.
Also, while many people who aim to open their own practice in the field of companion animal care gain experience at only a single hospital, gaining experience at multiple hospitals has been a good experience for me. The atmosphere at each hospital was very different, and although I had some difficulties, I learned quite a bit.
- Exotic Animal Care
Finally, we asked Dr.Tamukai, who deal with exotic animals on the front lines of the field every day, about what he feels during his practice and about the future of exotic animal care.
So you treat fish as well! Personally, I cannot imagine a treatment of fish, but how exactly do you give a treatment?
Basically, fish are treated with medication. Fish can take in substances through their gills into their blood vessels, so we treat them by dipping them in water containing medicine.
Since pet fish are brought in, are there any surgical procedures for fish? Would not water flow in through the wound?
There is no problem with surgery on surface of the body, especially if it is a surgery to remove a tumor.
There must be many difficulties in treating exotic animals, but is there anything in particular that you would consider difficult?
In general, I think that the difficulties are the lack of data and the difficulty in obtaining information. As for data, when there was nothing I can refer to, I have tabulated some data myself and set a standard value.
On the other hand, what is worthwhile about your job: exotic animal care?
I would say the reason why I treat exotic animals is because they are interesting. Of course, mastering a specialty in depth is fascinating, but personally, I enjoy examining a wide variety of animals.
Since exotic animal care still has a lot to develop, it is difficult in some respects. But from a different perspective, it may be an interesting field that is worth exploring.
Also, he kindly answered the following in-depth questions.
He also answered these in-depth questions.
To be honest, if I become an exotic animal specialist, would I be able to make a living?
If you can continue to produce good results and gain the trust of pet owners, you would not have a problem in making a living. Whether you want to work in this field or open your own business, it is important to have the courage to take on the challenge.
What are your thoughts on the current status and future of medical care for exotic animals, especially reptiles?
Currently, there are only a few doctors who can treat exotic animals, and their level of expertise varies. Especially in terms of techniques, exotic animals are often difficult to treat with existing surgical tools, and we are trying to do the best we can.
As for the future, the number of exotic animals that we treat may decrease due to stricter laws and regulations. In addition, the popular species of exotic animals has changed drastically in the past 20 years, and I believe that the popular species of exotic animals will continue to change in the future reflecting social conditions. The tools and techniques of veterinary medicine continue to evolve, and I believe that they will become even more advanced in the field of exotic animals.
What do you look for in students who aim to become exotic animal specialists in the future?
Just keep on going. I can say that I am where I am today because I kept on going. Even some of us who studied veterinary medicine with the aim of practicing exotic animals have drifted further and further away from exotic animal practice, but if you keep our aspirations and continue to study, you will be able to achieve your dream.
After the interview
Through this interview with Dr. Tamukai, I felt that what we have to do to become involved in exotic animal veterinary medicine is to continue practicing diligently with a passion for animals. The fact that he is at the forefront of this field and has gained the trust of so many pet owners must be a result of continuing to deal with animals with an inquiring mind since he was a child.
He also says that it is important to have the courage to take on challenges. In fact, he examines all kinds of animals on a daily basis, even those he has never bred or treated before. From his words, I strongly felt his determination to take on challenges without a fear of taking risks and to make the utmost effort to cure animals once he decided to treat them.
I believe that this steady effort and the courageous decision to face animals with little information will enable us to respond to the changing trends in pet animals and the advancement of medical care with the times.
When I asked him to tell me about what he thinks is important to keep in mind as a veterinarian, he answered that it is to provide animal-centered medical care for animals. He also said that he is a messenger for animals that do not speak human language, and that it is the role of veterinarians to tell their owners what they should do for their animals. I believe that this attitude is important in the field of exotic animals, but even more important for companion animal veterinarians since they have to build closer relationships between animals and people. In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to Dr. Kenichi Tamukai for sharing his valuable insights with us.
Originally posted 2022-06-13 18:48:51.