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Companion Animals & A Happier World

Takuo Ishida, DVM, PhD, DJVP, Tokyo, Japan

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Located in central Tokyo, Akasaka Animal Hospital is within 1 mile of the Imperial Palace. It is surrounded by high-rise buildings, and dining and entertainment options are plentiful in the area. The practice offers routine care (eg, cough, dermatologic disorders, GI disorders) as well as 24-hour emergency care. Akasaka specializes in oncology, immunologic diseases, and endocrinology.

Akasaka was founded by Hiroko Shibanai, DVM, one of the first female practitioners in Japan and past president of the Japanese Animal Hospital Association (JAHA). Now 80, Shibanai remains active in the community; she speaks all over Japan and volunteers for activities such as animal-assisted therapy. She performs surgeries as well.

The leadership also includes hospital director Akiko Shibanai, DVM, who like Hiroko Shibanai is a graduate of Nihon University, and medical director Takuo Ishida, DVM, PhD, DJCVP, a graduate of Nippon Veterinary and Animal Science University.

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Education & Training

Training for veterinarians is a challenge. Little specialty training is available in the country’s schools, except in the areas of pathology and ophthalmology. There are some certification programs that do not require resident training (eg, surgery, oncology, dermatology). There are therefore few specialists, most of whom were educated in the United States.

With few specialists to whom patients can be referred, Japanese veterinary practices tend to do more “specialized” procedures compared to the primary practices in the United States. For example, most medium-sized and larger hospitals (ie, those with multiple veterinarians and team members) have in-hospital laboratory diagnostic instruments, X-ray, ultrasound, and endoscopes. Ishida is a board-certified pathologist, and cardiology specialists visit the practice weekly. An imaging specialist is on-site once a month.

Another challenge is training for veterinary nurses; the veterinary nurse license program is still in transition. Veterinary nurse certifications are issued by organizations, not the government. Veterinary nurses are not permitted to administer injections or prepare catheters. Training for nurses takes place mostly on-the-job, with a dearth of schools to provide training.

For this reason, Akasaka includes as many veterinarians as veterinary nurses, with 15 of each on the team. The team also includes 3 receptionists, 3 grooming specialists, 2 administrative staff, and 2 dog trainers.

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The Human-Animal Bond

The concept of the human-animal bond is growing among the population, but it is not widely accepted in government. Although veterinarians can legally treat different types of animals—not only those raised for meat—the field of veterinary medicine falls under the purview of the country’s ministry of agriculture. Nevertheless, veterinarians are well-accepted and respected in the area.

Akasaka is near American, Canadian, and other embassies, and as a result many non-Japanese clients seek care. When the chance for patient recovery is low, these clients are likely to opt for euthanasia. Japanese clients, on the other hand, are prone to do anything possible for their pets. (Americans often think of pets as family members, but in Japan this sentiment runs deeper, with many regarding pets much like children.) The cultural prevalence of Buddhism may play a part in the reluctance to euthanize. The Akasaka team considers it an important responsibility to offer guidance about when to treat and when to euthanize.

At Akasaka, the team regards companion animal medicine as promoting the health, welfare, and education of both humans and animals, as well as fostering the human-animal bond. A happy life with happy, healthy companion animals at home makes the family happy. A collection of happy families make a happy community, and so on—eventually making the society as a whole and the world happy. The next generation can inherit this happiness, and it is their role to make the future world happy. 

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