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The Growth of Companion Animal Medicine in Kenya

Derick Chibeu, BVM, Sercombe Veterinary Surgeons, Karen, Nairobi, Kenya

John Sercombe, BVMS, MRCVS, Sercombe Veterinary Surgeons, Karen, Nairobi, Kenya

June 2017|Web-Exclusive

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In 1978, husband and wife team John Sercombe, BVMS, MRCVS, and Patsy Sercombe, BVMS, MRCVS, started Sercombe Veterinary Surgeons as a mixed practice in Karen, a suburb of Nairobi, in a space no larger than a single-car garage. Over the years, the practice grew as they were joined by other veterinarians.

Clinic Facilities

The clinic moved from the garage to a single-bedroom cottage near a main road junction. The bedroom was converted into an operating theater and the bathroom doubled as a dark room, with a removable window board to block out light. 

The practice is now housed in a building more suitable as a clinic center. The layout provides for a reception area with space for over-the-counter sales, 2 consulting rooms, a pharmacy, an office, a laboratory, a preparation room, an operating theater, and a dental operating room as well as supervised recovery kennels and an outer kennel block with an exercise area for supervised lead exercise. 

Equipment includes radiography machines, an ultrasound scanning machine, 2 endoscopes, a digital auriscope, and other specialist equipment. Although the practice is well equipped, it is a long way from providing services such as CT scans or veterinary MRI units—technology that is not yet available for veterinarians in Kenya.

The practice also has access to a commercial laboratory that typically provides same-day results. There are facilities for inpatient care, and although there are no “qualified” veterinary nurses on the team, the clinic team members are experienced with many procedures and are kind, sympathetic animal handlers. 

Clients, Caseload, & Culture

Initially, clients were few. They waited in their cars—if they had to wait at all. After a period of time, specific premises were needed to have satisfactory space for clients and patients. The ambulatory side of the practice, as with other large animal units, involved service delivery from the car. This is much the same today but with a fraction of the volume of large animal work seen in the ’80s and ’90s. The reduction has been mainly because of the pressure for land for housing; the district has shifted from semirural to nearly 80% urban.

Originally, the client base was primarily European expatriates, plus a small percentage of well-to-do Kenyan pet owners. As the demographic landscape has changed, the number of Kenyan clients has markedly increased, especially in the last few years. Kenyans used to consider dogs essential for guard duty and little else. In recent years, more families have come to see the value of household pets, particularly small dogs, and enjoy their company.

Whereas 60% of the clinic’s patients were once equine and large animal, that percentage has dropped to 25%. Small animal patients now make up 75% of the patient base. The practice also occasionally has exotic patients and helps with difficult wild animal cases. Although small animal practice is growing in Kenya, the country does not yet have many families who can afford the kind of specialized care typical of countries with a large wealthy population. Although there are no certified small animal specialists in Kenya, there are many experienced practitioners. Cases are often referred between practices for a second opinion.

Therapeutic Agents

Gas anesthesia is standard, but halothane is still used as the gas agent without incident. Propofol and isoflurane use is limited in Kenya. A lot of veterinary drugs and therapeutic agents for companion animals that are readily available in developed countries are not easily accessible in Kenya. This greatly reduces the scope of available treatment options; veterinarians must be innovative to make up for deficiencies. Although there has been a renewed effort by some local companies and agents of major pharmaceutical companies to address this, it is still far from sufficient.

Veterinarians & Continuing Education 

Companion animal practice has grown tremendously in Kenya, as has the profession in general. This growth has been accelerated by new and more stringent public health and animal welfare bylaws that emphasize responsible animal welfare and ownership. The Nairobi City County Council requires each dog owner to obtain a valid rabies vaccination certificate signed by a properly registered veterinarian. The private sector has also thrived because the government is no longer the main service provider and is involved only in policy making and oversight.

The Veterinary Act (enacted in 2011) requires veterinarians to obtain a specific number of continuing education credit (CE) points each year. This has seen more veterinarians actively seeking quality CE both locally and internationally, thereby improving Kenya’s veterinary knowledge base. The recent formation of a strong, lively small animal association (affiliated with the WSAVA) is also testament to the growth of companion animal practice in Kenya. The WSAVA, in the past 8 years, has been sponsoring CE programs that are well attended by small animal practitioners who have been exposed to specialists in various fields and have seen their own expertise improve.

Veterinary Medicine in Kenya

There are 1120 registered veterinarians in Kenya.

There is 1 established veterinary school in Kenya. Coursework includes an emphasis on farm animals (particularly poultry and livestock) but also covers horses, dogs, cats, small mammals, wildlife, and practice management and business topics. 

The average appointment transaction ranges from $10 (USD) in rural areas to $25 (USD) in urban area practices. The average veterinarian’s salary is $500 (USD) per month.

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