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Doc Is In The House

Dr Benjamin Landon, founder and head surgeon of Singapore's first specialised vet surgery practice, opens up.

Just years ago, owners of pets requiring high-precision surgery would have to send an SOS to Sydney-based Dr Benjamin Landon, who’d swoop in to Singapore to operate on the furkid (yes, that’s now a word). Those owners, too, would willingly pick up the bill for Landon’s flights and lodging. That’s why Dr Landon decided to make the move to Singapore.

“I could see that there was demand – a need, actually – here, for proper specialist care,” says the 42-year-old Australian, who relocated in 2012 to set up Landon Veterinary Specialists, the first specialised veterinary surgery practice in Singapore.

No task is too delicate for the amiable surgeon, whose portfolio spans from residency in small animal surgery at the University of Melbourne to senior lecturer at the University of Sydney. His smallest client was a fist-sized budgerigar (or budgie, a type of parakeet), and he’s saved many a pet from malignant tumours.

A separate, smaller operating theatre is used for microsurgery purposes, which Landon employs for particularly delicate procedures.

Situated just off the edge of Bukit Timah, the pristine and calming interior of his clinic plays host only to referral cases; no routine procedures are entertained, allowing Landon to focus on surgical operations that may last up to eight hours. The surgeon sees hundreds of animals a year, the bulk of them straightforward cases like hip replacement surgery or the insertion of stents.

After Their Own Hearts

Some cases get fairly fascinating, however. One of Landon’s surgical feats is the installation of a pacemaker in a cat named Socks in 2013, a first in Singapore. The feline had simply been passing out after exertions such as a jumping onto a table, leaving its owners stumped and flustered.

Veterinarians suspected that a brain tumour was the culprit. When the case was referred to Landon, he guessed at a heart condition instead. The cat was made to wear a specially-made suit which helped monitored its heart rate, and Landon was proven right: the critter’s heartbeats would drop to as low as 50 heartbeats per minute, a third of the healthy average in a cat.

To remedy this, Landon proposed an artificial internal pacemaker. “An external pacemaker, while easier to install, would not have worked as a domestic cat’s veins are too fine to carry electric signals as required,” says Landon. While there are no pacemakers available for animals, per se, Landon improvised with a paediatric version. The delicate operation took only two hours under Landon’s seasoned hands.

It worked – Socks’ fainting spells ceased.

Pacemaker for Cat - Socks

Working around the issue of size, Landon installed a paediatric pacemaker for Socks the cat, who is now fighting fit.

Detection and Prevention, Not Cure

But not all of Landon’s cases end with a happily ever after. When asked what the leading terminal ailment is in pets, Landon replies “cancer”, with an audible note of sadness. Animals stricken with late-stage cancers make up a large portion of the cases referred to his clinic, and often cannot be saved.

“It’s the biggest frustration,” says Landon. “In Singapore, cancers tend to get left alone until they are inoperable,” says Landon. The reason? The gap between the start of cancer cell growth and detection is usually too wide. This results in tumours that are too complicated to remove due to close proximity with vital organs such as the brain, or simply too widespread.

CT Scan for Bulldog

CAT scans are for dogs, too. Landon has fastidiously appropriated the machinery and equipment he needs to assess and treat his furry (or feathery) patients, to the best of his abilities.

While Landon has had success with some of these cases, he says bringing in the pet six months earlier would have saved the lives of many more. “All owners should have their pet brought in for regular check-ups – twice a year if possible.”

Dr Benjamin Landon

Bring your pet in at least once a year, says Landon. The vet trip could save its life.

“If finances are an issue, there are affordable insurance schemes for pets.”

Between the emergence of those schemes and Landon’s full-time presence in Singapore, all owners can now breathe easier when it comes to the health of their beloved pets.

Landon Veterinary Specialists, 41 Eng Kong Terrace, Singapore 599013. By appointment only.

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