Four-Legged Athletes

Bessy’s Kleintierklinik, just north of Zurich, is in an area that has plenty of clinics. Surgeon Dr Rico Vannini explains how specialising in canine sports medicine gives them a distinct commercial advantage.

Evidensia Switzerland

“The process for dogs is exactly the same as with a human athlete – the right surgery based on the correct diagnosis.” Dr Rico Vannini – Bessy's Kleintierklinik

First of all, how did you end up being a surgeon at Bessy’s?

I graduated in 1981 as a general vet but I had always been interested in orthopaedics and traumatology, and had completed a residency in the United States in 1987. At the time, I was one of the first European vets who had the opportunity to complete a surgical residency training at the Ohio State University.

That’s where the seeds for my career were sown. I worked at the University until 1995. I then opened my own clinic and, in 2013, we moved into a bigger facility. I joined Evidensia in 2015 with my clinic.

You specialised in small animals – mostlycats and dogs. Why is that?

There’s a lot of specialisation in veterinary surgery, with some only doing orthopaedics, soft-tissue surgery, neurosurgery or even exotics or zoo animals. Why? The trend is like in human surgery. You have to specialise if you want to be really good in one area. However, other than in human surgery, our patients are a lot less uniform – there are 90kg Great Danes and also 1.5kg Pomeranians, so it’s still a big challenge, even though the bones and structures are basically the same.

What services does Bessy’s offer?

We provide general first-opinion treatment serving local needs. We are also a secondopinion clinic for people who weren’t happy with treatment elsewhere. Then we have referrals by other vets, by breeders and by sporting colleagues. I’d say 80% are from Switzerland, but we also have people coming from Greece, France and Italy. Someone even brought their dog from the States once!

“Owners value the personal engagement they get in training their dogs for agility competitions.” Dr Rico Vannini – Bessy’s Kleintierklinik

What’s sports medicine for dogs? Is that treating racing greyhounds?

Actually that’s only a very, very small part of it. The big trend now is agility competitions, where there’s an obstacle course and the dogs go over hurdles and through tunnels, I’m sure you’ve seen it. Certain breeds such as Border Collies and Shelties predominate.

Is there big prize money?

Not at all! In fact, there is no big prize money involved. Owners do this because of the passion they have to work and train their dogs for hour after hour. The prize is the honour of being the best. It’s not about the money.

Are the competitions hard on the dogs?

Not particularly, although like their human counterparts, canine athletes get more injured than non-sportive dogs. Because their owners are so invested in them, they are prepared to come to us and spend more money than most pet owners, to demand higher medical standards than normal, in order to bring their dogs back to full sporting health.

The process for dogs is exactly the same as though you were treating a human athlete. To bring them back fast, you need to do the right surgery based on the correct diagnosis. Then rehab and retraining – that comes afterwards. So, for example, we have an underwater treadmill that’s good training since animals can start using their injured leg quickly without putting too much weight on the limb.

Is all your work sports medicine?

I treat a large number of dogs with sport injuries every week. I’m particularly proud of this and it’s a growing demand but at Bessy’s, we serve all kinds of owners and pets. The region of Zurich is, I think, one of the most densely populated areas in Europe in terms of vets. Despite this, our good reputation helps us to stay successful in this crowded and competitive market environment.

 

 

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