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Ever wondered what it takes to be a vet? In our latest edition of Day in the Life, The Style Sheet spends the day with the talented Dr Zoltan Szabo — double board-certified exotic animals specialist veterinarian who practices at Tai Wai Small Animal and Exotic Hospital.

Early Morning

‘I’ve been studying for my third specialist exam, so I’ve been getting up at five o’clock to study until eight. If I’m not studying, I usually go to the gym between seven and eight. I intermittently fast, so I skip breakfast. I love coffee, but I can’t have too much — it makes my hands shake, and obviously that’s not good for surgery! I’m at the vet clinic by nine.’

Dr Zoltan Szabo, a veterinarian specialising in exotic animals, consults with a colleague at Tai Wai Small Animal and Exotic Hospital


‘Between nine and ten, I do a round of checking on, and treating, exotic patients already in the hospital — usually each vet might look after four to five patients. Then we call their owners to fill them in on the progress of their pets overnight. The term “exotic animals” refers to everything that people can keep, excluding dogs and cats, but which you wouldn’t eat. So I might be treating anything from a rabbit to a rodent, a ferret, a bird or a reptile. Rabbits, chinchillas, turtles and big parrots are the most common in Hong Kong.

From around ten until noon, I usually start consultations. One of the less obvious challenges of being a vet is that time management is extremely difficult. You have to deal with a packed schedule of appointments, and people tend to be late. Also, things pop up, like CT scans, emergency surgeries or people dropping by unexpectedly to check on their pets, and you need to fit these into the schedule. Generally, specialising in exotics is way less predictable than other vets’ schedules. There are also higher casualty rates. It’s kind of like the difference between a GP and someone who works in trauma surgery.’

Rabbits are among the more common pets Dr Szabo treats


‘Often, I have a surgery scheduled in at noon. Usually the whole surgery, from prepping the patient to stitching them up afterwards, takes one and a half hours, but the actual surgery portion is generally half an hour to an hour. The process is an extreme team effort. Before and after surgery, the patient is going to be treated by five to six different people, with constant attention around the clock. After surgery, I eat lunch. I usually cook at home on the weekend and bring in a lunchbox every day. I try and eat paleo, so it’s mostly meat and vegetables. If there’s time, I also squeeze in a little study here too.’

Large parrots are also common in Hong Kong. Dr Szabo once treated one that had landed in a family’s hot pot


‘Consultations usually run from two to six o’clock. Patients often come in with common husbandry or diet-related problems because the owner and/or pet shop doesn’t have the knowledge to care for them properly. For example, owners might be feeding their turtle rice and pork chops, causing serious vitamin deficiency. Seeing this is unfortunately super common. Pet shops often don’t have the financial interest to keep exotic animals healthy or inform owners of proper care. Turtles can live 35 years, but if they do, people won’t need to go back to the pet shop every year and buy a new one. With birds, feather plucking is also a big issue. When you have a bird and keep it in a small cage without exercise or stimulation, it starts to self-harm.

I also see patients with more complicated or serious issues, making them very sick or needing surgery. These are usually referral cases from other vet clinics who were unable to treat them. Sometimes there are bizarre reasons patients come to see us. For example, someone was doing yoga at home and accidentally stepped on their rabbit and broke its ribs. Or a parrot was flying around a home while a family was having hot pot, and the parrot landed in the hot pot bowl. Recently, tear gas has also seeped into some homes, so the Hong Kong Veterinary Association has treatment recommendations now.’

The hospital also treats small dogs, and many stay overnight for round-the-clock care


‘I finish at the clinic at seven, and head home to cook myself something healthy for dinner. I have access to the clinic’s computer systems at home, so usually afterward dinner I do some more work and look over patient cases. Lab results from outside labs often come in at ten, so I try and check those, and then make a plan of action for the next day. I also do some more study here too. Fitting study in with work is getting a little crazy, but I enjoy getting new degrees. Then the lights are usually out by midnight.’

You can follow more of Dr Szabo’s exotic animal-filled adventures, in and out of the clinic, here