Is your pet under the weather? This man says a change of diet and transplanting good bacteria into the gut can often work wonders
Vet Zoran Jankovic, who has recently moved to Northern Ireland, tells Stephanie Bell about his revolutionary new treatment and why he believes combining traditional and alternative therapies is the best way to tend to sick animals
A Croatian vet hopes to help transform the quality of life for animals in Northern Ireland by being the first to offer traditional Chinese veterinary medicine for pets.
At a time when record numbers of EU citizens are leaving the UK, Zoran Jankovic (49) is bucking the Brexit trend by setting up home here.
Trained in the ancient benefits of Chinese medicine for animals, he also brings a revolutionary new treatment to veterinary practice here - fecal microbiota transplant.
Still very much an emerging therapy, even for humans, it involves implanting beneficial intestinal bacteria and yeasts from a healthy donor into a patient to treat a range of gut-related illnesses.
The practice is virtually unheard of in animals, but Zoran has carried it out with great results many times.
Although he was born in Croatia and lived through the war of independence in the early 1990s, he left 20 years ago and made his home in Malta, where he became a citizen.
Today, he regards himself as a Maltese of Croatian extract.
A lover of nature, he was unhappy at how his adopted homeland was becoming increasingly more urbanised and over-populated.
It was only when he met well-known Northern Ireland vet Siobhan Menzies at a conference that he considered moving here.
Since setting up home in a beautiful rural area of Co Down, just outside Comber, at the start of June, he has no doubts he made the right move.
As well as a love for the local countryside, he has proven a perfect fit for Siobhan's successful Holistic Pets NI veterinary practice, which uses acupuncture, hydrotherapy and physiotherapy in the treatment of animals.
Speaking perfect English, Zoran says: "Malta was becoming heavily urbanised and over-populated, which was my main source of unhappiness.
"I was dreaming of going somewhere that would bring me closer to nature when I met Siobhan at a conference, and because she has the same views as me, we both clicked.
"I had never intended to move to Ireland and, sadly, didn't know anything about Northern Ireland other than the bad stuff on the news during the Troubles.
"Siobhan thought I would like it, and I visited a couple of times and loved it. I love the place, I love the people and the food. I took time to learn about the history. It has a similar troubled background to my home country, so it was easy to understand.
"I was at university when the war started in Croatia and was very lucky I didn't have the hardship that a lot of people had. I left after I got my degree. I still have family in Croatia who I visit often."
Zoran knew he wanted to be "a doctor of animals" when he was a young boy because he had a special connection with them.
It wasn't long after he graduated and began practising that he realised western medicine did not have all the answers.
As well as looking into alternative medicines, he was interested in how diet impacts on an animal's health.
His investigations led to fascinating revelations which will have most pet owners rethinking how they feed their favourite friends.
"Very often I was frustrated by my inability to help a pet to the full," Zoran says. "I started to look for answers and experimenting with herbal medicine and also looking into proper nutrition.
"I discovered that a large amount of conditions can be improved and healed simply by giving an animal proper nutrition. This was a big awakening for me."
Zoran studied at the world-leading Chi Institute for Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine in Madrid, and has he never looked back.
Ever since, he has tried to integrate alternative medicine into his treatment of animals. "There are strengths and weaknesses in both," he says. "Western medicine is strong in diagnosis and identifying issues, and it is very important to have that scientific approach.
"When it comes to less invasive healing methods, Chinese medicine has a lot to offer.
"For me, it is about having the best of both worlds to get the best results and do the least damage."
Zoran believes that many health problems facing our pets - including their behaviour, digestive issues, skin complaints and even how quickly they age - can be cured simply by changing a pet's diet.
In our modern age of pampering our pooches and feline friends, he says we have forgotten what the animals' real needs are. It will be a shock to many animal lovers that the cause of their pets complaint could be in the food they buy in their local supermarket.
Zoran explains: "It is a big topic, and one I'm very passionate about.
"Dogs and cats are strict carnivores and need food that is not high in carbohydrates.
"Most processed pet food is loaded with preservatives and the amount of carbs far exceeds what they should as they are used as inexpensive fillers so that the food can be produced in bulk at a lower price.
"It is also nutritionally inferior as it is processed so much, and genetically modified crops are mostly used in dog food.
"If you feed a dog or cat food that is high in carbohydrates, it will lead to bacteria that shouldn't be in the gut, which in turn leads to health issues.
"I have seen many problems respond very well to a simple change in diet. Food therapy is a big part of what I do, and even all sorts of behavioural issues in animals respond fantastically to diet (changes).
"Just as an excess of carbohydrates can make children hyper and lead to all sorts of behaviour issues, it is the same for cats and dogs."
His advice is to try and avoid all processed animal food and to think of our pets first and foremost as carnivores.
An ideal diet will contain 40% meat, either raw or cooked, 20% organs such as livers, or kidneys, 20% bones and 20% vegetables. Zoran recommends searching online for good resources on what to feed your pet.
"If we look into preparing food for our pets in accordance to what they should be eating, we should be giving them fresh, good-quality ingredients whether cooked or raw," he stresses.
His interest in diet led him to the importance of good bacteria in the gut and how, if this is imbalanced, it can have a severe impact on health.
Exploring this area of medicine has led to him performing fecal microbiota transplants with dramatic results.
"Research in humans and animals has shown that the gut is like the second brain as it influences not just the immune system, but the function of the brain and body together," Zoran says.
"We have to be very careful what we expose our guts to, and it is the same for pets.
"Cats and dogs instinctively will eat other animals' poo as their way of replenishing the microflora in the gut.
"It is a very new area of medicine, but I have been using it in my practice and it has given fantastic results."
Zoran has been in Northern Ireland only a matter of weeks, but he already knows that he has found his new home here.
He has spent his spare time outside of work exploring local beauty spots with his two trusty pets, Jo-Jo, a mixed terrier, and an azawakh called Zephyr, which is the Greek word for the wind.
Our countryside, people and food have wooed him and even the uncertainty over Brexit couldn't put him off.
"To be honest, I don't think much about Brexit," he says. "I think it will be much ado about nothing in the end.
"We are so interwoven with so many British ex-pats all over Europe that I can't imagine that the worse scenarios in terms of taxation will happen.
"I have spent 20 years on a tiny rock, and now I am spoilt for choice with the beauty here.
"I can go for walks in beautiful forests, on beaches and in the mountains.
"I have a wood near me which I love to walk in, and at the weekends I usually go to the Mournes or Tullymore Forest Park.
"I haven't seen more than 30% of what there is to see, so I have a lot more to look forward to.
"I just love the outdoors and nature and I'm really enjoying working at Holistic Pets NI, where there is a great team of people. Everyone has made me feel very welcome."
For more details on Zoran's innovative approach to veterinary care, visit his website at www.vetmalta.com or www.holisticpetsni.com