Celebrating 15 years of veterinary excellence
Throughout his years at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Head of Veterinary Programs Dr. Mike Selig has had to develop solutions for several animal care dilemmas. Working with more than 450 species each day brought a new challenge and a new opportunity to provide exceptional animal care.
But there was a situation in 2018 that had him stumped: How would he fit Doc, the 425-pound male lion, into a CT scanner?
Very carefully, it turns out, and with coordination of the Zoo’s animal care and veterinary teams.
When two-year-old Doc first arrived at the Zoo in late 2015, keepers and curators noticed a lame front left foot that would seem worse on some days and better on others.
“Over more than a year, Doc was X-rayed and given medication, but nothing seemed to help the pain that he was clearly experiencing,” Dr. Selig said at a recent Tails and Cocktails lecture at the Zoo. Doc was on and off his habitat, spending more time with the animal care team in the Sarah Allison Steffee Center for Zoological Medicine with each procedure. Finally, Dr. Selig decided to make use of the Zoo’s CT scanner to help Doc.
A CT scanner uses a combination of X-rays and computer images to help doctors see a patient’s bones, organs and other tissues. The Zoo was one of the first zoos in the country to have a CT scanner, which up to that point Dr. Selig and his team had used on a variety of the Zoo’s species. It’s much more detailed than an X-ray, which Doc had, but also requires putting the patient into a tube to be photographed – which was the challenge.
“We had to work to make sure his legs and paws were in perfect position,” Dr. Selig explained.
A veterinarian radiologist with VetRad, Dr. Daniel VanderHart, was asked to review the scans of Doc. Dr. VanderHart was able to see a lesion on the head of Doc’s humerus that was so small you might miss it if you were to blink. “It was an injury that is commonly seen in dogs that they call a ‘jump down injury,’ something that could have occurred when Doc jumped from a higher height,” says VanderHart.
After the diagnosis, the Zoo’s animal care team formulated a plan that included orthopedic surgery, weeks of recovery time and constant monitoring by keepers, veterinarians and others.
“Doc has been back on his habitat since the procedure, although we continue to work together to monitor his day-to-day activities, movements and health care,” said Dr. Selig. “The CT scanner, the partnership with outside medical experts, and the recovery time Doc had in the hospital are all things that would not have been possible before the Steffee Center.”
Animal care out front
The Sarah Allison Steffee Center for Zoological Medicine opened in 2004. The 24,000-square-foot facility, divided into a hospital, quarantine area, office spaces and the Reinberger Learning Lab, was designed to be a place of science and education.
The building houses office space for the Zoo’s veterinary team, as well as the Department of Conservation & Science, which includes staff that coordinate the Zoo’s international conservation programs, graduate research students working on studies surrounding animal diets and interactions, and the Zoo’s epidemiologist.
Additionally, the Steffee Center has a fully functioning endocrinology lab, which is a rarity in a zoo animal care hospital.
The hospital space includes three treatment rooms that are visible to guests, a room for the CT scanner and X-ray machines, and several indoor and outdoor holding areas for animals who are under care of the veterinary team.
Animals spend time at the Steffee Center if there is a health issue, or if they are recovering from preventative procedures. Also, most animals who come to the Zoo or leave for another zoo spend time in quarantine – meaning away from other species so their health and diet can be monitored before they are put in with the population. A keeper team is assigned to the Steffee Center specifically to care for the animals, and they coordinate with keepers throughout the zoo.
In the Reinberger Learning Lab, Zoo guests can learn about all stages of an animal’s life, see what different species eat, and (if they’re lucky enough) guests can sneak a peek at veterinary procedures on the other side of floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
“The design of the guest space was revolutionary in that it brought the science and expertise out from behind the back room and showed how zoos actually care for their animals,” said Andi Kornak, Deputy Zoo Director and Director of Animal and Veterinary Programs. “Our animal care team is world-class, and we welcome guests seeing the collaboration and expertise up close.”
In its 15 year history, the Steffee Center has welcomed millions of guests to see animal care and veterinary care in action. Additionally, it has allowed for the different departments at the Zoo to work closer together than ever before and set an example that is recognized at a national level. Vet staff, researchers and the animal care team all rely on the ability to communicate and work with one another to provide the best care possible for the animals.
But as medicine continues to advance, so does the work of the Zoo’s veterinary teams. This October, a generous donor helped the Zoo acquire a new CT scanner that will provide better imagery at a faster rate, so the machine can be used more often in preventative cases, said Dr. Selig. The work of the endocrinology lab has expanded through the past decade as research done at the Zoo plays an increasing role in animal management.
“Looking ahead, zoos continue to increase animal welfare standards and invest in research into animal behavior, diet and husbandry for the betterment of species in our zoos and in the wild,” said Kornak. “The Steffee Center ushered in a new era in Zoo animal care and we are excited to see what the next 15 years brings in veterinary medicine and animal care.”
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