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What is a Routine Veterinary Exam at the Zoo?

Categories: Animals, Education, Veterinary Exam

With more than 500 animals representing 140 species at the Sacramento Zoo, veterinarians have their hands full. They use their expertise to examine eyes, cure upset stomachs and make sure the large variety of animals at the Zoo stay in tip-top shape. One of the ways that the Veterinary Department at the Sacramento Zoo provides quality health care to the animals is through routine health exams.

Male African Lion receiving a teeth cleaning

Nearly all of the animals at the Sacramento Zoo receive a routine examination once a year. As these are wild animals, many patients have to be anesthetized before they can be thoroughly examined. The risk of anesthesia enters into the decision on when and how to examine the animal. Some of the examinations occur at the animal’s exhibit and some are performed at the Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital on Zoo grounds.

Checking the ears of a Red Panda

Many of these procedures can be viewed by Zoo visitors through the windows in the veterinary hospital. These exams are similar to routine physicals performed by your own primary care physician. A complete physical exam includes body weight, determination of body condition, ophthalmic exam, dental exam and cleaning, checking the transponder microchip, careful palpation of the limbs and abdomen, routine radiographs (X-rays) are taken, and auscultation (listening with a stethoscope) of the heart and lungs.

Collecting a blood sample from a Standing’s Day Gecko

A blood sample is often collected for a complete blood cell count and serum chemistry panel, as well as banking a sample in our ultra-cold freezer. These tests help alert us to any underlying infections or problems with animals vital organs. Often vaccines are given at this time. For those animals prone to specific diseases, additional screenings are done to identify these conditions when early treatment can make a difference. For example, heart disease is common in many species of great apes. As a result, more in-depth cardiac exams are performed during the routine examination of our older chimps and orangutans. During these cardiac exams, additional testing such as electrocardiograms (ECG) and echocardiograms are conducted.