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HomeFrom Scales to Tail: A Koi’s Annual Veterinary Exam
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From Scales to Tail: A Koi’s Annual Veterinary Exam

Categories: Animals, Veterinary Exam

The Sacramento Zoo provides the animals that call it home with uncompromising care, including their veterinary care. When we say that all of the animals at the Sacramento Zoo receive annual exams, we really mean ALL of them! Our partnership with the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine allows us to give routine preventative exams to each of our animals – including the koi fish!

Keeper Jasmine transports the koi to the hospital

The first step of this year’s annual exam was for keepers Bill and Jasmine to suit up with waders and gently net the six koi out of the pond. They were carefully loaded into tubs in wagons and wheeled to the hospital.

Once in the vet hospital, they were transferred to large tubs full of water from their pond. One at a time, each koi was transferred to a tub containing water mixed with a carefully-measured amount of anesthetic powder. Anesthesia reduces any potential stress for the koi and keeps them from wiggling around too much during their exam. Surrounded by vet staff and students, each koi’s vital signs and response to the anesthesia were carefully monitored.

Vet Tech Rob Supervises while Vet Student Sam checks heart rate
Dr. Rob Browning supervises while Sam performs checks on the koi

Present at the exam were Veterinary Specialist of Zoological Medicine, Dr. Jenessa Gjeltema, Veterinary Resident Dr. Rob Browning, Veterinary Technician, Cheyenne Miller, and two veterinary students – Sam and Molly. An important part of the zoo’s partnership with UC Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine is helping veterinary students to receive hands-on training where they gain proficiency under the guidance of zoo veterinarians.  Throughout the exams, Dr. Jenessa gave the students opportunities to perform exams on the koi themselves. Guiding and encouraging them, Dr. Gjeltema and Dr. Browning attentively supervised each procedure and answered any questions. During waiting periods (waiting for a fish to fall asleep isn’t as fast as you might think!) Drs. Gjeltema and Browning even quizzed them on the processes and mechanisms taking place.

After each of the fish was confirmed to be fully anesthetized by vets and students, a blood draw was performed and a small scrape sample from the skin was obtained with a coverslip. These procedures are to check for signs of disease or any parasites that may be present under a microscope. Each procedure was done gently and with the fish’s safety in mind. Water was gently pumped into the koi’s mouth and gills to keep them anesthetized throughout the procedure. When being transferred to each station, the veterinarians even used plastic bags to ensure the gentlest contact and prevent damage to the koi’s delicate protective slime coat.

Koi Ultrasound
Veterinary staff perform an ultrasound on “Panda” the koi

Next were radiographs and ultrasounds to ensure that their internal organs appeared healthy. The fish were individually placed on a table under the x-ray machine and their radiographs were quickly taken. The ultrasounds were then performed in small tubs of water with the fish’s ventral (bottom) side out of the water for scanning. One concern found during the initial physical exams was that one of the fish – a black and white female named Panda – had a large belly. A large midsection in fish could be a sign of something more severe, like a mass, tumor, or build-up of fluid. However, upon further investigation via ultrasound, it was found that she was just full of eggs!

Koi on table getting radiographed plus x-ray results
“Panda” gets her radiograph taken

After being placed and monitored in “recovery tubs” full of fresh pond water, the koi slowly woke up from anesthesia.  Once fully recovered and given a clean bill of health by the veterinary team, they were returned to their home – the pond across from the vet hospital!

“I am very proud of the kind of health care we provide to the animals at the Sacramento Zoo. Through our partnership with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, we are able to give state-of-the-art care to all of our animals and at the same time provide the next generation of veterinarians with the training they need to help address the medical needs of all kinds of animals,” said Dr. Jenessa Gjeltema.

It’s of-fish-al! The animals at the Sacramento Zoo are truly given top-notch care – even the ones with gills! Be sure to stop by the pond next to the playground and visit the zoo’s fishiest patients next time you visit.