By Jenessa Gjeltema, DVM, Dipl. ACZM
The Sacramento Zoo is proud of its partnership with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine which helps provide our animal collection with state-of the-art specialized veterinary care with a focus on wellness, disease prevention, and early detection of medical problems. By working together with specialists from the world’s top veterinary school, the zoo’s veterinary team can give each animal the best chance of living its longest and healthiest life.
Each animal at the zoo receives regular doctor check-ups. Just like dogs and cats, these health evaluations are usually performed every year, and often include full physical examination, bloodwork, radiographs (‘X-rays’), ultrasound, vaccines, and additional disease screening as needed. This allows the veterinary team to detect abnormalities and determine the best medical plan for the patient.
During a recent routine check-up of “Eddie”, the zoo’s 24-year old male and head of the wolf’s guenon family group, a heart murmur was heard. “A heart murmur sounds like swooshing. Instead of the typical ‘lub-dub’ thumping sound that a healthy heart makes when you listen to it through a stethoscope, Eddie’s heart made a ‘woosh-woosh’ noise instead” explained Dr. Gjeltema, the zoo’s veterinary specialist in zoological medicine. Because of the concern that Eddie might be developing heart disease, the team worked closely with Dr. Gunther-Harrington from the UC Davis veterinary cardiology service to help diagnose the problem. With Eddie under anesthesia and being carefully monitored, Dr. Gunther-Harrington listened to Eddie’s heart, performed an ECG, and obtained images of his heart with the aid of an ultrasound machine. She coached her eager resident trainee in the best approaches to obtain the highest quality images of the heart, which would help them make a diagnosis.
After the procedure, Eddie was prescribed several heart medications to help treat his underlying heart disease. Gjeltema explained, “Eddie has a type of cardiac disease that is affecting the valves and large vessels of his heart, and the medications will help improve his heart function so that he can continue being an amazing father to his family group.” Eddie will receive more frequent evaluations to help monitor the condition and to appropriately adjust his medications over time. Although Eddie is older and dealing with a serious heart condition, his caretakers are very glad that in working with the UC Davis veterinary cardiology team they can better understand his heart disease. It allows them to provide him tailored treatment that helps him feel better and that may allow him to have more time with his family group.
Eddie was not the only patient that was evaluated by the cardiology team during their visit. During Dr. Gunther-Harrington’s visit, she also helped examine, diagnose, and determine appropriate treatment plans for several other zoo animals with heart disease including a Bateleur eagle, an Amazon parrot, and a tree frog. “Due to the high quality medical and husbandry care provided in modern zoos, many animals are living much longer lives which means we are managing many of the diseases that can come with older age. I am very proud that by working together as a team to combine our expertise, we can provide this kind of specialty care to our unique patients.” Gjeltema said.