Bonde, an 8-year-old cheetah, spends most mornings prowling the Giants of the Savanna predator habitat with his sister, Kilima. One day recently, though, he spent it doing what many of us dread: seeing the dentist.
Keepers noticed that several of his teeth had darkened. “It hadn’t affected his eating, but we wanted to be sure it didn’t,” zookeeper Sara Squires said. “Cheetahs don’t have a lot of extra weight they can afford to lose.”
The zoo’s veterinary team called in Dr. Bonnie Bloom, a Fellow of Veterinary Dentistry and Adjunct Professor at Baylor Dental College and a vet whose practice is limited solely to dentistry. She is part of the team at I-20 Animal Medical Center, a 24/7 emergency hospital in Arlington. (See all of her articles, from root canals to braces, HERE.)
After the cheetah is sedated, Dr. Bloom conducts a thorough dental examination. She has a decision to make about the darkened tooth: does the patient need a filling repair, or a root canal?
After consulting with the Zoos’ veterinarians, who are monitoring the anesthesia, Dr. Bloom opts for the root canal, and also finds other teeth that needs treatment. Bonde ends up with three root canals, and a crown on one tooth, too. The Dallas Zoo appreciates having Dr. Bloom on call for such specialty treatment, and it’s always a fun day for her to visit the Zoo.
In her practice, Dr. Bloom sees the same dental issues in animals as in humans: periodontal disease, broken teeth, oral cancer, and trauma. Trauma could be from something serious, such as being hit by a car, or merely from biting a hard object. Her Zoo trips, though, involve unique animals most vets don’t see.
“I love it,” Dr. Bloom says. “It’s a challenge. I love working on dogs and cats, but these guys are even more interesting.”
A few days after Bonde’s treatment, Dr. Bloom also treats Hank, an African red river hog, after his keepers found a broken tooth in the habitat. Hogs can damage their teeth and tusks as they root for food and turn over logs.
Hank, 11, has four upward tusks, two on top and two on bottom. After the 203-pound hog was sedated, Dr. Bloom and two assistants took X-rays to see if the tooth was healthy, then filled the broken tooth to protect the nerve.
In an hour long appointment, Hank also ended up with a cleaning and a fluoride treatment. And Dr. Bloom cleaned out a fistula in his gum and stitched it closed, to prevent food from getting caught and causing problems.
Our zookeepers, using positive reinforcement, train animals to allow visual examinations of specific body parts, including their mouths. That’s how keepers caught these issues early for both Bonde and Hank. The keepers also had the animals open their mouths wide for Dr. Bloom on her first exams, giving her a good look at their teeth. That lets us avoid sedating the animal unless further treatment is required.
It’s just another example of how our veterinary and animal husbandry teams ensure great care for the animals in our care. So next time you see Hank or Bonde, ask them to smile for you!