Veterinary Care

‘Rockstar’ cooperative cat aides Zoo medical study

Pull, poke and squeeze a cat’s tail, and you may not like the results – but Lakai, the Dallas Zoo’s 7-year-old mountain lion, isn’t like most cats.

He doesn’t mind having his tail prodded and squeezed, and it’s helping zookeepers and veterinarians explore a lesser-known medical field.

Zoo staff are taking blood pressure readings on Lakai’s tail using an inflating cuff, similar to one used on humans. The readings will help monitor his well-being and track data in a medical area without a lot history.

“There is very little data on blood pressure on awake mountain lions. The majority of blood pressures are taken on mountain lions while anesthetized,” said Dianna Lydick, manager of the zoo’s A.H. Meadows Animal Care Facility.

Lakai’s blood pressure training and readings are generating interest and buzz internally and throughout the zoo community nationwide.

“There are definitely people wanting this information,” said keeper Libby Hayes, adding that any time you can avoid aestheticizing an animal for medical treatments, it’s better for the animal.

To get to this point, Hayes and keeper Caron Oliver worked on tail training with Lakai every week starting in May. Over time, the mountain lion became comfortable staying in position, allowing keepers to grab his tail, prod it with a needle for blood draws and squeeze it tightly to take the blood pressure readings.

All aspects of the tail training is voluntary and done with positive reinforcement. If Lakai doesn’t want to participate, he doesn’t have to. Luckily, he doesn’t mind trying new things, Oliver said.

Categories: Mountain lion, Veterinary Care | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Nine things you probably didn’t know vet techs do

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It’s National Vet Tech Week and we’re revealing the surprising, sometimes gross, and always super-impressive job requirements that make vet techs so special and versatile. Our $3.75 million A.H. Meadows Animal Health Care Facility consists of five licensed techs, three full-time veterinarians, hospital keepers, and records administration.

Our vet techs work with some of the most majestic animals on earth, helping monitor animals under anesthesia; collecting blood samples; placing IV catheters and performing endotracheal intubation; filling hundreds of prescriptions; laboratory work; and assisting during procedures. The list seriously doesn’t stop.

Here are nine things you probably didn’t know our incredibly hardworking, smart technicians do with a healthy dose of good humor.

1. They geek out over abscesses. The process of lancing an abscess, flushing it, and then watching it heal is truly their idea of a good time.

2. They’re not “clock watchers.” They come in the middle of the night when needed; work through lunch during surgeries; stay late when new animals arrive, and more. (Vet techs may be superheroes.)

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3. Techs are skillful phlebotomists. They draw blood from the smallest of birds and reptiles to the largest of mammals. They must know where the best collection site is: jugular for birds; tail vein for most snakes and lizards; subcarapacial sinus in turtles/tortoises; and the tail, leg, or jugular vein in most mammals. (Serious mic drop.)

4. They’re brave. Techs conquer their fears to help animals they’re afraid of, and they do it with a lot compassion.

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5. They’re the only people EVER who look forward to teeth cleanings. During dental prophylaxis, they become giddy after snagging a huge piece of calculus (tarter) off an animal’s tooth. (No joke.)

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6. They work with zookeepers to make health checks easier on the animals. Through voluntary training, animals don’t have to go under sedation; instead they’re taught to present body parts for things like, blood draws, vaccinations, blood pressure and more. Pretty awesome, huh?

7. Techs do it all and more. They’re the setup crew, the cleanup crew, the nurse anesthetist, and everything in between.

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8. They LOVE neonates. (Even capitalizing ‘love’ still makes it an understatement.)

9. They win “Best Supporting Actor” every time. “Techs are the wind beneath the wings of the veterinarians. Without techs, vets would not be able to soar as high as they do.” ~ Dianna Lydick, hospital manager, BS, RVT, VTS (zoo)

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Not only are our vet techs licensed professionals who have to pass a national and state exam, but all of our techs have a Bachelor’s degree, and an Associates of Applied Science in Veterinary Technology. They also are required to attend continuing education annually just like other health professions. Plus, they’re part of the Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians.

To vet technicians everywhere, we honor you this week and applaud your work ethic, especially our zoological technicians: Deborah Chase, Cassandra Reid, Laurel Walosin, Eileen Heywood, and relief tech/hospital manager, Dianna Lydick.

Categories: Veterinary Care | Tags: | 1 Comment

Dallas Zoo vet’s commitment, thoroughness earn him top AZA honors

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Dr. Bonar checks the depth of anesthesia by monitoring a gorilla’s jaw tone. 

From fielding calls about a goose’s swollen eye, to observing a large mammal that’s “acting a little off,” a zoo veterinarian’s job requires nimbleness and the ability to multi-task.

A zoo and aquarium inspector, on the other hand, requires thoroughness and a methodical approach to comb through every nook and cranny of a facility striving for accreditation.

Dr. Chris Bonar does both. Really well.

Bonar’s experience and attention to detail has been recognized with the 2015 Inspector of the Year honors from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

Bonar, V.M.D., Dipl. A.C.Z.M., earned his veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine after starting his career at Harvard University with plans to be a physician. His personal passion for animals steered him into his career, and across the globe studying animals like black rhinos and lungfish, and to board certification in Zoological Medicine through the American College of Zoological Medicine.

As the Dallas Zoo’s Senior Director of Animal Health, Bonar is actively involved in clinical medicine, surgery, diagnostic imaging, pathology, and nutrition. He supervises a team of veterinarians, technicians, keepers, records administration and a nutritionist at the $3.75 million A.H. Meadows Animal Health Care Facility.

Outside of his day-to-day duties, Bonar travels the continent inspecting zoos and aquariums up for reaccreditation through the AZA. To be accredited, facilities must meet AZA’s standards for animal management and care, including living environments, social groupings, health and medical care, nutrition, record keeping and much more.

Each of the AZA’s 233 zoos and aquariums must be reaccredited every five years. That’s where Bonar stays busy.

“I always look forward to inspecting other zoos because the process is important,” said Bonar, who has been an inspector for nearly 20 years.

The inspection team spends several days at a facility. The inspectors observe all aspects of operation, including animal care, keeper training, guest safety, staff and animal safety, educational programs, conservation efforts, veterinary programs, financial stability, risk management, and visitor services.

Bonar appreciates the opportunity to grow himself as he helps other zoos achieve reaccreditation.

“I always learn something new and come back with new ideas,” he said.

Bonar is one of six AZA inspectors who call Dallas Zoo home, in addition to Gregg Hudson, CEO and president; Lynn Kramer, D.V.M., Vice President of Animal Operations; Jan Raines, D.V.M., Associate Veterinarian; Ruston Hartdegen, Curator of Reptiles; and Harrison Edell, Senior Director of the Living Collection.

Congratulations, Dr. Bonar! We greatly appreciate your commitment to excellence for the Dallas Zoo and zoos and aquariums nationwide.

Categories: Veterinary Care | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Girl Scout saves tortoise from water bottle

10-year-old Gracie Wakefield saves our tortoise from ingesting water bottle.

10-year-old Gracie Wakefield saves our tortoise from ingesting water bottle.

A day spent at the zoo is a privilege, time well-spent in the presence of majestic, threatened and endangered animals who deserve our respect, compassion and conservation.

The recent actions of 10-year-old Gracie Wakefield of Garland, Texas, show that she feels the same way. A normal Dallas Zoo day for the proud Girl Scout of Northeast Texas and her mom, Cindi, turned into a rescue mission when Gracie discovered a Galapagos tortoise eating a plastic water bottle.

“I first heard the plastic crunching. Then I saw half a water bottle hanging out of its mouth,” Gracie explained. “I ran down to the insect house and told them to radio for help. A reptile keeper ran over and took the bottle out.”_MG_0355

Several small pieces of plastic were removed from the tortoise’s mouth.

Reptile keeper Shana Fredlake says trash dropped by guests or blown into the Zoo gets into the wrong mouths too often. “Every day, I’m picking up plastic spoons, chip bags, water bottles, you name it,” she said.

And on a few occasions, our vets have had to remove foreign objects. “It’s terrible for their intestines because this stuff doesn’t break down,” Fredlake said.

Reptile keeper Shana Fredlake

Reptile keeper Shana Fredlake says picking up garbage from the tortoise habitat is an every day task.

Some simple advice from Gracie could help keep animals from getting hurt, both in the Zoo and outside of it: “Hold on tight to your water bottle so you don’t accidentally drop it. And don’t litter, because no one wants to see an animal hurt. I really like animals and I was so scared for that tortoise.”

We’re extremely thankful for Gracie’s quick response, and we hope all children are such good stewards of our environment and protectors of our animal kingdom.

Littering some numbers

  • Given how busy we are, anywhere from 10 to 40 park services staffers work daily to keep our 106-acre park clean.
  • 182 trash and recycle receptacles are placed throughout the zoo, ready to welcome your waste.
  • “Please don’t litter” reminders can be found throughout the park.
  • And another friendly reminder resides on your zoo map – so don’t let that become litter, either!
Categories: Conservation, Education, Guest Services, Reptiles and Amphibians, Veterinary Care | Tags: , | 3 Comments

How to train a mongoose 101

Dwarf mongoose Happy waits for his food reward for stationing on the scale.

Dwarf mongoose Happy waits for his food reward for stationing on the scale.

How in the world do you find out if a dwarf mongoose is pregnant?

You weigh her! And that’s also a great way to monitor an animal’s overall health.

But teaching these adorably sassy critters to sit on a scale isn’t for the impatient. Luckily, the Dallas Zoo has keeper Sara Bjerklie, who’s developed a special relationship with Happy, Sleepy, Sally and Jada.

Since last fall, she’s worked diligently five times a week with the small African carnivores. The key: cat food. It’s part of the mongooses’ daily diet and is a delicious, motivating snack.

“It’s been fun to see their individual personalities come out during training,” Bjerklie said. “Happy lives up to his name and loves to train, just not always on his station. I like to think he has an excess of energy and just can’t stop moving. Sleepy’s the opposite, he’s a little shy guy. But with a lot of time spent together, he’s warmed up and we’ve created a great bond.”

Keeper Sara Bjerklie gives Happy his cat food reward during positive reinforcement training.

Keeper Sara Bjerklie gives Happy his cat food reward during positive reinforcement training.

Mother and daughter duo Sally and Jada are typically the dominant pair in the pack. But they seem a little wary to train, and they took longer to grasp it.

The animals first trained on blue plates placed on the ground, and Bjerklie would ask them to “station” on their individual plate. As progress was made, she moved the plates on top of a small scale. And voila, we have weights! Kudos to Sara on her skill – and her persistence.

Categories: Children's Zoo (Lacerte Family), Enrichment, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: | Leave a comment

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