Veterinary Care

Meet our newest veterinarian: Dr. Laura Kleinschmidt

Dr. Kleinschmidt tends to a tegu patient at the A.H. Meadows Animal Health Care Facility.

Our veterinarians are proof that not all heroes wear capes. They go above and beyond to provide the highest level of care to our 2000+ animal every single day. From tiny frogs to giant giraffes, Dallas Zoo vets see to their every medical need. Dr. Laura Kleinschmidt is the newest member of our amazing team, making this the largest vet team in Dallas Zoo history. Read on to learn more about Dr. Kleinschmidt, and join us in welcoming her to Dallas!

Where did you grow up? And what was your position before joining the Dallas Zoo vet team?
I grew up in Bettendorf, Iowa (a town just along the border of Iowa and Illinois) and went to Iowa State University for both my undergraduate and veterinary degrees. Before coming to Dallas, I was at Texas A&M University for a zoo-specialty veterinary internship, and then I completed a zoological medicine residency program at the St. Louis Zoo.

Did you always want to be a zoo vet? Tell us a little bit about how you chose this career path.
Growing up I always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian, to be an advocate and voice for animals and their welfare. My mother would tell you that I always chose toy animals over Barbies and had great compassion for our pets and all animals. As I moved on to college, I interned at a small zoo near my hometown on the animal husbandry team and volunteered at the Wildlife Care Rehabilitation Clinic at ISU. I knew by that point that if I was going to be a vet, that becoming a zoo veterinarian was my ultimate goal.

Do you have a favorite animal(s) to work with?
Everyone always asks this question! I truly couldn’t name a sole favorite animal; I love a lot of different species across taxonomic groups. Part of the reason I love this job is that it’s something different every day, whether different species or new procedures. I love that I can work on something as small as a hummingbird up to enormous elephants and giraffe (and everything in between!) in the span of a single day. It keeps life interesting!

What excited you most about joining the Dallas Zoo team?
Coming to the Dallas Zoo, I was most excited that the zoo has a team dedicated to animal behavior and training. They help all animal care teams across the zoo use positive reinforcement training to attain improved husbandry and medical care behaviors. When an animal can choose to participate in a training session with us, for example by allowing us examine the inside of their mouth or the bottoms of their feet, or taking a necessary medication, it makes our job that much easier and most importantly improves the quality of care we can provide to the animals.

What are some of the most thrilling parts of your job? And what are the biggest challenges?
The most exciting part of my job is working with all these amazing animals and providing them the utmost medical care so they live healthy lives and reach their greatest potential. This ultimately promotes conservation of their wild counterparts by giving them the support they need to continue to share their stories with the general public.

In zoological medicine, one of the biggest challenges we face is working with so many species that have vastly different anatomy and physiology. We have to think creatively to come up with new ingenious solutions to care for them all, which can be one of the most fun and rewarding parts of our job as well!

What advice do you have for young aspiring veterinarians?
“All dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” -Walt Disney

If you have decided that you want to be a veterinarian, study hard in school and have an eager mind; being a veterinarian is a commitment to being a lifelong learner. Whether you work in a fast-food restaurant or a veterinary clinic, demonstrate an unfailing work ethic; be that person that goes above and beyond, arrives early and stays late. Your work ethic will serve you well no matter where your journey takes you.

What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of work?
I love to travel internationally and experience and explore new places and cultures as often as I can. I love swimming, snorkeling, scuba-diving, sailing, boating and anything else by the water! I also enjoy participating in themed 5K races and triathlons, going to theme parks and the theater and spending time with friends and family.

What is a typical day on the job like for a Dallas Zoo vet?
We are lucky at the Dallas Zoo to have a team of four veterinarians who provide care for our animals. We meet each morning to discuss the plans for the day and which veterinarian will cover which medical cases — each day is different! Usually in the mornings, we complete any medical procedures that require anesthesia or include surgery, and in the afternoons, we often make “house calls” to check on other animals around the zoo and fill out medical records.

Categories: Veterinary Care | 1 Comment

Dallas Zoo mourns the loss of beloved red river hog, Hank

With heavy hearts, we announce that 15-year-old red river hog Hank passed away due to T-cell lymphoma. Hank was loved by our animal care staff and guests alike, and will be greatly missed.

Hank was loved by many, and will be missed.

In January of 2017, routine bloodwork showed that Hank’s white blood cell count was extremely elevated. After further testing, he was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma – a type of cancer that begins in immune system cells and affects the lymph nodes. Hank was moved to a special area behind the scenes where he could be more comfortable during his oral chemotherapy treatment.

Chemotherapy can cause some negative side effects, but Hank thankfully displayed none and continued to be a happy and active hog during his nearly two years of treatment. He even enjoyed going out into the exhibit with his friend, Zena, at least once a week for a few hours, before returning to his enclosure behind the scenes for an afternoon nap.

Our dedicated animal care staff worked very closely with Hank during his illness. In addition to his treatment, keepers saw to it that he had plenty of enrichment and training activities to encourage his natural behaviors and keep him mentally stimulated. Mulberry logs were his favorite. Keepers say that he would spend hours chewing all of the bark off of them. Animal care staff members spend a lot of their day behind the scenes, so Hank received lots of love and attention. He particularly enjoyed getting belly scratches, which keepers were always happy to give.

Prior to Hank’s treatment, there was very little information available about using chemotherapy to treat hogs with lymphoma. Our veterinary staff were unsure what to expect, but because they chose to proceed with Hank’s treatment, we were able to give him nearly two more years of happy and enriched life following his diagnosis. Veterinary staff gathered significant information during Hank’s treatment that could potentially help other animals in the future, here at the Dallas Zoo and elsewhere.

Since Hank was with us for 8 years (he came to us from San Diego Zoo), many of our keepers got to care for and love him. Here are some of their fondest memories:

“I worked with Hank at my last zoo. Every time he heard a tractor come by, he would run and vocalize with excitement. And, when approached would immediately lay down for scratches. He greeted me with that same excitement, every single time!“ – Tanya B.

“If you just lightly touched his belly while he was standing, Hank would tip over like a tree falling and lay there waiting for belly rubs. I also loved to push his pine shavings into a giant pile and watch him bury himself completely in them when he went to bed. “– Jessi V.

“Hank used to run laps around his habitat. When he finally completed the behavior you’d see him sprint around the corner to the ‘finish line’ with his ear tassels just flying in the wind. In that moment, he seemed like the happiest hog on earth.” –Christina E.

Categories: Africa, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | 1 Comment

Dallas Zoo animal staff remain committed to our animals throughout their golden years

We love all of our animals at the Dallas Zoo, but our geriatric animals are some of the most special. When some of our animals reach retirement age and are no longer comfortable shifting in and out of their habitats, we move them to an area behind the scenes designed for their comfort, where dedicated keepers care for their every need.

Dara, the yellow-backed duiker

For Dara, the yellow-backed duiker, that time came about six years ago. Dara was one of our oldest and most beloved residents, and sadly, she passed away recently from age-related health issues. At age 26, she lived to be the oldest duiker in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and she had a wonderful and gentle personality.

Duikers are a type of African antelope. Their name means “diver” in Afrikaans, because they dive into vegetation and brush when spooked. Native to Central and Western Africa, adult duikers have a bold yellow stripe down their back, which becomes more visible when they’re on alert and their hair stands up.

Duikers are very intelligent – their brains are proportionally larger than other hoofstock, such as some antelope and gazelles. Most are hesitant of new things before they learn more about them, but Dara was very curious and loved to explore her surroundings. She absolutely loved pumpkins! She would roll them up and down the length of her habitat before finally eating them.

Although it was tough to say goodbye, we are proud to have provided Dara with the best possible care during her golden years. Her keepers made sure she had mats covering the floor of her stall so that she had better traction and a softer surface for her joints. Her keepers also performed routine hoof care, gave her hoof and joint supplements, and of course, lots of love and attention. Zoo staff say that it was such a privilege to care for Dara. She will be missed!

Honeydew, the tapir, enjoyed a special “cake” for her 35th birthday (January 2016)

Our other senior resident is 37-year-old Honeydew, a South American tapir. She is currently living out her “retirement” away from public view, where she is pampered with brushes, baths, special foot care, and leisurely swims in her personal pool. Honeydew’s sweet demeanor makes her a joy to care for and a keeper-favorite!

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

Go “Inside The Zoo” with Dallas Zoo’s new hospital series

In our highly-anticipated new Inside the Zoo video series, we’re pulling back the curtain and taking you inside our $3.75 million A.H. Meadows Animal Health Care Facility. This is where our veterinarians, vet techs and hospital keepers care for the Dallas Zoo’s 2,000+ animals.

WATCH our first episode as we tour the hospital with manager Dianna Lydick.

Our hospital keepers have bragging rights to one really cool job. In our second episode, we share behind-the-scenes footage of new chimps, Kirk and Margaret, as they settle into a standard quarantine in our hospital before moving into their new home. We also dive into the incredible story of Galápagos tortoise Twelve – he entered our hospital over a year ago and has made a slow recovery, but will reunite with his tortoise crew soon.

WATCH episode 2:

In our third episode, meet our amazing veterinary technicians as they go on a “house call” to treat our black mamba, and see them give pregnant tamandua Xena an ultrasound. These ladies are champs and we’re proud to have them care for our animals!

WATCH episode 3:

In our FINAL episode, we take you inside our hospital like we’ve never done before. Meet our three veterinarians as they perform lifesaving surgeries on Sumatran tiger Hadiah and Galápagos tortoise Twelve, and watch them perform a quarantine exit exam on our new chimps before they join the troop.

WATCH episode 4:

PS: Join us for a Facebook Live Q&A with our lead vet Dr. Chris Bonar on Friday (May 25) at 11:30 a.m. Get all your animal-related health questions ready! Dr. Bonar will also have some special animal guests join him. Don’t miss this!

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

‘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

Brought to you by the Dallas Zoo