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Animal Health Program

surgery03The Buffalo Zoo’s veterinary department spends most of its time performing preventative medicine. Preventative medicine, which involves routine scheduled treatment and screening of the health of the collection, helps to detect and treat any health problems in their early stages—before they have a chance to endanger the animals’ well-being. 

A large part of the preventative medicine program is annual exams. The veterinary team attempts to perform annual exams on most of the animals in the collection.  This allows the team to look for any abnormalities (i.e. dental disease, eye problems, hoof problems, etc). During the exam, the staff draws blood to see if the there are any signs of infection in the body or signs of organ dysfunction.  Following the analysis, some of the blood is usually stored, frozen and added to a serum bank, allowing a biological record to be kept of the collection for researchers and disease monitoring.  Additionally, the animals often receive full-body radiographs (x-rays) to look for signs of internal abnormalities that cannot be seen with the eye or detected with palpation.

teeth-clean03Another aspect of the program is vaccinations. Vaccinations can be a challenge, however, because there are no immunizations made for any of the animals in the collection. This means the vet must use vaccines designed for domestic animals; most of which are killed viruses or bacteria.  Using dead viruses is much safer than live or modified live vaccines which could cause the disease in an animal that the vaccine is not designed for use in.  Although the effectiveness of these vaccines are not always known in many of the species they are used in, they provide a valuable tool to try and prevent infectious disease in the collection.

Parasites are always a concern with any animal.  Therefore, the veterinary staff performs fecal exams on the collection 2-4 times a year to screen for parasites.  The portion of the collection that is prone to having chronic parasite infections receives antiparasitic drugs on a regular schedule.

Just like domestic animals, heartworm disease is also a concern for a few of the animals and requires them to receive monthly preventatives, much like your dog or cat might receive.

frank-with-bunny04Even though the veterinary staff does a great deal to try and prevent any problems, occasionally animals still get sick. Many of the animals will mask signs of illness as long as they can as part of survival strategy, making diagnosing a problem more difficult.

Treating wild animals is a challenging task. Even if the vet determines a problem with an animal in the collection, most of the animals do not appreciate attempts to treat them.  Treatment must then be considered carefully between the veterinary staff, keepers and curators to make treatments as effective as possible. As a result, ingenuity and efficiency are very important to reduce stress to the animals and increase the success of treatment.

 

Veterinary Department History

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