With cold and flu season coming to an end, it is interesting to think about how animals, like people, need medicine. This includes the animals at the Zoo. The process isn’t as easy and requires that zoo keepers get creative. There are a lot of potential problems to consider when trying to medicate an animal in our care.
If your dog needs medication, you can usually roll the pill up in a piece of cheese or meat to disguise it and get it to eat the medicine. Most of the animals at the Zoo are quick to learn that trick and will either not accept it at all or will take the treat and spit the pill back out!
If a domestic animal won’t take medicine in food, you or your vet can place the medicine inside the pet dog’s or cat’s mouth if absolutely necessary. This technique is usually not an option for zoo animals. It is the keepers’ job to get the animal to come over and then attempt to administer the drug under the vet’s supervision. Some medications are not flavored nicely like children’s medicine. Some can be oily and difficult to mix with food to hide the taste.
Thankfully, zoo keepers have mastered many techniques to give animals medicine. Once in a while, there are medications that can be hidden in food or mixed with juice, depending on the animal. For primates, sometimes we can hide a pill in a grape, among other grapes. However, we have to change the order of grapes in which they are given because they will be quick to know that the second grape will have the medicine every time, and spit out that second grape or not take it at all. Some animals have a favorite food that is saved for only giving medicine. This way they are eager to take that special food with the medication.
Sometimes an animal will require an injection. A lot of the animals are trained, or working on being trained to receive an injection voluntarily. This reduces stress on the animal as well as makes it a much more positive experience for everyone involved. If it is absolutely necessary, our vet can use a blow dart to administer a medication to an animal.
Medications can vary for how often the animals need to take them. It can be a couple times a day or every few days for a short period of time. It can also be one that has to be taken every day as routine maintenance for a long period of time such as vitamins inserted into fish fed to sea lions.
Regardless of the frequency the medicine needs to be administered, it is crucial the animals receive it. We try to make it as stress free and as positive of an experience as we can. Sometimes it’s a gummy vitamin that tastes amazing and is taken without hesitation, but other times it is a bitter or unpalatable tasting medicine that requires some imagination.
Keepers are always using standard proven methods, but they are also creating new ways to administer medicine that are easy on the keepers and the animals.
–Amanda Davis, Zoo Keeper