Meerkat Exams at the Zoo

What is involved in the animal’s yearly or every other year physical examinations?  Quite a bit actually!  For example, today two meerkats came to the veterinary clinic in their carriers ready for their examinations, well perhaps not ready, but they were there.  These animals were then anesthetized with a gas anesthesia called sevoflurane and then intubated, or a tube placed in their trachea to continue breathing oxygen and the sevoflurane to remain anesthetized. 

After that, a monitor that measures the carbon dioxide in the air that the meerkat exhales, the oxygenation of the blood, the animal’s blood pressure, an EKG to monitor the heart, and a thermometer were attached to the animal.  All of this is to ensure that the animal is doing well under anesthesia.  Once I check the microchip to verify which animal we are working on, the physical exam begins.  Several steps take place during a physical, including:

  • Listening to the heart and lungs and check for any murmur of the heart or abnormal lung sounds
  • Examine the eyes and ears
  • I palpate the belly (abdomen) to check for any masses
  • Trim the toe nails
  • Ultrasound the organs in the belly to make sure there are no abnormalities present and I even measure the kidneys to keep a record of their size over time 
  • We draw blood to check for the levels of the white and red blood cells as well as the “chemistry profile” that will tell me how the liver, kidney, pancreas, etc. are working 


After all that, it's time for a tooth cleaning!  We use an ultrasonic scaler and hand scaling instruments from Dr. Stilwill, an area dentist, and then polish the teeth when they are clean, just as what would happen at your dentist’s office.  However, in this instance we found a tooth (premolar) that was too loose, so I extracted it and placed antibiotics in the hole from the tooth.  Almost done!  Now we now treat the animal with antibiotics and pain relief for the tooth extraction, and then vaccinate the animal against canine and feline viruses as well as a rabies vaccine.   

You may notice we shave the hair on the hip of the animals.  Why is that?  So we can look at them and remember which one needs the antibiotics for the tooth extraction and it is easily identifiable.  Animals like meerkats have such similar physical features, that they can all look the same!  Remember that second meerkat?  You guessed it - time to do it all again!  Once the animal is back in its exhibit, it is time for the expert skill of the zookeepers to be able to trick the animal we had to extract the tooth from into eating the medicine hidden in a treat, and not letting the other meerkats steal it.  So far, so good, they convinced the meerkat to eat the first dose!   

Dr. Tara