We all know cats can be uncooperative during a vet visit at the best of times, but what if your cat was close to 130 kg (280 pounds), nearly 3.3 metres (11 feet) in length, and one of the largest cats in the world? For the team at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, it’s another day at the office – albeit an extraordinary one.
Recently, the zoo’s animal care and animal health teams noticed Taiga, our 13-year-old Amur tiger, has been passing blood in her urine. In order to examine her safely, Taiga needed to be anaesthetised. However, thanks to years of training, many of our animals are willing to participate in their own health care, and Taiga is no exception.
The zookeepers have worked closely with Taiga over many years and trained her to voluntarily enter a small cage and receive injections. Her initial sedation was administered in that cage. This kind of training helps greatly to reduce the stress and pain associated with the veterinary procedures and the “classic” method of remote sedation delivery – that is, darting dangerous animals with anaesthetic drugs.
Once Taiga was asleep, the zoo’s veterinarian, Dr. Limoges, placed a tube in her (trachea) windpipe and administered oxygen and anaesthetic gas. The team also placed an intravenous (IV) catheter to administer fluids to maintain Taiga’s blood pressure. Taiga received a physical exam, radiographs and an ultrasound. The animal health team also took blood and urine samples.
The entire procedure, from getting her into the small cage to when she was back up and walking, took just under four hours. The actual anaesthetic time, from initial injection of drugs to when she first started waking up was almost exactly three hours. An amazing team of eight zoo staff were on hand, including animal health, animal care, and site services.
Although an examination such as Taiga’s isn’t unusual, the more an animal tends toward size extremes the more the examination is challenging. In Taiga’s case, because she is bigger and heavier than a human, the physical examination takes longer than it would for a smaller animal. It also takes more time, effort, and people to position a tiger for radiographs and to do ultrasounds. As well, because she is a large and dangerous animal, the team had to be extra attentive with the anaesthesia to ensure Taiga didn’t wake up unexpectedly!
We are happy to report that Taiga was alert and walking within an hour of her procedure. She has been diagnosed with a urinary tract infection, as well as a few age-related problems including lenticular sclerosis (a bluish transparent haze that develops in the lens of the eye), muscle wasting in the rear legs, and one overgrown toenail. She is on an antibiotic and is being well-cared for on her road to recovery!