Administering anesthesia to lion patients


How North Carolina Zoo is leveraging behavioral training and Fear Free methods

In a dvm360® interview, Jb Minter, DVM, MS, DACZM, director of animal health and chief veterinarian at the North Carolina Zoo, explains when anesthesia is needed to perform exams and procedures on lions. He also shares that at the North Carolina Zoo, the animal care team is making strides in this area by incorporating behavioral training and Fear Free approaches so the lions are comfortable and easily comply to the veterinary care.

The following is a partial transcript of the video.

Jb Minter, DVM, MS, DACZM: A lot of people still dart lions. You get a dart gun, you administer the anesthetic drugs through a dart at some distance, because the lion doesn't like you. We have really been working in the last probably 10 to 15 years here at the North Carolina Zoo, to really ramp up our behavioral training program, which means both of our lions now are trained to come up alongside of the mesh, that's basically a piece of protective mesh that keeps you away from the lion, the lion will present its butt. And you could administer the drugs just because the lion just comes up alongside, it knows it is going to get a treat, you administer the drugs, it gets a little bit of a piece of meatball or something, and then you walk away, and then the drugs take effect. And then you have to go in to make sure that it's fully asleep.

So honestly, the most challenging part is just administering the drugs. Anesthesia in lions, and I'm going to knock on wood, is pretty straightforward. It's not that difficult. It's the administration of the drugs and then the safety aspect, realizing that you are dealing with a cat, a large cat that could hurt everybody in the room if it started to wake up. It's not going to be, 'Oh, just physically manually restrain it and get it back under control.' It's get the drugs, get out of the room, and hopefully things will kick in.

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