August 14, 2017

Vets seek answers for Arabian oryx

In early August, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center veterinarians Dr. Julie Swenson and Dr. Holly Haefele, plus veterinary technician Brenda Cordova, held a diagnostic procedure in an attempt to help an Arabian oryx that was not in ideal health.

Dr. Holly Haefele (right) and Allyssa Roberts prepare to take radiographs of the oryx. Note that horn hoses have been applied to protect the staff in case the animal becomes a bit light under anesthesia and potentially tosses its head around.

“We’ve been concerned with how thin she is, while the rest of the herd is maintaining weight pretty well,” Swenson said. “We pulled her from the herd and then put her in a pen at the vet clinic. That way, she would have easy access to food and we could increase the calorie content so she could gain weight better, but so far that hasn’t worked. We don’t generally have many health problems here with Arabians as a species, so she is a bit unusual.”

Swenson discussed the exam for the oryx.

“We wanted to repeat some bloodwork after we’d found some mild abnormalities the last time with her,” Swenson said. “In addition, we wanted to do a more thorough dental exam to make sure there were no teeth issues. We wanted to get radiographs on her to check for a foreign body or maybe an abscess in her abdomen, plus look for evidence of heart disease in her chest.

The vets use the ultrasound machine on the oryx’s abdomen and discuss what they see. Shaving the fur of the animal provides better contact for the ultrasound probe.

“We did an ultrasound for the same basic reasons as the radiograph; but it also allows you to look at some different structures better, such as movement of the heart, kidney measurements and specifics in the liver.”

In addition to Fossil Rim staff, vet preceptee Paula Rocha, vet tech intern Allyssa Roberts and former vet preceptee Jennifer Shultz were assisting on the exam. Currently a student at Colorado State, Shultz had stopped by to visit before starting her next semester.

Vet tech intern Allyssa Roberts pulls a blood sample from the oryx’s jugular vein. The gray clip on the tongue is a pulse oximeter. This measures the amount of oxygen saturation in the red blood cells as they pass over the sensor. This tells the vets how well the animal is moving oxygen from the respiratory tract into circulation.

“Jennifer just happened to be visiting us for the day,” Swenson said. “We like to have former preceptees come back to visit on occasion.”

Swenson felt like it was a valuable morning for all three ladies.

“We tried to get examples of rumen fluid from this animal to test it for various issues,” she said. “One way to do so is by passing an oral gastric tube, and that’s something you may need to do in an anesthetized ruminant from time to time. Ruminants can often bloat under anesthesia, which can make it difficult for them to breathe. Learning how to pass the tube is really important to relieve that pressure, and we don’t do it routinely, so this was a good chance to see how it’s done.”

The animal’s head and neck are straightened in order to line up its mouth with the entrance to the trachea so they can more easily pass the endotracheal tube. The oryx’s ear tag is visible, and it is used to identify individual animals even when they are out in a large group in the pasture.

As of now, there are no definitive conclusions on the health of this Arabian oryx, but the vets will continue to search for answers.

“She is a problematic case, because so far we can’t determine why she’s in such poor body condition,” Swenson said. “We are still waiting on mineral panel results to come back, and there are a few other tests we can run. We’ll continue to keep her at the clinic on high-calorie foods that are easy to digest, plus give her probiotics and other supportive care treatments until we are able to determine the underlying problem in her case.”

-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate 

This is a close-up of the Arabian oryx’s liver on an ultrasound machine.


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  • Hello, Holly. Great to see your pic and to read this interesting blog (thanks, Tye). Hope you found the problem with this animal.

    Seeing the photo took Sally and me back to our times with you in the past. In Scotland now, till 9/5. Loved it that Patrick and Suman got their grandkids together with you.

    Love, Paul

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