How does a sea lion get to the dentist? That’s a trick question. Sea lions don’t go to the dentist – the dentist comes to them! Or, in this case, the zoo’s veterinary intern, Dr. Kami Fox makes the “house call.” Dr. Fox recently performed a dental exam on Fishbone, an thirteen-year-old sea lion at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.
“Training with Fishbone has gone very smoothly and she’s very eager to work,” states Dr. Fox.
Zoo keepers regularly look into the sea lions’ mouths, but the team wanted to employ x-rays to spot potential tooth problems before they become serious. To take x-rays, though, the keepers needed to prepare the animals through training that involved operant conditioning. Zoo keeper Rachel Purcell began by training Fishbone to become comfortable with the x-ray plate in her mouth. “I started by putting a small x-ray plate on a tongue depressor and getting her used to me situating it around in her mouth. After she was doing well with that, Dr. Fox started visiting with the hand-held x-ray machine,” she said.
Purcell describes the sea lion’s reaction to the new procedure, “Fishbone wasn’t quite sure what to think of it at first, especially when it was touching her whiskers, but she soon got used to it.”
Dr. Fox noted that Fishbone’s mouth is generally healthy and she did not order any treatment at this time. She did indicate some areas of concern that zoo keepers and vet staff will continue to monitor.
Dr. Fox explains the benefit of preventive exams, “Now that we know there are abnormalities associated with several of her teeth, we can continue to monitor her closely with oral exams and periodic radiographs. If any changes occur, we are now better prepared for the necessary dental work. This has been a prime example of how behavior training assists us with preventative medicine so that we can be proactive and provide the best possible care for our animals.”
(Click on the photos to enlarge.)