Brookfield Zoo’s sloth bear gets a state of the art check-up

Medical Watch
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How do you give a 300-pound bear a check-up? We got a behind-the-scenes look today. There are about 3,000 animals at Brookfield Zoo, and just like humans all of them need routine health exams. Now some upgraded equipment with a few more bells and whistles is making a doctor’s visit at the zoo a state-of-the-art experience.

This is Kartik, a 300-pound sloth bear who typically spends his mornings grazing and snoozing – a leisurely existence in his habitat. But today, he had a doctor’s appointment.

Dr Michael Adkesson, Brookfield Zoo veterinarian: “All of our animals get routine health exams on a frequent basis.”

But see those claws? When it comes to check-ups they pose a challenge. So Kartik was given a dose of anesthesia. While he was under, head veterinarian Michael Adkesson and his team took take full advantage of their time with the sleepy bear.

Dr Adkesson: “Right now what we’re doing is just collecting some basic samples, blood samples, urine samples, we’re taking a good look at his organs with ultrasound, we’ve done a full physical exam.”

Then it’s off to the zoo’s new CT scanner -- an upgrade to an older model the medical staff had been using and one just like those in use at human hospitals.

Dr Adkesson: “The detail and the resolution is so much greater on this new machine than the older model we had, and the other big advantage is it’s 16 times faster than our old model, which decreases the amount of time the animals are under anesthesia and makes everything a lot quicker and a lot safer for animals.”

The crisp images help doctors better distinguish between what is normal anatomy and what may be disease. Animals up to 660 pounds can benefit from the new machine.

Dr Adkesson: “Right now we just did his nose to his chest and then we’ll come back and do his chest and abdomen. We get a complete look at all their internal organs, all their bones and joints and it’s just a very thorough full assessment. We’re one of two zoos in the country to have a CT scanner onsite. We just continue to do all we can to provide the absolute best for our animals.”

Kartik’s entire exam took about two hours – and like most animals at the zoo, he’ll get one every two to three years. The new CT scanner – along with another piece of imaging equipment -- was donated by Amita Health Adventist La Grange and Hinsdale Medical Centers. Both machines are hand-me-downs but welcome additions to the zoo’s medical facility.

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