Veterinary Care: Rockhopper Exams

Dr. Ann Duncan is the Chief Veterinarian for the Detroit Zoological Society.

This week, the veterinary staff at the Rockhopper PenguinDetroit Zoo’s Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex performed examinations on the 11 oldest rockhopper penguins living in the Penguinarium.  As with other animals, penguins can develop age-related health problems as they get older. We know that it’s important to identify health problems early, and this begins with a thorough physical examination.

Veterinary staff members regularly visit the Penguinarium to observe and evaluate the 73 penguins of four species – rockhopper, macaroni, king and gentoo – and during these visits, we may check on an individual if we notice a squinting eye or a mild lameness, or examine and collect blood from a penguin with a decreased appetite.

For the exams this week, the 11 oldest rockhopper penguins were transported one at a time to the hospital for a thorough examination. Once there, they were administered anesthetic gases through a mask until they were sleepy, and then were laid on a towel on our exam table. Using anesthesia allows our veterinary team to very carefully examine each penguin from the tip of their beak to the bottoms of their toes. While they are relaxed, we can feel for lumps under the feathers and arthritis in the joints, carefully inspect their mouth and throat and listen to their heart and lungs. We can also palpate their abdomens while they are relaxed, which is very tricky when they are awake. Probably the biggest advantage is that we can take carefully positioned radiographs of their entire bodies to check for organ enlargement, respiratory problems, arthritis and other changes. We also collect blood during these exams, which is a very valuable tool for screening for illness.

Kat - Rockhopper Penguin

The oldest penguin that we examined this week was Kat, a 43-year-old female rockhopper penguin.  She is the oldest living rockhopper penguin in a zoo, and the first of her kind to successfully hatch in a North American zoo – having hatched at the Detroit Zoo in 1972.  We are happy to say that she still appears to be very healthy!

– Dr. Ann Duncan

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