Veterinary Care: A Horse of a Different Color

For more than 20 years, Jeff Powers has assisted the Detroit Zoological Society’s veterinary team in providing the best possible care for the hoofstock living at the Detroit Zoo. Jeff is a certified farrier – a craftsman specially trained to trim and balance the feet of horses, and to place horseshoes, if necessary.  All domestic horses need regular trimming to remove overgrowth and prevent the development of hoof problems.

When Jeff first started coming to the Zoo, his visits were limited to the Barn. We could see right away that he has a special way with animals and is a talented farrier. At that time, a beautiful Shetland pony named Snowflake lived in our care. During an especially lush late summer, she developed inflammation in both front hooves, a condition called laminitis. We treated her with medications to decrease inflammation and discomfort, and called Jeff to see if there was anything else that could be done. He brought his specially outfitted truck, complete with a forge and anvil used to heat and shape metal. He used his blacksmith skills to design a custom set of small, “heart bar” shoes to help relieve Snowflake’s discomfort and allow her hooves to heal. She was immediately more comfortable and made a full recovery.

Since then, Jeff has joined us during exams under anesthesia to trim the feet of both zebras and Przewalski’s horses. We’ve also enlisted his assistance with a few animals that are not equids, including Dozier, a belted Galloway steer. Perhaps our grandest adventure was trimming the hooves of Raspberry, a male reticulated giraffe. When Raspberry was 10 years old, he developed overgrowth of the tips of both front feet. This changed the way that he carried his weight (a whopping 2,250 pounds!). We spent over a year training Raspberry, and were able to teach him to put each foot on a block so we could use nippers to remove the extra hoof. Despite this success, we could see that Raspberry needed a full hoof trim to get his hooves back into proper alignment. The size and height of an adult male giraffe makes anesthetic procedures very challenging. We developed a meticulous plan to orchestrate all of the necessary tasks – the veterinary staff would make sure that the anesthesia kept Raspberry safe and still while Jeff led efforts to trim the hooves. During the procedure, the vet staff was mainly focused on administering and monitoring anesthesia and supporting Raspberry’s head and neck, but we could see the flurry of activity at Raspberry’s feet. I’m fairly certain it was the fastest hoof trim in the history of hoof trims. In no time at all, Raspberry had four perfectly symmetrical, healthy feet.

I am grateful that Jeff has been able to provide his services to the Detroit Zoological Society and our team at the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex over the years. He has been a steadfast asset to us, and is a trusted and familiar face to both the animal care staff and the horses in the Barn. With regular visits every four to six weeks year-round, it’s my estimation that he has trimmed the feet of the donkeys Knick Knack and Giovanni about 200 times each!! We make a good team, and I look forward to years of continued collaboration.

– Dr. Ann Duncan is the director of animal health for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex.

Veterinary Care: A Visit from the Equine Dentist

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

At the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex, we often rely on outside medical specialists to help our veterinary team provide the best care to the animals at the Detroit Zoo. We have regular visits from veterinary ophthalmologists, veterinary and human cardiologists, veterinary surgeons and dentists.

This week, we had a visit from Dr. Tom Johnson, an equine dentist who delivers excellent dental care to horse patients throughout Lower Michigan and beyond. He has been invited to lecture and share his knowledge all over the world, and has developed special tools to help make his work more effective and precise. Dr. Johnson and I first met while we were classmates at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and we have stayed in touch ever since. I first asked for his assistance in 1998 when our geriatric Shetland pony, Snowflake, started losing weight. During her exam, we noticed that she had developed an abscessed tooth. After we removed the tooth and floated – that is, filed down the sharp edges on – her remaining teeth, she gained weight and lived for many more years. We realized during this exam that Dr. Johnson had the expertise and tools to provide better dental care than we are able to provide. Ever since then, we’ve called on Dr. Johnson to examine our rescued thoroughbred race horses and miniature donkeys. He has also helped us address dental issues in Przewalski’s horses and guanacos.

Dr. Johnson has a specially designed trailer that he brings on grounds when he examines our domestic horses. Each patient is given a sedative, and then walked into the trailer. Once inside the trailer, Dr. Johnson has access to the tools he needs to complete an exam, including a head-mounted light source and dental scalers. This year, we are pleased that horses Trio and Buster had no issues of concern and required only routine trimming and cleaning.

Miniature donkeys are known to have dental problems, so we were pleased that Giovanni also looked very good, though Knick-Knack had a molar that had broken in half, allowing food to collect at the center. Dr. Johnson worked for over an hour to carefully loosen the tooth, and was able to successfully remove it.

Before today, there were no signs that Knick-Knack had a dental problem. She was eating all of her food and showing no signs of discomfort. Left untreated, her tooth may have become abscessed, which would have been painful for her. We are very glad to have caught this problem early – we know that providing timely medical care improves animals’ health and welfare.

– Ann Duncan