On the day after Christmas, Simba, our 20 year old leopard, bit off the end of his tail. We didn't see it happen, but he was fine at 9 am and by 9:30 am he was missing more than 6 inches of his tail. There was no sign of a struggle at any edge of the cage, and there had been keepers in the area, so we were dumbfounded.
Simba has been on medication for arthritis and has recently been getting cold laser therapy to help with that pain, but we didn't know if he bit himself because of pain, or because of being groggy from the pain medications. For the next couple of days Big Cat Rescuers arranged to sit with him in 2-4 hour shifts to make sure he didn't bite his tail or feet and to try and keep him comfortable.
On Dec. 30 Dr. Wynn consulted with Dr. Anne Chauvet who made arrangements for Simba to get an MRI at the Animal Care Institute. This was our first time at this facility so we did not take our Media Producer, but I wish we had. This is a very unique operation and a real game changer in concept. Simba's MRI, diagnosis and operation took three hours so I had a long time to talk with Chris Campbell, one of the owners.
In human medicine we are all familiar with how one gets an MRI. Your doctor sends you to a place with the equipment, operators, techs, and experts who interpret the hundreds of brightly colored images and then your doctor knows exactly what needs to be treated. In 22 years of caring for big cats, we have only had an MRI done four times because to do so meant that we had to find a human MRI owner who would let us sneak in after hours, and then we would have to find a vet who could read the results, then we would have to schedule a later time, back at our own vet's office to do the surgery. That took a LOT of coordination, a lot of secrecy, multiple trips across town and the last time it happened was in a storm where all power was lost right in the middle.
The people behind the Animal Care Institute came up with an ingenious way to make an MRI available, affordable and understandable to any vet.
In a building right next to the Fletcher exit on I-275 in Tampa, they have a huge, open type floor plan inside a secure 2 story modern structure with lots of parking. They have the MRI room, a large waiting area, and office spaces. On the second floor, accessible by a large elevator, they have more private rooms, evaluation rooms and an operating room. All of these rooms are spacious, well lit and have state of the art X-Ray, CT Scan, Sonogram and other diagnostic tools. They offer an MRI expert to do the imaging and, because it is all digital, they can bring in experts for consultation on the results as well if the attending vet isn't versed in the latest MRI technology and interpretation.
Any vet can make arrangements to have their client bring their pet to Animal Care Institute, and can use the equipment to do their own diagnostics. If surgery is needed, it can be done right there, on the spot, with all of the latest and greatest equipment and supplies. The vet retains their own clients, and can offer services that they might never be able to afford to offer otherwise. The vet chooses their own pricing to the client and can make it more affordable to their client than any current MRI provider because the Animal Care Institute makes it affordable to the vet.
If the vet doesn't feel like they have the expertise needed, there are vets who already use the services at Animal Care Institute who are happy to assist. I was impressed with the facilities, the wonderful support staff and the wide array of diagnostic tools that are available to our vets at ACI and would certainly recommend them to pet owners and sanctuary owners as well. I have the feeling we will be adding them to speed dial.
In Simba Leopard's case we were looking for spinal lesions or deterioration that might be causing Simba to chew at his extremities. Another reason we didn't take a film crew is that we were pretty certain that this was going to be inoperable and that humane euthanasia would be the only kind thing to do. We didn't find any obvious reasons for him to self mutilate this way, so we drew some samples from his wrists, to see if there is a change to his arthritis meds we could make, and decided to go ahead and amputate the tail short enough that he can't reach it for more chewing. He's old enough that we don't think he can bend around that far to get at it.
Simba isn't out of the woods yet though. We have to keep a close eye on him to make sure he doesn't start chewing on his feet. We have our hospital webcam on him below, and will have keepers sit with him when he wakes more fully.
We don't know if it is pain, senility, or just a one time event, such as a wasp sting, that started this whole ordeal for him, but thanks to Animal Care Institute we know what it isn't, and that is more than we knew this morning.
Below are videos taken just a couple weeks before. In them you can see how Simba was dragging his tail. At the time that seemed to be the least of his concerns, as we were trying to give him some relief in his wrists and ankles.
You can help us provide lifetime care for cats like Simba here: http://bigcatrescue.org/donate/