Diagnostic tool at KC Zoo illuminates temperature of animals
By MATT CAMPBELL
The Kansas City Star
This print of a thermographic image taken of an elephant was displayed by Kansas City Zoo veterinarian Kirk Suedmeyer.
The veterinarian at the Kansas City Zoo uses the toy — er, diagnostic tool — nearly every day. It’s a machine that produces thermograms of an animal’s body, showing temperature differentials in bright digital color.
You would expect an elephant’s ears to show up in blue because there’s less blood there to create heat. And you would expect the skull and abdomen to glow orange or red because that’s where the organs are.
But what if there is something strange? The thermogram can provide clues to tell zoo officials to take a closer look at something that may mean a health problem for the animal.
“We’ve been able to find things with the thermography unit that we didn’t even know were there,” Suedmeyer said. “And the animal may otherwise be acting fine.”
For example, the vet and zookeepers were aware that one of the elephants had a relatively small wound on the bottom of one of her feet. The vet staff was keeping it clean and free of infection.
But a thermogram of the elephant revealed that the inflammation extended several inches up her foot. That alerted the staff to monitor a potential problem and to watch to see if the condition was healing or getting worse.
Unusual warm spots may indicate infection or disease. A cold spot may indicate a cardiovascular problem such as poor circulation.
“We try to do as much preventative care as we can,” Suedmeyer said. “If we can catch something early on, it’s a lot easier to treat it.”
The thermography machine and a large wall monitor for the veterinary operating room at the zoo were a $15,000 gift from the Deramus Family Foundation. It was a luxury the zoo just could not afford to purchase.
Now the vet staff has an additional tool, along with traditional X-rays, blood tests and physical exams, to help keep the hundreds of exotic animals in its care healthy.
Suedmeyer already is creating a bank of images of zoo animals to keep on file. He recently e-mailed thermal images of an emu to the Milwaukee County Zoo in Wisconsin in advance of that animal being shipped there from Kansas City.
The thermography machine has been at the zoo just a couple of months, and Suedmeyer continues to explore its possibilities.
For example, what does it mean when one kangaroo’s nose registers cool while another’s shows up as warm? Thermograms may provide the answer, Suedmeyer said.
“If I do 100 kangaroos and 99 of them are one way, then maybe there’s a problem with the other one.”
To reach Matt Campbell, call 816-234-7745 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on Mon, Jan. 17, 2011 10:56 PM