CAT scan for a big cat

ZSL London Zoo’s vet team have roared into action to treat a big cat with earache – hiring a CAT scanner to investigate an Endangered Asiatic lion’s recurrent ear infections.  


 
Vets treating 12-year-old Asiatic lion Bhanu brought the scanner to the conservation zoo to thoroughly investigate his troublesome left ear canal, following repeated attempts to resolve the issue; including specialist ear examinations and cleaning under general anaesthetic, as well as regular ear drops. 
 
ZSL London Zoo Senior Veterinary Officer Taina Strike said: “We wanted to devise the best long-term treatment plan for Bhanu, but we first had to find out what was causing the problem and urgently rule out any worst-case scenarios, such as a tumour or a deep-seated infection, which would show up on a CAT scan immediately. 
 
“Bhanu is an important member of the European-wide breeding programme for Endangered Asiatic lions and deserves the very best care, so we arranged the full VIP treatment; bringing a CAT scanner to a big cat for the first time, so we could see deeper into his ear without him needing to travel.” 
 
Bhanu was anaesthetised in his cosy back dens before being carefully transported to the mobile CAT scanner on the back of a flatbed truck – accompanied by both vets and zookeepers. From there, it took six members of ZSL’s team to gently lift the 180kg lion into the correct position on the scanner. 
 
The collaborative diagnostics also involved experts from across the globe, as a scan specialist in Australia with experience of working with big cats was also present via video link to live assess the results.  
 
“We were grateful to have diagnostic imaging specialist David Reese from VetCT on hand to analyse the scans in real time, who quickly informed us there was nothing serious to worry about – but that Bhanu had a very narrow left ear canal, which was more prone to blockages and infections. 
 
“Just like your pet cat at home, big cats can naturally get ear infections too, which are normally treated with ear drops,” explained Taina.  
 
“ZSL’s zookeepers have worked closely with Bhanu to make sure he is completely at ease having the drops, but the naturally long length of a lion’s ear canal, combined with Bhanu’s being narrower than usual, meant that the treatment wasn't reaching far enough to be effective - now that we understand the issue, we can work to get Bhanu back to tip top health.” 
 
Vets took the opportunity to give Bhanu’s ear a thorough clean and treatment, before taking the big cat back to his Land of the Lions home to wake up. 
 
The team have since formed a long-term treatment plan for his care; instead of ear drops, the important feline will receive regular oral medication to reduce inflammation in his ear canal, anti-fungals to manage any infection and a comprehensive ear clean during his annual health check. 
 
Expert vets and vet nurses at ZSL London Zoo look after more than 370 species, many of which are Critically Endangered and threatened in the wild. 

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