When our pets become sick or get injured, your everyday veterinary technician, or vet tech, is there to help care for them. But what about zoo animals? Like vet techs who work in veterinary clinics, zoo vet techs are responsible for performing demanding medical, surgical and preventive veterinary care, as well as communicating crucial information to the zoo's vet team. These veterinary heroes help all the zoo's residents--the furry, the scaly, the tall and the small--stay happy and healthy.
One of the easiest ways to notice whether a zoo animal is looking under the weather is through observation. Zoo vet techs have an incredible understanding of the animals they work with, including how the animal eats, looks, walks, talks and acts. Zoo vet techs regularly visit the animal exhibits to observe and report any signs of aggression, sickness, injury, breeding activity or the need for exhibit changes. When a vet tech notices, for example, that an animal hasn't come out of its cage in a while, hasn't eaten its food or is making unfamiliar sounds, she will note and report the unusual signs. A vet tech's impeccable power of observation can not only spot a problem, but perhaps save a life.
To keep zoo animals in top shape, vet techs work with veterinarians to provide animals with the care they need to stay healthy. To do this, vet techs must help perform diagnostic checks on animals and administer routine medical treatments, such as vaccinations or medications. Vet techs capture and crate animals, then help transport them to the medical facility. Under the supervision of a vet, the vet tech will perform routine laboratory diagnostic tests and collect lab specimens -- blood, urine and feces -- for testing. Once an animal checks out, the vet tech will help return the animal to its exhibit. If the tests show something is wrong, the vet and vet techs will administer medical care.
When an animal does get sick or hurt, a vet tech assists the lead vet in diagnosing and treating the problem. Once the vet has determined the source of the problem, the vet tech's responsibility is carrying out doctor's orders. That may include taking X-rays, administering medication, reapplying ointments, changing out bandages or simply observing the animal while it gets back on its feet--figuratively and literally. The vet tech records and reports what all she does so the vet understands what's happening with the animal, and the tech will communicate any urgent issues to the vet immediately.
In a worst-case scenario, some animals must undergo surgery. In those cases, a vet tech is there to assist the vet throughout the process. Before surgery, the vet tech preps the animal for surgery, then administers anesthesia and checks for any complications. Once the animal is in surgery, it's up to the vet tech to assist the vet with tools, equipment and monitoring. After surgery, the vet tech monitors the animal's recovery from surgery and will notify the vet of any unusual changes or symptoms. Surgery is the most complicated of medical procedures for animals, so vet techs play an important role in keeping zoo animals healthy and stable.
Jennifer Kimrey earned her bachelor's degree in English writing and rhetoric from St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. She's a regular contributor to the "Houston Chronicle" and her work has appeared on Opposing Views Cultures, The Austin American-Statesman, The Red Vault, The Western Vault and various other websites and publications.