The primary focus of the National Zoo's Department of Animal Health is to provide the best clinical veterinary care to the animals in our collection. This includes a managing a coherent preventative medicine program as well as treating illness as it arises.
Preventative health management consists of routine examinations, vaccinations, parasite screenings, dewormings, and quarantine of new animals coming into the collection. The preventative medicine program is especially important for Zoo animals as many wildlife species tend to mask symptoms of illness until they are very sick. It is our priority to prevent illnesses from arising as it is easier to prevent disease than to treat it.
Despite prevention, animals get sick. Clinical veterinarians at the National Zoo respond and treat any medical problems or conditions in any species, ranging from minor ailments to serious life-threatening conditions. Additional specialists, such as cardiologists, ophthalmologists, dentists, and surgeons, are consulted on a regular basis to obtain expertise in treating more specialized problems and challenging medical cases.
The challenge of zoological medicine is to adapt therapies and diagnostic techniques that were developed for other species and apply them to the wide variety of animals at the Zoo. Part of a Zoo veterinarian’s job is to apply basic principles to novel situations. Frequently, Zoo veterinarians help to develop clinical veterinary techniques that are subsequently applicable to the study of free-ranging wildlife.