New equipment helping Nashville Zoo improve animal care

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Nashville Zoo cares for more than 3,000 creatures. For the veterinary staff, preventative care is their number one job. This year they have new equipment that helps make that priority a little easier.

Dr. Heather Schwartz shows off the new ultrasound machine while checking for a possible pregnancy with Dolce, one of the zoo’s giant anteaters. “If they’re far enough along, eight to 12 weeks, we can start that process of looking,” she says. “I’m looking for a fluid-filled sack or a heartbeat. But, the heartbeat is what we really want and call a viable pregnancy.”

News 2 cameras roll as the director of veterinary services makes a remarkable discovery, “We got a baby! Diggity Dog!” Dr. Schwartz exclaimed.

Now that the pregnancy has been confirmed Dr. Schwartz will be checking in with the momma more frequently.

“I’ll come back to make sure it’s viable. We are also a part of a study to determine gestation length that wasn’t known.” She adds the gestation period lasts about three months.

Dr. Schwartz says the Nashville Zoo has the largest captive anteater population in North America.

The team has been writing the husbandry manual for the species to share with other zoos. “Every time we do something like this, we are always learning because so much is unknown about this species. So, it’s really cool we can share it with our colleagues.”

What helps the zoo continue care and research are generous donations from the community.

Dr. Schwartz recalls, “You guys [News 2] had a big event for us, and then I came back to this email saying they want to help out and Tenvision said they’d replace and refurbish the old one [ultrasound machine].”

She said the equipment gifted by Tenvision Ultrasound Llc. has helped improve routine check-ups and specialty care for the animals.

“This machine is used for a ton of stuff. Most people know it’s used for babies, but we also look at bladders, hearts, livers, kidneys to diagnose disease, infection, cancer,” she says adding the technology is much better than using an X-ray machine for the same kind of diagnoses.

The staff gives the animals treats to keep them calm during procedures. For instance, Sage the skunk gets to snack on worms while Dr. Schwartz uses the machine during a routine check-up.

“Ultrasound does not like air, so that’s why we use the gel,” she said. “I’m putting pressure on the abdomen. The darker screen is fluid and the denser part is bone. We can look at all the soft tissue organs. I’ve diagnosed GI and cancers, all from ultrasound. We use this machine almost daily.”

Dr. Schwartz says the previous machine was about 12-years-old and this new one helps them see a lot more detail which improves the care the animals receive.

“We got additional probe sizes. We haven’t had this so small before,” she says while holding up a device smaller than her hand, “So, I can use this on frogs that weigh 20 grams or look at fine detail like tendons and ligaments that I couldn’t do before.”

She says next on her wish list is a CT scan machine.

If you want to see the zoo’s vet staff in action – and maybe catch an ultrasound procedure yourself, then there’s a viewing area outside the HCA Healthcare Veterinary Center at the zoo.

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