Geriatric Animal Care and End-of-Life Decision-Making in Zoological Institutions
Geriatric animal care management and end-of-life decision-making has become increasingly important with animals aging beyond median life expectancy1 in zoological institutions. Managing health of older animals involves considerations for “welfare” and “quality of life.” Veterinary hospice, with its focus on relieving pain and anxiety, while also preparing “family” for end of life, has potential application in zoo settings.2,3 In fall 2013, Disney’s Animals Science and Environment (ASE) held a seminar to address challenges encountered with geriatric animal care and end-of-life decision-making. Seminar goals were to provide the best possible care for animals and provide resources and communication tools for staff. The seminar included pre-meeting homework, a half-day workshop for managers and veterinarians, and a full-day workshop for keepers. Both workshops covered common terminology, quality-of-life assessments, end-of-life decision-making process, and grief management. Keepers also attended lectures on geriatric animal medical conditions, drug and alternative therapies, nutrition, and husbandry techniques. After the seminar, action items were identified to improve geriatric animal care as well as communication around end-of-life decision-making. The benefit of such efforts have proven to be much more than revived enthusiasm in and attention to geriatric animal care at Disney. There has been more focus on improved communication and clarification of expectations between all levels of animal care staff and management. This multi-disciplinary, cooperative project offers an example of one way to improve animal care and help staff relations at any zoological facility housing geriatric animals.
The authors would like to thank the staff at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Epcot’s The Seas with Nemo and Friends for their participation in discussions and workshops involved with this project.
1. Faust L, S Dewar, P Peters. Accurately answering the age-old question: how long do they live? Association of Zoos & Aquariums website. www.aza.org/Membership/detail.aspx?id=30399 (VIN editor: Link could not be accessed as of 12-9-20.).
2. Johnson CL, E Patterson-Kane, A Lamison, HL Noyes. Elements of and factors important in veterinary hospice. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2011;238:148–150.
3. Jessup DA, CA Scott. Hospice in a zoologic medicine setting. J Zoo Wildl Med. 2011;42(2):197–204.