“Free Contact” Behavioral Conditioning Allowing Diagnosis and Treatment of Dermatitis in a 59-Year-Old Nile Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious)
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2010
Maria Spriggs1, DVM; Chris Reeder2, DVM, DACVD
1Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden, Evansville, IN, USA; 2Animal Dermatology Clinic, Louisville, KY, USA


A 59-year-old female Nile hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious) was diagnosed with and treated for severe Streptococcal dermatitis. Multiple diagnostics and treatments were performed with voluntary cooperation in a “free contact” setting, without use of sedation. The animal had a 15-year history of positive reinforcement training for close contact with humans, tactile interactions, and open mouth for oral exam. In addition, the animal had a generally relaxed attitude, likely related to age and the absence of conspecifics. The hippo presented with large areas of skin depigmentation, erosions, and ulcerations. Based on previous reports of Streptococcal dermatitis in hippos, treatment was initiated with amoxicillin (20 mg/kg PO, BID; DAVA Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Fort Lee, NJ, USA) and topical therapy.1,2 Culture results confirmed beta-hemolytic Streptococcus, Morganella morgannii, and Enterococcus sp. Trimethoprim sulfa (30 mg/kg PO, SID; Uniprim, Macleod Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Fort Collins, CO, USA) was added to treat the amoxicillin-resistant M. morgannii. A veterinary dermatologist easily obtained two 8 mm punch skin biopsies without specific conditioning for the procedure. A blood sample was obtained from the ventral tail vein, though the behavior was not specifically trained. Serum chemistry results were consistent with renal disease. Subsequently, keepers implemented voluntary blood training. The food station was gradually moved onto a platform scale for routine body weight measurements. Behavioral conditioning allowed improved medical management in this geriatric Nile hippo, without the need for sedated procedures.


The authors would like to thank Kristine Van Hoosier and the hippo keepers at Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden for their excellent care of this hippo.

Literature Cited

1.  Clyde VL, Wallace RS, Pocknell AN. Dermatitis caused by group B beta hemolytic Streptococcus in Nile hippos (Hippopotamus amphibious). In: Proceedings of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians. 1998:221–224.

2.  Helmick KE, Rush EM, Ogburn AL, Trupkiewicz JG, Garner M. Dermatopathy in captive hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious). In: Proceedings of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians. 2007:92.


Speaker Information
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Maria Spriggs, DVM
Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden
Evansville, IN, USA

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