Relieving Silent Suffering: Management of Dental Conditions in Zoo Animals
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2019
Jamie A. Berning1, DVM; James G. Johnson III2, DVM, MS, CertAqV, DACZM
1Midwest Mobile Veterinary Dentistry, Dublin, OH, USA; 2Department of Animal Health, Zoo Miami, Miami, FL, USA


Dental disease is common in veterinary patients and often under-diagnosed, including in zoo animals where oral evaluation is often limited to opportunistic clinical examination.1 Underlying oral disease can be present with subtle clinical signs that may not be readily apparent to animal care professionals, and there is profound variation in dental anatomy among zoo species.2 Four cases from two zoological institutions are used to illustrate animals with marked dental disease despite vague clinical signs and where advanced dental intervention resulted in good welfare outcomes. These include a spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) with a 1-year clinical history of not fully consuming bones and where previous endodontic therapy of the right mandibular canine tooth and left maxillary fourth premolar tooth failed, necessitating endodontic revision and extraction. An Alaskan brown bear (Ursus arctos) presented only for allowing his conspecific to persistently lick the inside of his mouth, but he had no change in appetite or diet preferences. The bear had multiple fractured and nonvital teeth that required endodontic and exodontic treatment. A Brazilian porcupine (Coendou prehensilis) presented with clinical signs of choke, and further evaluation revealed a periodontally compromised left maxillary third molar tooth and left mandibular second and third molar teeth that were extracted, resulting in resolution of clinical signs. Lastly, an African lion (Panthera leo) presented for facial swelling and hemorrhagic ocular discharge caused by fungal oral disease that required exodontia and medical therapy. Thorough evaluation during preventive health examination and recognition of obscure clinical signs are essential to early diagnosis and management of dental conditions that may cause unnoticed pain and compromised quality of life.


We thank the animal health and animal care teams at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and Zoo Miami for their assistance with these cases and care of the animals.

Literature Cited

1.  Fecchio R, Gioso MA, Bannon K. Exotic animals oral and dental diseases. In: Lobprise HB, Dodd JR. Wiggs’s Veterinary Dentistry: Principles and Practice. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell; 2019:481–499.

2.  Miles AEW, Grigson C. Colyer’s Variations and Diseases of the Teeth of Animals. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2003:1–17.


Speaker Information
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Jamie A. Berning, DVM
Midwest Mobile Veterinary Dentistry
Dublin, OH, USA

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