In-Zoo Veterinary Communications: What Works for Us!
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 1997
Wm. Kirk Suedmeyer, DVM
Kansas City Zoological Gardens, Kansas City, MO, USA


Poor communication remains a key stumbling block to efficiency and progress in any zoological facility. For a number of years we have used several forms of communication that have improved the quality of care and efficiency of service for the veterinary care of the animals housed at the Kansas City Zoological Gardens.

Communication, by definition, is the exchange of thoughts, messages, etc. In addition to the standard International Species Information System (ISIS) and MedArks systems, we have developed several novel approaches to inform staff of veterinary aspects regarding their animals, and develop quality working relationships which have improved all aspects of management and care for the animals. These approaches consist of a select number of standardized forms, and videotaped presentations to staff.

Written Communications

Pre-Procedure Forms

This standardized form (orange) is filled out by the veterinary staff and is forwarded to the curator or technician 1 wk prior to any immobilization, vaccination, or detailed veterinary work. This form informs the staff on what day and time the procedure will take place, how many hours to withhold food and water, what specific procedure will be performed (surgery, EKG, etc.), how many staff are needed, and any medications or dietary changes that are needed prior to the procedure. Each item that is necessary is simply checked. This saves time for the veterinary staff in filling out the forms.

Post-Procedure Forms

This standardized form (blue) is also filled in by the veterinary staff, and is left with the responsible keeper or technician after the procedure. It details, in check-off form, what the person can expect from the animal. For example, if the procedure performed was a fracture repair, the form could be checked “lethargic for 24–48 hr,” “withhold food for 4 hr,” etc. Any diet changes are indicated on the form, as well as any medications dispensed. What to look for at the incision site, or what the bandage should look like is also on the one-page form. In addition, a statement on when the animal can return to the exhibit (immediately, 2 hr, 4 hr, 5–7 days, etc.) or if it must be rechecked by the veterinarian is also included. At the bottom of each of these forms is a space for additional comments, since there are obviously many scenarios that cannot be addressed with just one form.

Post-Quarantine Forms

This green form details all aspects of what tests were performed during quarantine (and the outcome of those tests, in a check-off format), quarantine length, identifying features, attitude and behavior while in quarantine, “fecal day,” treatments performed during quarantine, and the diet the animal was on while it was in quarantine.

Neonatal Checklist

This white form is a simple checklist that is copied to curators regarding the status of the newborn. Physical exam findings, antibiotics and wormers, vitamins, and any other injections that were given, animal heart rate, animal weight, etc. A space is included for any additional comments.

Animal Immobilization Worksheet

This pink form, for in-hospital use, allows the veterinarian to properly inform the veterinary technician, student, or intern of what drug will be used, its concentration and amounts to be used, the reversal drug to use, the mg and amounts of reversal, and how it is to be administered. In addition, the predetermined amounts of emergency drugs to have on hand are also included in this one-page sheet.

Animal Anesthetic “To Do” List

This white form allows the veterinarian to simply check what procedures are to be accomplished while the animal is anesthetized. Heart rate, weight, rectal swabs, ear swabs, what type of antibiotic, amount of blood and what is to be done with it, etc. This allows the veterinarian, technicians, and students to be on the same level, and accomplish all goals in the shortest amount of time.

AHC Calendar

This in-house wall board denotes days when major procedures are to occur, what animals need to be examined, as well as what animals are coming in or going out. This allows the veterinary and technician staff adequate time to prepare for the procedure, order products necessary (vaccines, etc.) and schedule their time appropriately.

AHC Quarantine Board

This in-house wall board schedules the animals coming in for each quarantine room, and how long they will be there. If the quarantine space is filled, animal supervisors and curators are informed, and timetables for quarantine are discussed.

Medical Treatment Board

This in-house wall board displays specific treatment protocols for individual animals either in the hospital or in the zoo. This information helps ensure proper administration of medications by the veterinarians, technicians, or students.

Oral Communication

Video Programs

Every veterinary procedure performed during the week is videotaped. The video is presented to the management staff, and then the keeper staff on a weekly basis to allow them to witness exactly what is happening with the animals from a veterinary standpoint. From this, decisions can be made regarding long term care, exhibitry, possible zoonoses, etc. Video presentations are kept to less than 10 min for each session, and a brief question and answer period is allowed regarding animal concerns.

Curators Meetings

An essential, down to earth meeting among all curators takes place weekly. During these meetings, major concerns and events occurring in the zoo are discussed.

Staff Meetings

This weekly meeting involves all management staff, including public relations, concessions, security, education, veterinary and animal supervisors. Zoo-wide concerns, events, and updates are discussed. It is at this meeting that videotape presentations are made regarding veterinary procedures and concerns.

Animal Management Meetings

This weekly meeting discusses specific animal concerns and procedures. Shipments in or out, short- and long-term exhibit goals, and animal health issues or procedures are just a few of the topics discussed. Veterinarians, animal supervisors, and animal curators are involved in this 1-hr meeting.


The development and use of these approaches to communication is what currently works for us. It is not a panacea, and minor communication problems still persist, but overall, veterinary aspects of communication work well, providing another avenue to ensure quality care and efficiency in this zoological setting.


Speaker Information
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Wm. Kirk Suedmeyer, DVM
Kansas City Zoological Gardens
Kansas City, MO, USA

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