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Story By: Jason Abels – Assistant Director www.tigerhomes.org Animal Sanctuary

Continued from Part One: Possible Foreign Body In African Leopard Digestive Tract

Dave & Jason bring Midnight the African Black Leopard to the vet for a second visit

Unfortunately, the next morning, Midnight was exhibiting behaviors not typical of a healthy African Leopard. She was extremely lethargic, hardly stood up and remained in one corner of her habitat. David and I were very worried about her health and were concerned that she indeed had remaining pieces of the bag she had ingested 2 days earlier in her gut. What to do? What to do? If we do nothing and wait and she did have a blockage or intestinal laceration odds of a successful surgery would be drastically diminished. If we decide to do “exploratory surgery” and there is no blockage or intestinal injury, then we risk her not awakening from anesthesia for nothing, as well as leaving Midnight with a large abdominal incision that will need to heal. Dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t. There were pros and cons to both choices and a decision had to be made.


David and I have seen and read many case studies on the effects of swallowing foreign objects, particularly objects containing long husky fibers in large cats. I remember a case in which a Mountain Lion (Felis concolor) in a California facility consumed a large portion of towel that was left in his habitat. After a few days, his keepers noticed that he had a loss of appetite and had even vomited his last meal, 2 days earlier. These are classic signs of gut impaction usually caused by the ingestion of fur or a foreign object. The animal keeper in charge of large felines took the Mt. Lion (also known as a Cougar, Puma, Catamount, & Florida Panther) to the vet who determined that surgery was immediately necessary. Once the cougar’s abdominal cavity was opened, it was apparent that there was significant damage to the animal’s intestinal tract! The Exotic Animal Veterinarian took pictures of the Cougars intestines showing that they were rotting in places, totally necrotic. Large segments of the upper and lower intestines were ulcerated and had “long linear lacerations” all over from towel fibers dragging through the cat’s bowels. There was such extensive damage that there was not enough healthy tissue left to remove the Necrotic Intestinal Tissue and reattach the healthy end pieces. In the end, the Mountain Lion was euthanized on the operating table. This is not an uncommon occurrence and David and I both new that if Midnight did have a blockage it could be life threatening. David and I, along with Dr. Kramer decided to opt for the exploratory surgery; as we had the sedative dosages dialed in from past experiences and felt a high level of confidence.

Dr. Kramer Inserting Breathing Tube / African Black Leopard
Photos Of Dr. Kramer inserting breathing tube >>

Feline sedation, especially large feline sedation can be tricky and risky; but Dr. Kramer is a true expert in the art of animal sedation where exotics are concerned, especially Big Cats and primates! Just like the previous day, Dr. Kramer drew up the proper sedation cocktail of Ketamine and Domitor; and I administered the injection as David and I played with Midnight in a private room. Once sedated, we X-rayed her again and prepped her for surgery. The fist thing we needed to do was to intubate her. Leopard intubation (See Photos of Dr. Kramer inserting breathing tube) is no easy task, but our vets kick butt! Once intubated, a Breathing Bag is attached and a mixture of Isoflurane and oxygen is administered to insure deep sedation and breathing function.

Shaving Midnight's (Leopard) Fur for Surgery Dr. Kramer Prepping for Midnight's Abdomen Incision
Incision Photo - intestines third layer of subcutaneous sutures was used to close the skin
Prepping for Surgery >>
Surgical Incision Photos >>
Applying Sutures >>

Since we were concerned that Midnight, the Sanctuary’s Black Leopard, had swallowed part of a cloth bag, we obviously needed to open her abdominal cavity to explore every inch of her digestive tract. It was for this reason, that Dr. Kramer made a foot long incision in Midnight’s belly (See Surgical Incision Photos), cutting through a layer of fat, and then, the Leopard’s abdominal wall exposing her abdominal organs. All I can say is that a Leopard’s digestive tract is pretty wild. I think Dave was getting woozy.

At first glance it was very obvious that Midnight’s belly was full of air; her stomach was distended and looked like a balloon. With me looking over his shoulder, Dr. Kramer went over the Leopard’s entire internal organs inch by inch, checking her digestive tract from tummy to tail. We repeated this micro search of her stomach and intestinal tract in search of any foreign material that could cause a blockage. We found nothing! In fact, Midnight was completely empty of any fecal matter and showed no evidence of a foreign body. Dr. Kramer decided it would be helpful to drain the air from her distended stomach and inserted a 22G hypodermic needle attached to a 60 CC syringe and removed about 50 CC’s of air.

Leopard Spleen
Midnight's Spleen
Picture >>

After one more top to bottom inspection, we determined that there was absolutely nothing foreign inside Midnight. I snapped a picture of Midnight’s spleen for future reference and Dr. Kramer sutured Midnight up while I assisted. Dr. Kramer has great expertise at suturing; he first placed a row of “interrupted sutures” to repair the abdominal wall, then a row of hidden “continuous sutures” in the fat layer under Midnights belly skin. Finally, a third layer of subcutaneous sutures was used to close the skin. When it was all done, not a single stitch was visible.

In the end, we were ecstatic yet disappointed. Ecstatic because Midnight will be fine and that there was no internal damage; disappointed because we subjected her to surgery. At least now, we can sleep at night knowing that Midnight (one of our kids) swallowed less than originally thought; passed what she did consume with the help of a feline enema and will be ok, assuming she awakens fully from the anesthesia, as there is always the chance that she wouldn’t!

Once the surgery was complete, the Isoflurane was turned off while we let her breathe pure oxygen for a while. Shortly after, the oxygen was disconnected and the Reversal Agent (ANTISEDAN) to the “Domitor Component” of the tranquilizer cocktail was administered. In about 5 minutes Midnight showed signs of swallowing and I removed her Intubation Tube and placed her in a recovery area.

As always, David, Alex and I are grateful to Dr. Kramer, and Dr. Harris and the entire staff of Avian And Exotic Animal Medical Center! I have been working with Exotic Animals most of my life and have seen many “Animal Clinics”, and “Exotic Animal Veterinarians”. That being said, Dr. Marc Kramer, and Dr. Don Harris are the best at what they do. Their clinic is one of the nicest I have ever seen, totally spotless, organized with the latest Veterinary Equipment. Both doctors’ have international reputations and respect. We are grateful to have them as our friends, vets and part of the www.tigerhomes.org team! Not many veterinarians have the skills and knowledge to treat a wide assortment of exotic wildlife, much less large predators!

Midnight was returned to the Animal Sanctuary and kept in a private recovery area with no platforms or furniture for her to jump on. She will be kept indoors for a while minimizing activity while she heals. She is already starting to return to normal, as well as regaining her appetite. She has eaten with out throwing-up, which is a great sign. We are eagerly awaiting her first pooper.

As always, we hope you found this interesting. David and I are grateful for your interest and support. So many of you stepped up to the plate and made a donation to help us care for Midnight and the other Sanctuary Animals. We are most appreciative! Please take the time to get to know the other Sanctuary critters on our awesome EXOTIC ANIMAL WEBCAMS. Midnight, the Black Spotted African Leopard will be back on multiple Web Cameras shortly after her recovery.

Click Here to See More Pictures >>

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