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Anything for Animals: Selat the Komodo dragon gets VIP treatment for arthritis

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications

Komodo dragon at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

What do you do when your 150-pound Komodo dragon needs to visit the doctor? You put him in the car and drive to the vet’s office, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple—but a recent appointment for Selat, one of our older Komodo dragons, provides a good opportunity to show how our awesome animal care team comes up with custom plans to meet the health needs of every critter in our care. Whether we’re working with the small and fluffy or the large and scaly, our team will do anything for animals!

Selat gets regular physical therapy treatments from the zoo's animal care team. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/WPZ

Selat is a 20-year-old male Komodo who is geriatric. Like many aging animals (and humans) he is experiencing mobility issues in his joints and limbs related to advanced osteo-arthritis. For the last couple years, Woodland Park Zoo staff have been working side by side with staff from SOUND Veterinary Rehabilitation Center in Shoreline to manage Selat’s day-to-day comfort. They do this through a combination of oral medications and rehabilitation therapy—including laser treatments, acupuncture and massage.

Carrying Selat to the zoo vehicle. Photo: Gemina Garland-Lewis

In addition to meeting every-day needs, we also come up with long-term care plans for all our animals. For Selat, that meant being carried into one of the zoo’s vehicles a few weeks ago, for some offsite diagnostic imaging to monitor the progression of his arthritis. (His dedicated keepers escorted him on his I-5 outing.)

Woodland Park Zoo staff make sure Selat is comfortable for the procedure. Photo: Gemina Garland-Lewis

Even though his size can be a challenge—not to mention the fact that he has a mouth full of sharp teeth and saliva that contains dangerous bacteria—Selat’s care team said he was a “good boy” throughout the procedure. Selat is usually quite calm and mellow for his regular rehab sessions at the zoo. Nonetheless, our veterinarians gave him some sedation to keep him comfortable during the car ride and the scans. The diagnosis: although his elbows and knees do show advanced levels of degeneration in the joints, no new issues of concern were found in the scan.

Specialists review images of Selat's joints. Photo: Gemina Garland-Lewis

It takes a village to manage a patient like Selat and we would like to recognize and thank them all! In addition to our amazing Woodland Park Zoo staff who care for him every day, there are a number of people who helped make this extraordinary procedure happen. That team included radiologist Dr. Rob Liddell; Dr. Rebecca Manley, a veterinary radiologist from Northwest Veterinary Imaging; Dr. Kristin Kirkby Shaw, Medical Director of SOUND Veterinary Rehabilitation Center and Woodland Park Zoo’s consultant for our rehabilitation medicine program; Dr. Cindy Knapp, consulting acupuncturist from SOUND Veterinary Rehabilitation Center; and photographer Gemina Garland-Lewis.

Caring for a patient like Selat is a hands-on job for Woodland Park Zoo's dedicated staff. Photo: Gemina Garland-Lewis

According to Dr. Darin Collins, Woodland Park Zoo’s Director of Animal Health, Selat was an excellent patient and his continued prognosis is good. “We continue to manage his care, day-to-day, and will further accommodate his treatment plan as long as he continues to respond favorably.”

Our animal care team says that Selat might have been a little sore after the limb exercises that were part of his latest appointment, but by the morning after he was more than ready for his normal ration of defrosted rats, rabbits, chickens or guinea pigs for breakfast. (We can relate to the first part—not so much to the second.)

Komodo habitat in the Adaptations building at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo: Mat Hayward/Woodland Park Zoo

Next time you visit the zoo, be sure to visit Selat and our other Komodo, a 6-year-old male named Berani. They are housed separately (Komodo dragons are solitary animals) in the Adaptations building on the east side of the zoo. The best way to tell them apart is by size, with Selat being nearly twice as big as the younger Berani. Oh, and while you're there make sure to tell Selat he's a good boy!

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