Tapir Tooth Extraction

Name: Haddie

Sex: Female

Species: Malayan tapir

Age: 11 years

Weight: 600 pounds

Reason for Visit: Decreased appetite, drooling, weight loss

The Virginia Zoo strives to provide the best care for its animals and sometimes that means collaborating with other specialists and universities, and if the need arises, transporting animals to surgical centers for specialized care. When Keepers noticed Haddie, the Zoo’s eleven-year-old Malayan tapir and mom to Luther, had a decreased appetite, drooling and weight loss, the Zoo’s vet Dr. Tara Reilly determined that it was time for a physical examination. Exhaustive diagnostic testing using the Zoo’s equipment at the Animal Wellness Campus was inconclusive and radiograph (x-ray) capabilities were very limited due to Haddie’s larger size. It was clear that Haddie required further testing beyond the Zoo’s abilities, or any local veterinary hospital, leading her to contact Dr. Tara Harrison, a board certified specialist in zoo medicine and associate professor at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “Haddie had a long history of medical concerns that were not able to be diagnosed at the Virginia Zoo. We believed by using some of the specialized medical equipment and experts here at the NC State Veterinary hospital that we could help figure out what was going on with Haddie and that it was worth the trip for her,” said Dr. Harrison.  

The trip started with the Animal Care staff loading Haddie into a trailer specially designed for animal transport, which is no easy feat, but thanks to many years of voluntarily training and trust-building with Animal Care staff, Haddie voluntarily loaded herself into the trailer. Once they arrived at NC State, the team was able to anesthetize Haddie and used a specialized crane to lift and move Haddie, who weighs more than 600 pounds. To gain a better understanding of what was making Haddie appear sick, they used a CT scanner made for large animals such as horses to examine her head, and a more powerful radiology unit to obtain x-rays of her body. The NC State team consisted more than 20 veterinary specialists including veterinary anesthesiologists, zoo veterinarians, radiologists, equine medicine and equine surgeons who joined together to perform a bloodwork evaluation, an ultrasound, a liver biopsy to test iron and mineral levels, and a bone marrow biopsy. 

“The NC State Veterinary Medicine team is used to working with larger animals such as horses, so it was easy to translate that to Haddie and provide the best possible care and diagnostics for her,” said  Dr. Reilly. After this examination, the team transported the sleeping tapir back into the trailer so she could wake up prior to her trip back to the Virginia Zoo.

After the examination Board-certified veterinary radiologists interpreted all of the radiographs and CT scans from Haddie and came to a diagnosis that Haddie had dental disease with one tooth, in particular, that was fractured and needed to be removed. This tooth, one of her upper left molars, had also caused a large cut into her tongue which was causing her discomfort while eating. This was suspected to be the main cause of Haddie’s drooling, weight loss and decreased appetite. It is not uncommon for Malayan Tapirs to have dental disease which likely predisposed her to fracturing the tooth. Once a diagnosis was made, it meant a second road trip to NC State for the surgical removal of the tooth.

  • Two people standing outside enclosed trailer
  • tapir hoisted into air by doctors using special equipment
  • Doctors in masks examine a Malayan tapir
  • Doctors examine a Malayan tapir
  • Doctors stand over a Malayan tapir
  • looking through circle to view people
  • doctors examine tapir
  • doctors examine large animal

Haddie and the Zoo Staff made another trip to the NC State Veterinary Hospital where Haddie’s fractured and diseased molar tooth was removed by equine surgeons, which took nearly three hours to remove! The main reason it was so challenging is due to the unique anatomy of Tapirs where it is very difficult to visualize the teeth even with the mouth open, so a special video camera was used to fit into her small mouth opening to assist the surgeons with the tooth removal process and to ensure that all pieces of the tooth were successfully extracted. Afterward, Haddie was then taken back to the trailer to wake up and once she was fully awake, the team drove her back home that same day – and hopefully for the last time!

Haddie has recovered from her surgery and is on pain medications, antibiotics and an ulcer-prevention medication often used during the healing process after tooth extraction. She is recovering well and has already gained some of her weight back. Her appetite has returned and she has not been observed drooling since the surgery. Haddie is much more comfortable now that the diseased molar tooth has been removed. “We really appreciate the collaboration and support of the NC State Veterinary Medicine team and the excellent care they provided for Haddie,” said Dr. Reilley.

“We were happy to partner with the Virginia zoo to diagnose and treat their tapir’s medical issues, and although we loved seeing Haddie, we hope she doesn’t need to come visit us again any time soon, said Dr. Harrison.

Haddie lives at the Virginia Zoo and can be seen on exhibit along the Asia – Trail of the Tiger where she often enjoys napping in the shade.