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Cougar Exam Time

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Cougar Exam Time
December 15, 2020

Long, powerful body. Tawny, velvety fur. Dagger-sharp canines and claws. And a passionate human care team.

Carly the cougar lay stretched out and anesthetized in the Northwest Trek veterinary clinic – and around her dedicated veterinarians, keepers and veterinary technician worked tirelessly to weigh, examine, scan and (especially) get blood samples. It was cougar exam time.

Giving Blood

cougar exam blood
Tracy Cramer draws blood during Carly’s exam.

“And – up!” called curator Marc Heinzman.

Leaning into the van that had brought Carly up from her forested habitat, Heinzman – plus Northwest Trek veterinarian Dr. Allison Case, veterinary technician Tracy Cramer and two keepers – lifted the sleeping cougar. Enfolded in a carry blanket, she was about the size of a small person and, it turned out, around the same weight. Walking in synch, the team carried the blanket inside the clinic and lowered Carly gently onto the scale.

“Fifty one point four!” called keeper Haley Withers, measuring in kilos as standard practice. (That’s about 113 pounds.) Then the team carried Carly onto the exam table.

At 11 years old, Carly gets physical check-ups once every couple of years. This was a standard exam – she seemed perfectly healthy – but one element was particularly vital: blood samples. Over the last few years Withers and Cramer had worked hard with Carly to train her to offer her tail through a specially-designed slot to give a voluntary blood draw. Lately, though, getting blood had been difficult.

cougar exam claw
Keeper Haley Withers desheaths Carly’s claws.

“Carly was doing everything perfectly,” said Withers. “But the vein in her tail just wasn’t giving much blood, and all her fur made the process even harder.”

As Cramer hooked Carly up to oxygen and monitors, and took her blood pressure, the rest of the team got to work. Dr. Case peered into Carly’s enormous amber eyes (“All the better to see us with,” added Withers) and palpated her muscly body. Dr. Matt Brim, director of emergency medicine at Summit Veterinary Referral Clinic, was shadowing the procedure, and watched attentively as Withers began to trim the cougar’s claws, pulling off old sheaths as she went. Cramer got a temperature.

Then it was time for blood work, with Cramer drawing a syringeful, then carefully decanting it into vials for analysis.

“Carly’s not old, but she’s not young either,” said Dr. Case. “A cougar’s life expectancy is around 16. So checking levels in her blood is a really important way of monitoring her health.”

“Okay, time for radiographs,” said Dr. Case.

Photos and Scans

veterinarian looking at xray
Dr. Allison Case examines a cougar x-ray.

As Dr. Brim lifted Carly’s heavy torso, Dr. Case positioned the x-ray plate and adjusted the machine. X-ray by x-ray they moved down the cougar’s body, then delicately turned her over for more, examining each digital image as it came up on the screen.

“Look at this, so clear,” said Dr. Case. “Her shoulder looks great. Okay, let’s move onto the abdomen.”

Finally, it was time for a dental clean and check. Dr. Case worked her way around each massive tooth, scraping and polishing, while Dr. Brim checked internal organs via ultrasound, Withers continued the pedicure and Cramer gave vaccines and shaved a spot on Carly’s tail to make the voluntary blood draws just a little easier. Carly lay relaxed under a red blanket, breathing rhythmically.

cougar exam dental
Dr. Allison Case doing dental work on Carly the cougar.

“Organs look fine – just this little bump on her spleen,” noted Dr. Brim.

“It looks like normal, consistent tissue, but we’ll keep an eye on it,” agreed Dr. Case, peering at the screen. “Generally, she’s in really good shape. She’s beautiful. Obviously we still have to look at her blood values, and I’ll share one x-ray with a radiologist to get a second opinion. But overall, she seems like she has no problems.”

Cramer removed the oxygen and monitors, and the team scooped up the cougar to drive her back to her bedroom for wake-up time.

Another successful animal check-up at Northwest Trek.

cougar exam paws
Cougar paws.