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Huckleberry’s Health Exam

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Huckleberry’s Health Exam
May 10, 2021

“It’s your turn tomorrow!” Northwest Trek head veterinarian Dr. Allison Case yelled to Hawthorn the grizzly bear.

Hawthorn, out in his habitat, was peeking inside his den, curiously watching as keepers and veterinary staff circled around his buddy Huckleberry, who was laying anesthetized on the den floor ready for his wellness exam.

There were only a few more nudges at the den door before Hawthorne was distracted by a tub filled with food and a big, berry-flavored popsicle left just for him.

“I’m going to need a few people to help me move Huckleberry!” called out Dr. Case.

Instead of Huckleberry going to the vet, the vet goes to Huckleberry. That’s what happens when you’re a 500+ pound bear.

Vet looks examines grizzly bear
Dr. Allison Case examines Huckleberry the grizzly bear.

It took seven people to move him to just a few feet away in the den, where he’d be more comfortable on soft pads during his exam. The team got right to work, checking Huckleberry’s eyes, ears, mouth, trimming his nails and performing a full physical exam.

Grizzly bear gets nails trimmed
Huckleberry gets his nails trimmed during wellness exam.

“At just 3-years-old, Huckleberry and Hawthorne are very playful with one another. This exam allows me to get a close up and hands on look to make sure everything’s ok,” said Dr. Case.

Meanwhile, veterinary technician Tracy Cramer was busy monitoring the bear patient, collecting blood samples, and giving him the full workup of vaccines: rabies, tetanus, leptospirosis, distemper and dewormer. Really not much different than what your dog gets when you take him to the vet!

Vets examine Huckleberry the grizzly bear during wellness exam
Dr. Allison Case, left, and veterinary technician Tracy Cramer, right, give Huckleberry a wellness exam.

Then, Dr. Case got to work taking X-rays of Huckleberry’s hind feet. Last spring, the bear sustained an injury to his right, hind ankle. Keepers noticed him walking on his tippy toes, avoiding putting his heel on the ground. Dr. Case treated him then with anti-inflammatory medication and the lameness resolved for the remainder of the year. But, after waking up from torpor this spring and playing hard with Hawthorne, the lameness has reappeared. Huckleberry’s wellness exam was the perfect time to reevaluate his X-rays.

“Fortunately, at this time we are able to manage his lameness with basic medications. However, radiographs do show the development of moderate arthritis in his ankle,” said Dr. Case.

While evaluating the radiographs, Dr. Case shared the images with orthopedic colleagues Dr. Brian Heiser and Dr. EB Okrasinski. They all agree it looks like Huckleberry has arthritis.

Dr. Case shares radiographs with orthopedic colleagues
Dr. Case shares the radiographs with orthopedic colleagues

“I’m going to continue to actively monitor his arthritis,” said Dr. Case. “We will explore all sorts of options to help Huckleberry, from traditional and naturopathic medicine to laser treatment and acupuncture.”

Keepers are also working to train Huckleberry to voluntarily help out with his own medical procedures- like allowing veterinary staff to give him injections or take blood samples or X-rays while he’s awake (through a barrier, of course!)

“Would I prefer he wear a boot and just rest up? Yes, of course! But unlike humans, that’s obviously not an option with a growing, active grizzly bear,” said Dr. Case. “I have access to so many tools and the opportunity to do everything possible to ensure Huckleberry lives a full and happy life, free of pain.”

Other than the arthritis, Dr. Case says Huckleberry is a very healthy bear. You can catch him in his habitat playing with Hawthorne all spring and summer long! Make sure to check out the grizzly bear overlook for a 180-view of the bears from a brand-new platform.