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Digital equipment for animal healthcare: What the Milwaukee County Zoo needs

By Dr. Roberta Wallace, senior veterinarian, the Milwaukee County Zoo

“Going digital” is costly. There’s no question that digital imaging equipment will benefit the healthcare of animals at the Milwaukee County Zoo. To have a complete and effective digital system, however, we need to purchase several components. The Zoological Society of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee County Zoo have launched a campaign to raise funds for the Animal Health Center’s digital needs. To donate, click here.

Digital X-ray Machines

Our two most needed pieces of equipment are a permanent digital X-ray machine and a portable digital X-ray machine. The permanent machine would be in the Animal Health Center and be used on animals that can be easily transported to the Center or are already at the Center for care. The permanent machine would include a computer system needed to operate it plus image monitors installed in the surgery room. The portable digital X-ray machine could be brought directly to animals at their exhibits –  especially useful for larger animals that are difficult to transport.

Ultrasound machine

Dr. Roberta Wallace (right) views an old type of X-ray with Jennifer Niemuth

Dr. Roberta Wallace (right) views an old type of X-ray with Jennifer Niemuth. Digital X-rays would be easier to read.

This is a substantial component of a complete digital imaging system. Ultrasounds are performed on animals to visualize muscles, tendons, and internal organs to capture their size, structure or any pathological lesions with real-time images. At the Milwaukee County Zoo ultrasounds are most commonly performed on our great apes as part of the Great Ape Heart Project (for details, go to Dr. Vicki Clyde, a Milwaukee County Zoo staff veterinarian, is the Zoo’s liaison to that project, which is a collaborative effort among zoos and primate facilities to discover ways to treat heart disease in apes (for more details, click here). It’s hoped that this research will also offer insight on human heart disease. The Zoo is currently using a first-generation digital ultrasound machine, but it is not powerful enough to penetrate the chest of our great apes for cardiac exams. So we have to use an older analog ultrasound machine on our great apes that records the ultrasound scan on tapes rather than digitally. We need a new portable ultrasound machine powerful enough to be used on all animals and that will record information digitally. This way we can share research easily with consultants and colleagues, including the Great Ape Heart Project.

New software for endoscopic exams

Staff at the Animal Health Center perform endoscopic procedures on animals to make internal visual evaluations using a long flexible hose and camera that allows certain internal areas of the body to be viewed. Our current equipment for endoscopic procedures is adequate, but the software needed to capture digital images or video from those procedures is outdated. The current software is 10 years old and will no longer be compatible with Windows 7, once Milwaukee County computers are upgraded. Without the software upgrade, we won’t be able to share images or video with outside consultants, which will have an adverse effect on animal healthcare.

Cameras and Storage

The two final components that will tie the digital imaging system together are digital storage and two digital cameras. Digital images would be stored on a computer database in the Milwaukee County Zoo’s Animal Health Center. Storage of analog images is tedious and uses a great deal of space. The Zoo currently stores information such as X-ray images in a paper file system. Digital storage would allow all images to be stored in one area and allow us to access images quickly on computer. The hospital staff will use digital cameras for photos of animals with certain conditions or at certain life stages, and one camera will be used for necropsy. Necropsy is performed to determine the cause of death when an animal dies. Digital photos will be easy to share with consultants and colleagues for research and information.