How do you know if you’re giving too much or too little medicine to a dog or cat? Typically, your pet’s veterinarian prescribes medications based on the abundant knowledge of domestic animal medicine. But how does the Zoo’s Veterinary Team know how much medication to prescribe tiny, exotic birds that weigh only a few ounces?
Nashville Zoo has a flock of over 80 lorikeets which all receive regular treatments of the drug ponazuril. This medication protects lorikeets from Sarcocystosis, a seasonal parasitic disease spread by opossums. The current dosage recommendation is based on educated guesses determined by the medication’s use in other bird species of similar size.
Few studies have been conducted to discover the best dosage in parrots, specifically lorikeets. While better dosing of the drug would be safer and more protective of the Zoo’s lorikeet flock, this discovery would be beneficial to all institutions housing parrots and lorikeets in an outdoor aviary environment.
Through a collaboration with Belmont University over the last two years, Dr. Heather Robertson and the veterinary team worked with Dr. Steven Stodghill, an Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Science, and a select group of graduate students to discover the exact dosage of ponazuril that would be best for fighting Sarcocystosis.
Testing was conducted on 24 of the Zoo’s lorikeets, including three species of rainbow lorikeets. After one oral dose, the level of the drug in the blood was monitored by taking daily samples from the birds over several weeks. After the results of the study are in, they will be included in the Exotic Animal Drug Formulary, where the information will be available to other zoos housing these colorful, popular birds.
“Accuracy of dosing is critical for accurate treatment. If you overdose, you could cause other unintended health concerns. If you under dose, you are not treating appropriately which isn’t helping the animal improve,” says Dr. Heather Robertson, Director of Veterinary Services. “The results derived from this research will positively impact institutions housing parrots and lorikeets around the world.”
Belmont student, Tiffany is one of the graduate students performing the research.
Zoo veterinarian, Dr. Heather Robertson carefully draws blood from a lorikeet.
Lorikeet Keeper, Laura Vague holds a lorikeet during one of the research sessions.