Our health and well-being is something most people take quite seriously and the same goes for our animals. As an animal keeper, I am concerned with both the physical and the psychological (mental) health of the animals in my care. This means that there is an overlap between health and welfare, and the occurrence of disease.
It is crucial to keep accurate records on all of the animals and note down key characteristics about them so that they are easily identified. Some of our animals are easy to tell apart through their different marking and colouration. For instance, Gary and Flash – our big black goats – look very similar however Flash has a white spot on the top of his head.
Animal keeper Tom loves looking after all of our animals, especially the goats!
It may sound simple to asses an animal’s well-being and health, but in reality it is not. There a few reasons why it can prove difficult to identify abnormalities:
- Getting close to the animals may prove difficult – some animals, like our deer, are extremely flighty and so getting right up close can prove a challenge.
- As a survival mechanism, many animals may hide their injuries or not show that they are in pain.
- The signs of disease or injury may not be obvious.
- The keeper may not know the animals personally. They may not know of the signs or traits of a particular animal. Some perfectly normal behaviour may be mistaken for something different.
However, even though it can be quite challenging, we’re constantly on the lookout for signs of good health which include:
- The animals are alert
- Eyes are bright and clear
- Good appetite/drinking plenty
- Good scale condition (fur, feathers, skin etc.)
Signs of bad health may include:
- The animal is lame/lethargic
- Eyes are dull
- Changes in urine/faeces
- No interaction
- Weight loss
Winston the llama is twenty years old, and so keeping an eye on his health is more important than ever.
There are a variety of reasons why animals can get ill. With our animals being outside they are faced with the elements and are at a higher risk than ones which are indoors. The main causes for ill health include:
- Endoparasites (e.g. parasitic worms)
- Ectoparasites (e.g. flies, lice, mites, fleas and ticks)
- The animal’s genetics
- If the animal has been in a fight e.g. social animals (untreated wounds)
- Poor husbandry – if their enclosure is not clean or disinfected regularly, bad nutrition (people feeding animals when they are not supposed to), stress and lack of knowledge or experience
This is what we look out for every single day as our role as a keeper. Our animals are our highest priority and their well-being and health is crucial for a strong and stable life.