Giraffe at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo gets special sneakers to help treat arthritis, osteoporosis

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is announcing two medical breakthroughs in giraffe veterinary care.

Officials say the Zoo’s veterinary and animal care teams have utilized both stem cell transfusion therapy and custom-made urethane “sneakers” to treat a giraffe at the Zoo.

Fourteen-year-old female giraffe Twiga has advanced arthritis and osteoporosis in her feet. Dr. Liza Dadone, vice president of mission and programs and head veterinarian for the Zoo, and the veterinary team, were able to contact a farrier specialist who could make custom shoes for her.

“We’ve had Twiga on medicine to help reverse her osteoporosis, but we wanted to do more to protect her feet. So with the help of the farriers, we gave her ‘giraffe sneakers’ to help give her some extra cushion,” said Dr. Dadone.

To get the sneakers onto her feet, keepers cued Twiga to place her hoof on a specially-designed hoof block, then farriers did a routine hoof trim to the foot. Once her foot was clean and ready, the shoe was placed on her sole by quick-drying glue.

The sneakers are divided on the undersides and were designed to adjust to Twiga’s individual digits.

Zoo officials say the change in Twiga’s behavior was immediate. They say the shoes help to stabilize her and will likely stay on for around 6 weeks.

Additionally, the zoo was able to grow stem cells from giraffe blood to then inject back into the giraffe – a treatment for giraffe that’s believed to be the first of its kind in the world.

Dr. Dadone decided on a stem cell injection treatment plan for Mahali, the 14-year-old male giraffe who suffered from chronic lameness and had trouble moving, despite a number of medications and additional treatments the animal care and vet teams gave him. Mahali was injected with around 100 million stem cells, zoo officials say.

A month after the procedure, they say it was a success and photos show “a considerable decline in inflammation” in Mahali’s leg, which is an issue he had been dealing with for some time.

“This is meaningful to us not only because it is the first time a giraffe has been treated with stem cells, but especially because it is bringing Mahali some arthritis relief and could help other giraffe in the near future,” Dr. Dadone said.

Dr. Dadone added while she isn’t sure if Mahali’s positive results are due to the stem cell therapy alone or as a result of a combination of different treatments, she’s pleased and assured his quality of life has dramatically improved.

All photos courtesy Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.



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