Floyd the giraffe has been a shining star since birth. His sweet demeanor, honey-hued pigmentation and voracious appetite for lettuce seldom goes unnoticed by guests.
But what Floyd has in charisma, he lacks in stature. At nearly four years of age, Floyd is significantly smaller than he should be. He is a full foot shorter than his half-brother Sprinkle, who was born 11 months after Floyd.
The cause of Floyd’s stunted growth remains unverified, but it had not been problematic for him—which is remarkable given the correlation between low growth rate and poor body condition in other animals.
Unfortunately, Floyd hasn’t been doing so well lately. Floyd has exhibited on-and-off difficulty walking and balancing since January. We were eager to find a solution immediately, but diagnosing health issues in large animals like giraffe can be challenging for two reasons: imaging tools (such as X-rays, ultrasounds and MRIs) cannot capture a full picture of the abdomen, and anesthesia for a full-body exam is a risky venture. The best place for our veterinarians to start was collecting and testing Floyd’s blood, urine and feces.
A month’s worth of panels for tick-borne diseases, worms, and sand colic—ailments consistent with Floyd’s symptoms—all came back negative. His urine did not contain any crystals, meaning he was unlikely to be suffering from kidney or bladder stones. This was shaping up to be a true medical mystery, and it left giraffe specialists at other institutions equally stumped.
“Trying to figure out what’s going on with Floyd is like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle,” said staff veterinarian Kyle Donnelly. “The variables keep changing, and it’s not quite like anything anyone has seen before.”
As Floyd’s issues progressed, Donnelly observed a gradual increase in his blood phosphorous levels. This may suggest rumenitis—an inflammation of one of Floyd’s stomach compartments. This disease was not immediately considered because it generally does not lead to the joint discomfort Floyd appeared to be experiencing. In some other species, however, rumenitis can cause an inflammation of the hoof wall called laminitis—meaning that this could be one of very few documented instances of rumenitis-induced laminitis in giraffe.
Since the possibility of rumenitis was floated last week, keepers have replaced some of the hay in his diet with browse and begun medicating him with a specialty drug. He appears to be feeling better, but Donnelly remains guarded given the nonlinear history of this aliment.
“The truth is, we don’t know what the future holds for Floyd,” said Donnelly, “but I do know we’re going to continue doing everything we can to bring him back to health and keep him comfortable.”