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Idaho Falls Zoo cares for terminally ill snow leopard

A significant and sudden weight loss in July was the first sign that alerted Zookeeper Dallas LaDucer that something was changing with the 7-year-old male snow leopard, Ketu.

“We spend every day with over 300 animals that are as close to us as family members. We know them very well,” states Idaho Falls Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Rhonda Aliah. “We recognize how they vary in age, level of care required, personalities and preferences. When one of them begins to act differently or show physical signs of change, we notice. That level of familiarity is how we noticed something was going on with Ketu.”

The zoo’s cats are trained to step on a scale to record their weight at least once each month, and while it is normal for a cat’s weight to fluctuate with the seasons, Ketu’s weight loss seemed more pronounced.

“An obvious weight loss was my first red flag, even though he was eating well and acting normally at the time,” says LaDucer who documented the weight loss and reported it to Dr. Aliah and Veterinary Technician Alison Holderman.

Zoo staff said within 2-3 days, Ketu’s appetite suddenly declined, and he began acting lethargic. The animal care team then sedated Ketu and took blood for testing, and the results were definite and disheartening.At only 7 years old, Ketu was diagnosed with acute renal (kidney) failure.

Why would an otherwise healthy, middle-aged cat have kidney failure?

“Unfortunately, we don’t know,” states Dr. Aliah who contacted veterinarians around the country involved in the care of snow leopards. “You could say it’s similar to an otherwise healthy person getting an unexpected illness. We don’t really understand what the causes are.”

Dr. Aliah and other veterinarians across the country discussed treatment options and devised a treatment plan for Ketu, but there is only so much they can do.

“Despite all our best efforts to provide the best treatment, testing and professional consultations, it is probable Ketu will eventually succumb to his illness,” said Dr. Aliah. “As with any illness, no one knows how long he has left. Our goal is to make Ketu as comfortable as possible for the remainder of his life.”

Ketu has fathered three cubs, all of which have been born at the Idaho Falls Zoo, and zoo staff will be sad to see him pass.

“For anyone who has ever loved another living thing, the hardest part is saying goodbye. We know for Ketu the time will come sooner than later,” said Dr. Aliah.

Zoo staff said they will keep everyone updated on Ketu’s situation.

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