Geriatric animals at Shedd Aquarium receive specialized care, individualized plans

ByZach Ben-Amots WLS logo
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
An Ocean On The Lake: Geriatric Animal Care at Shedd Aquarium
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An Ocean On The Lake: Geriatric Animal Care at Shedd Aquarium

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Animals at aquariums and zoos live much longer than they would in the wild, due mostly to health care access and the absence of predator. At the Shedd Aquarium, that means staff are dealing with challenges of geriatric animal care.

Aging affects most animals in similar ways to humans, from arthritis and vision loss to diminished muscle capacity.

The daily docket for a Shedd veterinarian includes familiar ailments for a wide range of patients: an American bullfrog with heart disease, penguins with arthritis, California sea lions with cataracts, a triggerfish with vision loss, a northern sea otter diagnosed with lymphoma, and on and on.

"We're not all one-size-fits-all, and biology is incredibly complex. It's just exquisite," said Dr. Bill Van Bonn, vice president of animal health.

That diversity of patients creates unique challenges for Shedd doctors, who rely on the aquarists and specialists in each animal group to keep track of the population health for a total of 34,000 animals.

"As a healthcare provider myself, it's such a privilege to have access to these animals," Van Bonn said. "We're learning and understanding something new everyday that then helps us to apply in the future."

'Geriatric Animal Care' is episode 5 of 'An Ocean on the Lake,' the multi-part behind-the-scenes series from ABC 7 Chicago and Shedd Aquarium. Watch this fifth segment to see up-close eye examinations for elderly and learn more about Shedd's medical operation. Find every episode on our homepage for "An Ocean On The Lake," or watch on our ABC 7 Chicago connected TV App.