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Veterinarians at OSU Perform Surgery on a Rare White Bengal Tiger

Patricia WuestVice President of Media Strategy, NAVC

Veterinarians at OSU Perform Surgery on a Rare White Bengal Tiger
A team of veterinarians at Oregon State University’s Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine treated an unusual patient: a rare white Bengal tiger in need of a diagnostic CT scan and emergency surgery. Photo Credit: Oregon State University
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Oh, my! A team of veterinarians at Oregon State University’s Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine recently performed an unusual diagnostic CT scan and surgery. The patient? A 17-year-old, rare white Bengal tiger named Nora. Nora, who resides at the WildCat Ridge Sanctuary in Scotts Mill, Oregon, had been feeling unwell.

“Nora had not been eating very well on and off for a few days,” says Cheryl Tuller, the sanctuary’s executive director. “We saw what we thought was a slight vaginal discharge that cleared up immediately, but we noticed she was much less active than she normally was.”

The sanctuary team first took Nora to their veterinarian’s office in Lake Oswego, but an ultrasound was inconclusive. The veterinarian suggested that they contact OSU’s Lois Bates Acheson Teaching Hospital.

Nora gets a CT scan

Oregon State University’s veterinary medical team, which included several veterinary students, residents and a reproductive specialist, successfully anesthetized a rare white Bengal tiger named Nora in order to conduct a CT scan. “The biggest thing for us is logistics,” explains Dr. Katy Townsend, who typically works on small animals. Photo Credit: Oregon State University

“We had treated a cougar previously, but this was our first tiger,” says Dr. Katy Townsend, BVSc(hons) MS DACVS-SA, at Oregon State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Though exotic patients are rare at OSU, the veterinary medical team, led by Dr. Marianne Pan, the case manager and an internal medicine resident; veterinary surgeon Dr. Katy Townsend; anesthesiologist Dr. Ronald Mandsager and surgery resident Dr. Lea Mehrkens, immediately explored their options.

What Is Pyometra?

Townsend’s team said they suspected pyometra was causing Nora to feel unwell. Pyometra, which occurs in domestic felines as well, is an infection in the uterus. It is considered serious and life-threatening and must be treated quickly and aggressively. “Pyometra occurs in about 5 to 17% of captive large cats, and with her nonspecific signs, it was one of the top differential diagnoses,” explains Townsend.

“Our anesthesia team, led by Dr. Ron Mandsager, was amazing!” says Townsend. “They were able to safely anesthetize her and she fit in the CT scanner.

“The anesthesia portion is the most challenging part of this procedure — ensuring that she goes to sleep safely and wakes up safely. She was sedated and then an endotracheal tube was placed along with intravenous access to put her completely under anesthesia,” Townsend says.

Making the Diagnosis

The CT scan showed a large fluid-filled uterus, with no other major changes in the rest of the abdominal organs. Townsend, a reproductive specialist, performed an ovariohysterectomy, removing all of the tiger’s reproductive organs.

Nora with endotracheal tube

An endotracheal tube was placed along with intravenous access to Nora completely under anesthesia. Photo Credit: Oregon State University

Both the sanctuary and OSU veterinary teams are relieved that they were able to catch the disease when they did. “Pyometra is a life-threatening condition — the uterus can rupture and she can become septic,” says Townsend. “We were lucky to catch it when we did and have a team of people who were able to help beautiful Nora.”

Nora Post-Surgery

“Nora is doing very well and she is healing,” says Tuller. “Her surgery site looks great, her appetite has returned, and while she is confined to her pavilion area, she is anxious to get back out into her habitat.”

There are several hundred captive white Bengal tigers worldwide, all of whom can trace their ancestry back to a white Bengal tiger caught in Rewa, India, in 1951. Photo Credit: WildCat Ridge Sanctuary.

Nora’s History

As a young tiger, Nora was chained to a box while people paid to have their photos taken with her, according to the sanctuary’s website. When she outgrew that, she was used for breeding. Her cubs were taken away from her in order to be sold as “pets” before their eyes were even open. This was Nora’s life for eight years.

When her owner was found dead, Nora was moved to Tiger Paws Exotic Rescue Facility. She arrived emaciated and in terrible shape. Thankfully, with good food and care, she thrived. But her new owners wanted a better life for her, so she was brought to WildCat Ridge.

The sanctuary also has launched a fundraising campaign to cover the costs associated with her medical care.

Learn More

Are exotics a fit for your veterinary practice? Read Part 1 and Part 2 of Development of the Exotics Practice.