When you’re wildlife watching at the Indianapolis Zoo, how much attention do you pay to the animals’ feet? Do you pause to stare at paws? Look for hooves? Focus on flippers?
If you’re like most guests, you probably don’t take much time to really survey an animal’s feet. But our keepers and vets do.
Our keepers watch each of our animals closely, looking them over each day and providing regular check-ups to ensure they’re all happy and healthy. And inspecting the animals’ feet is a good way to determine their overall wellbeing.
It was during one of these regular checks that the Plains keepers noticed Spike, one of our white rhinos, had a toenail on his back foot that had grown much longer than the others. That’s not uncommon, said Jeff Proudfoot, the Zoo’s Vice President of Veterinary Services.
“Normally when they walk, their nails get worn down, but sometimes the way they walk, the inside nail doesn’t get ground down,” Proudfoot said. He added that many humans have a similar issue, which causes the bottom of their shoes to wear unevenly.
“For Spike, it doesn’t look like it’s because of an injury or disease; it’s just a lack of wear.”
If an animal’s nails get too long, it runs the risk of catching its foot on something, causing it to stumble or injure itself. It might also cause uneven pressure that would affect the way it stands and walks, which might lead to other problems.
So this spring, Spike received some super-sized spa treatment, courtesy of the Zoo’s veterinary staff. The weekly pedicures involved moving Spike into a special shoot designed to keep him calm and still. Once he was in place, keepers and vet staff carefully trimmed and filed the nail in small increments until, more than a month later, it was finally back to a normal length.
While the treatments might look a little precarious from the photos, Spike's pedicures were painless. And because rhinos’ nails grow very slowly — less than a quarter-inch per month — Spike will be walking with some renewed spring in his step for a while.