One of the fun things about being a veterinarian is the opportunities we get to work with unusual species. I see mostly dogs and cats, but I’ve had the chance to work on horses, pot-bellied pigs, birds, reptiles, and various pocket pets; I’ve even taken blood samples from monkeys. I restrict myself to the routine care of species with which I’m not all that familiar and am quick to refer when I feel like I’m getting in over my head. But who do you refer a green moray eel to?
This question must have crossed the mind of Dr. Shane Boylan, a veterinarian with the South Carolina Aquarium, after a caretaker of the facility’s resident eel noticed some changes in its behavior. According to the Charleston City Paper
"His posture was different from how he normally sits," Cassell says. Ordinarily, the eel could often be seen at the bottom of the Great Ocean tank with its back half resting in the gravel and its front half elevated. But starting in September, it became less active and tended to contort itself sideways at a 90-degree angle. It also had a hard time turning right.
Dr. Boylan decided to transport the eel to the Charleston Veterinary Referral Center, where Dr. Jason King, a veterinary neurologist, diagnosed it with intervertebral disk disease (IVDD). This condition is seen most frequently in chondrodystrophic dogs — breeds like dachshunds and bassets that have the abnormal cartilage development that results in short legs and long backs. I know nothing about the cartilage development of green moray eels, but they certainly have long backs … I wonder if this had anything to do with its diagnosis.
Cassell suspects that the eel may have hit the clear wall of its tank and injured its back that way. The eel is being treated with rest; its activity is being restricted by confining it within a PVC pipe, which is acting sort of like a cast. Cassel reports that he (the eel) seems to be perking up a bit, but is not yet able to eat. This isn’t too much of a concern, since the species can go between three and four months without a meal.
The plan is to move the eel to a narrower pipe and keep it there for six to eight weeks, which should give the injured disc time to heal.
On a completely unrelated note, a few weeks ago I had reported over on The Daily Vet about the problem of drug shortages in both human and veterinary medicine. Thankfully, the situation with the heartworm treatment medication Immiticide may be easing a little bit. Merial, the makers of the drug, recently announced that an arrangement is in place for the importation of small amounts of Immiticide from its European supplier. Veterinarians who need to obtain European Immiticide to treat dogs infected with heartworms should contact Merial at 1-888-MERIAL-1.