As Beliza continues her cancer treatment, one of the things we’re watching closely is her weight. Sounds easy, right? But… it’s a bit more complicated than when you step on the scale at home.
Animals with cancer are prone to weight loss for lots of reasons, often because they’re less hungry than usual. This hasn’t been the case with Beliza at all! When she was originally diagnosed, we increased her diet to try and postpone the wasting syndrome that happens with a lot of cancer patients. This was so effective that we recently had to cut back because she has gotten a little chunkier than we’d like! Her ideal weight range is about 100 to 105 lbs., and at one point before her recent diet she reached 121 lbs.! Because she has some arthritis in one of her elbows, it’s important we not let her get too heavy because it would put more pressure on that joint and potentially cause her pain.
Zookeepers have worked toward being able to weigh Beliza and Cuxtal ever since they moved into Amazonia. At least once a month, each cat steps onto a scale that’s built into the floor of the chute they use to travel from one stall to the other in their indoor space. This process has become so routine that it’s easy to take for granted, but getting there took trust-building with the cats, and convincing them to hold still once they’re standing on the scale which isn’t always so easy!
As keeper Jackie said in her earlier post, “you can’t make Beliza do anything she doesn’t want to”, so this behavior is 100% voluntary. It is a two-person job, where one keeper asks the cat to step onto the scale to receive a food reward, and another person reads the scale’s display (which is in the keeper area where the cats can’t reach it). An upcoming blog post will explain more about behavioral training and other ways we use it to improve the level of care we can provide these amazing cats.
In between weighing sessions, keepers are watching Beliza’s appetite closely, and monitoring her body condition score (BCS), which is a way to watch what the body looks like on the outside to know if an animal is too thin, too fat, or just right. These BCS scales exist for pet cats and dogs, and it’s a great way to know whether your animals at home are getting too much to eat (Hint: they probably are!). ? A BCS scale has even been adapted for big cats and this is one tool we use to know whether our felines at the zoo are being offered the right amount of food.
The fact that Beliza is maintaining weight is a great sign, and is one of the many ways we know that she is winning her battle against cancer so far. Thank you all for your positive thoughts as we continue this journey!
— Dr. Carrie Ullmer