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Vets perform surgery on panda cub to remove mass of bamboo in intestine

The emergency bowel obstruction surgery saved the life of Bei Bei, a giant panda cub at the Smithsonian National Zoo

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When you’re an endangered species, you’d think life would cut you a break. But nope, life is forever out to get you … but that’s what makes veterinarians and vet techs all that more important. Without them, one little panda cub might not have made it to adulthood.

Bei Bei, a giant panda cub at Smithsonian’s National Zoo. He ate his bamboo like pandas do, only to have the plants get stuck in her bowel, requiring him to have emergency surgery. Thankfully, Bei Bei is stable and recovering from his emergency bowel obstruction surgery, which removed a dense, masticated lemon-sized mass of bamboo from inside him.

“I’m extremely proud and thankful for our team of keepers, veterinarians, animal care staff, volunteer medical experts and all staff who have helped facilitate the urgent response,” said Dennis Kelly, director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. “Bei Bei’s prognosis is very good.  The challenge will be for our team to monitor him safely and that requires his cooperation. We will keep everyone up to speed as he recovers.”

It all started on Thanksgiving Day. Bei Bei wasn’t eating, was sleeping more and showing signs of stomach discomfort and nausea. (Perhaps the panda cub celebrated the holiday too, and ended up eating too much?) Zoo animal care and vet staff tried to help him with an anti-nausea medication injection, and kept him under observation throughout the day and night.

There was no real change the next day, so Bei Bei was taken to the vet hospital for further evaluation. There, Elyshia Hankin, DVM, DACVR, a board-certified veterinary radiologist at the Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington, D.C. and volunteer at the zoo, performed an ultrasound and found the blockage in Bei Bei’s small intestine.  Following an initial endoscopic exploration, the vet team realized they were going to have to go in and remove the mass surgically.

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In came Sebastian Gordon, DVM,  a board-certified veterinary surgeon from Lazar Veterinary Surgery Reston, Va., and another volunteer, performed the surgery to remove the mass of bamboo. It was a life-saving surgery, as the mass was distending the small intestine and preventing intestinal movement.

Now Bei Bei is awake and recovering in the David M. Rubenstein Giant Panda Habitat.  Veterinary, animal care and nutrition staff are going to focus on getting his gastrointestinal tract moving smoothly and managing any discomfort. Bei Bei will slowly transition from soft foods such as sweet potatoes, pears and ground up leaf-eater biscuits, before going back to bamboo.

Hopefully this time, life takes it easy on him. And hey, if anything, his radiograph could be part of the 2017 “They Ate What?!” contest? (Hint, hint.)

To ensure his recovery goes smoothly and veterinary and animal care staff have access to Bei Bei, he will be housed separately from Mei Xiang, his mother, and off the panda cams for the next few days. The Zoo will provide daily updates on Bei Bei’s recovery via social media.

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