This past May, Ruth was diagnosed with proliferative pododermatitis – which causes too much tissue to grow around the nails, toes, or pads of her feet. The likely cause of this condition is her abnormal conformation – which refers to the skeletal structure of Ruth’s legs and feet, affecting how she stands and walks. As is common in geriatric elephants, 63-year-old Ruth’s age-related arthritis of her joints has progressively worsened, despite years of anti-inflammatory treatments and regular corrective trimming of her nails and pads. This arthritis has resulted in Ruth putting excessive, unevenly distributed pressure on parts of her feet while walking and standing, causing the pododermatitis.
Ruth is currently under veterinary care led by the Zoo’s in-house veterinary and animal care teams, along with leading veterinary and elephant foot experts from around the country. These experts have been assisting with her treatments, both in person and virtually. In addition to continued corrective foot pad and nail trimming, Ruth is also now being treated with medicated foot soaks, cryotherapy, antibiotics, several cutting-edge treatments, regular bandaging to assist in treatment and pain management medications as needed. As means to not exacerbate her foot issues, Ruth is mostly on stall rest, which allows her to relax comfortably in her barn and take the pressure off her afflicted foot and other arthritic joints. Just recently, she has begun to make short trips into the outdoor portion of the Asian elephant habitat.
Over the last few weeks, Zoo leadership has seen some stabilization of Ruth’s foot condition. Although optimistic for a recovery, the Zoo recognizes that treatment of such a significant foot issue, particularly on a geriatric animal, will be a long process. Staff are performing regular quality of life and welfare assessments of Ruth to ensure her well-being and that she is as comfortable as possible during her treatments.