Every day is hump day at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVMBS) Winnie Carter Wildlife Center (WCWC) now that camels Crimson and Casper have joined the community of exotic animals that call the center home.
Three-year-old Crimson and 2-year-old Casper, both dromedary (one-humped) camels, were donated to the WCWC after Crimson was diagnosed with fibrous osteodystrophy, a chronic condition that would require a special diet and routine medical care for the rest of her life.
“Unfortunately, this condition is something we see pretty commonly in domestic camels in the United States,” said Dr. Evelyn MacKay, a CVMBS clinical assistant professor and Crimson’s primary veterinarian at the Texas A&M Large Animal Teaching Hospital (LATH).
Fibrous osteodystrophy is a bone disease caused by deficiencies in calcium and vitamin D and an excess of phosphorus, which leads the affected animal’s body to reabsorb calcium from bones. The calcified bone is then replaced by fibrous connective tissue, or bundles of collagen fibers found in tendons and ligaments, which causes swelling and pain.
“When Crimson came in, both her mandible (lower jaw) and her maxilla (upper jaw) were swollen,” MacKay said. “We started with x-rays and, as we expected, the bone was less dense than it should be.”
Parasites in Crimson’s gastrointestinal tract may have also played a role in the development of the condition because they can prevent the body from absorbing nutrients appropriately, which may exacerbate some of the deficiencies in this disease.
“Crimson is an adolescent, so this is the time when her bones are supposed to be growing,” MacKay said. “She’s a little bit more vulnerable than a mature camel would be in terms of getting a disease like this because her overall nutritional requirements are higher.”
After being given anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce her pain and de-wormer for gastrointestinal parasites, Crimson’s treatment was largely nutritional.
“The biggest thing for Crimson’s treatment was to change her diet to have a more appropriate calcium to phosphorous ratio, supplement vitamin D, and feed her more alfalfa hay, beet pulp, and other foods with a high calcium content,” MacKay said.
Because of Crimson’s special needs, her original owner, MariBeth Yarbrough, decided that the camel would have a better life at the WCWC, surrounded by experienced veterinarians and only minutes away from the LATH. But Crimson wasn’t at the WCWC very long before her best friend Casper came to join her.
“It was a very much a surprise that within a week after we had gotten Crimson, MariBeth said she hated that Crimson was alone and she wanted to give us Casper, too,” said Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, director of the WCWC. “She said she cried when Casper left, but she wanted Crimson to be happy.”
Crimson’s veterinarians believe she was diagnosed early enough that her new diet should minimize her current swelling, and prevent any progression of the disease.
“We don’t think she is currently in any pain because she’s eating well and doing great in the pasture,” Blue-McLendon said. “She’s gained a lot of weight since she left the hospital, which is really good.”
In addition to spending the rest of their lives being pampered at the WCWC, Crimson and Casper will help introduce CVMBS veterinary and undergraduate students in the WCWC’s hands-on experiential-learning program to camel care and medicine.
“This is an excellent learning opportunity for our students,” Blue-McLendon said. “These are the only camels on campus so the students can come see them and learn about fibrous osteodystrophy.”
As time goes on, Blue-McLendon and the rest of the WCWC staff look forward to seeing how the camel “best buddies” continue to settle in at their new forever home.
Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of VMBS Communications, Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; firstname.lastname@example.org; 979-862-4216