Penn Vet docs treat snow leopard cubs at Philadelphia Zoo

Veterinary ophthalmologists at the School of Veterinary Medicine recently took on a special case involving a pair of snow leopard cubs born in captivity at the Philadelphia Zoo.

The grey-and-black-spotted male cubs, Kimti and Dian, were born in June with a medical condition called eyelid coloboma. The middle of each of their upper eyelids was missing, allowing irritating hair to get into their eyes. Veterinarians determined that surgery was warranted to prevent future irritation and damage to the cubs’ eyes. 

On Oct. 11, a Penn Vet surgical team assembled in a Philadelphia Zoo operating room to perform the dual surgeries. The team included András M. Komáromy, an assistant professor of ophthalmology; William Crumley, a staff ophthalmologist; and Shelby Reinstein, an ophthalmology resident.

Crumley says they successfully removed skin from the defective portions of the cubs’ eyelids, closing the resultant defect with sutures just wider than a hair to create more normal eyelid margins that should “end up with good function.”  

“We work with all animals, any that has an eye—dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, birds—and they all have their own subset of different problems: cataracts, glaucoma, retinal diseases,” Crumley says. “It’s a little bit different when you’re working with zoo animals.” Snow leopards are an endangered species rarely seen outside their native mountains of central Asia.

One difference, Crumley says, is surgeons could not operate on the cubs until they were four months old. By then, the cubs could be fed by their caretakers and weaned from their mother if she rejected them, or if they had to be kept from her for more than a day.

When dogs and cats have surgery, they’re usually sent home with an e-collar, a cone shaped Elizabethan-looking collar, to keep them from licking or pawing their wounds.

But not the snow leopard cubs.

With the large collars on, their mother may not recognize them and may even attack them.

Additionally, with the playful, 22-pound cubs being twice the size of large house cats and twice as strong, administering eye medications isn’t easy.

Officials say the cubs are expected to make their first public appearance at the Zoo sometime next month after recovering from their surgeries. 

Snow Cubs