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Veterinarian Technician July 2012 (Vol 33, No 7)

Final View: Eels Can Have Back Problems, Too

by Matthew Dann, LVT, Jason King, DVM, DACVIM (Neurology)

    An adult, giant green moray eel on exhibit at the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston presented to the Charleston Veterinary Referral Center with acute onset of abnormal posturing and difficulty swimming. According to the eel’s caretaker at the aquarium, the eel had no history of trauma, was holding its head to the left, was unable to swim or maneuver to the right, and had stopped eating. Although eels can go several weeks without eating, it was very uncharacteristic of this eel not to eat on a regular schedule.

    We suspected that this eel could have an underlying neurologic problem, such as a compressed intervertebral disk. Other differentials included spinal fracture or trauma, infectious diseases, and neoplasia. Nutritional deficiencies and poor husbandry have been associated with vertebral abnormalities, such as scoliosis, in fish; however, the excellent care, diet, and husbandry provided at the aquarium made these differentials much less likely.

    The patient’s history was reviewed by a neurologist, and it was decided to perform computed tomography to try to detect a spinal problem. A full neurologic examination could not be performed because of the patient’s condition, but general observation of the patient in the tank suggested the presence of right-sided paresis in the cranial one-third of the body.

    The eel was anesthetized with tricaine methanesulfonate (MS222), which was dissolved in the water of the holding tank. Once the eel was sedated enough for the caretakers to handle it safely, the hospital staff had approximately 5 to 7 minutes to perform a complete computed tomography scan (440 transverse images; FIGURE 1 ; FIGURE 2 ). The neurologist reviewed the scans, noting compression of the spinal cord consistent with disk extrusion ( FIGURE 2 ). The therapeutic options were to restrict activity and see if the compression could heal on its own or to surgically decompress the spinal cord. Because the latter had not been performed on a bony fish before, the aquarium veterinarian decided to restrict activity and monitor the patient.

    To restrict activity, the eel was placed in an open-ended polyvinylchloride tube in a tank by itself. (This species’ natural tendency is to hide in a burrow and leave only to hunt. Food was provided to the eel, reducing its need to leave the tube.) After approximately 2 weeks in the tube, the eel’s posture improved and appetite returned. The eel had to remain in the tube for another 4 to 6 weeks, but the prognosis was good. Currently (approximately 30 weeks after imaging), the eel is still mildly paretic and is being intermittently force fed by oral tube once a month, but it is also taking food voluntarily on its own. Its behavior has significantly improved as evidenced by guarding of the burrow and an increase in activity.

    Let's See Your "Final View"

    Do you have a unique, visual case to share through the popular Final View series? All you need is a high-resolution, clinical image(s) or video with a 100- to 300-word description, including the patient's treatment and recovery. E-mail your submission to editor@vettechjournal.com. Authors receive $75 per published case! 

    Matthew Dann, LVT, is no longer affiliated with Charleston Veterinary Referral Center.

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