Zoo Knoxville is now providing palliative care for the oldest giraffe in the United States as she experiences symptoms related to advanced age.
Patches, a 31-year-old reticulated giraffe, has already outlived the average giraffe life expectancy of 25 years. The zoo attributes her longevity to excellent care provided by the zoo’s staff and the veterinary team from the University of Tenessee College of Veterinary Medicine.
Her caretakers noticed stiffness while walking about a year ago and Patches began a regimen of medications. As her symptoms became worse, her vet team changed her medications and dosages and a camera system was installed to monitor her overnight. Footage revealed she was not lying down to rest intermittently as giraffes do, but was instead leaning against the barn walls.
The veterinary team performed tests that confirmed a diagnosis of arthritis. Because it is the result of her advanced age, her arthritis is not curable, so her team is monitoring her around the clock to determine the best treatment to alleviate her discomfort.
Quality of life becomes the determining issue, zoo officials say, so when her pain becomes unmanageable with medications and there are no other treatment options, the discussion will turn to humane euthanization.
Patches was born in 1987 to mother Mis T and father E.T. she has given birth eight times during her lifetime. Her last daughter Lucille was born in 2002 and still lives with Patches at Zoo Knoxville.