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Like handling a tiger with a toothache... well, um

A tiger at Mogo zoo undergoes root canal surgery. Photo:June Andersen, Mogo ZOOm Photography Click for more photos

Mogo Zoo's tigers get a visit from the dentist

Eight tigers have undergone root canal surgery at Mogo Zoo. 

The tigers at Mogo zoo have been giving their handlers the stink eye this week, but they seem to be coming around.

There's few things more dangerous than a cranky big cat, and after four of the south coast zoo's eight Sumatran tigers underwent root canal surgery at the weekend, there's been snarls aplenty.

In captivity we give them the veterinary care they need so they tend to have a longer lifespan. 

Mogo vet Dr Samantha Young

Mogo vet Dr Samantha Young said the worst looks have come from 16-year-old female Malu, whose "fiesty" attitude meant she was the only one who needed to have a her anaesthetic delivered by dart.

Mogo zoo tiger Malu recovering from root canal surgery. Photo: Clive Brookbanks, Mogo ZOOm Photography

Mogo zoo tiger Malu recovering from root canal surgery. Photo: Clive Brookbanks, Mogo ZOOm Photography

"They were four pretty cranky cats the next morning. We've spend a bit more time with them afterwards, getting back on their good side," Dr Young said.

"The cats have some memory of the induction, so they're particularly cranky at the keepers and me.

"The fiesty female (Malu) is still giving us the shifty eye, but the others seem to have forgiven us."

As you'd expect with four potential man-eaters weighing between 70-129kg, serious dental work has plenty of complexities.

Tigers were particularly challenging patients because they react more strongly to anaesthetic medication than other big cats and need close monitoring.

But all are on their way to a full recovery and returning to their favoured diet of beef, deer, horse and occasional goat or sheep. Horse meat seems their favourite.

The team at Mogo worked to assist a specialist veterinary dentist Dr Nadine Fiani, from Sydney's Small Animal Specialist Hospital, who volunteered her time for the treatment of Malu, male 17-year-old Lari and two other females Thelma, 18, and Soraya, 12.

The lifespan of a captive tiger is 20-22 years. Dr Young said the advanced age of some of Mogo's tigers meant some complex dental problems were inevitable.

"In captivity we give them the veterinary care they need so they tend to have a longer lifespan," she said.

The old lady of the Mogo tigers, Thelma, is showing some other signs of ageing, including arthritis and a few dodgy joints.

While these were equivalent symptoms of ageing to humans, Dr Young said treatments such as hip replacements were rare.

"Logistically that sort of thing is impractical. Their weight and the size of their joints mean it's much more likely to fail. We tend to manage them more conservatively, using pain relief. But we also tend to treat them earlier than humans might be."

Given the challenges of the weekend's dentistry, Dr Young said all at the zoo were feeling relief that it "went like clockwork".

And they are already gearing up for the next big dental project, mid-year root canal treatment for two adult lions.

The size of the lions, which are almost double the weight of the bigger tigers at 250kg, means they can't be brought into the clinic.

Instead the surgery will be performed in as sterile an environment as possible in the lions' enclosure.

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