& Management / Disease
Investigation & Management / Techniques:
The oral route is a basic method of giving medication to animals. It has
several advantages over parenteral medication routes in not requiring any
invasive procedure, nor does the product being given need to be sterile.
However, not all medications are suitable for oral administration. Some
medications may be broken down in the GIT before they are absorbed into the
bloodstream and thus have no effect. Other drugs are not absorbed
effectively from the GIT; lack of absorption may not be a problem if local
treatment within the GIT is intended, for example with activated charcoal
or bismuth type drugs).
- Elephants are monogastric, therefore medications given orally are
unlikely to be broken down by microbial degradation before being absorbed
from the GIT. (P64.1.w2)
- However, the elephant's stomach is very large; the large volume of
ingesta present might dilute and bind drugs which are given orally. (J375.1.w1)
Oral medication of an elephant requires the elephant's cooperation;
swallowing must take place voluntarily. (J375.1.w1)
In feed or in water:
If possible, administration in food or water is the simplest means of oral
- Tasteless medications may be added to water. (B212.w15)
- Oral medications are usually given in foods, particularly favorite or
highly flavoured foods. (W580.Aug2005.w1)
- Liquid medications may be soaked into bread and then given to the
- Liquid medications may be mixed with syrup, salt, jaggary or
- Tablets may be embedded in bread or in a banana (P64.1.w2)
or inside a plantain. B388.3.w3
- Note: liquid medications cannot practically be injected into
the substance of a banana. (V.w5)
- Note: elephants have a highly developed olfactory sense and
may reject food items which smell wrong. (P64.1.w2)
- Plain food items may be given immediately before and after the
items containing the medication. (P64.1.w2)
- The food should be as normal as possible in appearance, smell
and taste. (J375.1.w1)
- It may be possible for a good trainer to habituate an elephant to
eat medicated food, over time. (J375.1.w1)
Placing or tossing medication into the
- With a tractable elephant it may be possible to get it to open its
mouth and place or toss the medication in within a ball of food or a
plantain leaf. (J375.1.w1,
- Tossing is safer than reaching into the mouth: there is a risk of a
hand being crushed if the elephant reacts suddenly to an unpleasant
taste or a sudden movement. (W580.Aug2005.w1)
- The trainer needs to know the preferences of the individual elephant
to present the medication in a form the elephant is willing to take. (J375.1.w1)
- Note: If the medication tastes unpleasant, the elephant may
not be willing to open its mouth for repeated dosing. (W580.Aug2005.w1)
- This method works only while the elephant is willing to open its
mouth and swallow the medication. (J375.1.w1)
- The tongue is large and sensitive and can be used to eject
unwanted items. (J375.1.w1)
Training for oral medication:
- It may be advantageous to periodically hand-feed elephants with food
items suitable for administration of medication, such as bread or small packets of edible material filled with
treats. Similar packets can then be given containing oral medications.
- Giving a variety of placebo tablets of different textures and
flavours may be used to desensitise the elephant to oral medications.
- It has been suggested that elephants may learn to take oral medications as an alternative to
injection: a handler offers the oral medication; if this is refused
then a veterinarian immediately administers the injected medication.
The elephant learns to take the oral medication as a preferable
Gag/ bite block:
- It may be possible to give medications via stomach tube as follows.
- Restrain a handleable elephant. (B10.49.w21)
- Place a gag or bite block in the mouth, between the molars. (B10.49.w21,
(or a speculum may be used). (B23.77.w12)
- Introduce the stomach tube dorsally into the mouth over the
tongue and dorsal to the larynx into the pharyngeal pouch.
- Probe gently, as required, until the sphincter at the posterior of
the pharyngeal pouch relaxes sufficiently to allow the tube to pass. (B10.49.w21,
- Check carefully that the tube is in the oesophagus and stomach, not
the trachea, before administering anything down the tube. (B10.49.w21,
- The tube should be at least to the mid-oesophagus before
medication is administered. (J375.1.w1)
|Appropriate Use (?)
- For administration of oral medication preparations.
- Antibiotics which are usually accepted by elephants when given
orally include trimethoprim-sulphamethoxazole,
sulfadimethoxine/ormetoprim (Primor, Pfizer Animal Health) (see: Sulphonamides)
(Baytril, Bayer). (B23.77.w12)
- If phenylbutazone is required long term then oral medication may be
preferable to injection. J196.72.w1
- Care must be taken to ensure that personnel working nearby are aware that a hands-on procedure is being carried out. Both personnel directly involved with the procedure,
and those working nearby, need to ensure that movements and noise (from telephones,
bleepers, shutting doors, heavy machinery etc.) that might disturb the elephant, both inside and outside the elephant area, are minimized during the procedure.
This includes activities at nearby enclosures that might be audible to the elephant and could startle it.
- Tasteless medications are simple to administer. (B10.49.w21)
- It may be possible to disguise unpalatable medications using
flavoured treats such as molasses, fruits or fruit juices. (B10.49.w21)
- Flavours which may be used to mask bitter drugs include chocolate
and mint. (W580.Aug2005.w1)
- It may be necessary to use ready-flavoured drugs designed for human
- If penicillins are to be given, the addition of probenecid is
recommended to delay renal excretion of the penicillin, thereby
allowing therapeutic blood concentrations to be reached with a lower
dose of penicillin. (B10.49.w21)
- Elephants are more likely to accept medications from their
handler than from a veterinarian or other stranger. (B23.77.w12,
- Development of formulations which are inoffensive in flavour and can
be milled into feed in sufficiently high concentration would be
|Complications/ Limitations / Risk
- Elephants are very large, heavy and strong, highly intelligent, can move surprisingly quickly and can be highly strung at times:
- Depending on the management system (free contact / no contact / protected contact), and the character and training of the individual elephant, it may be necessary to carry out any
hands-on procedure with the elephant under sedation and/or in an elephant restraint device.
- There is always some risk to personnel involved when carrying out hands-on procedures on a conscious elephant.
- There is always some risk to the elephant when sedation is used, especially if full anesthesia is required.
- Elephants appear to detect tastes very well; (W580.Aug2005.w1)
Elephants may refuse to swallow medicines which taste unpleasant or
- Medicated foods may be rejected for long periods. (J375.1.w1)
- Elephants have shown the ability to separate out medication from
food despite thorough mixing. (J375.1.w1)
- Care must be taken since some additives may affect drug
- Care must be taken if a medication is to be frozen with or cooked
with foods, that this will not change the drug's stability or chemical
|Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
Suggested foods for delivering oral medication include:
Jello (US), i.e. jelly (UK)
Pineapple (cut a window in the fruit, place the
medication inside, replace the plug of fruit)
Plantains (place pills inside)
Sweetened rice balls
A mixture of rolled oats, bran and molasses, forming
balls (used successfully to administer tablets of enrofloxacin).
A gruel of pellets, rolled oats, rice bran and water
(used successfully to administer tablets of enrofloxacin).
J13.66.w1, P64.1.w2, W580.Aug2005.w1)
|Expertise level / Ease of Use
- Expertise and experience of the elephant handler(s) are critical when carrying out hands-on procedures on a conscious elephant.
- Only personnel experienced with elephants should be involved with
procedures involving placing a hand or arm into an elephant's mouth.
- No expensive or difficult to obtain equipment required.
|Legal and Ethical Considerations
- When working with elephants it is important always to remember that their size and weight means that they can injure people easily, whether intentionally or unintentionally. The potential risks to all personnel involved must be considered before any hands-on procedure is initiated, and remembered during the procedure. It is critical that all personnel are highly trained and understand their respective roles and responsibilities during the procedure, that one person has overall command responsibility, and that no unnecessary people are present within the contact area.
- The safety of both veterinarians and animal care staff involved in
the procedure must be
||Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD
|| Susan K. Mikota DVM (V.w72)
J13.66.w1, J375.1.w1, P64.1.w2, V.w5,