Enema Administration in Elephants (Disease Investigation & Management - Treatment and Care)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / Disease Investigation & Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords  
  • Put on a long plastic sleeve (full arm glove) and lubricate this well.
  • Use the lubricated gloved arm to clear the rectum of faeces as far as possible.
  • Thoroughly lubricate a hose of appropriate diameter.
  • Pass the lubricated hose into the rectum, aiming it in an anterodorsal direction, until it meets with resistance.
  • Administer the enema solution (e.g. warm soapy water, 2 oz soap per four gallons of water) through the hose.

(B10.49.w21, B388.3.w3)

  • The solution may be poured through a funnel attached to the hose and held higher than the elephant's anus. (B388.3.w3)
  • The solution may be siphoned from a container held up by a fork-lift truck. (B22.34.w13)
  • Water may be given using a garden hose at low flow rate - first fill a bucket of known volume to determine the length of time for which the hose should be used at that flow rate. (B22.34.w13)
  • The amount administered may be "until the animal shows obvious signs of discomfort." (B388.3.w3)
Appropriate Use (?)
  • 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. (V.w6, V.w72, V.w84, V.w86, V.w88)
  • It may be helpful if the elephant can be placed on a slope, with the fore-quarters lower than the hind-quarters. (B388.3.w3)
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.

    (V.w6, V.w72, V.w84, V.w86, V.w88)

    This route cannot be used if the elephant does not cooperate and accept rectal manipulation. (J375.1.w1)
  • The wall of the rectum may be injured during the procedure. (J375.1.w1)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Full length plastic glove.

  • Lubricating jelly.

  • Hose.

  • Fluid for enema. 

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. (V.w6, V.w72, V.w84, V.w86, V.w88)
Cost/ Availability
  • Inexpensive.
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. (V.w6, V.w72, V.w84, V.w86, V.w88)
  • The safety of both veterinarians and animal care staff involved in the procedure must be considered.
Author Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee Susan K. Mikota DVM (V.w72)
References B10.49.w21, B22.34.w13, B388.3.w3, J375.1.w1, V.w6, V.w72, V.w84, V.w86, V.w88

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