What happens when a tiger has a toothache?

Monday, June 7, 2021

A tiger with toothache has had its fractured canine tooth fixed in a marathon operation.

Skah the tiger getting treatment

Skah, a seven-year-old Bengal tiger, was found to be suffering from the painful problem during a routine check at Lincolnshire Wildlife Park.

After lockdown delays, European Specialist dental vet Gerhard Putter and a crack team of fellow vets travelled from all over the country to ease the agonies late last week.

Now, thanks to Gerhard and the other experts, big cat Skah happily has his bite back. “It can be difficult even in cats and dogs to assess pain, but I can’t see how this tiger would not have had toothache,” said Gerhard, from Specialist Dental Vet.

“A fractured tooth in a human would be extremely painful and the nerve supply is almost identical to that of big cats. I’m convinced this would definitely have hurt and it’s a real thrill that he should be much happier now.” said Gerhard.

Skah is one of nine Bengal tigers at the popular Lincolnshire Wildlife Park, which is also home to rare white lions.

After his toothy problem was discovered, Gerhard travelled to check out the facilities late last year. Restrictions delayed more detailed examinations and the delicate procedure until the end of last week.


“The left upper canine was fractured quite badly and half of the crown of the tooth was missing,” said Gerhard, who is mostly based at Mulberry Vets in Sudbury, Suffolk but works across three busy practices of leading UK vets IVC Evidensia.

“The only real options are to extract the tooth or do root canal treatment, which is preferable and less traumatic if possible. But either way it is pretty invasive stuff with a tooth that was about five inches long. Extraction of such a large tooth requires a complicated surgical procedure.”

The crack team put together for the complex procedure included two anesthetists from Knowsley Safari Park in Merseyside and a heart specialist from London who did ultrasound scans and an ECG. Three other vets were also involved including exotic animal specialist Sarah Pellett from Animates as well as vet nurse Hannah Morgan from Byre Vets, both in Peterborough.

Gerhard routinely works with dogs and cats, one of a handful of veterinary dental specialists in Europe and the UK, he has previously operated on several tigers as well as lions, bears, leopards and hyenas – amongst others.  Anaesthetising a big cat like Skah, who weighs around 200kg, is a major undertaking and can be very risky but he was safely put under before Gerhard got to work.



“It looked at first like I may have to extract the tooth but after some surgery to remove gum away from the fracture line I was able to do root canal treatment,” said Gerhard. “The whole procedure took about two-and-a-half hours. The anaesthesia went well, although he did start to wake up a bit towards the end.

“There is always a lot of pressure to get the procedure done successfully as getting big cats anaesthetised is always risky and there is concern if they are under for much longer than that.

“But they are beautiful animals and it is exciting to be so close to a tiger like that. I love what I do and am always happy when I am able to help like this.”