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A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down (even for animals!)

Juice Cups given to Primates during an Easter Celebration

Mary Poppins will blow into town for performances at the California Music Circus July 8-13. While she advises the Banks family on many subjects, Sacramento Zoo keepers are also able to partake in some of her wisdom. Keepers are able to adapt “just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” for the animals at the zoo.

Quality care for the animals at the Sacramento Zoo is always a top priority. Each animal’s diet is based on recommendations from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) species managers, other zoos with the same species, along with Sacramento Zoo veterinarians; after the diets are regulated by keepers. On a daily basis, animals are fed Grade A human quality produce and a variety of pelleted diets, which are top-quality chows designed for specific species. When an animal has special dietary needs or requires an extra incentive to take their medicine, sometimes they may need something extra tasty to help swallow it down. Zoo Staff are quick to find helpful treats that serve this purpose.

Special food items, such as jam, yogurt, peanut butter, pudding, applesauce, grapes, goats milk, Ensure, pie filling and bread are often used by zookeepers to help furred and feathered residents take their medicine. If pills can be crushed, hidden or mashed in food, keepers will find the right means to hide it – many of these products can be found in any grocery store.

People who have dogs or cats know that getting an animal to take its medicine can be very challenging. This is no different for animals at the zoo. The orangutans are smart enough to take a cup of yogurt with a crushed pill in it and magically sift through the yogurt as they eat, holding the tiny medicine fragments in their lower lip while swallowing the yogurt – then spit out the medicine! If only Mary Poppins could sing a song to keep them from doing this. Zookeepers however get creative on the types of snacks they hide medications in.

Treats in the Primate Fridge
Treats in the Primate Fridge

The zoo’s primates receive multi-vitamins daily as part of their normal care (Centrum Silver and Children’s chewable vitamins). In addition, in the mornings, the apes receive juice to keep them accustomed to taking liquids in a cup. For others, a tasty pudding treat can often hide the bitter taste of medicine.

Zoo staff works diligently to keep the animals healthy and happy. If that means hiding necessary medications they will gladly do so. Whether human or animal, sometimes we all need a little something special to help the medicine go down.

Sumatran Orangutan Eating Lettuce - photo by Tonja Candelaria
Sumatran Orangutan Eating Lettuce – photo by Tonja Candelaria
Chimpanzee Eating Special Primate Chow
Chimpanzee Eating Special Primate Chow – photo by Tonja Candelaria


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