By Erica Rymer, Events & Marketing Specialist, and Olivia Orolin, Communications Intern
Whether you love to visit the zoo, have an animal companion at home or simply value the welfare of animals in human care, we can all agree that veterinarians are essential to the survival and well-being of our furry, scaly, and feathered friends. That is why today we are excited to celebrate World Veterinary Day by recognizing Dr. Brittany Rizzo, DVM, the director of animal health at your Akron Zoo!
Dr. Rizzo has been the Akron Zoo vet for almost four years now, but she has known she wanted to be a vet for much longer. In the second grade she completed a ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ project all about her zoo veterinary ambitions.
“I'm one of those people that grew up loving animals and knowing that I wanted to be a vet,” said Dr. Rizzo. “I've always loved how a veterinarian can use science and medicine to improve the health and welfare of animals, while also forming bonds with those animals and their caretakers. I knew I wanted to use zoo medicine as a way to contribute to the protection of animals in zoos and their counterparts in their native habitats.”
Though her job is certainly gratifying, it is anything but easy and she is learning new things every day. She needs to ensure our animals are happy, healthy, and have a good quality of life. Her work includes giving checkups to all animals receiving ongoing treatment, performing annual physical exams on every animal in our care, and conducting diagnostic exams on any animals indicating illness or injury.
“The most gratifying part of my job is when we have a very sick animal that takes a lot of work to find the cause of the illness. When we put a lot of time and effort into treating an animal and see them turn around and recover, it's one of the best feelings,” said Dr. Rizzo.
Dr. Rizzo is also heavily involved in animal training.
“We do training for medical procedures with a lot of the animals so that they can participate in their own healthcare. Any aspect of a health exam that an animal will volunteer for us (presenting a body part to us to be checked, allowing us to collect blood from a vein, etc.) helps reduce the stress on the animal and allows us to reduce the need for anesthesia, which in turn lowers risks to the animal. I find it really fun to participate in animal training for health procedures because I get to build trust and positive relationships with our animals!”
On occasion, Dr. Rizzo is also needed to conduct necropsies (animal autopsies) to confirm the cause of death of an animal.
“We are fortunate to be able to provide both long and healthy lives for our animals and a peaceful and pain-free end when we can no longer guarantee a good quality of life, but saying goodbye to animals that have been in our care (and seeing the grief of the people who cared for those animals) can be tough.”
Despite these challenges, Dr. Rizzo still loves her job.
“I love that every day provides a new challenge,” she said. “Being in a zoo, you have to sometimes get pretty creative to find a solution for your large grizzly bear or tiny fish-sized problems. One of the reasons I love zoo medicine is because I get to work with ALL the animals! They are all so cool and unique in their own way.”
Dr. Rizzo also conducts research in partnership with other zoos and vets to further the science of veterinary medicine and make advancements that will help animals in human care and in their native habitats.
“I am currently in the middle of a very long project to collect data on fetal ultrasound measurements in orangutans to more accurately estimate due dates and plan for births, and there are several other projects I would love to get started someday soon,” she said. “The Akron Zoo also participates in research by helping to provide samples (banked blood, etc) as requested by other researchers at other zoos. By contributing to other projects, we are maximizing our ability to contribute to the wealth of knowledge about animals and improve their livelihoods both in zoos and in their native habitats.”
If you dream of becoming a vet in the future, Dr. Rizzo offers some sage advice.
“Becoming a veterinarian is very competitive compared to human medicine, and zoo medicine is possibly one of the most competitive specialties of veterinary medicine. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to become a veterinarian, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I absolutely love my job, and when you love your job, it doesn’t feel like work at all. So if this is something that you would like to do, work hard in school, start volunteering to get animal experience, and stick with it! Good luck!”
So if you are a veterinarian, happy World Veterinary Day! Thank you for all you do to keep our animals happy and healthy! And if you are considering becoming a vet, keep at it! Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.