Dentist makes house call to Northwest Trek's wolf

Oct. 13, 2004
Dr. Katherine Bieker, a dentist from Eatonville, Wash., performs her first dental cleaning on an animal.

On Oct. 2, one of Northwest Trek Wildlife Park's female wolves spent the day having an extensive dental cleaning with local Eatonville dentist, Dr. Katherine Bieker.

This was the first time she has performed a dental cleaning on an animal, let alone put her hands into the mouth of a 65-pound wolf.

During a previous oral exam on the wide-awake, physically restrained wolf, Trek veterinarian Dr. Linda Hagerman was able to determine that this particular female needed a more extensive evaluation and cleaning. Trek saw an opportunity and need to invite a dental specialist in to assist.

With Dr. Linda Hagerman handling the anesthesia and recovery, Bieker and her assistant Tanya Clevenger, from Rainier View Dentistry in Eatonville volunteered their expertise as dentist and hygienist.

Gig Harbor dentist, Dr. Rhonda Savage, loaned a portable ultra sonic dental unit for the procedure. Dr. Bieker works part-time doing dental work at McChord Air Force Base and part-time at Rainier View Dentistry in Eatonville with her father, Dr. Steve Cossalman.

This female wolf was born April 30, 1999, at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and arrived at Northwest Trek seven months later. She is the first of her siblings¿one male and two other female wolves in the gray wolf exhibit at Trek¿to receive professional dental care.

"At Trek, our preference is always to place an emphasis on preventive health efforts. To keep dental tartar in check, we provide our carnivores with a variety of species-appropriate "chew treats" (bones, animal hides, etc.), which is equivalent to regular brushing and flossing for humans," said Rich Sartor, zoological curator.

Although the procedure began as a routine cleaning, evidence of high tartar buildup and gum disease led to the extractions of several of her teeth. 

While the animal was under anesthesia, the dental team focused on her teeth and the Trek animal care team was able to give a complete physical to the motionless wolf. Her overall health proved to be normal other than her tartar-laden teeth.

"If a wolf in the wild had similar dental issues, it would likely starve or succumb to related infection from gum disease. Since Trek provides their wolves with formulated diets, both kibble and ground meat that can literally be "wolfed down" without chewing, she will be able to get the nutrients she needs for years to come," said Sartor.

Northwest Trek, accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, is a 615-acre zoological park devoted to the display, interpretation, research and conservation of North American native wildlife. It is located off Highway 161, about 35 miles east of Tacoma on the road to Mount Rainier. For more information, call 360-832-6117 or visit