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Gross or fascinating?

Zoo Atlanta’s Grossology Day, when we celebrate all the things in nature that may gross people out, but serve an important role in ecosystems, is coming up on July 14! I love this topic and seeing the disgust paired with fascination and smiles from guests that come with it.  

In this blog, we have been focusing on the intersection of Zoo Atlanta’s veterinary care and conservation, both here and in the field. In recognition of Grossology Day, we thought it would be interesting to find out from our own Zoo Veterinary Team what parts of their jobs have been the “grossest.”  

Obviously, none of these things have deterred them from a career in veterinary medicine. They often also find these things fascinating and recognize the importance of these experiences. These things all happen in the context of providing the best possible care for animals, which requires both knowledge and passion. 

Here is how our Veterinary Team answered the question, “What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever had to do in a veterinary capacity?” Some responses may be things they have done at Zoo Atlanta, in the field with wildlife, in vet school, or at another institution. 

Stephanie Earhart, Lead Veterinary Keeper, named a necropsy. For those who aren’t familiar with veterinary terminology, a necropsy is the examination of an animal to determine cause of death after they have passed. It is the same as a human autopsy, but a different term for animals. The American College of Veterinary Pathologists’ website explains in more detail. 

Melanie Haire, VMT: “So many things … but probably flushing maggots out of wounds.” Maggots are the larval form of flies. If you get really excited about parasites and flies (some people do!), check out this Overview of Flies of Animals. 

Danielle Stewart, RVT: “I have a huge threshold for what is gross. And sometimes the grossest things are the coolest things. I have a really distinct memory from when I was a vet tech student at my first internship. A cat came in with an open hole in its leg. The vet came over and inspected it and proceeded to very gingerly pull out a cuterebra larvae (larval form of a bot fly). It was the size of an engorged thumb! It was wild.” You can learn more from this detailed article in the Merck Veterinary Manual. specifically about cuterebra infestation in dogs and cats. 

George Carlton, RVT: “I try not to dwell on the gross stuff, but the nastiest is usually cancer or necrosis related.” Necrosis is the premature death of living tissue, which is irreversible, and may cause swelling and discoloration. It also may have a bad odor. 

Kate Leach, BVSc: “I am not easily grossed out. As vets we get to see and experience a lot that we find interesting, and not necessarily “gross” to us. If I had to pick something, my weakness is parasites.”  

Parasites seem to be a trend in the answers, which to me, is not surprising! Parasites are organisms that live on or inside an organism of another species (the host). The host organism is harmed directly or indirectly by the parasitic organism. A complete parasite gets all of its nutrients from the host, while a semi-parasite only gets some of its nutrients from the host. A parasite that feeds on the outside of the host is called an ectoparasite, while parasites that are inside the host’s body are called endoparasites. If you have pets, you likely know about parasites like fleas, ticks, heartworms that are spread to companion animals from mosquitos, and other worms like tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. 

The team’s positive and professional outlook toward even the unpleasant aspects of the job is inspiring! If you found this interesting or maybe even fascinating, a career in veterinary medicine or science could be for you. 


  • Necrosis causes, types, & treatment: WCEI. Wound Care Education Institute. (n.d.).  
  • Parasite. Comprehensive Cancer Information – NCI. (n.d.-c).  
  • Pets, parasites and people. Companion Animal Parasite Council. (2011, March).  
  • The importance of parasite control in pets. Merck Animal Health. (2019, November 27).  


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