Hospital for Small Animals

Vet School helps penguin from Edinburgh Zoo

Expert teams worked together to identify cause of king penguin’s seizures.

image of penguin lying on its chest in a MRI scanner
Alfie the penguin received MRI and CT scans at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies’ Hospital for Small Animals to try to diagnose the reason for his seizures.
MRI scan of penguin's brain
MRI scan of Alfie’s brain. The grey area is the healthy brain tissue. The light grey area with the black centre, highlighted by the yellow arrow is the mass lesion in his brain. This mass was compressing the adjacent brain tissues which led to his seizures.

Veterinary surgeons from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies Hospital for Small Animals worked closely with the veterinary team at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s (RZSS) Edinburgh Zoo to help a king penguin.

Following CT and MRI scans, the penguin was suspected to have infectious meningoencephalitis; inflammation of his brain and surrounding brain tissue.

Following treatment and close monitoring by his keepers, the penguin’s seizures have stopped, and he is recovering well.

image of a healthy king penguin standing in an enclosure next to water
Alfie the king penguin, who is recovering well at Edinburgh Zoo after being diagnosed and treated for a rare brain condition.

Sudden seizures

When Alfie, a king penguin, began to have seizures, RZSS’s veterinary team contacted experts at the Hospital for Small Animals to ask for help.

Alfie, an eight-year-old king penguin, had stopped eating and was having neurological episodes on a daily basis. He had also begun vomiting. The wildlife conservation charity’s veterinary team moved him into the isolation area for close monitoring and, after X-rays and an endoscopy came back clear, reached out to the Neurology team at the Hospital for Small Animals for assistance.

Dr Joao De Frias, a European Diplomate in Neurology and Neurosurgery, suggested that Alfie visit the Hospital for a CT and MRI scan to try to diagnose the problem.

To ensure Alfie remained cool and calm during his journey to the Hospital, he was given a light sedative and placed in a barrel with ice. He was continually monitored by the RZSS veterinary team during transit via remote camera.

Unusual patient

Clinicians from the Hospital’s specialist-led Anaesthesia, Neurology and Digital Imaging teams followed a specific protocol for visiting zoo animals developed by Dr Jenna Richardson from the Dick Vet Rabbit and Exotic Practice, to ensure the best care for Alfie whilst at the Hospital.

The penguin received a CT and MRI scan, both of which showed inflammation of his brain and surrounding brain tissue. Alfie was diagnosed with a suspected infectious meningoencephalitis; this rare condition is considered to be a neurological emergency and can be life-threatening if not treated quickly.

Positive outcome

Vets prescribed medication to help Alfie fight the infection in his brain. He was then discharged into the care of the RZSS veterinary team and his keepers, who encouraged the penguin to eat and ensured that he took his medication.

Thanks to the medication and expert care of RZSS team, Alfie’s seizures soon stopped, and his appetite quickly returned. Alfie continues to recover, and he has now rejoined the main penguin colony at Edinburgh Zoo. 


I am incredibly grateful to be involved in caring for Alfie. Treating such an extraordinary animal is truly special. While we remain cautiously optimistic about Alfie's progress due to the seriousness of his condition, we are thrilled to see him recovering well. It's wonderful to know he's now back with his friends and fellow king penguins.

Dr Joao Miguel De FriasLecturer in Neurology, R(D)SVS Hospital for Small Animals

Our relationship with the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies not only allows us the opportunity to access this specialist equipment and their facilities, but also to collaborate with their world-renowned team. It’s wonderful that we can work together to provide the best care for our animals and share our knowledge and skills across our teams.

Dr Stephanie MotaVeterinary Surgeon at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

About the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies 

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is a one-of-a-kind centre of excellence in clinical activity, teaching and research. Our purpose-built campus, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Pentland Hills Regional Park, is home to more than 800 staff and almost 1400 students, all of whom contribute to our exceptional community ethos. 

The School comprises: 

The Roslin Institute 

The Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems 

The Roslin Innovation Centre 

The Hospital for Small Animals 

Equine Veterinary Services 

Farm Animal Services 

Easter Bush Pathology 

The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education 

We represent the largest concentration of animal science-related expertise in Europe, impacting local, regional, national and international communities in terms of economic growth, the provision of clinical services and the advancement of scientific knowledge.