Associations Between Gastritis, Temperament, and Management Risk Factors in Captive Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus)
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2014
Karen A. Terio1, DVM, PhD, DACVP; Jessica C. Whitham2, PhD; Julia Chosy3, PhD; Carlos Sanchez4, DVM; Laurie Marker5, PhD; Nadja Wielebnowski6, PhD
1Zoological Pathology Program, University of Illinois, Maywood, IL, USA; 2Chicago Zoological Society, Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield, IL, USA; 3Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, IL, USA; 4Veterinary Services, Fort Worth Zoo, Fort Worth, TX, USA; 5Cheetah Conservation Fund, Otjiwarongo, Namibia; 6Oregon Zoo, Portland, OR, USA


Captive cheetahs commonly have gastritis associated with Helicobacter infection that is thought, in part, to be associated with stress responses. The impact of temperament and management on stress responses and gastritis was evaluated by assessing temperament, fecal glucocorticoid metabolites, and gastric biopsies in 36 (18.18) captive cheetahs housed at six captive facilities. Study animals ranged from 3–14 years (average 7.4) and had no other clinically apparent disease at the time of study. Male cheetahs were more likely (p=0.0237) to have more severe gastritis. Gastritis severity was positively correlated with high individual temperament scores for the adjectives “eccentric” (r=0.4141; p=0.0134) and “easy to work with” (r=0.3672; p=0.03) and negatively correlated with “excitable” and “aggressive” (r=-0.5259; p=0.0012). Thus, cheetahs with a behavioral phenotype, more often seen in wild-caught cheetahs, had lower levels of gastritis. A similar negative correlation with “aggressive” was noted with glucocorticoid concentrations (p=0.0505). Specific management variables that positively correlated with gastritis included the number of institutions an animal had been housed at during its lifetime (r=0.4712; p=0.0075), the degree of public exposure (r=0.3749; p=0.0265), and density of cheetahs (r=0.4594; p=0.0055), while enclosure size was negatively correlated (r=-0.4206; p=0.0206) (e.g., cheetahs with severe gastritis were more likely to live in smaller enclosures). In contrast, cheetahs with opportunities for exercise had lower fecal glucocorticoid concentrations (p=0.0014). By considering these management risk factors, incorporating an individual’s temperament into housing determinations, and implementing exercise programs, we should be able to significantly improve the health and well-being of our captive cheetah population.


Thank you to the cheetahs, animal care and veterinary staffs at Cheetah Conservation Fund, Fort Worth Zoo, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Smithsonian National Zoological Park, Saint Louis Zoo, and White Oak Conservation Center for participating in this study. This study was made possible through support from Morris Animal Foundation, the global leader in supporting science that advances veterinary medicine. The authors thank Stacy Schultz, Jocelyn Bryant, and the University of Illinois Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory Histology Laboratory for superb technical assistance. At the time of this study, Dr. Sanchez was affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoological Park, and Dr. Wielebnowski was affiliated with the Chicago Zoological Society, and we thank these institutions for their support of this research.


Speaker Information
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Karen A. Terio, DVM, PhD, DACVP
Zoological Pathology Program
University of Illinois
Maywood, IL, USA

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