Captive meerkat populations are known to suffer from cholesterol-related diseases.1,3 These appear linked to the high serum cholesterol levels found in many captive meerkats compared to their wild counterparts. At the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) we have found cholesterol granulomas in the calvarium of meerkats, prompting this investigation of dietary management.
Free-ranging meerkats are primarily insectivorous carnivores occasionally eating vertebrates and plants.2 The diet of managed meerkat populations is traditionally based on meat, mice, chicks and eggs, all high in cholesterol. ZSL, therefore, formulated new diets based on complete dry pet foods augmented with calcium-supplemented invertebrates, fruit and vegetables.
In 2007, over a 5-month period meerkats fed 25 g per day of dry cat food,a calcium gut-loaded live invertebrate prey and 20 g of mixed fruit and vegetable showed a significant (p<0.05) decrease in their serum cholesterol levels (11.6±2.12 mmol/l, n=10) compared to a control group fed a mouse-based diet (19.1±2.16 mmol/l, n=5).
Following the trial, the control group was switched to the new diet. To date, cholesterol levels of all meerkats have remained low (10.6±2.4 mmol/l), although higher than in free-living meerkat populations (5.93±0.973 mmol/l) (Gledhill L, unpubl. data). No cholesterol-related gross pathology has been seen since the change in diet. Cholesterol rises rapidly, however, in individual animals experiencing a shift in diet (hospitalisation, public interference, etc.), re-enforcing the requirement for strict ongoing dietary control to manage this condition in this captive species.
a. Hills Science Plan® Feline Light Mature Adult/Senior 7+ (Hill’s Pet Nutrition Ltd., Watford, Hertfordshire, UK)
The authors wish to thank Anne-Lise Chaber for initial statistical analysis and Andrew Routh for his support of the project.
1. Allen KJ, Waters M, Ashton DG, Patterson-Kane JC. Meningeal cholesterol granulomas in two meerkats (Suricata suricatta). Vet Rec. 2006;158:636–637.
2. Fuehrer T. Suricata suricatta meerkat. Animal Diversity Web (ADW) [Internet] University of Michigan Museum of Zoology; 2003. [cited March 10, 2014]. Available from http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Suricata_suricatta/
3. Sladsky KK, Dalldorf FG, Steinberg H, Wright JF, Loomis MR. Cholesterol granulomas in three meerkats (Suricata suricatta). Vet Pathol. 2000;37:684–686.