Spectacled bear alopecia syndrome is a disease of unknown etiology affecting spectacled bears (Tremarctos ornatus) in captivity. It has been reported in South America, North America, Japan, and Europe.1-3,5,6 Initial symptoms consist of patches of decreased hair density that appear on both flanks. The animals generally become itchy, and the disease progresses to complete alopecia of the lumbar region and, in the final stages, of the entire body. No treatment has proven to be efficient, and some of them are likely to have worsened the condition.2,3
As nine (25%) females from the EEP were affected, a European working group was established in 2009 to try to better understand the disease and propose guidelines for the care of affected animals.2,3 Clinical surveys as well as tissue and blood sampling protocols were circulated to all EEP participants.
Epidemiology points to a sex bias (females being predominantly affected), and pedigree analysis rules out simple inheritance patterns, although a genetic background factor cannot be excluded. Longitudinal fecal cortisol, estrone sulfate, and progesterone monitoring of affected and unaffected bears revealed no significant difference between the two groups.
Skin biopsies from 16 healthy bears enabled characterization of normal, healthy spectacled bear skin, whereas samples from 15 alopecic bears revealed inflammatory lymphocytic infiltrates or giant cells directed against the isthmic portion of the hair follicles, resulting in follicular atrophy and destruction. These lesions are suggestive of an immune-mediated disease.4
The treatment of three alopecic bears with oclacitinib, a Janus kinase inhibitor, shows promising results.
The authors thank all EEP participants who provided samples and information about their spectacled bears. Funding for the histopathological study and future examinations was provided by a DVM thesis grant from the AFVPZ (Francophone Association of Zoo Veterinarians).
1. Jager K, Langguth S, Einspanier A, Schachtner M, Bechstein N, Schoon HA. The alopecia-syndrome of Andean bears (Tremarctos ornatus) ± what do we know, what can we do? J Comp Pathol. 2013;148:90.
2. Kolter L, Bechstein N, Schachtner M, et al. Adding stones to the puzzle: approaches to the alopecia syndrome in captive Andean bears (Tremarctos ornatus). Intl Bear News. 2014;23(3):20–21.
3. Langguth S, Schachtner M, Eulenberger K, Kolter L, Bernhard A. The alopecia syndrome of Andean bears (Tremarctos ornatus) ± clinical features, epidemiology and continuing efforts in solving the puzzle. Proc Intl Conf Dis Zoo Wild Anim, Madrid. 2010:99–108.
4. Nicolau A. Contribution à l’étude clinique et histologique du syndrome d’alopécie de l’ours à lunettes (Tremarctos ornatus) en parcs zoologiques. Veterinary thesis, 2013. VetAgro Sup. 124 p.
5. Owen M, Shanks J, Sutherland-Smith M, Thomas G, van Horn R. Update on an investigation into a chronic skin disorder among captive Andean bears in North America. Intl Bear News. 2009;18(2):25–26.
6. Ueda M, Takamasu T, Nakazawa M, et al. A suspected case of atopic dermatitis in spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus). Japanese J Zoo Wildl Med. 2004;9:135–138.