Investigation of a Potential Vitamin D3 Deficiency in an African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) Collection
IAAAM 2016
Lisa A. Hoopes1*; Tonya Clauss1
1Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, GA, USA


Vitamin D is essential for the maintenance of calcium and bone metabolism in vertebrates, and deficiency can contribute to a variety of forms of metabolic bone disease (MBD) including osteomalacia/rickets, osteoporosis, and secondary nutritional hyperparathyroidism.1,2 Metabolic bone disease has been documented in various species of birds (primarily domestic seed-eaters),3 but also in Humboldt penguins managed under human care4. After the diagnosis of metabolic bone disease in a 6 year old female African penguin, an investigation into the vitamin D status of the collection was undertaken. Serum was collected from 56 African penguins ranging in age from 4 months to 28 years who were housed indoors (without full-spectrum UVA/UVB lighting) and fed a diet of comprised of herring, capelin, silversides, and/or squid. Serum samples were submitted to Hartland Assays for total calcium, 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D), 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D (1,25(OH)2D), vitamin D2 and D3 testing. Prey samples were simultaneously sent for vitamin D2 and D3 testing. Mean serum 25(OH)D levels in the African penguins in this study were higher than those reported in healthy Humboldt penguins,4 although different analytical labs were utilized. Serum lab results identified four penguins (ages 6, 7, 23 and 28 years) with low 25(OH)D and vitamin D3 levels compared with conspecifics. These four individuals routinely consume a diet comprised almost exclusively of capelin, which also tested low in 25(OH)D and vitamin D3 compared with the other fish species. Oral supplementation with vitamin D3 (300 IU, with 500 mg of calcium) TIW was started, and the birds were re-tested 3–4 months later with little improvement in 25(OH)D, the analyte most indicative of overall vitamin D status. Oral vitamin D3 supplementation doses have been increased, and serum samples will be analyzed in the coming weeks to determine if 25(OH)D levels have increased. This on-going study will continue to monitor vitamin D levels in the entire Georgia Aquarium penguin collection with more frequent monitoring occurring in the individuals receiving vitamin D3 supplementation in response to suspected deficiency.


The authors wish to the thank both the Department of Animal Health and the Zoological Operations, Mammal and Bird teams at the Georgia Aquarium for their assistance in animal handling and sampling.

* Presenting author

Literature Cited

1.  Dacke CG. The parathyroids, calcitonin, and vitamin D. In: Whittow GC, ed. Sturkie's Avian Physiology. 5th ed. San Diego, CA: Academic Press; 2000:473–488.

2.  Ullrey DE, Bernard JB. Vitamin D metabolism, sources, unique problems in zoo animals, meeting needs. In: Fowler ME, Miller RE, eds. Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Co.; 1999:63–78.

3.  Bauck L. Nutritional problems in pet birds. Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine. 1995;4:3–8.

4.  Adkesson MJ, Langan JN. Metabolic bone disease in juvenile Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti): investigation of ionized calcium, parathyroid hormone, and vitamin D3 as diagnostic parameters. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine. 2007;38:85–92.


Speaker Information
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Lisa A. Hoopes, PhD
Georgia Aquarium
Atlanta, GA, USA

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