Avocado (Persea americana) Toxicity in Captive Aye-Aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis)
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2017
Robert L. Schopler1, DVM, PhD; Cathy V. Williams1, DVM, DACAW; Jeffrey I. Everitt2, DVM
1Duke Lemur Center, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA; 2Department of Pathology, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC, USA


Avocado leaves, pits, skin, and possibly fruit contain a toxin called persin that has been associated with acute myocardial degeneration following ingestion in a variety of mammalian and avian species.1-4 Susceptibility to persin appears to be highly variable between species and there appear to be factors related both to the avocado and the animal that affect the susceptibility to toxicity. Ingestion of persin targets heart and lactating mammary gland and results in clinical symptoms that vary with species but include a sudden onset of weakness, which may progress rapidly to death.4 Five of 13 aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) housed at the Duke Lemur Center became ill within a few hours of each other and within the next 15 h four of the five had died. All five of the ill aye-ayes developed pericardial effusion and had been fed avocado fruits (Persea americana) the day prior to death from acute myocardial degeneration. The four animals that died all had stomach contents containing persin. A review of necropsy results from unexplained acute aye-aye deaths over the past 20 yr uncovered an additional five cases at four other institutions with necropsy and histopathology findings strongly suggestive of avocado toxicity. The unusual factor in the present case was a history of long standing avocado ingestion in the colony without morbidity/mortality, suggesting a co-factor. The aye-aye is the first reported primate avocado toxicity. The authors speculate that catecholamine effects of stress on the heart may turn out to be the as-yet unidentified modifier of toxicity.


The authors would like to thank: Cecil F Brownie, DVM, PhD for his wisdom and knowledge in toxicology and life; the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions for its support reviewing and confirming histopathology; the Duke Laboratory Animal Resource veterinarians for their input and assistance; and the Prosimian Taxon Advisory Group for distributing information to all institutions world-wide with captive aye-aye.

Literature Cited

1.  Ali MA, Chanu KV, Singh WR, Shah MAA, Leishangthem GD. Biochemical and pathological changes associated with avocado leaves poisoning in rabbits—a case report. Int J Res Pharm Sci. 2010;1(3):225–228.

2.  Buoro IBJ, Nyamwange SB, Chai D, Munyua SM. Putative avocado toxicity in two dogs. Onderstepoort J Vet Res. 1994;61:107–109.

3.  Burger WP, Naude TW, Van Rensburg IB, Botha CJ, Pienaar AC. Cardiomyopathy in ostriches (Struthio camelus) due to avocado (Persea americana var. guatemalensis) intoxication. J S Afr Vet Assoc. 1994;65:113–118.

4.  Oelrichs PB, Ng JC, Seawright AA, Ward A, Schäffeler L, MacLeod JK. Isolation and identification of a compound from avocado (Persea americana) leaves which causes necrosis of the acinar epithelium of the lactating mammary gland and the myocardium. Nat Toxins. 1995;3:344–349.


Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

Robert L. Schopler, DVM, PhD
Duke Lemur Center
Duke University
Durham, NC, USA

MAIN : Primates : Avocado Toxicity in Captive Aye-Aye
Powered By VIN