Incidence of Claw Disorders in Geriatric Captive Sloth Bears (Melursus ursinus) and Its Management
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2017
Rashmi S. Gokhale1, BVSc, AH; Arun A. Sha, MVSc; S. Ilayaraja, BVSc, AH, PGDWADM; Pushpendra Kumar Singh, BVSc, AH; M.V. Sharma, MVSc
Agra Bear Rescue Facility, Wildlife SOS, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India


The present study describes the occurrence and management of claw disorders in geriatric (≥16-year-old) captive sloth bears (Melursus ursinus) at Agra Bear Rescue Facility, Wildlife SOS, Agra, UP, India. Sloth bears are insectivores found mostly in the southern part of India and have an average lifespan of 25 years in captivity. Members of the family Ursidae have five digits on each limb, and each digit has a claw. Sloth bears have long, curved front claws that are approximately 7 cm in length and help them break open termite mounds and climb trees. Hind claws are shorter, measuring about 3 cm in length.2,3

Eight aged sloth bears at the Agra Bear Rescue with claw deformities and recurrent secondary traumatic wounds were selected for the study. Histories of the selected bears were collected, and field observations were performed for 1 year. Common clinical signs included recurrent inflammation, irregular keratinization, excessive claw curvature, and ventral cavitations. Affected geriatric bears showed limited field accessibility and reduced instinctive behaviors, like scratching and digging holes, and half (n=4/8) had abnormal gait with arthritis. Four of the bears had secondary traumatic wounds of the foreclaws. Claw wound healing took 20–30 days for complete granulation and epithelization, but new nail growth was rarely seen. Culture of wounds identified Salmonella sp., Shigella sp., and E. coli as secondary bacterial contaminants. Success of preventing secondary traumatic claw wounds was dependent on management practices followed. Onychectomy (declawing)4 was mandatory to prevent pain and retrograde infection in some cases. Preventive management practices such as periodic claw trimming by positive reinforcement, topical fly repellents in cavitated claws, provision of suitable muddy substrate to avoid paw abrasions and special enrichments to promote wear and tear of claws have been implemented.1

Claw deformities were seen in bears more than 16 years of age and proved to be an age-related phenomenon. Severity of the disorder was specific to health of the individual bear. In conclusion, claw disorders and deformity were good indicators of age in captive sloth bears, and periodic claw trimming was the key management practice to improve geriatric animal care.

Literature Cited

1.  Abou-Madi N. Preventive medicine in zoos. In: Irwin MD, Stoner JB, Cobaugh AM, eds. Zookeeping: an introduction to the science and technology. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press; 2013:471–486.

2.  Collins, DM. Ursidae. In: Miller RE, Folwer ME, eds. Fowler’s zoo and wild animal medicine. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2015:498–508.

3.  Hadley B. The sloth bear. IUCN/SSC Bear Specialist Group [Internet]. 2008. [cited 2017 May 14]. Available from

4.  Hedlund, CS. Soft tissue surgery: surgery of the digits and footpads. In: Fossum TW, ed. Small Animal Surgery, 2nd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2002:202–209.


Speaker Information
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Rashmi S. Gokhale, BVSc, AH
Agra Bear Rescue Facility
Wildlife SOS
Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

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