Assessment of Skeletal Ageing in Captive Large Felids
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2006
Lesa Longley, MA, BVM&S, CertZooMed, MRCVS
Easter Bush Veterinary Centre, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland


Due to increased longevity in captive wild mammals, pathology such as osteoarthritic change is becoming more prevalent in zoological collections.1,3 Little data are available regarding the severity and progression of arthritic disease in wild mammals.

Skeletal specimens from museum collections were assessed using a scoring system that allowed grading of osteophytes.2 Specimens were of seven species: cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), lion (Panthera leo), jaguar (Panthera onca), leopard (Panthera pardus), tiger (Panthera tigris), and snow leopard (Uncia uncia). The specimens were predominantly captive animals, but a small sample of wild-caught specimens was also examined. Bony changes on vertebrae and long bones were scored. Dentition was also evaluated.

Similar patterns of bony change were found in both wild and captive animals. Common sites for osteophyte formation on vertebrae were the cranial and caudal articular surfaces, the transverse fovea (rib articulations), and ventral to the vertebral body (leading to synostosis in more advanced cases). As expected, older animals had more extensive lesions. Regions showing higher-grade lesions with increased frequency were the sixth cervical to third thoracic vertebrae, and fourteenth thoracic to third lumbar vertebrae. On the limbs, osteophytes were predominantly periarticular, with ulnar trochlear notches and acetabular rims commonly affected.

Although there was some overlap between captive and wild specimens’ dental pathology, wild animals suffered more from tooth wear and captive animals more from infection.

These pathologic findings may impact on animal welfare, and bone and dental pathology should be considered an important morbidity factor in aged animals.

Literature Cited

1.  Kitchener, A., and A. MacDonald. 2005. The longevity legacy, the problem of old mammals in zoos. EAZA Conference, Kolmarden 2004:132–137.

2.  Morgan, J.P. 1967. Spondylosis deformans in the dog. A morphological study with some clinical and experimental observations. Acta Ortho Scand. 96: 7–87.

3.  Munson, L., K.A. Terio, M. Worley, M. Jago, A. Bagot-Smith, and L. Marker. 2005. Extrinsic factors significantly affect patterns of disease in free-ranging and captive cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) populations. J Wildl Dis. 41:542–548.


Speaker Information
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Lesa Longley, MA, BVM&S, CertZooMed, MRCVS
Easter Bush Veterinary Centre
Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland

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