Medical conditions including degenerative joint disease have been documented in captive bears.1 Since 2000, Animals Asia has rescued 277 Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) and Eurasian brown bears (Ursus arctos arctos) from bile farms in China where they are housed in cages in strict confinement for up to 30 years and develop chronic infections and inflammation from bile extraction sites, cut teeth, and untreated wounds.2 Of 129 bears that have died since 2000, 18 bears (14%) were humanely euthanatized due to progressive hindlimb paresis/paralysis. 144 rescued Asiatic black bears have been radiographed since 2009 at the China Bear Rescue Centre (CBRC) at the time of abstract submission. Of these, 96 (67%) exhibited joint pathology, 102 (71%) exhibited spinal pathology, and 83 (58%) exhibited a combination of joint and spinal pathology. Of 143 surviving resident bears, 34 (23%) receive medications to manage clinical gait abnormalities. Radiographic pathology and clinical gait abnormalities are not consistently predictive of one another. Over 60 bears (41%) are therefore routinely monitored for clinical gait abnormalities due to radiographic evidence of spinal and/or joint pathology. Medical management includes nutraceutical joint protectants with the addition of NSAIDs such as meloxicam at a standard loading dose of 0.2 mg/kg SID followed by a maintenance dose of 0.1 mg/kg SID. As lameness progresses, tramadol is trialed at 2–4 mg/kg BID followed by gabapentin at 3.5 mg/kg SID initially, increased up to 6 mg/kg BID. In addition to weight management, specially designed dens and enclosures are incorporated to minimize stress on joints and spines.
1. Bourne, D.C., J.M. Cracknell, and H.J. Bacon. 2010. Veterinary issues related to bears (Ursidae). International Zoo Yearbook 44:16–32.
2. Loeffler, I.K., J. Robinson, and G. Cochrane. 2009. Compromised health and welfare of bears farmed for bile in China. Animal Welfare 18:225–235.