x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Big cat owners warned to keep them 'acres away' from feral strays

Dubai vet warns deadly diseases are spreading through cheetah, lion, tiger and caracal collections following contact with feral stray cats.

DUBAI // Collectors of cheetahs, lions and tigers are being urged to keep them well away from household and street cats to stop them catching deadly diseases.

“Try to keep feral cats acres away from your valuable collections of large felines,” said Dr Joerg Kinne, a pathologist at Dubai’s Central Veterinary Research Laboratory.

Dr Kinne has investigated outbreaks of a deadly disease called feline infectious peritonitis (Fip) in two cheetah collections in Dubai.

Another disease found in big cats is parvovirus enteritis.

“Parvovirus enteritis can infect any feline species and we have seen it in cheetah, lion and caracal,” he said.

“The question is how to prevent these diseases.”

Dr Kinne was addressing a forum in Dubai held alongside the VET Middle East trade show, which ended yesterday.

He said while vaccines could be effective against parvovirus enteritis, there were no published papers about their use to protect cheetahs from Fip.

“This leaves hygiene, and hopefully cat control, as the only tools to prevent Fip in these large cats,” Dr Kinne said.

Post-mortem examinations have been conducted on more than 100 big cats at the Dubai lab.

Cheetahs are by far the most commonly seen species, followed by lions and tigers, although Dr Kinne and his colleagues have also examined jaguar, leopard, serval, caracal and rare white tigers and lions.

One day four big cats were taken in for post-mortem examinations, although this was exceptional.

“Each and every species of large feline you will find somewhere in the country,” said Dr Kinne.

He said another contributor to disease was inappropriate diet.

“Mainly when we open up a cheetah for post-mortem there’s just chicken meat in the stomach,” Dr Kinne said.

“A cheetah in the wild doesn’t go for chicken. It would rather go for a gazelle or something, so it needs to eat red meat and not some kind of bird.”

One cause of death the team has identified for cheetahs, lions and other species is a condition known as oxalate nephrosis, which is normally caused by ethylene glycol (anti-freeze) poisoning.

This substance has a low freezing point and is used to protect car engines in countries where winter temperatures fall below zero.

“It is unlikely in our conditions to have it here so we have to look for other causes,” said Dr Kinne. “Most likely all these cases are linked to dehydration due to the climate here.

“You need to consider that even if they have access to water it is more than likely hot, it may have a different taste and they may not drink it.”

Another condition that affects captive cheetahs is progressive hind-limb paralysis. The cause is unknown, although Dr Kinne said it was most probably linked to copper deficiency.

He referred to official figures published in The National in January that showed steep increases in the numbers of lions and tigers imported legally into the UAE in recent years.

“The number of big cats has definitely been increasing and cheetah is the largest population we’re dealing with,” Dr Kinne said.

“It is known in the literature that most cheetahs kept in captivity will be under chronic stress. This added stress definitely contributes to the diseases we see in cheetahs, and also to the low reproductive success in the species in captivity.”

csimpson@thenational.ae