Shellfish ease pain of arthritic lions

If lions at the zoo look less than interested in parading around for your entertainment, it may be because their legs hurt.

Captive big cats often develop joint pain and osteoarthritis but a solution to their discomfort could be around the corner.

Shellfish supplements are being tested by biologists at Liverpool John Moores University and the Association of Zoo and Exotic Veterinary Nurses, who report that the new dietary intake makes cats far more ready to walk around.

Animal welfare researcher Dr Jon Bielby, of LJMU, explained: “Big cats like lions and tigers tend to live longer in captivity than they do in the wild. As a result, they are susceptible to ageing issues and conditions that are not typical in their wild.

“Numerous older zoo cats suffer from a range of musculoskeletal diseases such as osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease, making them more inactive and sadly less visible to zoo publics.”

The team set out to see if a food supplement commonly available for use in domestic dogs and cats – Antinol - helped alleviate some of the musculoskeletal symptoms of ageing in big cats.

They measured the number of steps taken per minute by 18 individuals of 13 species both before and after introduction of green-lipped mussel extract into their diet.

Jon, who teaches in the School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, said: “We found that after introduction of the supplement there was a significant increase in the mobility of the cats. This suggests that green-lipped mussel extracts is associated with some alleviation of age-related pain and increased mobility in these animals.

Across 13 species of big cat, the researchers recorded an increase in steps per minute of between 7% and 30% after the supplements had been given time to take effect.

First author Matthew Rendle of the AZEVN, said: “Scientifically there is relatively little evidence to support current practices in managing age-related musculoskeletal diseases in domestic animals, let alone more exotic animals we keep in zoos and collections.”

The research is published in Vet Record.

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