Journal of the South African Veterinary Association
Print version ISSN 1019-9128
WILLIAMS, J H et al. Barbiturate ingestion in three adult captive tigers (Panthera tigris) and concomitant fatal botulism of one. J. S. Afr. Vet. Assoc. [online]. 2011, vol.82, n.4, pp. 244-249. ISSN 1019-9128.
Zoo animals, including tigers, have been reported to suffer from barbiturate intoxication, with pentabarbitone being most commonly recorded. Clinical signs range from mild ataxia to general anaesthesia with recovery over hours to days with several factors affecting hepatic barbiturate metabolism and tissue partitioning. Botulism is an often fatal intoxication in man, animals, birds and certain fish. The occurrence in carnivores is uncommon to rare, with only 2 reports found of botulism in felids. This report relates to 3 adult captive cohabiting tigers that simultaneously developed signs of abdominal discomfort, progressive ataxia, recumbency and comatose sleep resembling stage 2 anaesthesia, alternating with periods of distracted wakefulness and ataxic movements. These signs occurred 4 days after being fed the carcass of a horse that had ostensibly died of colic and not been euthanased. The male tiger that was the dominant animal in the feeding hierarchy was worst affected and had to be given intravenous fluids. The female that was lowest in hierarchy was unaffected. After 48-72 hours of treatment at the Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital the females could eat and made an uneventful recovery. The male tiger showed partial recovery but died during the night a few hours after drinking water on his return to the owner. Necropsy revealed severe oesophageal dilation and impaction with decaying grass; some of this material and water were present in the pharynx and trachea, and had been aspirated causing acute widespread bronchopneumonia. Colon content tested negative for common pesticides but, together with liver, tested positive for barbiturate. Serum taken on the day of admission had tested negative for barbiturate and the residual serum from the 3 animals later tested negative for botulinum toxin. Colon and oesophageal content from the male at necropsy were positive for Clostridium botulinum toxin type C by the mouse bioassay neutralisation test, confirming that this male had had concomitant barbiturate toxicity and botulism, and had succumbed to aspiration bronchopneumonia secondary to pharyngeal, laryngeal and oesophageal paralysis and oesophageal impaction.
Keywords : barbiturate; botulinim type C toxin; botulism; bronchopneumonia; cats; felids; mouse bioassay neutralisation; oesophageal obstruction; oesophageal paralysis; tigers.