Calgary Zoo’s Siberian tiger Kita suffering infection

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Calgary Zoo’s Siberian tiger Kita suffering infection

By Richard Cuthbertson, Calgary Herald August 20, 2010

It was not in itself a troubling sign, given “big cats” often go off their food during warm spells.

But when veterinarians at the Calgary Zoo went to take a closer look at 15-year-old Kita after the Siberian tiger stopped eating earlier this week, she did not let out her customary hiss at the unwelcomed veterinary attention.

“We knew right then that something is a little more off than just hot weather,” zoo senior staff veterinarian Doug Whiteside said Thursday.

Kita, one of the zoo’s Siberian tigers, is suffering a serious chest infection, one severe enough that Whiteside said her short-term prognosis is “guarded,” given the animal’s advanced age.

The illness was discovered Wednesday after the animal was anesthetized and taken to the zoo’s animal health centre.

More than a litre of fluid was drained from her chest cavity, and Kita is now being treated with antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and pain killers.

The animal is now stable, and if she continues improving, the zoo is hopeful she will recover.

“We’re cautiously optimistic, based on her initial response to therapy, that things are moving in the right direction,” Whiteside said.

“But we won’t know for quite some time what her final prognosis will be. With these disease processes, we end up having to treat quite often four to six weeks after the cessation of clinical signs.”

The tiger is now back at the enclosure and recovering in her “bedroom” with access to a courtyard.

Staff are giving Kita her favourite foods, including horse meat chunks and day-old chicks.

Vets are still piecing together what has led to the infection, but Whiteside said it’s not contagious.

They haven’t ruled out cancer, but blood work doesn’t support such a diagnosis.

Kita has a long-standing neurological problem that has been treated extensively for five years.

When the issue flares up, Whiteside said, the tiger’s hind legs weaken and the animal wobbles when it walks. However, Whiteside said this problem isn’t related to Kita’s current illness.

He said the tiger has survived beyond her natural life span in the wild. Siberian tigers in captivity typically live between 14 and 17 years, he said.

Kita arrived at the Calgary Zoo in 1996 from Toronto. She has given birth to five cubs, two of which remain in Calgary.

This year, the zoo has been under a great deal of scrutiny.

It comes after a number of high-profile animal deaths and incidents during recent years.

A review publicly released in June also found a series of problems the zoo said it is rectifying or has already sorted out.

But Whiteside said he doubts Kita’s illness will add any more fuel to the criticism.

“This is a tiger that’s received exemplary animal care and veterinary care over the last 15 years of her life,” he said.

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