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Secobarbital poisoning in an Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica)
  1. S. Hewitt, BVM&S, MSc, CertZooMed, MRCVS1,
  2. S. Williamson, BVetMed, PhD, MRCVS,
  3. N. Woodger, BSc, BVetMed, FRCPath, MRCVS2,
  4. P. Streete, MIBiol, CIBiol, MPhil3,
  5. J. Cracknell, BVMS, CertVA, CertZooMed, MRCVS4 and
  6. J. Lewis, MA, VetMB, PhD, MRCVS5
  1. 1 Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, Totnes Road, Paignton, Devon TQ4 7EU
  2. 2 Veterinary Laboratories Agency - Bury St Edmunds, Rougham Hill, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk IP33 2RX
  3. 3 Medical Toxicology Laboratory, Third floor, Block 7, South Wing, St Thomas' Hospital, Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1 7EH
  4. 4 Marwell Wildlife, Colden Common, Winchester, Hampshire SO21 1JH
  5. 5 International Zoo Veterinary Group, Keighley Business Centre, South Street, Keighley, West Yorkshire BD21 1AG

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THE Amur or Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) is one of six subspecies of tiger and is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN 2008). Captive Amur tigers in European collections are bred in a coordinated manner under the auspices of a European Association of Zoos and Aquaria endangered species breeding programme to increase population numbers, maintain genetic diversity and reduce the risk of extinction.

Modern zoo practice generally precludes the feeding of unsuitable or poor-quality food items to captive animals, but cases of barbiturate poisoning in carnivores have occurred on occasion when meat has been contaminated with veterinary barbiturates at the point of slaughter. A product containing a combination of 400 mg/kg cinchocaine hydrochloride and 25 mg/ml of the barbiturate secobarbital sodium (Somulose; Arnolds) is commonly used by veterinary surgeons for the euthanasia of large animals. Secobarbital was formerly known as quinalbarbitone in the UK.

This short communication describes a case of secobarbital poisoning in a captive Amur tiger following the ingestion of potentially contaminated horse meat. The report highlights the importance of ensuring that chemically euthanased animals are not used for feed and reminds the wider veterinary profession of the potential risk of secondary barbiturate poisoning in wild, captive and domestic carnivores.

A group of three adult female Amur tigers was kept in a large, wooded day enclosure, with separate indoor night quarters, in a safari park in the south of England. All three were fed horse meat on December 26, 2007, at 09.00. At 08.00 the following morning, one nine-year-old tiger was observed to be mildly ataxic and hyporesponsive to auditory and other stimuli. The other two tigers appeared unaffected and all three had been behaving normally during the preceding days. At 16.00 on December 27, the affected animal had become …

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