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A scoring system to evaluate physical condition and quality of life in geriatric zoo mammals

By J. Follmi, A. Steiger, C. Walzer, N. Robert, U. Geissbuhler, M. G. Doherr, C. Wenker

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The decision to perform euthanasia in geriatric zoo mammals is usually a highly complex procedure involving ethical, medical, emotional and sometimes political factors. However, subsequent necropsies show that the pathological changes of organs and/or the musculoskeletal system are often already advanced. Therefore, we hypothesise that euthanasia is often delayed to the detriment of the animal's welfare. The purpose of this study was to facilitate and establish an initial, objective, decision-making framework for the euthanasia of geriatric zoo mammals. A scoring-system to assess the physical condition and quality of life in ageing zoo mammals is presented, based on retrospective and prospective investigation of 70 geriatric zoo mammals in five European zoos. Medical records and necropsy reports were studied in retrospective cases. Symptoms were monitored and recorded in prospective cases. Radiographic investigations under general anesthesia or at necropsy were performed additionally. A significant association between symptoms and pathological findings revealed that 36.9% (n=24/65) of examined animals (n=41/65) had pathological alterations to the musculoskeletal system and 26.2% (n=17/65) suffered from neoplasia. Based on the individual reports, 28 veterinarians from different fields of veterinary medicine concluded that these animals had mild to severe pain, discomfort and a significantly reduced quality of life, thus strongly reducing welfare. The proposed scoring system includes all of these factors and offers a simple and reliable tool to support decision-making for euthanasia in geriatric zoo mammals.

Date 2007
Publication Title Animal Welfare
Volume 16
Issue 3
Pages 309-318
ISBN/ISSN 0962-7286
Language English
Author Address Institute of Animal Genetics, Division of Animal Housing and Welfare, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Berne, Bremgartenstrasse 109a, CH 3001 Berne, Switzerland.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Age
  2. Aging
  3. Anesthesia
  4. Animal diseases
  5. Animal health and hygiene
  6. Animal physiology
  7. Animal rights
  8. Animal welfare
  9. Autopsy
  10. Cancer
  11. Employees
  12. Ethics
  13. Euthanasia
  14. Gardens
  15. Mammals
  16. musculoskeletal system
  17. Pain
  18. pathology
  19. Pharmacology & Pharmacy
  20. politics
  21. postmortem examinations
  22. Practice and service
  23. Quality of life
  24. scoring systems
  25. Social psychology and social anthropology
  26. Symptoms
  27. Veterinarians
  28. Veterinary medicine
  29. Veterinary surgery
  30. Zoo and captive wild animals
  31. Zoos