Dietary manipulation to reduce elevated blood cholesterol in captive meerkats (Suricata suricatta)
Diseases resulting from elevations in blood cholesterol are recognized in the captive meerkat population.
ZSL, along with a number of UK zoological collections, participated in a project with the Royal Veterinary College that both documented these elevations and compared blood cholesterol levels in captive animals to those found in the wild.
Recognizing the problem, ZSL embarked on a programme of dietary management in 2005. Monitoring of blood cholesterol levels were incorporated into regular veterinary health checks. The diet of meerkats in the wild is primarily invertebrates and reptiles whereas the captive diet has been based traditionally on meat, mice, chicks and eggs. Using Zootrition® alternative diets have been formulated.
These are based on proprietary complete kibbled pet diets, augmented with calcium-supplemented invertebrates, fruit and vegetables. Up until May 2008, there has been a significant (Mann Whitney test, p<0.05) decrease in their serum cholesterol levels (mean = 11.6 mmol/l, sd = 2.12 mmol/l) when compared with the control group fed on a mice-based diet (mean 19.1 mmol/l, sd = 2.16 mmol/l). Work is continuing across both sites, and additional data are being collected, to determine if further reductions can be achieved and if they can be maintained long-term.
The findings of this ZSL study have relevance for institutions maintaining meerkats in the UK. Replicates of this study at other BIAZA collections would be welcome.