Hepatic sarcocystosis in black bears: an emerging disease in British Columbia?

Photo: Sun News

In July 2008, a mature captive male black bear resident in the lower mainland of the Fraser Valley was submitted to the Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford, BC for necropsy. The bear had begun to exhibit symptoms associated with severe illness. Despite supportive therapy and antibiotic treatment, the bear died. Necropsy revealed that the bear was in good nutritional condition, but had damage to the liver associated with an infection of   Sarcocystis canis, a protozoan parasite often found to cause disease in dogs.  Although S. canis had been previously reported to cause disease and death in American black bears, this was the first known occurrence of this disease in Canadian black bears.

Since July 2008, the Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford, British Columbia, has diagnosed this syndrome in 4 additional black bears. The four bears were free ranging cubs aged 3 to 11 months which were admitted to wildlife rehabilitation centres for care after developing illness.

Wildlife researchers are very interested in finding any further cases of this disease in black, or other bears, in British Columbia. We request that any captive or free ranging bears showing acute onset of lethargy, anorexia, jaundice, vomiting, diarrhea, neurological or other unexplained clinical signs which fail to respond to treatment be submitted to the Animal Health Centre for full diagnostic workup. Please call the Abbotsford Animal Health Centre at 1-800-661-9903 if you have any questions regarding sample submission.

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3 Responses

  1. Dr. Vince Crichton says:

    Have found sarcosystis in deer, moose and elk in MB back in the 70s (and of course waterfowl in the 60s)- 1st time I have seen report of it in black bears – most interesting

  2. Christine Schonbachler says:

    I live in northwestern BC. In our valley there has always been plenty of black bears. This year, hardly ANY blacks have been seen. Now I hear reports about a liver parasite killing the bears in their dens. This is scary, as it sound of beeing very wide spread. Does anybody know more about this???

    • CCWHC says:

      There is no evidence of this parasite causing mortality in wild bears and affecting populations. The lower numbers of wild bears that has been observed in some areas of BC this year appears to be associated with other conditions such as high berry numbers which have been diverting bears from communities where they can be easily seen. The discovery of this parasite in some bears is triggering research to better understand the role of parasites in bears and other wildlife health.

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