Most neonatal mammals born with inadequate Ig concentrations depend upon transfer of maternal Ig to protect against infectious diseases. This transfer occurs through transplacental movement, colostrum ingestion or a combination of both, and is determined by placentation type. For several bear species, placentation has been described as 'endotheliochorial' (Rau, 1925; Wimsatt, 1974; Michel, 1984), and the giant panda is presumed to follow this model. Because this placentation permits only very limited transfer of maternal Ig (Tizard, 1982), colostrum ingestion by the giant panda neonate is critical. In a review of eight giant panda neonatal deaths (1980 to 1987), bacterial infections caused mortality in five (Montali et al, 1990). Of the latter, three cubs were being hand-reared. Another (stillborn) was believed to have acquired an infection in utero, and histological examination revealed bacterial pneumonia, enteritis, meningitis and sepsis. Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas sp. were isolated in two cases, with Staphylococ-cus intermedius septicaemia in another. Inadequate colostrum ingestion was believed to have contributed to all of these cub mortalities.
More contemporary advancements in cub rearing, especially supplementing colostrum via hand feeding and/or the practice of twin swapping, have markedly decreased newborn mortalities; all indirect evidence for the panda neonate being particularly sensitive to an immunodeficiency. Therefore, an essential component of managing a potentially pregnant female is being adequately prepared to care for a rejected or sick neonate. The clinician needs to be concerned not only with the need to boost immunity but also common hypothermia, hypoglycaemia and/or dehydration.
To develop an appropriate database, veterinary staff at the San Diego Zoo have conducted regular physical examinations of giant panda cubs (mother-reared) at about two-week intervals. This usually begins at about 14 days postpartum, when the female reliably begins to leave the den, allowing the cub to be removed for a physical assessment. The first examinations are performed quickly to minimise separation time from the dam (no more than five minutes is recommended). In addition to a routine physical examination and body measures, faecal examination (cytology, Gram stain and culture) and urinalyses can easily be carried out to generate valuable data.
The authors do not have experience with intravascular catheter-isation of the giant panda neonate but suspect it would be difficult due to the size limitations of the infant. However, intraosseous and subcutaneous or intraperitoneal routes of fluid administration would be feasible. Treatment with antibiotics and other medications should be based on guidelines for other neonatal carnivore species (Macintire, 1999; Boothe, 2001).
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