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Common shellfish supplement ‘could ease age-related joint pain in big cats’

A shellfish supplement commonly given to pets could also help ease age-related joint pain in big cats such as lions and tigers, early research suggests.

Scientists have found captive felines who took antinol – a food supplement derived from a type of shellfish known as the New Zealand green-lipped mussel – regularly for six weeks saw an improvement in their mobility by up to 30%.

Dr Jon Bielby, an animal welfare researcher at Liverpool John Moores University’s School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, said: “Big cats in captivity tend to live longer than their wilder counterparts.

“Many develop musculoskeletal diseases such as osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease that compromises the welfare.”

He said this makes them “more inactive and, sadly, less visible to zoo publics”.

Big cats like jaguars who live in captivity are vulnerable to age related conditions such as arthritis
Big cats such as jaguars who live in captivity are vulnerable to age-related conditions such as arthritis (Peter Byrne/PA)

Dr Bielby said that while surgery is an option for treating these conditions, it can be invasive and is quite risky, especially under general anaesthetic.

Medication can also prove costly and comes with side effects, he added, making food supplements such as antinol – often given to dogs and cats – a cheaper and potentially viable alternative.

For the study, published in the journal Vet Records, the researchers recruited 13 different species of big cats, including lions, tigers, leopards, pumas, jaguars and lynx, at the Big Cat Sanctuary in Kent.

A total of 18 animals, aged between four and 18 years, were given a daily antinol supplement with their food and the dosage was based on their weight.

The researchers measured the number of steps each big cat took per minute for a period of six weeks.

Results showed the steps per minute increased between 7% and 30% after the supplements took effect.

While it is not clear how the supplement works, Dr Bielby said antinol may contain certain lipids – like fatty acids – that help reduce inflammation, and consequently, ease joint pain.

Dr Bielby said: “This suggests that green-lipped mussel extracts is associated with some alleviation of age-related pain and increased mobility in these animals.”

He is now hoping further research can be done to understand how the supplement works and whether it can have an impact on speed as well as different types of movements.

Dr Bielby said: “For a starting point, we have got quite a strong signal across quite a mismatched group of animals.

“This is something we can think about using now within zoos because there’s a decent amount of evidence here that green-lipped mussels extract actually does something.”