Wild Tiger Health Project
Created by Dr John C M Lewis

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Clinical history & observation of a conscious tiger

Most free-ranging tigers that are identified as needing veterinary assistance do not come with much of a history, but it is important to record details such as the tiger’s location (GPS coordinates if possible), reason for the intended examination, and any information that local people can provide. Tigers that are being examined at a rehabilitation facility may have been there for some time and should have a more detailed recent history including what they have been eating, appetite, faecal output, recent behaviour, recent clinical symptoms etc.

Once a tiger has been anaesthetised for physical examination significant clinical signs are no longer evident. Examples include lameness, head tilt, ataxia, coughing, respiratory pattern, neurological symptoms, level of aggression etc. Furthermore, injured or sick animals will often hide symptoms when confronted by a threat such as a person nearby. Therefore, it is important to assess a tiger quietly from a distance before sedating it whether it is caught in a snare, locked in a cage or lying poisoned in the field. Of course, in many circumstances this will not be possible, but the use of binoculars is highly recommended for the purpose.

Take note of:

  • Body condition:  Normal; fat; thin; emaciated; not determined
  • Behaviour:  Bright alert responsive (BAR);· aggressive; quiet; distressed; moribund; seizuring.
  • Breathing:  Normal; abnormally rapid or slow, increased respiratory effort or laboured; noisy; shallow; imperceptible, coughing, extended head and neck, sneezing, open-mouth breathing etc.
  • Gait and posture:  Normal, lame, not moving, ataxic, abnormal posture (describe).
  • Coat condition:  Normal; sparse· patchy; other (describe).
  • Obvious injuries:  Describe
  • Discharges:  From nose, eyes, wounds, elsewhere (describe).
  • Diarrhoea:  May not be seen, but faecal soiling around the back end would be indicative.
  • Vomiting:
  • Excessive salivation:
  • Other findings:  Describe

It is also important to estimate the tiger’s weight to calculate the dose of anaesthetic drugs required. Ideally this should be carried out by two people as quietly and quickly as possible, causing the minimum of disturbance. As a guide, average weights for healthy, normal tigers:

SubspeciesAdult malesAdult females
Amur & Bengal tigers150 - 260 kgs100 - 160 kgs
Sumatran tigers100 - 140 kgs75 - 110 kgs

In estimating weight, the individual’s age and condition must be considered. Young individuals and profoundly thin adults will obviously weigh much less than the averages given for healthy adults.