Treating Polar Bear Allergies

March 18, 2019

How do you treat a polar bear with allergies? First, you have to find out what they’re allergic to!

Siku, Walter Family Arctic Tundra’s 9-year-old polar bear began experiencing some itching which veterinarians suspected was due to allergies. Despite being treated with antihistamines, Siku began to lose hair, showing off his underlying black sun-soaking skin.

As part of a complete assessment, Lincoln Park Zoo’s veterinary team collaborated with a board-certified dermatologist to help evaluate Siku’s allergy issues and refine a treatment plan.

Earlier this year, the animal care team convened with veterinarians behind the scenes at Walter Family Arctic Tundra for the examination. At the conclusion of a series of skin testing similar to that received by humans and including 60 different antigens, Siku was determined allergic to a variety of tree pollens, grasses, and weeds.

“Siku moved to Chicago in late 2016 and changed environments from the southeast where he previously lived,” said Dr. Kathryn C. Gamble, Dr. Lester E. Fisher Director of Veterinary Medicine, “It takes time to start experiencing environmental allergies following such a move, and allergies are a common problem in carnivores such as bears.” Previously, the zoo has been successful in treatment of other animals experiencing allergies including a young black bear and a geriatric black leopard.

With the examination completed, Siku has begun an individualized treatment plan, including allergen immunotherapy. The treatment is delivered via local organic honey that has pollens to help build up Siku’s resistance to allergens he is sensitive to. The honey also is sticky which naturally causes the bear to lick, presenting the treatment more uniformly to his immune system across the soft tissues of the mouth. Over time, this regimen is expected to help reduce the itching which will stop the hair loss, and keep Siku more comfortable.

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