Chitin supplementation in the diets of captive giant anteater for improved gastrointestinal function
Leuchner, Lisa Ann
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The majority of clinical diseases associated with captive giant anteaters (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) are related to colon health and digestive function. Chronic loose stools are one such problem often suspected to be related to dietary intake. In the wild, anteaters consume ants and termites which are rich in chitin. The captive giant anteater diet is typically comprised of a combination of commercial zoo animal diets which contain no chitin. The objective of this study was to determine the acceptability, digestibility and fecal composition in captive giant anteaters on four different experimental diets including a Baseline diet which was an equal combination of a commercial primate and feline diets, Baseline plus 5% chitin, Baseline plus 10% chitin and a commercial Insectivore diet. A population of six giant captive anteaters was adapted to each experimental diet for one week and ort and fecal samples for analysis were collected during the second week. The Baseline plus 5% chitin diet was the most consumed and accepted diet as compared to all other diets. No difference in fecal dry matter or fecal organic matter was observed across all experimental diet. Similarly, no difference was observed in dry matter, neutral detergent fiber (NDF), or acids detergent fiber (ADF) digestibility between all diets. However, the majority of the dietary components of the four different diets are highly digestible and fermentable. Acid detergent insoluble nitrogen (ADIN) digestibility, calcium and magnesium absorption was significantly higher at the Baseline plus 5% chitin diet. Additionally, significantly less conjugated bile acids were identified at the Baseline plus 5% chitin diet suggesting improved bile acid metabolism. ADIN apparent digestibility, which can be used to estimate chitin digestibility, was significantly higher on the Baseline plus 5% diet as compared to the Baseline and Insectivore diet suggesting chitinase activity and that giant anteaters are able to ferment chitin. Finally, undigested NDF organic matter (OM) and ADF (OM) were positively related to fecal dry matter and fecal organic matter; therefore, it is possible that chronic loose stools are the result of too much indigestible dietary fiber and that providing less fiber or a more completely fermentable fiber may alleviate loose stools.