Do tigers get cancer?

Absolutely yes, tigers can get cancer and that simple statement is supported by a CBS News Miami story today about a Sumatran tiger, Berani, who died by euthanasia at the age of 15.5 years but who had developed cancer of the spleen while living at Zoo Miami. Before he was euthanised he had been very lethargic and lost his appetite. They immobilised him and took him to their animal hospital for a series of tests.

Berani, a Sumatran tiger developed spleen cancer and was euthanatized at 15.5 yrs of age.
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Unsurprisingly he was severely anaemic and dehydrated (due to loss of appetite as I understand it) and further testing revealed an enlarged spleen as well as abnormalities of his kidneys. Further tests revealed cancer of the spleen and the staff made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize him because he was elderly and had a poor prognosis. They wanted to give him dignity in death.

He was born at the San Francisco Zoo in March 2008 and transferred to Zoo Miami via the Montgomery Zoo in Alabama in 2013. He was successfully paired with a female tiger, Leeloo, and they had a male cub named Satu in 2015 and a female cub, Ndari, in 2021.

Sumatran tigers are incredibly rare in the wild. It is believed that there are less than 500. They probably don’t know the exact number. The biggest threats are habitat loss due to palm plantations; in addition to poaching for their body parts which probably end up in China.

Because of the warm conditions under which they live (less body heat loss and smaller prey), Sumatran tigers are the smallest species of tiger with males growing to about 300 pounds and females to around 200 pounds.

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All cats whether they be a domestic cat or a tiger can develop cancer. Cancer is caused by various factors including lifestyle, environmental factors and genetics. Sometimes cats inherit a mutated gene which can cause cancer. The same applies to people.

As for environmental factors, they might include any number of dangerous substances such as pesticides, ionising radiation, chemicals and so on. Age is a factor in cancer. That’s why this tiger had a poor prognosis. Cancer is much more common in older cats and people because the environmental factors have a greater opportunity to take effect over a longer period of time and there might be an accumulation of genetic mutations.

Spleen cancer is not that well understood but it can be genetically inherited. The chances of getting are heightened through splenic cysts or abscesses. Trauma or injury to the spleen can increase the risk of developing spleen cancer although this is rare. Finally, chronic infections may be linked to an increased risk of spleen cancer. Spleen cancer is rare in people and I expect, therefore, that it is equally rare if not rarer in cats.

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