Grading fecal consistency in an omnivorous carnivore, the brown bear : Abandoning the concept of uniform feces
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionDe Cuyper, A, Clauss, M, Lens, L, Strubbe, D., Zedrosser, A., Steyaert, S., Saravia A. M. & Janssens, G. P. J., (2021). Grading fecal consistency in an omnivorous carnivore, the brown bear: Abandoning the concept of uniform feces. Zoo Biology, 40(3), 182-191. doi: 10.1002/zoo.21593
Grading the fecal consistency of carnivores is a frequently used tool for monitoring gut health and overall digestion. Several fecal consistency grading systems are available for mainly felids and canids. No such system exists for the brown bear (Ursus arctos Linnaeus, 1758). We aim at extending current fecal consistency grading systems with a scoring system for brown bears. The system was set up during a diet study with nine individuals fed a variety of diets including beef meat, rabbit, fruit, and grass-fruit-pellet mix in an incomplete crossover design. One additional individual was included opportunistically and was fed the typical zoo diet (vegetable-fruit-meat-pellet diet). All feces from the collection period were photographed, graded by “handling the feces” and visually inspected for dietary components. Based on a total of 446 feces, a six-point scale for uniform fecal consistencies was established. In 11% of all feces, two distinct consistencies could be distinguished, a feature that appears in other carnivore species as well. Hence, an additional grading system for dual consistencies was developed. The fecal consistency of brown bears is heavily dependent on the diet items processed before defecation with the general observation that the more vegetation or whole prey, the firmer the feces, and at certain proportions of the latter, the higher the chance for dual fecal consistencies to occur. The results indicate that in bears, diet may have a strong effect on fecal consistency, hampering animal health assessments without prior knowledge of the diet.