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Meerkat Diseases

March 11, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 2547

Disease is a part of life; it affects all species, meerkats included. While we've done nowhere near as much research into meerkat illnesses and diseases as we have human ones, there are a couple of big killers that meerkats have to watch out for.


Rabies is a virus that causes swelling of the brain. Once an animal is infected, symptoms include loss of coordination, fever, impaired swallow reflex, dizziness, blurred vision, headaches, and muscle spasms. The big killer for meerkats, and other animals, is the difficulty swallowing; meerkats need to eat and drink regularly, because they lose 5% of their bodyweight each night, and get almost all of their water from food.

The rabies virus is passed by saliva, and is almost always passed between meerkats by biting, usually from an enemy. Once infected, chances of survival are nil, because there's no known cure. The best we can hope to do is vaccinate at risk meerkats, to prevent the spread of the virus.

As it stands, many meerkats are killed each year by rabies.


Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection that takes root in the lungs, causing bad coughs, including coughing up blood, fatigue, fever, and weight loss. TB can also spread to other parts of the body causing a variety of additional problems.

Among people, TB is spread through the air, with talking, coughing, and sneezing all helping to pass the infection around. TB is common in areas of poverty because of overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and aids prevalence.

Unfortunately for meerkats, they live near areas prone to TB, which is probably how people passed TB to meerkats. One theory is that meerkats first caught the disease from piles of human rubbish. However meerkats first became infected, many die each year from TB, which has been known to wipe out whole clans at a time.

Lower ranking meerkats are more at risk of TB than higher ranking individuals, as meerkats pass the disease among each other through eating infected ticks, when grooming. Research shows that lower ranking meerkats spend more time grooming the more important ones.

Once the disease has taken hold, treatment involves up to six months of antibiotics, which wild meerkats obviously don't have access to. From time to time, strains of TB that are resistant to multiple antibiotics pop up as well, making treatment even more difficult.

As with rabies, the meerkats' best chance against TB is vaccination. Fortunately there are currently programs to vaccinate at risk individuals in the wild.

Other Diseases

While there are other diseases that affect meerkats, rabies and tuberculosis are the two biggest known killers. Obviously there hasn't been nearly as much research into meerkat diseases as into human ones, so no doubt we'll find out about more in the future, as research continues.

Sue Ricatta is the owner of, where you can learn all about meerkats, and discover how these fascinating animals survive in the desert.

Source: EzineArticles
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