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  • Author or Editor: Frances M. D. Gulland x
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Case Description—An underweight, lethargic adult female California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) became stranded along the California shore and was captured and transported to a rehabilitation hospital for assessment and care.

Clinical Findings—Initial physical assessment revealed the sea lion was lethargic and in poor body condition. Active myositis was diagnosed on the basis of concurrent elevations in activities of alanine aminotransferase and creatine kinase detected during serum biochemical analysis. Infection with Sarcocystis neurona was diagnosed after serologic titers increased 4-fold over a 3-week period. Diagnosis was confirmed on the basis of histopathologic findings, positive results on immunohistochemical staining, and results of quantitative PCR assay on biopsy specimens obtained from the diaphragm and muscles of the dorsal cervical region.

Treatment and Outcome—Anticoccidial treatment was instituted with ponazuril (10 mg/kg [4.5 mg/lb], PO, q 24 h) and continued for 28 days. Prednisone (0.2 mg/kg [0.09 mg/lb], PO, q 12 h) was administered for 2 days and then every 24 hours for 5 days to treat associated inflammation. At the end of treatment, the sea lion was clinically normal, alanine aminotransferase and creatine kinase values were within reference limits, and antibody titers against S neurona had decreased 6-fold. The sea lion was released approximately 3 months after becoming stranded.

Clinical RelevanceS neurona–induced myositis was diagnosed in a free-ranging California sea lion. On the basis of the successful treatment and release of this sea lion, anticoccidial treatment should be considered for marine mammals in which protozoal disease is diagnosed.

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in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association


Objective—To assess tear and plasma concentrations of doxycycline following oral administration to northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris).

Design—Pharmacokinetic study.

Animals—18 juvenile northern elephant seals without signs of ocular disease.

Procedures—Study seals were receiving no medications other than a multivitamin and were free from signs of ocular disease as assessed by an ophthalmic examination. Doxycycline (10 or 20 mg/kg [4.5 or 9.1 mg/lb]) was administered orally every 24 hours for 4 days. Tear and plasma samples were collected at fixed time points, and doxycycline concentration was assessed by means of liquid chromatography–tandem mass spectrometry. Concentration-time data were calculated via noncompartmental analysis.

Results—Following administration of doxycycline (10 mg/kg/d, PO), maximum plasma doxycycline concentration was 2.2 μg/mL at 6.1 hours on day 1 and was 1.5 μg/mL at 4.0 hours on day 4. Administration of doxycycline (20 mg/kg/d, PO) produced a maximum plasma doxycycline concentration of 2.4 μg/mL at 2.3 hours on day 1 and 1.9 μg/mL at 5.8 hours on day 4. Doxycycline elimination half-life on day 4 in animals receiving doxycycline at a dosage of 10 or 20 mg/kg/d was 6.7 or 5.6 hours, respectively. Mean plasma-to-tear doxycycline concentration ratios over all days were not significantly different between the low-dose (9.85) and high-dose (9.83) groups. For both groups, doxycycline was detectable in tears for at least 6 days following cessation of dosing.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Oral administration of doxycycline at the doses tested in the present study resulted in concentrations in the plasma and tears of northern elephant seals likely to be clinically effective for treatment of selected cases of systemic infectious disease, bacterial ulcerative keratitis, and ocular surface inflammation. This route of administration should be considered for treatment of corneal disease in northern elephant seals and possibly other related pinniped species.

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in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association


Objective—To identify risk factors that may predispose California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) to development of cutaneous poxvirus nodules during hospitalization in a rehabilitation center.

Design—Retrospective case-control study.

Animals—90 California sea lions admitted to a rehabilitation center.

Procedure—Hospital records of 275 stranded California sea lions admitted to the rehabilitation center between January 1 and December 31, 2002, were reviewed. All California sea lions (n = 18) that developed ≥ 1 cutaneous poxvirus nodule during hospitalization were classified as cases. Seventy-two California sea lions that did not develop poxvirus lesions during hospitalization were randomly selected (control group). The frequencies of various exposure factors prior to admission, at admission, and during hospitalization for cases and control sea lions were compared by use of logistic regression.

Results—California sea lions that had previously been admitted to the rehabilitation center were 43 times as likely to develop poxvirus lesions as sea lions admitted for the first time; those with high band neutrophil counts (> 0.69 × 103 bands/μL) at admission were 20 times less likely to develop poxvirus lesions than sea lions with counts within reference limits.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results suggest that sea lions with a history of prior hospitalization or band neutrophil counts within reference limits at admission were more likely to develop poxvirus lesions during hospitalization. Sea lions with histories of hospitalization should be kept in quarantine and infection control measures implemented to help prevent disease transmission to attending personnel and other hospitalized animals. (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2005;227:467–473)

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in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association



To describe clinical signs, treatment, and outcome for California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) with Sarcocystis-associated polyphasic rhabdomyositis.


38 free-ranging juvenile to adult California sea lions examined at a rehabilitation center in California between September 2015 and December 2017.


Medical records at The Marine Mammal Center were reviewed to identify sea lions in which sarcocystosis had been diagnosed.


Clinical signs were highly variable and associated with polyphasic rhabdomyositis attributed to Sarcocystis neurona infection. Generalized severe muscle wasting, respiratory compromise, and regurgitation secondary to megaesophagus were the most profound clinical findings. Respiratory compromise and megaesophagus were associated with a poor prognosis. Eight of the 38 sea lions were treated and released to the wild, and 2 subsequently restranded and were euthanized. Two additional animals received no targeted treatment and were released. The remaining 28 animals were either euthanized or died during treatment.


Results suggested that unlike other marine mammals, which typically develop encephalitis, California sea lions with sarcocystosis often have polyphasic rhabdomyositis with highly variable clinical signs and that extensive diagnostic testing may be required to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment with an antiprotozoal drug in combination with corticosteroids may resolve clinical disease, but the prognosis is guarded.

Open access
in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association


Objective—To determine the effect of natural exposure to domoic acid (DA) on eosinophil counts and adrenal gland function in California sea lions (Zalophus californianus).

Design—Cross-sectional prospective study.

Animals—39 California sea lions.

Procedures—Adult female sea lions admitted to a rehabilitation hospital during 2009 were classified into 1 of 3 groups (acute DA toxicosis, chronic DA toxicosis, or no DA exposure) on the basis of clinical signs, DA concentration in urine or feces, and hippocampal morphology. Endoparasite burden, eosinophil count, and serum cortisol and plasma ACTH concentrations were determined for each sea lion. For a subset of 8 sea lions, fecal glucocorticoid concentration after IM administration of cosyntropin was determined.

Results—Sea lions exposed to DA (acute DA toxicosis, n = 11; chronic DA toxicosis, 19) had higher eosinophil counts and lower serum cortisol concentrations, compared with values for sea lions with no DA exposure (9). Eosinophil count was not associated with endoparasite burden. Serum cortisol concentration was associated with plasma ACTH concentrations in sea lions from the no DA exposure group but not in sea lions in the acute or chronic DA toxicosis groups. Following cosyntropin injection, fecal glucocorticoid concentrations increased in all sea lions evaluated except 1.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—In adult sea lions, eosinophilia may be a cost-effective biomarker for DA exposure and may reflect alterations in hypothalamic, pituitary gland, or adrenal gland function. Domoic acid exposure may have subtle health effects on marine animals in addition to induction of neurologic signs.

Full access
in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association