Whether in the wild or held in captivity, tigers (like all animals) are susceptible to certain illness and disease. Of course, these diseases are more likely to claim the life of the wild cat in their natural habitat (as opposed to in captivity), since they do not have access to medical care. Tigers suffer from many of the same illnesses that are experienced by domestic cats and treatment may be similar (if not exactly the same), depending on resources and experience.
However, in order to treat wild tigers, sophisticated tracking technology is required to be able to determine when the animal becomes ill. Still, even the most sophisticated equipment does not guarantee quick diagnosis.
Some of the most common illnesses experienced by tigers (as well as other wild and domestic cats) include:
Rabies is a virus that is usually fatal to the animal once contracted. It is transmitted through the bites of other infected animals, which are made all the more vicious as a result of their illness.
The incubation period generally lasts for a few weeks, but can extend to several months in some cases.
Once the tiger has been bitten by another infected animal, the virus is carried through the bloodstream to the spinal cord. It moves through the nervous system and causes major neurological damage. Initially, the cat will begin to act abnormally. It may have a fever and will lick its wound. During the second phase of the illness, the victim will begin to act unpredictably.
It will be vicious and restless, but may at times be rendered paralysed. The final stage is one of major nerve damage, which then prevents the animal from being able to swallow anything (including water and its own saliva). Excessive drooling occurs as a result and has become the tell-tale sign of an animal with advanced rabies. The animal is likely to go into a coma before it dies. Euthanasia is usually the kindest, most dignified option.
Rabies can be prevented by vaccinating the animals as soon as possible. Domestic cats should be kept away from others that may be infected, but this is not possible with wild tigers.
Feline AIDS or FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus)
This virus is a disorder that affects the immune system of the cat. However, it is completely curable, unlike HIV or AIDS in human patients. If left untreated, though, this virus makes the tiger extremely susceptible to other illnesses and infections that it may otherwise have been able to overcome.
Notably, feline AIDS and feline leukaemia are often found in the same animal.
FIV is usually spread through direct bites, since it dies as soon as it leaves the body. In addition, an infected mother can pass it on to the foetuses she carries. The virus is carried in the blood, saliva and cerebrospinal fluid. Humans cannot catch it from cats.
After a bite from an infected animal, it takes just four weeks for the victims white blood count to drop dramatically. This leaves the animal susceptible to any number of illnesses and diseases, which it does not have the resources to fight against.
Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV)
This virus is responsible for more feline deaths than any other known illness. It is contagious, but can lie dormant in the bone marrow for a long period of time. It is responsible for cancerous as well as non-cancerous diseases, but is not transmissible from cats to human beings or other animal species.
This virus is killed quite easily by exposure to oxygen as well as any and all detergents. Therefore, the cat would require close, moist contact with another infected tiger in order to contract FeLV. This is usually achieved when cats groom, lick or bite each other. Kittens and cubs may also be infected by their mothers during her pregnancy or while they drink milk from her.
FeLV produces a number of associated diseases and symptoms. These include anaemia, liver disease, intestinal disease, reproductive complications, lymphosarcoma, full-blown cancerous leukaemia, chronic respiratory infections, chronic gingivitis, stomatitis, feline infectious peritonitis, poor healing of wounds and abscesses, and chronic generalised infections.
Tigers can be vaccinated against FeLV to prevent them from succumbing to this virus. Once an unvaccinated tiger has contracted it, though, it needs to be removed from the wild and treated by doctors. It needs a nutritious diet, other necessary vaccinations (since its immune system will be severely compromised as a result of the FeLV), reduced stress, and prompt treatment of any other illnesses that may arise. Should the FeLV develop into a full-blown cancer, the survival rate is not good, and many animals are euthanised at this point to prevent further suffering.
Other common illnesses that afflict tigers are:
.Tick bite fever