Cobalamin and folate are water-soluble vitamins that are useful indicators of chronic gastrointestinal (GI) function in humans and some animal species. Serum cobalamin and folate concentrations in an ex situ population of killer whales (Orcinus orca) were measured and factors that may affect their serum concentrations were identified. Serum samples (n = 104) were analyzed from killer whales (n = 10) both while clinically healthy and during periods of clinical GI disease as defined by clinical signs and fecal cytology. To characterize serum cobalamin and folate concentrations in clinically healthy animals, a mixed-model regression was used, with cobalamin and folate both significantly affected by weight (cobalamin: P < 0.0001, folate: P = 0.006) and season (cobalamin: P < 0.0001, folate: P < 0.0001). The marginal mean concentrations for cobalamin and folate across weight and season were 742 ± 53.6 ng/L and 30.2 ± 2.6 μg/L, respectively. The predicted 95% confidence intervals (CI) for these analytes were then compared with samples collected during periods of GI disease. Across individuals, 22% (2/9) of the folate and 80% (8/10) of the cobalamin samples from the animals with GI disease fell outside the 95% CI for the population. When comparing samples within an individual, a similar pattern presented, with 100% of cobalamin of the observed abnormal samples reduced compared to healthy animal concentration variability. The same was not true for folate. These results suggest that serum concentrations of cobalamin and folate may be useful minimally invasive markers to identify GI disease in killer whales, especially when values are compared within an individual.
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