From April 1998 to September 2000, 241 free-ranging alpine marmots (Marmota marmota) were anesthetized in the course of a field project using either xylazine plus ketamine (XK), medetomidine plus ketamine (MK), or xylazine plus a 1:1 mixture of zolazepam and tiletamine (XZT). For each of the combinations, the respective doses for short term and long-term surgery were established and seasonal variations in the amount of drugs needed were assessed. No fatalities occurred, and doses for efficient and safe anesthesia in spring were as follows (XK, MK, and XZT, respectively, in mg/kg body mass): short term surgery 3 40, 0.25 35, and 3 15; long term surgery 20 80, 0.5 70, and 10 20. In late summer/autumn, higher doses (20 60, 0.2 60, and 10 15 for short term surgery) had to be administered, probably due to increase of marmots' body fat content. Heart rate, respiratory rate, rectal temperature, palpebral reflex, muscle relaxation, and analgesia were monitored to evaluate the animals' responses to each of the drug combinations. Hypothermia was induced by all combinations and heart rate significantly decreased during anesthesia, especially in marmots receiving MK. Respiratory rate was highly variable and no significant differences between the drugs were found. Muscle relaxation was rather poor in marmots anesthetized with XK. The XZT combination tended to have a longer induction period but was found to subsequently depress the palpebral reflex and induce muscle relaxation and analgesia very efficiently. We conclude that, regardless of the anesthetics used, doses should always be adjusted to the planned manipulations, the marmots' nutritional state, and to the time of year. Furthermore, close monitoring of physiologic parameters, especially body temperature, should be guaranteed. On the basis of physiologic and behavioral responses, XZT is the most effective drug combination for anesthetizing alpine marmots, especially for long term, potentially painful procedures.
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