Across China and Southeast Asia, over 17,000 bears are currently farmed for bile, predominantly for traditional Chinese medicines. Bears on farms in China are cage confined and undergo repeated daily bile extraction facilitated by surgically implanted catheters or gallbladder fistulas. Numerous health problems have been reported in bile-farmed bears including peritonitis, abdominal hernias, and extraction site abscessation. Between 2009 and 2014, five Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) and one Asiatic black/Eurasian brown bear (Ursus arctos arctos) hybrid, rescued from the bear bile industry in China, died from ruptured and/or dissecting aortic aneurysm. Medical records were reviewed and two bears exhibited no clinical signs prior to death. In four bears, clinical findings varied and included increased stereotypic behavior prior to death, epistaxis, retinal lesions, dysphagia, weight loss, and acute onset of hyporexia. On postmortem examination, hemopericardium with dissection and/or rupture of the ascending aorta and left ventricular wall hypertrophy were present in all cases. No evidence of infectious disease, connective tissue disorders, or congenital cardiac disease was identified. Based on these observations screening thoracic radiography was performed on all bears at the rescue center and aortic dilation was identified in 73 of 134 (54.5%) bile-extracted bears. To the authors' knowledge, aortic aneurysm, rupture, and/or dissection have not been previously reported in any bear species and the high prevalence in this population of bears suggests an association with bile-farming practices. Future studies are needed to investigate the etiopathogenesis of this condition to aid in early diagnosis and improved management of bears being rescued from bile farms across Asia.
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