Leukoencephalomyelopathy of Mature Captive Cheetahs and Other Large Felids: A Novel Neurodegenerative Disease That Came and Went?

A. I. Brower, L. Munson, R. W. Radcliffe, S. B. Citino, L. B. Lackey, T. J. Van Winkle, I. Stalis, K. A. Terio, B. A. Summers, A. de Lahunta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


A novel leukoencephalomyelopathy was identified in 73 mature male and female large captive felids between 1994 and 2005. While the majority of identified cases occurred in cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), the disease was also found in members of 2 other subfamilies of Felidae: 1 generic tiger (Panthera tigris) and 2 Florida panthers (Puma concolor coryi). The median age at time of death was 12 years, and all but 1 cheetah were housed in the United States. Characteristic clinical history included progressive loss of vision leading to blindness, disorientation, and/or difficulty eating. Neurologic deficits progressed at a variable rate over days to years. Mild to severe bilateral degenerative lesions were present in the cerebral white matter and variably and to a lesser degree in the white matter of the brain stem and spinal cord. Astrocytosis and swelling of myelin sheaths progressed to total white matter degeneration and cavitation. Large, bizarre reactive astrocytes are a consistent histopathologic feature of this condition. The cause of the severe white matter degeneration in these captive felids remains unknown; the lesions were not typical of any known neurotoxicoses, direct effects of or reactions to infectious diseases, or nutritional deficiencies. Leukoencephalomyelopathy was identified in 70 cheetahs, 1 tiger, and 2 panthers over an 11-year period, and to our knowledge, cases have ceased without planned intervention. Given what is known about the epidemiology of the disease and morphology of the lesions, an environmental or husbandry-associated source of neurotoxicity is suspected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1013-1021
Number of pages9
JournalVeterinary Pathology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2014


  • Acinonyx jubatus
  • astrocytosis
  • blindness
  • central nervous system
  • cheetah
  • Felidae
  • leukoencephalomyelopathy
  • neuropathology
  • white matter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • veterinary(all)


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