Feral swine (Sus scrofa), an important prey species for the endangered Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi), is the natural host for pseudorabies virus (PRV). Prior to this study, PRV had been detected in just three panthers. To determine the effect of PRV on the panther population, we prospectively necropsied 199 panthers and retrospectively reviewed necropsy and laboratory findings, reexamined histology, and tested archived tissues using real-time PCR from 46 undiagnosed panther mortalities. Seven additional infections (two prospective, five retrospective) were detected for a total of 10 confirmed panther mortalities due to PRV. To further evaluate the effect of PRV, we categorized radio-collared (n=168) and uncollared panther mortalities (n=367) sampled from 1981 to 2018 based on the likelihood of PRV infection as confirmed, probable, suspected, possible, or unlikely/negative. Of 168 radio-collared panthers necropsied, PRV was the cause of death for between eight (confirmed; 4.8%) and 32 (combined confirmed, probable, suspected, and possible categories; 19.0%) panthers. The number of radio-collared panther mortalities due to PRV was estimated to be 15 (95% empirical limits: 12–19), representing 8.9% (confidence interval: 4.6–13.2%) of mortalities. Gross necropsy findings in 10 confirmed cases were nonspecific. Microscopic changes included slight to mild perivascular cuffing and gliosis (primarily in the brain stem), lymphoplasmacytic meningoencephalitis (cerebral cortex), and intranuclear inclusion bodies (adrenal medulla). The PRV glycoprotein C gene sequences from three positive panthers grouped with the sequence from a Florida feral swine. Our findings indicate that PRV may be an important and underdiagnosed cause of death in Florida panthers.
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Vol. 57 • No. 4