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College of Engineering and Computing

Biomedical Engineering

The Cranial Morphological and Oral Health Consequences of Captivity

Many captive animals are fed diets that are drastically different in mechanical properties than their wild diet. Most captive carnivores are fed a nutritionally supplemented diet consisting almost entirely of ground meat. While many zoos supplement this diet with more obdurate items (e.g., bones), the fact remains that captive carnivores are generally fed diets that require substantially less masticatory effort than those of their wild counterparts. Our lab has published several studies examining the osteological and oral health effects of this dietary difference. In one study, we compared linear measurements and 3D geometric morphometric landmarks of captive and wild lions and tigers, and found that the shape of their skulls is influenced nearly twice as much by whether the animal was captive or wild than by whether it was male or female. In the follow-up to that study, we found significant oral health differences between captive lions and tigers and that those oral health differences correlated to the amount of skull shape distortion observed in the first study. We also studied these same variables in black-footed ferrets – a species that went through a devastating genetic bottle-neck and was brought back from near extinction through intensive captive breeding. This captive husbandry had dramatic effects on the oral health and cranial shape of the animals.


  • Kapoor V, Antonelli T, Parkinson JA, Hartstone-Rose A. 2016. Oral Health Correlates of Captivity. Research in Veterinary Science. 107:213–219 
  • Antonelli T, Leischner CL, Ososky JJ, Hartstone-Rose A. 2016. The effect of captivity on the oral health of the critically endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes). Canadian Journal of Zoology. 94:15–22. 
  • Hartstone-Rose A, Selvey H, Villari J, Atwell M, and Schmidt T. 2014. The Three-Dimensional Morphological Effects of Captivity. PLOS ONE. 9(11): 1–15.