Maintaining Mineral Balance
By Ron Eldridge, BVSc 

Minerals should be administered as a group rather than individually. A large number of microminerals are components of metalloenzymes, enzymes that contain tightly bound metal atoms. They are involved in the control of many different biochemical reactions. Dietarily speaking, mineral, especially all the micromineral or socalled trace minerals, should be applied as groups. The intake of one trace mineral in an animal's diet above the requirement, also increases the amount absorbed and/or excreted in the urine or feces. This excess amount could be harmful and the unabsorbed trace minerals may bind with other mineral to prevent absorption from occurring at all. In addition, these trace minerals could also cause a deficiency or imbalance of other trace minerals. Sometimes the intake of the additional minerals causes binding to compensate for elevated levels of microminerals, thus causing even more deficiencies in the animal. Excess intake of some micro/macrominerals may actually promote the deficiency of other minerals. It is difficult to determine what specific mineral is in imbalance when examining an animal's symptoms. There are two reasons for this difficulty: First, when a mineral imbalance is present, the clinical signs for one mineral imbalance can be exactly the same as for several other minerals. Secondly, deficiencies of minerals and excess intake of minerals may present the same symptoms. Too much calcium in an animal's diet can yield the same symptoms as not enough. Furthermore, definitive diagnosis in many cases cannot be determined. One way to correct the problem is to simply discontinue all feed presently being used. Then provide a diet that is known to contain all the proper balanced amounts of micro/macrominerals needed for the species in question. This method is much easier than trying to correct the amount of any one or more suspect minerals. The only way to be safe without doing serum blood level studies is to know the mineral requirements for your animals and insure you the feed you are providing is adequate for their continued good health. Macrominerals (trace) assist in an animal's body functions in several ways: a) they help maintain the acid-base balance. Sometimes called the electrolyte balance, sodium is exchanged or conserved for hydrogen, depending on the acid or base conditions. This helps in the regulation of the pH. b) Osmotic pressure - this is needed to maintain the animal's body fluid balance. Blood and body fluids contain about .9% salt. Secretions of the digestive HCL of the stomach, pancreatic and intestinal juices all contain the element of salt. The salt mineral in these secretions are reabsorbed and used over again so loss via digestion is negligible. c) Structural integrity - potassium and magnesium are necessary for muscle contraction and functioning of many enzymes. Minerals join with an inactive enzyme to activate it. This is called coenzyme. d) Transmembrane potentials - are needed for a variety of cellular functions including nerve conduction and muscular contractions. Macrominerals are the major minerals in the animal's nutritional requirements. They are minerals for which the dietary requirements are best expressed as a percentage and are usually required in amounts larger than the microminerals. Calcium is the mineral which is required in the largest amount in an animal's diet. It must be in the proper proportion to phosphorus and is expressed as the calcium to phosphorus ratio. Most calcium deficiencies are primarily associated with phosphorus excesses, an example would be when an animal which is fed large quantities of red or organ meat. Phosphorus is a very important mineral both in the total amount and in its ratio to calcium. The structural substance of bone and teeth, phosphorus combines with oxygen and hydrogen and is found in 80% of all bones and teeth. The soft tissues contain 20% of this mineral. The ratio is 1:2 with calcium in bones. It has other metabolic functions such as buffers in the blood, energy utilization and components of many enzymes. Too much phosphorus leads to an imbalance of calcium. Sodium is the maintainer of extracellular body fluids. If deficient in the diet it will cause the animal to exhibit deficiency symptoms the fastest. Not many feeds contain enough salt to provide necessary levels. Symptoms include a craving for salt - animals will lick metal, wood and dirt. Anorexia, decline in milk production, shivering, lack of coordination and death result in severe cases. Chlorine is found inside and outside of the body of cell tissue. It's major role is that of acid/base regulator and maintaining osmotic balance. Symptoms of deficiency are the same as for sodium. Potassium also helps maintain the acid/base and water balance in the animal's body. All body cells, especially muscle tissue require a high content of potassium. A proper balance of sodium, calcium and potassium in blood plasma is necessary for proper cardiac function. Alfalfa meal is a good source of potassium. Deficiencies include irregular heartbeat,heart lesions, muscle and nerve malfunction and osmotic imbalance. Magnesium is required for the activities of many vital enzymes. It is needed for bone development and maintenance. Some deficiency symptoms include muscle spasms, skin lesions, anorexia, arteriosclerosis. All of the above minerals and their lack of or excess of in the diet can cause problems. They cannot be studied individually. Each mineral is dependent on other minerals and or/vitamins to function correctly in the body. When you study one, you must analyze it's relationship to the other minerals, enzymes, vitamins and hormones they may have an effect on or act as a catalyst for the mineral in question. 

Case Study of Copper Deficiency in a Captive Born Cheetah Population In the late 1980's, a serious medical problem developed in the cheetah population at a large "state of the art" zoological institution in the Southwestern United States. Over seven cheetah cubs (Acinonyx jubatus) were presented with various levels of ataxia which deteriorated from an initial hind limb proprioceptive deficit to complete hind limb paralysis in one cub. After ruling out infection, inflammatory, traumatic, toxic and parasitic causes, nutritional problems became a consideration. Copper (Cu) deficiency, a nutritional problem not usually considered in carnivores, was known to cause signs compatible with what was seen in these cubs. Serum blood samples were taken from all the affected and some of the unaffected cubs to determine the copper levels. The results were extremely low levels of copper in all the affected cats. The unaffected cubs had copper levels that were in the low to normal range. All of the affected cubs were treated with both injectable and oral copper supplements. The unaffected cubs were treated with oral copper supplements only. Within four weeks, improvements were seen in all affected animals and after three months on an improved diet, the serum copper levels of all affected cheetah cubs were normal. It was noted after contacting other zoological institutions around the world, that this problem had occurred before. However, copper was not suspect and therefore not a part of the work-up. Some studies suggest that animals maintained on a diet that consists primarily of poultry may be particularly vulnerable to this type of copper related deficiency. It appears that large amounts of chicken without vitamin/mineral supplements in the diet may play a causal role. 


This article taken from L.I.O.C. Endangered Species Conservation Federation, Inc. Newsletter. L.I.O.C. Newsletter Editor 3730 Belle Isle Ln, Mobile, AL 36619 L.I.O.C. Member Services P.O. Box 22085 Phoenix, AZ 85028