Do potent immobilising-opioids induce different physiological effects in impala and blesbok?
Potent opioids are known to cause negative alterations to the physiology of immobilised antelope. How these effects differ between species has not been studied. This study aimed to compare time to recumbence and effects of opioid-based immobilisation on the physiology of impala (Aepyceros melampus) and blesbok (Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi). Eight animals of each species were immobilised, with 0.09 mg/kg etorphine and 0.09 mg/kg thiafentanil respectively, in a randomised two-way cross-over study. Variables measured and analysed by means of a linear mixed model included time to recumbence, heart rate, respiratory rate, arterial blood pressure, blood gases, lactate and glucose. In blesbok, mean time to recumbence was not significantly different with either drug (2.5 minutes and 2.2 min, respectively), but in impala thiafentanil achieved a shorter time to recumbence (2.0 min) than etorphine (3.9 min). Mean heart rates of immobilised impala were within reported physiological limits, but lower in immobilised blesbok when both opioids were used (35 beats/min to 44 beats/min vs. 104 ± 1.4 beats/min resting heart rate). Impala developed severe respiratory compromise and hypoxaemia from both opioids (overall mean PaO2 values ranged from 38 mmHg to 59 mmHg over 30 min). In contrast, blesbok developed only moderate compromise. Therefore, significantly different species-specific physiological responses to potent opioid drugs exist in blesbok and impala. Given that these different responses are clinically relevant, extrapolation of immobilising drug effects from one species of African ungulate to another is not recommended.