Preliminary experiments assessed the potential of lithium to moderate the effects of the rut. Young (5-9 month old) stags were used to determine the kinetics of lithium in deer, establish appropriate dose rates, evaluate the opportunity for self-medication and to test whether behaviour would be modified. The relationship between lithium dose rate and plasma lithium concentration was established from acute administration (5 dose rates, 2 animals per dose) and confirmed with continuous medication for 31 days. A daily dose of 0.6 mmol Li/kg W (as LiCl) achieved a mean plasma Li concentration of (0.78 ± 0.04 mmol/l), which was within the therapeutic range (0.5–1.5 mmol/l). This daily dose, offered in drinking water (11.2 mmol Li/l as LiCl) to a group of (n=10) young stags induced a decline in both water (14%) and feed (12%) intake which was almost recovered after 4 weeks of self-medication. Liveweight gain averaged 252 ± 27 g/d for +Li animals compared with 263 ± 21 g/d for the -Li group (NS). Lithium treated stags moved more freely through a maze than did -Li stags, with 60% of the animals completing the maze compared with only 10% of the -Li group. There was no significant difference in the behaviour of +Li and -Li groups to the introduction of a unfamiliar stag or in their response to human handling. This work lays the foundation for studies on the potential for lithium therapy to modify the rut in adult stags.

MF, Prouting, AM Nicol, and MJ Keeley

Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production, Volume 64, Hamilton, 58-62, 2004
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