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Giant Panda Mucous Stool FAQ

A mucous or mucoid stool is exactly what it sounds like—it is a stool that has a consistency similar to mucous instead of a fully formed stool. It is a term used to describe a gastrointestinal syndrome that we see in giant pandas occasionally, that rarely requires medical treatment and usually resolves on its own.

A giant panda that is experiencing a mucous stool will display symptoms, including abdominal discomfort, nausea, sleeping more than usual, trouble defecating and decreased appetite. Often the pandas at the Smithsonian's National Zoo will choose to sleep in one spot and not move very much until they have passed the stool. The panda team has also found that when a giant panda is experiencing a mucous stool he or she is less willing to respond to keepers or spend time outside.

It is not unusual for a giant panda to sleep for up to 18 hours before passing a mucous stool. They also may retch, which is not the same as vomiting—it is essentially dry-heaving. When pandas retch, it is common to see them arch their backs and flex their stomachs as if they were vomiting, but no stomach contents are usually expelled.

After the panda passes a mucous stool, they usually resume normal behavior and appetite within an hour or two.  

Yes, mucous stools are common in giant pandas, but each panda responds to them differently. The Smithsonian's National Zoo's male giant pandas have experienced them more frequently than its female giant pandas. Tian Tian and Bei Bei have experienced mucous stools. Tai Shan experienced them when he was Bei Bei’s age as well. Hsing-Hsing, who lived at the Zoo from 1972 to 1999, also had them. Mei Xiang experiences them very rarely, and Bao Bao never experienced one while she was living at the Zoo. As Tian Tian and Mei Xiang have matured and grown older, they have experienced mucous stools less frequently.

When a panda experiences symptoms of a mucous stool, the veterinarians closely monitor him or her to be sure he or she passes it and is eating and defecating normally. If the animal experiences more significant signs of illness, such as vomiting, diarrhea, increased lethargy or prolonged inappetence, veterinarians may perform additional testing to determine if there are other contributing factors to the illness. They may also administer symptomatic therapies, such as antacids or antinausea medications, to help the panda feel better until the mucous stool passes.

Similarly to veterinarians, there is nothing keepers can do to alleviate the symptoms related to a mucous stool. However, keepers know the giant pandas best and are able to tell if there are subtle changes in their behavior. If they suspect a giant panda is experiencing a mucous stool, they alert the veterinary team and continue to watch the panda to be sure that the panda passes the mucous stool and does not start exhibiting more serious symptoms.

The panda team has developed a recovery plan for mucous stools. As part of the plan, they will offer a panda smaller feedings of bamboo, but will increase the frequency of those feedings. They will ensure that a panda stays hydrated by offering him or her extra fluids, such as honey water, and they will limit his or her consumption of biscuits and produce to help with digestion. The panda team will continue to monitor the panda as a precaution, but most often this is just a brief episode of abdominal upset.

It is usually very clear when a giant panda has recovered form a mucous stool. The panda starts eating and defecating normally, and his or her behavior returns to normal.

It is unclear what causes giant pandas to experience mucous stools. Only giant pandas and red pandas experience them. Our panda team has noticed that they happen more frequently when giant pandas are transitioning from eating mostly bamboo leaves to culm (the entire stalk of bamboo).

Our panda team believes that it is possible that Bei Bei is more susceptible to mucous stools due to his bowel surgery in 2016 to remove a dense, masticated lemon-sized mass of bamboo at the top of his small intestine. However, mucous stools are not the same as a bowel impaction and do not require surgery.

Yes, they do. Tian Tian has experienced them more frequently than Mei Xiang, who has only experienced them rarely. All of the male giant pandas to ever live at the Smithsonian's National Zoo have experienced them. As Mei Xiang and Tian Tian have gotten older, they have experienced them less.

When Bei Bei experienced a bowel impaction he showed signs of severe nausea, vomiting, stomach discomfort, sleeping more than normal and not eating.

A panda can sleep and exhibit symptoms related to a mucous stool for up to 18 hours before passing it.

After giant pandas pass a mucous stool they will quickly return to normal—eating, defecating, sleeping, spending time in their yards and even exhibiting play behavior.

Yes, many species can pass mucous in their stool, including giant pandas and red pandas.