Polar bears were held in captivity and fasted for an average of 38 d prior to being fed for three days. Blood samples were collected prior to feeding and then at one and three days post-feeding in 1984 and at one, four, and seven days post-feeding in 1985. The ratio of serum urea to serum creatinine varied significantly in 1984, rising from a pre-feeding mean of 11.0 (SE = 2.6) to 32.0 (SE = 3.2) on the first day post-feeding and then dropped to 22.8 (SE =3.2) in the last sample. In 1985, the ratio of serum urea to serum creatinine increased from a pre-feeding mean of 15.8 (SE = 2.3) to 61.2 (SE = 10.6) after three days of feeding and dropped to a mean of 29.2 (SE = 5.1) seven days after feeding ended. Serum urea levels varied over the study period in both years. No significant variation in serum creatinine levels was found in 1984, but in 1985, serum creatinine levels demonstrated significant variation, declining from the pre-feeding mean of 1.83 mg/dl (SE = 0.29) to 0.96 mg/dl (SE = 0.12) in the last sample.
The findings suggest that polar bears can have a low serum urea to serum creatinine ratio, similar to that found in hibernating black bears, or higher ratios after feeding. Polar bears can rapidly return to a fasting serum urea to creatinine ratio after food is withheld. Polar bears may demonstrate urea conservation, similar to that found in black bears, and may be able to move between a fasting and a feeding metabolism based on food availability throughout the year, an adaptation to life on the labile sea ice.