Hand Raising Wild Non-Domestic And Exotic Cats
Ocelots Bobcats Servals Tigers Etc.
Ron Hines DVM PhD
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“Zoos tell us as much about humans as they do about animals” Richard Mabey
About Big Cats
For many years, I treated wild exotic cats in zoos and private collections in Texas. Later, I cared for large circus cats in Sarasota, Florida. This is some of the information I learned during that time. For it all, I am indebted to the Rosaire Family cats , Show Folks Inc. of Sarasota and to the kind members of the Feline Conservation Federation of America. Currently, the only wild felines I deal with are Texas bobcats .
Hand-raising big exotic cats is somewhat like baking a cake – there is no one right way to do it but there are some obvious things you want to avoid. What is important is that you are happy with the final results.
Why Would Anyone Want To Hand-raise Big Exotic Cats?
It’s not unusual for exotic wild cats, living in captive situations, to need help raising one or more of their offspring. In captivity, the clues, rhythms and experiences that govern their natural wild behaviors are missing or poorly developed. This often includes the rearing of their young. If all cubs are of equal size and development and one has died or is in serious trouble, I usually suggest all the babies be pulled and hand-raised then and there.
First Time Mothers
Exotic cats giving birth for the first time often have poorer maternal instincts and less success then they do in subsequent litters. If one or more infants are subnormal in temperature or have died, you may be able to save the rest through hand rearing.
People occasionally find these wild infant felines after a parent was killed, injured or when their parental bond was broken – usually through some interaction with humans. These foundlings can be successfully raised. They are rarely suitable for re-introduction into the wild, but they make good educational ambassadors and zoo display cats.
Display and Performance Cats
Many animal professionals raise these magnificent creatures for show or display. They usually find that these big cats lead less stressful lives and are more excepting of human companionship when they are nurtured by humans from birth or shortly there after.
Exceptionally Large Litters
Occasional mothers will give birth to more kittens than they can successfully raise. Those that are slightly smaller will quickly fall behind in growth and rarely survive. For all to survive, some will need to be bottle-fed.
When a male species of cat is bred to a female of a different smaller species, the kittens may be born after a shorter pregnancy than would have occurred in the larger species. These kittens are sometimes slightly less developed than they would normally be and may require bottle-feeding to survive.
Exotic wild felines are commonly raised and sold as pets in the United States. My observation has been that, with the exception of servals and other smaller cats, it is a really unwise idea to keep big exotic cats as domestic pets. Most people greatly underestimate the commitment required to keep these animals, their space requirements, the time their care involves and the cost of keeping them. When you cut corners on any of those things, or when you think you can make them into anything but the wild animals God intended them to be, things will end sadly. But my clients still insist on having them, my job is to keep them healthy and hand raising them is the norm. It does establish a bond and trust that is next to impossible to establish later in the cat’s life. But anyone who tells you you can ever fully trust a large cat has a leak in their attic.
Are There Drawbacks of Bottle-Feeding These Cats?
Bottle-fed big cats are going to turn out quite differently from those raised by their mothers. Depending on your future plans for the cat, this can be a good thing or a bad thing. Other than that, hand-raising infant big cats is a big commitment in time and energy that requires homework and preparation if you are going to succeed.
Once a facility decides to bottle feed its offspring, it may be forced to do so in subsequent generations since human-raised large cats may become poor mothers themselves.
In zoos, bottle-feeding is a time-consuming process that ties up staff time, space and resources. When more than one individual is assigned the chore, slight changes in care technique often causes digestive disturbances in the young animals. Besides, large cats that are raised by their own parents grow up better adjusted to group living.
First Things To Do When Hand-Raising – Am Initial Physical Exam
When you remove cubs from their mother, the first thing to do is to closely examine them. Each cub needs a notebook, a name or a number.
Snip of a small tuft of hair or mark their tails or claws with a dab of nail polish to tell them apart.
Be sure the cubs remain warm while you are doing it.
First check its mouth and nose to be sure it can breath freely. If any of its amniotic sac remains on its face, remove that material completely.
Weigh each cub with an accurate food scale and record its weight.
Check it’s belly button (umbilicus) to see that it has fully closed and is dry.
If its remaining cord is longer than an inch, cut it off at an inch. If it is damp or infected where it enters the body, swab it off with povone iodine.
Check its mouth to be sure the palate is fully formed.
Check its anus to be sure it is normally formed and not protruding.
Check it for fleas or other external parasites.
Check its mouth color for paleness – a sign of anemia.
Observe its nose for crustiness or drainage.
Observe its respiration for rate and rhythm.
Listen to its chest for any sounds of congestion.
Check its eyes for any dissimilarity between the pupils, inflammation or other abnormalities.
Check all its limbs to be sure they are normal.
Check its entire body for any superficial wounds, sores or abrasions.
If you are concerned about anything you observe, consult a seasoned professional who has raised many exotic cats. Your local animal hospital is not a good place to seek advice in raising these animals, neither are your local game wardens or SPCA. (professional, in this case, means experienced, wise and practical – not necessarily a degree-titled academic.)
If the cub(s) are cold or wet, dry them completely with a face towel and warm them immediately. I use a hair dryer on low setting. But be sure you keep the dryer a far distance from the animal’s body, away from its face and do not over heat it. Warm it to your body temperature. You will know it is sufficiently warm when its foot pads are the same temperature as the rest of its body and its mouth and tongue are a rosy pink in color. Then wrap a hot water bottle in a towel and place it next to the cub. Individual cubs are more susceptible to chilling than a group of snuggling ones.
What Milk Formula Should I Feed?
You can be successfully raising infant large exotic cats on accepted traditional formulas you make from individual supermarket ingredients, from commercially available infant pet formulas and from combinations of the two. When you feed any one of these three options, how you feed is just as important as which one you feed.
Some people still believe that to be successful with a particular species of big or exotic cat, they must feed a milk formula that is identical to the composition of that cat’s milk as they see it recorded in the literature. The largest producer of animal milk replacements, PetAg, has encourages that way of thinking. However, the data that these people use to make their recommendations is pretty much valueless.
Here is why these minor differences in constituents do not matter:
First, the composition of every species of exotic cat changes a lot during the time it is nursing its cubs. Depending on when the sample was taken, the content of fats, protein and calcium varies enormously. It also varies depending on what the mother cat has been eating, the number of kittens it was nursing and even the nipple (ref) that was sampled. It is somewhat like you averaging your weather forecast during a year and saying that that is what the weather will be like tomorrow. It is OK for making broad general decisions as to what ought to be in an exotic cat milk replacement, but not what the individual levels should be. Much of the published species milk analysis data is just plain silly as another article points out (ref).
It is relatively easy to cross-breed (hybridize) wild exotic cats. Common sense tells you that for this to happen these cats must be very much alike in their metabolic and nutrient needs at a cellular level. Where the cubs differ is in their starting weight, and how long growth occurs.
After their initial flow of thick, rich colostrum, big cats produce a more dilute milk during their first week of lactation that gradually increases in its protein, fat and calcium content. Calcium content tends to increase slowly, increasing up to 200% in late lactation. Lactose (milk sugar) remains rather constant throughout lactation. By comparison, the cow’s milk you buy is much more constant with a lower amount of protein, less fat and a higher amount of lactose sugar.
I put together some recorded milk sample constituents for exotic cats and comparative species. They are valuable in getting a feel for the general level of nutrients in exotic cat milk – nothing more. No one has ever determined that one species of exotic cat requires a special nutrient or nutrient level that another species of exotic cat doesn’t. And there is no reason to think that any of them would.
|SPECIES||% PROTEIN||% FAT||% LACTOSE||% SOLIDS|
|COW||3.1- 3.3||3.2 – 3.5||4.5 – 4.9||12.2|
|DOMESTIC CAT||9 -11||10 – 11||3.5 – 5.0||18 – 28|
|GOAT||3 – 3.5||3 – 6||4 – 4.6||12.0|
|LION||6.0 – 8.5||11.4 – 17.5||2.7- 3.4||16.7- 30.2|
|KMR (canned liquid)||7.5||4.5||18.0|
|Esbiliac™ (canned liquid)||4.5||6.0||15.0|
Off-The-Shelf Milk Replacers
No product for sale in the US is scientifically designed for exotic cats. All were originally designed to feed the kittens and puppies of domestic cats or dog whose nutritional needs we know much more about. Wild exotic felines produce milk that is richer in fat and protein content than that of house cats and domestic dogs and most produce a milk that is lower in carbohydrate (primarily lactose). Domestic cats have adapted to absorbing this sugar by producing a considerable amount of lactase enzyme in their intestines. This capability is not as well developed in wild exotic cats. That is why they are prone to develop bloating, diarrhea and other digestive problems if they consume products formulated for domestic cats or formulas high in cows milk. If you look at the table, you will see that goat’s milk is not that different from cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is also much lower in calcium than feline milk when the babies need it most.
The most commonly used commercial milk formulas to bottle-feed exotic cats in the US are those produced by PetAg™. Many use their KMR™ or Esbilac™ formulas because they are readily available and opinions are pretty much evenly split as to which works best in exotic cats. When one prefers one over the other, it is usually because they think they see less diarrhea and bloat with one or the other product. Some straddle the fence by use a mixture of the two. Everyone has occasional problems with both. When problems occur, it appears to be due to the fat portion of the formulas.
Because results have been mixed when either KMR™ or Esbilac™ is used in wildlife, PetAg™ also sells a line of Milk Matrix™ products that are milk-fat free the way all their products once were manufactured. The fat and oil portion of Milk Matrix formulas is all from vegetable sources. Of this line, their Milk Matrix™ 33/40, 42/25 and 42/50 are suggested. The first number in the names of these products represents their percentage of protein and the second the percentage of fat. I have not noticed that any one of these three Milk Matrix formulas gives consistently better results than another. Individual exotic cat professionals each have their favorite and which one you will personally find best is not predictable. That is probably because it is not so much, which one you feed, as how you feed it that makes most of the difference. Differences between product batches and limited product shelf life probably account for the rest of the differences you will see.
Most people purchase these formulas in dry powdered form. The process by which PetAg and the other Borden clone company, Fox Valley , include a fat or oil in a dry powder formula is a difficult one. Think about it. Have you ever considered turning a stick of butter into a powder? These products are, by their nature, very unstable with a short shelf life. They also vary from batch to batch because bulk dairy ingredients they purchase to make them are not a uniform product. During storage, milk-based formulas often become rancid and irritating as they form unhealthy peroxides and aldehydes (malondialdehyde, hexanal, alkenals) and loose vitamin E, other anti-oxidants and essential omega fatty acids.
It is not just the quality and freshness of the fats in dry formulas that is important. It is very important that the size of the fat droplets in the formulas you prepare be such that the cubs can easily absorb them. If the powdered formula you purchase is old or if that particular batch was not up to quality, or if the liquid you prepare was not blended sufficiently or was blended too vigorously, the fat can form lumps that are too large for infant exotic cats to absorb. When this occurs, the cubs can die from intestinal blockages. the milk fat ingredients (creams) they use to produce feeding formula seem more prone to this problem than their vegetable fats ingredients. Be sure there are no lumps, clumps or graininess in the formulas you prepare and that the powder itself shows no sign of off-odor or rancidity. I have tried various ways of keeping these powders fresh but haven’t been happy with any. The stuff just seems to have a mind of its own.
To be used successfully, all dry formulas needs to be well blended with pre-warmed water. The fat portion of KMR™ and Esbilac™ were reformulated some years ago to include milk fat. Changes were also made in the way the products were manufactured. So old formulas and advice you read about are no longer valid. Unfortunately, a lot of product information that might be helpful are company trade secrets. Each time a change occurs, it has lead to major confusion when their products are used to raise wildlife. The older formulas of KMR™ and Esbilac™ are still available from PetAg as Milk Matrix™ 42/25 and 33/40 respectively.
PetAg says that their Milk Matrix™ line only has vegetable fats, so the clumping of milk fat should not be a problem when you use them. However, PetAg put out an advisory a while ago that electric blenders, when used to vigorously, might cause the fat portion of their products to clump and congeal. They suggest the formulas only be mixed in blenders with intermittent pulse bursts. The characteristics of the fats in these commercial formulas are as important as their source. When fat or oil globules are the wrong size, they can lead to constipation and death in big cat cubs due to intestinal blockages. Cow-source butterfat in these formulas caused this problem at a number of large zoos and wildlife centers. This butter fat clumping problem does not seem to occur when you make your own formula using heavy cream.
You also have the option of purchasing similar products from Fox Valley or Wombaroo Food Products but, as far as I know, they all face the same production challenges.
Colostrum and Serum Antibodies
Cubs and kittens haven’t had time to develop their own immunity against infections. They rely on immunity (antibodies) passed down from their mothers. Some of these antibodies pass into the cubs while they are still in the womb. The amount of immunity passed to the cubs before birth depends on the health and nutritional status of the mother as well as her vaccination status. But many antibodies are passed along to the cubs in the first milk or colostrum that the mothers produce for a day or two after giving birth. The amount of antibody that can pass through the cub’s intestine in this way begins to decline shortly after birth. After a day or two has passed, the antibodies in milk can no longer be absorbed by the cubs. But the antibody that they did absorb persists in their blood and protects them for many weeks.
Cubs that do not receive colostrum are more prone to bacterial infections ( septicemias ), pneumonia, intestinal infections, diarrhea and umbilical infections. It is not until they are about 8 weeks old that feline cubs produce enough antibodies of their own to protect themselves.
That is why, whenever possible, exotic cats should nurse their own mothers for their first 48 hours. When that can’t happen, you still have some options:
1) You can give the cubs a colostrum supplement produced in goats or cattle. It won’t have all the antibodies cubs need, but perhaps it will be helpful.
2) During the cub’s first 24-48 hours, you can give it an oral preparation made from the blood serum of the mother cat or another cat (0.5 – 5.0 ml/feeding). It keeps a long time when frozen at a low temperature and not thawed repeatedly.
3) If 48 hours has already passed, you can attempt to have the same serum steriley injected into the cubs abdomen or given subcutaneously (5 – 8ml/ 1000grams body weight ) on two consecutive days. The problem is sterility. Injecting potentially unsterile serum (particularly into the abdomen) can have fatal consequences.
4) You can give weak newborn cubs antibiotic (trimethoprim/sulfa, etc.) protection to try to compensate for their low antibody level. The problem with doing this is that antibiotics kill the good bacteria along with the bad. I would only suggest it if you have lost litters from this mother before or if some cubs in the litter have already died.
First Feedings / Electrolytes
Cubs do best when their first few feedings are warmed electrolyte solutions such as half-strength pedialyte, ringer’s solution or 5% dextrose (glucose). There are a couple of reasons for this:
1) It takes cubs a while to get used to feeding from rubber nipples. During that time, they are more likely to aspirate (inhale) formula into their lungs. If that occurs, electrolyte solutions cause much less damage than milk formulas do.
2) It may take you time to adjust to the feeding habits of the cub(s) – particularly if you are inexperienced. Every litter is a little different from the previous one. Until you get your techniques and equipment optimal, you are more likely to get formula into the cub’s lungs. Electrolytes are more forgiving than milk if that occurs.
3) All artificial formulas are more prone to cause digestive disturbances than natural milk and bottle feeding is not as natural as nursing on their mother. Giving electrolytes allows the cubs time to adjust.
4) After the first 24-48 hours of thick colostrum, the mother cat’s milk becomes quite dilute – only thickening gradually as lactation progresses. You duplicate this process when you start with a diluted product.
Once you and your cub are confident in the feeding process, gradually add the milk formula to the electrolytes. Increase the amount of milk mixed with the electrolyte by about 50% a day (not the total volume) until it is wholly formula. If diarrhea occurs, temporarily dilute the formula with more electrolytes.
Preparing The Cub’s Formula
Always begin with a diluted formula until the cub adjusts to it. Too rich a formula, given too soon can cause something called osmotic diarrhea in which non absorbed nutrients pull water out of the body and into the intestine.
You can prepare enough for a full day. Keep the day’s stock supply on the top shelf in your fridge, heating only what you are about to use. Reheating destroys nutrients and changes the consistency of the fat portion. Give the formula time for the air bubbles and foam to leave the bottles.
If you are working with the 42/25, 33/40, powdered KMR™ or Esbilac™, begin by mixing one part powder with four parts pre-warmed electrolyte. Over the next three or four days, decrease the amount of water you add to a one-part powder, two-parts water mixture.
Be careful when you use a microwave to heat formula. It is safer to heat a bowl of water and place the filled nursing bottles in that than to directly nuke a bottle of formula. Shake a few drops onto your wrist to be sure it is not too hot – about 100F is just right.
How Often Should I Feed The Cub(s)?
Feeding every three hours, dawn to dusk, is sufficient for most infant exotic cats. If the kittens were born weak or are not vigorous nursers, you can feed them every two hours for their first few days. It is always safer to feed weak cubs smaller amounts at more frequent intervals than risk the chance they will aspirate larger amounts given less frequently.
By the time the cubs are two weeks old, they should do fine when fed every four hours and every 5 hours by the time they have reached 5 weeks of age. Feed the weanlings their formula 2-3 times a day.
How Much Formula Should I Feed?
A very general rule of thumb is that cubs drink 10–20 % of their body weight each day. That is, a 300-gram cub would drink 30-60 ml per day. However, a cub of that size should not get more than 15-20ml in a single feeding. Stay near the lower end of the range for the youngest cubs. The risks of overfeeding are greater than the risks of moderately underfeeding. Stop when they aren’t greedy for the formula and don’t re-feed them before their stomachs have time to empty. Never feed them till they are drum-tight or bloated – just until they are comfortably full and relaxed. If they haven’t taken the amount you think they should but their stomachs appear full, stop.
Over-eating, particularly in tiger and lion cubs, causes a lot of intestinal problems and bloat. If the cubs stay restless and hungry between feeding or their growth rate drops off, try increasing the strength of their formula. If it occurs when they are breaking teeth, add some strained baby meats.
Put more milk in the bottle than they will consume so they don’t suck air and don’t rush them. The little ones in particular need rest breaks during their feedings.
In exotic cats, the number of cubs in a litter is not a good predictor of the birth weight of individual cubs and both males and female cubs are born at about the same weight (ref). The San Diego Zoo published some expected daily weight gains for a number of exotic cats of sizes as large as snow leopards. They range from 11 to 35 grams per day over their first 3 weeks (ref).
It can take up to two days for cubs to begin gaining weight. So it is sufficient if they don’t loose weight on their first or second day. From then on, their weight gain should be a rapid slope upward. Only the smaller exotic cats, such as margays, grow at the slow rate of domestic house cats.
Can I Make My Own Formula From Scratch?
“I’ve heard of formulas that need two chemists and a witch doctor to make.“ Kevin Chambers – zoo cat specialist.
There is no limit to the number of homemade formulas that are being used to successfully hand-raise exotic cats. Considering all the sorts of things go into these formulas, it is remarkable how well most of them perform.
Zoo nutritionists tell us that fresh cow’s milk is not a suitable ingredient in infant exotic cat formulas. They prefer you use a dried skim milk powder or evaporated milk as your base and avoid adding sugar ingredients ( ref ). However, that hasn’t kept people from developing their own successful fresh cow’s milk and goat milk formulas. The many ingredients added to these formulas evidently protect the cubs from the effects of the high lactose level and scarce nutrients in cow’s and goat milk. Both cow and goat milk are nutrient poor – the volumes of un supplemented milk that cubs would need to drink to meet their nutritional needs are just too large. Here are a few formulas that I know that have been used by zoos and breeders over the years:
Lion cubs: A mixture of 160ml cow’s milk, 10 ml heavy whipping cream, 1-3 large egg yolks, 30ml gelatin powder, 30 ml sunflower oil has raised lion cubs successfully. (I would add calcium and a vitamin supplement).
Another formula consists of 3 cans of evaporated cows or goats milk, 1 cup of powdered milk, one cup of cooked ground liquefied turkey puree or unseasoned Gerber’s strained baby turkey, beef or chicken, one tablespoon full of Calcium Carbonate, 8 ounces of plain yogurt, 6 eggs ,2 ml of liquid pediatric multivitamins and water to make about a gallon of formula. Prepare only as much as will be fed in a day.
Leopard cubs: 180 ml cow’s milk, 3ml powdered dextrose, 2 egg yolks, 20 ml gelatin powder
Cougar cubs: 168 ml cow’s milk, 10 ml heavy whipping cream, 1 egg yolk, 25 ml gelatin powder, 2ml powdered dextrose and 30 ml sunflower oil.
Cheetah cubs: 185 ml cow’s milk, 20 ml water, 1 egg yolk, 15ml gelatin powder, 25ml sunflower oil.
Some of these concoctions add high protein baby cereal, others, yogurt, and/or strained baby food meats. Often a commercial infant pet milk replacement is also thrown in or is the basic ingredient. Gelatin is in many of the formulas. It thickens the formulas and some think these thick formulas are less likely to be spit back up and aspirated.
Bobcat cubs: 1 jar strained turkey baby food without onion or spices, 2 egg yolks, 1 can goat’s milk, 1 dropper full of Poly Vi Sol infant vitamins, 1 teaspoon full of NeoCalGlucon™ calcium supplement.
Whichever formula you use, my personal feeling is that the more ingredients you add, the less likely it is that your formula will be deficient in any one nutrient. Be sure that your formula contains both a multivitamin and a calcium supplement. Too much of either is as big a problem as not enough.
Most home made formulas use only the yolks of eggs. That is because uncooked egg whites contain avidin, which ties up a certain B vitamin. Whether or not this is of any importance to exotic cats is unknown.
Adding Other Things
It is a good idea to add some multivitamins to formulas for exotic cats – particularly if you are making these formulas from scratch or if there is any doubt in your mind as to the freshness and stability of the commercial product you are feeding. I prefer to use a liquid human pediatric vitamin. They are sold under many names, both proprietary and generic. The best known brand is Poly-Vi-Sol™ Vitamin Drops. They all should contain Vitamins A, C, D, E, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, Vitamin B12 and iron.
Depending on the brand you purchase, a standard daily human infant dose is one half or one ml. Scale this dose down to the size of the cub you are feeding and add it to the mixed formula – boiling vitamins destroys them. Others have used pet vitamin products such as Pet-Tabs™ just as successfully. Just like the powdered formula, it is important the vitamin product is fresh and has been properly stored. Large discount human pharmacies have fresh product because they turn their stock over rapidly. Most feed stores and veterinary hospitals don’t. Never over-do it with vitamins; too much vitamin A & D are just as dangerous as too little.
Calcium is very stable. All commercial infant pet formulas contain sufficient calcium. Calcium supplementation becomes important when you are mixing your own formulas from scratch and they do not contain enough dairy ingredients or other calcium sources. The skim portion of dry or liquid milk as well as yogurt and buttermilk are rich in calcium. But the cream and cottage cheese portions are much lower in calcium. Products based on meat are also low in calcium unless calcium has been added to them. Cereals are also low in calcium if they have not been calcium-fortified and a diet too low in vitamin D3 does not allow enough of the calcium that is present to be absorbed.
Because these exotic cats are growing fast, their calcium needs are high. If enough calcium is not available to them, these cats will develop rickets. By the time you see their curved bowlegs and painful gait, the problem cannot be fully corrected. This occurs most commonly when their primary diet ingredient is red meat or poultry meat.
You can avoid this problem in growing exotic cats by adding a calcium supplement. Calcium carbonate antacid tablets and powdered skim milk are readily available sources of calcium you can add. In liquid formulas, Neo Cal-Glucon works well (Calciquid™,calcium glubionate)(about 100mg/100grams body weight/day).
All cats are especially sensitive to a lack of taurine in their diets. Taurine is very important for their eye, heart and brain development. They also have poor hair growth when it is lacking in their diet. Dairy proteins, meat and egg white are all rich in taurine and both KMR and Esbilac are fortified with it. But some exotic cat breeders add extra taurine to their baby formulas anyway. Should you wish to add some, it is sold as a tablet or powder for use in pets and as a human supplement by stores like GNC. If you add it, 1000 mg per pound of dry food ingredients is sufficient.
The primary sign of not enough iron in large exotic cats is anemia. Anemic big cats have pale gums, low energy level poor weight gain and sometimes an increased respiration rate. The younger the cat, the more likely it is that these signs will be severe. Iron anemia can be a problem in mother-raised big cats too when they are kept on cement rather than natural earth enclosures that provide natural iron sources or when they carry high hookworm or flea loads ( galvanized cages are another cause of anemia (ref). Hookworms steal iron, and big cats that carry intestinal hookworms almost always pass them on to their offspring in their first milk. It is not just a captivity issue – over 90% of the wild bobcats here in Texas have hookworms as well. The Poly-Vi-Sol vitamins I mentioned earlier are fortified with iron. If their anemia is severe (Hct/PCV under 30%) they need injectable iron dextran (iron dextran injections are very painful and inflammatory). If parasites are the underlying problem, they need to be treated.
Some exotic cat breeders and zoos swear by the addition of lactaid-like enzyme tablets to their infant cat diets. This product is an enzyme that helps the animals digest milk sugar (lactose). Domestic cat kittens produce some of their own lactase. But between 4 and 7 weeks, the amount they produce drops significantly.
Exotic cats are probably similar.
Since cow and goat milk are high in lactose sugar, pre-treating milk with lactase can be quite helpful in preventing the bloat, intestinal upsets and diarrhea that sometime accompany diets based on cow and goat milk.
You can purchase lactase in liquid form. When you use it in your homemade formulas, fifteen drops (3750 units) removes nearly all the lactose from a quart (946 ml) of milk when it is stored in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Some exotic cat breeders crush a Lactaid Ultra tablet (9000 units) in 8 ounces of their milk formula. That is a whopping amount of lactase but it causes no harm.
When kittens and cubs nurse their mothers, they are naturally seeded with bacteria and yeast that aid in digestion and seem to promote good general heath.
Probiotic organisms digest the lactose milk sugar and accomplish the same thing as adding lactase enzymes. Probiotics also seem to help prevent diarrhea by keeping the intestinal tract more acid and preventing the growth of diarrhea-causing bacteria.
You can supply some of these organisms when yogurt is an ingredient in your formulas. You can supply a wider variety of organisms if you include a probiotic paste in your feeding plan similar to Bene-Bac™ . I prefer using human probiotics because of the same quality control issues that surround formula powders.
Pure cow’s milk cream in homemade infant diets does not cause the digestive problems that the mechanically dried cream powders contained in commercial pet milk replacements do. Use the product called pure heavy cream or whipping cream that has no added sugar. It should be added to any formula that only relies on the natural cream content of cow’s or goat’s milk because infant exotic cats require much more than those products naturally contain. When you supplement your formulas with cream, increase the cream level slowly. Older cubs can handle more of it than younger ones. Cream is an excellent source of energy for growing exotic cats. But it does not supply the proteins these animals need for muscle growth. That will have to come from ingredients like cooked egg white, meats and the casein protein the cow or goat milk non-fat portion.
How Much Water Should I Add To The Dry Formula Powders?
Over the first day or two, gradually change from a pure electrolyte formula to a formula composed of three parts electrolyte/water and one part powdered formula. Over the next few days, increase the concentration to two parts water/electrolytes mixed with one part powdered formula.
At What Age Should I Separate The Cubs?
When you intend to hand raise exotic cats, 14 days is a good time to take on the responsibility. Those first two weeks are the most critical and most mother cats do a better job than you will.
There are exceptions, some cats consistently loose their litters for one reason or another and those cubs need to be removed at birth. Its tough to make those decisions because you can never be certain. If the cubs are not in immediate danger of dying, allow them at least 48 hours to nurse on their mothers so that they will receive her colostrum, or split up the liter so at least some of the offspring will survive.
If this is a pet, commercial exotic wild cat breeders often encourage purchasers to take their cubs too young. Avoid the urge to do that. It is less work for the breeder, but it can be more heartaches for you. Cats pulled at 2 weeks develop just as mellow and docile as those removed earlier. What the cubs first see is important (imprinting). An ideal time to take over parenting responsibility is as their eyes are just opening but before they have the ability to focus. As long as they still purr when you stroke them, you should be OK.
If you have the mother, remember that removing her cubs or loosing her litter will usually causes her to come back into heat. You are putting a lot of unnecessary stress on her health and subsequent liters if you allow her to become pregnant again so soon.
Once the cub(s) is in your care, integrate it completely into your life. The more time you spend with it, the more you stroke and cuddle it and the more you talk to it, the better. You can’t have it both ways – big cats, bottle-fed in zoo nurseries with multiple caregivers, minimal contact and indifferent staff often turn out to be unhappy creatures. They grow up to not be happy in groups of their own kind, and distrustful of humans as well.
Your cubs will not thrive when sanitation levels are low. This goes for the conditions that mother cats reside in as well as the nursery where cubs are raised – unhealthy mothers have unhealthy offspring.
Stale formula is an invitation for digestive problems for the cub(s). Milk formula is an excellent medium for bacterial growth and it will rapidly sour when it stands at room temperature or when it is taken in and out of the refrigerator. The same thing goes for powdered milk formulas. I don’t suggest you use any one purchased container for more than a month or so. Remember, the powder in the original container was never sterile.
Wash your hands frequently before and after feeding or handling each cub.
Dip or soak all washable supplies in a mixture of one part bleach and twenty parts water after you have cleaned them thoroughly with soap, water and a scrub brush. Let them dry overnight or rinse them with water to remove any residual bleach. Boiling is also a very effective way to keep items sanitary.
Do not use disinfectants like Lysol™, Pine-Sol™, Nolvasan™, etc. around the cubs. Anything that kills bacteria is toxic enough to keep away from infants.
Boil all your feeding bottles between use.
Flies, cockroaches, rats and mice spread bacteria – control them with kitten safe/baby safe products like boric acid, pyrethrins or products approved for use in dairies.
What Are Some Common Health Problems These Cubs Might Encounter?
Exotic cats are born with limited body reserves and stamina. When they go down hill – they do so fast. So when you see even the smallest hint of a problem you need to nip it in the bud.
Very few veterinarians work with exotic cats and fewer still understand the husbandry errors that underlie most infant exotic cat health problems. So your best sources of information are experienced breeders. Take time to locate and introduce yourself to these people before you need their advice. Visit their compounds and learn as much as you can. Join groups like the Feline Conservation Organization.
The most serious problem that can occurs for an inexperienced caregivers (or a distracted or rushed experienced caregivers) is allowing the milk formula to enter the cub’s lungs rather than its stomach – the formula “goes down the wrong way”.
The most common cause of this is feeding infant cubs in the wrong position. Never cradle and feed these exotic cats on their back as you would a human infant. These animals must have their stomach side down (belly down) when they suckle. Later, when the cub is more developed and able to walk, it can sit back on its haunches or stand and take the bottle in its front paws like the one in the photograph at the top of this article.
The younger a cub is, the more likely this problem is to occur. That is why inexperienced caregivers are much safer if they take over the chore when cubs are already 4-6 weeks old. Let an experienced person get you started right.
Here are some other tips to help you prevent this problem:
Feed the baby in the proper position
Use nipples that are the right size and that do not leak or flow too easily. (Pull on the nipple to be sure it is well seated. Enthusiastic cubs will pull nipples right off the bottle and can swallow them.)
Never squeeze the bottle when the cub is nursing
Be sure you stop feeding the cub as soon as it no longer sucks vigorously and greedily. Do not punch too many holes or too large a hole in the rubber nipple. Milk should not drip or accumulate on the bottle when it is held nipple-down.
Milk should never come out a cub’s nose.
Keep your cubs adequately warm at all times. Use hot water bottles wrapped in towels or microwavable heat sinks (like Snuggle Safe™).
Feeding electrolytes the first few feeding – until both you and the cub are comfortable with the feeding process also guards against the effects of aspiration pneumonia. Electrolytes when aspirated do not cause the severe lung reactions that milk products do.
Once a cub has aspirated, there is very little a veterinarian like me can do to improve its chances of surviving. – it all depends on how much milk entered the lungs. If the cub is a cliff-hanger, a high-oxygen, high humidity environment like a preemie incubator (Air-Shield) and antibiotics may tip the balance in favor of its survival.
Symptoms of aspiration pneumonia are labored breathing, irregular breathing , gasping, pale or bluish gums. Later, tremors and listlessness and death.
Diarrhea And What To Do When It Occurs
Diarrhea is a common and serious problem in bottle fed animals of all kinds. Exotic cats are no exception. Many things can cause it. But in my experience, feeding techniques and feeding schedules are a more common cause than minor mistakes in dietary ingredients. When diarrhea occurs, cubs can become dehydrated rapidly. The first thing to do when diarrhea occurs is to supply more fluid and less solids in the cub’s formula and to supply them more frequently but in small amounts that don’t stress their digestive system. Electrolytes (pedialyte™, ringers solution, etc.) are the best way to supply these fluids. If the cub becomes weak or severely dehydrated, it is best that the missing fluid be supplied by subcutaneous injection of electrolyte solutions intended for that use. This usually corrects the problem in 24-36 hours. When the stool has returned to its normal toothpaste consistency, gradually return the concentration of the formula to full strength. Treating the formula with lactase (Lactaid™) before feeding it and adding probiotic bacteria or yogurt seem to lessen diarrhea problems in infant exotic cats.
If the stool shows any traces of blood, something more serious is going on. The stool of those kittens needs to be sent for a fecal culture to determine if dangerous bacteria or parasites are the root of the problem. Cubs with bacterial diarrhea need antibiotics and, perhaps, intestinal coating agents ; those with parasites need other appropriate medications and the sanitation and husbandry procedures at the facility need to be changed. Never give these kittens Imodium.
Bloat And Colic
Bloat and colic are two signs that you need to change your feeding technique. The most usual causes are feeding too large an amount of formula at one time, feeding too infrequently, feeding too fast, feeding from an improper bottle or feeding in the wrong position. Pretreating the cub’s formula with lactase (Lactaid™) and/or adding probiotic bacteria or plain yogurt to their formula once it reaches feeding temperature often help solve this problem. Some folks have found adding sucralfate (Carafate®) helpful. It does have the effect of coating and protecting the cub’s stomach and intestine from over-acidity. But it only masks underlying formula or feeding problems and can cause a number of side effects such as constipation or aluminum overload. Sometimes burping cubs with strokes or pats of the back is all that is required. Constipation Never give cubs phosphate enemas such as Fleet™. Cubs can become constipated if they are not stimulated to defecate sufficiently after they are fed. Constipation can also occur when formulas are too thick or when a cub becomes dehydrated do to previous diarrhea or too hot an environment. The stools of infant cats should be soft and mushy, not clumped and segmented as in mature exotic cats. When constipation occurs, try diluting the formula a bit and feed smaller amounts more frequently. Also be sure the cub is being kept at a warm enough temperature. If the constipation is severe, your veterinarian needs to deal with it. I have had several weanling mountain lions block when fed chicken necks and backs. High enemas and abdominal massages were required to move this material down and out. When an animal is completely blocked by constipation, it usually also vomits. In partial cases, the stool that is passed can be a combination of hard lumps and diarrhea. Constipation and GI obstruction problems have also been associated with bad batches of commercial formula – particularly Esbilac™. In these cases the cream (butterfat) portion forms large nonabsorbent clumps in the cub’s stomach and intestine. PetAg, the supplier of Esbilac has suggested that forceful blending can cause this to occur. Often, a few drops of Karo™ syrup added to the formula solves minor constipation problems. If that is not sufficient, consult with a veterinarian about using a small amount of flavored mineral oil or petrolatum-based cat laxative. Never give unflavored oils or petrolatum that have not been mixed with food because cubs will inhale them. Remember that straining can be as much a sign of diarrhea as of constipation.
Prolonged diarrhea and colonic irritation or constipation can cause older cubs to strain so much that a short portion of their intestine sticks out through their anus like a red/bluish hot dog or small donut. Coccidia parasites, and intestinal worms are another common cause of this. When it occurs, a veterinarian needs to tend to the problem. The protruding portion of the rectum will soon die due to a lack of circulation. It needs to be lubricated, replaced and, in some cases, a purse string suture needs to be placed to prevent the problem from reoccurring. Coat the protruding portion with non-dairy margarine or KY jelly until you can get it to a veterinarian. Discolored teeth or rings of discoloration on teeth Stress during the period teeth are forming may cause them to erupt discolored, with brownish rings or pitted. This stress is often nutritional. But it can also be caused by infectious diseases as well as by antibiotics that are in the tetracycline class. The cub’ set of permanent teeth should be unaffected.
The most common causes of dehydration are the starvation of parental neglect and diarrhea. But a very low humidity environment, vomiting or too thick a formula can also cause the problem. Signs of a dehydrated cub are a decrease in skin elasticity, dry or sticky gums and weakness. Skin, over the shoulder blades should spring back to normal position after being pinched and plucked. It should not “tent” or behave like clay or dough. Mild dehydration can be corrected with oral electrolytes. More severe dehydration or dehydration in a weak cub is best treated with subcutaneous fluids (sterile, balanced electrolytes). (If you are isolated out in the bush, ringers can be given by enema.) Dehydrated cubs are prone to constipation. They produce little or no urine.
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD, Rickets)
The cubs and kittens of exotic wild cats, particularly the larger species, need large amounts of calcium to support their rapid growth rate. They also need their calcium intake to exceed their phosphorus intake – ideally by a factor of 2 to 1. Cow’s milk is borderline in its calcium to phosphorus ratio (1.3 to 1). Domestic mother cats produce a milk that is 1.6 to 1 during the period the kittens are growing fastest. Most people run into trouble with rickets/ MBD when they wean their exotic large cats over to meat. A pure meat diet – be it beef, poultry or other – is deficient in calcium. Most a food animal’s calcium is in its bones, not its muscle. A diet of meat not only supplies too little calcium, it supplies too much phosphorus. The ratio of calcium to phosphorus in meat is the reversed of what it needs to be (red meat contains approximately 1part calcium to 12-20 parts phosphorus).
Also, red meat is deficient in vitamin D3 which is essential for the cat’s body to absorb whatever calcium is present in its diet. Signs of MBD in growing exotic cats are lameness or limping, reluctance to move about and play, enlarged knobby joints, painful joints and bowleggedness. Healthy teeth should be china-white, not translucent as they often are in MBD. Bone fractures in immature animals, other than those hit by cars, are also often due to MBD. One can halt the progression of MBD, but the damage that has already been done cannot be reversed. Tension splints can slowly straighten bowed legs that are still growing. But they have to be watched very carefully or they will cause more damage than good. Exotic cats that have suffered even mild cases of rickets as juveniles are more prone to arthritis in later years. To prevent this problem, either feed whole carcass or use a supplement designed for feeding slab meats such as Mazuri’s Meat Complete™. Naval/Joint ill and Septicemia Infant big cats rely on the antibodies in their mother’s colostrum to protect them from bacterial infections. The most common infection we see when they didn’t receive these antibodies is an infected umbilicus (navel). Cubs that have this problem usually also have some degree of septicemia. That is, you see an infected navel but the same bacteria are moving unseen through the cub’s blood stream as well. That is why applying topical antibiotics to their navel is not sufficient. They need injectable antibiotics as well. These blood born infections often localize in the joints, causing joint swelling, pain and a hot joint. They must be treated promptly with antibiotics to prevent permanent joint damage. Other common places for these blood born infections to localize are the heart valves, liver and kidneys.When cubs are maintained at too low a temperature, their immune system doesn’t function well. This can mimic the effect of a lack of colostrum antibody.
Commercial pet milk replacements that perform well with puppies and kittens sometime cause cataracts to form in the lenses of the eyes when they are fed to infant wild animals. We think this is due to a higher need for certain amino acids in infant wildlife. The amino acids that have been suggested as being deficient are arginine, methionine, phenylalanine and taurine (which is similar to an amino acid). This problem does not seem to occur as frequently when home made formulas are fed or when commercial formulas are supplemented with pureed meats. When caught early, these cataracts sometimes go away when an amino acid supplement is added to their diet.
The most common serious parasite I see in infant exotic big cats are hookworms. These intestinal worms can cause a severe anemia as well as diarrhea, malnutrition and poor weight gain. They suspected to be present in all wild bobcats in Texas. I commonly find them in exotic cats from cat compounds where wild cats are maintained on dirt. Dirt allows hookworm numbers to build up in the soil. Over time, adult cats built up a natural immunity to hookworms that protects them to some extent. Their offspring do not have this protection. So the fact that the parent animals are said to be “parasite free” is no guarantee their offspring will be. Roundworms can also be a problem. Since roundworms do not suck blood, they are more prone to cause colic or intestinal obstruction than anemia. These parasites can be passed from the mother to the infant through the mother’s milk and probably to the baby even before birth. They should be suspected in weak or anemic cubs even when a fecal examination reveals no parasite eggs. That is because it can take up to three weeks for the parasites to begin producing eggs. When in doubt, the cubs need to be wormed with pyrantel pamoate (Nemex®, Strongid®, etc.).
Coccidiosis also occurs occasionally in infant exotic cats. Many adult animals carry small numbers of these parasites but are immune to the disease they cause. They are passed through soil and fecal contamination. They can cause a severe diarrhea that can be fatal if the cub is not given injectable fluids to counteract dehydration. Sulfa drugs lessen the severity of the disease.
Giardia are another cause of diarrhea. When veterinarians detect this parasite in the cub’s stool, they treat it with metronidazole (Flagyl®). Many normal-appearing adult animals (and humans) carry this parasite. It is another reason to frequently wash your hands. Large numbers of fleas can also cause severe anemia. They should be picked off with tweezers individually and dropped into a cup of vodka or rubbing alcohol. Do not apply the alcohol or anything else to the cub itself. Simultaneously, bedding needs to go through a hot dryer cycle and caging needs to be steam cleaned or replaced.
Fleas and ticks can also spread Ehrlichia , Bartonella and similar blood parasites to exotic cats – about a quarter of wild bobcats in Texas are seropositive for this organism.
Mange is also seen occasionally in wild exotic cats. When a young exotic cat has mange, there is much more skin irritation and thickening than in the transient hair loss problem that growing exotic cats also experience. But any exotic cat with hair loss needs to have a skin scraping performed.
All parasite problems are much more common when loose house cats are allowed to roam around large cat compounds. Large exotic cats are susceptible to all the diseases and parasites that affect domestic cats. Some believe that they don’t fight them off as well as domestic cats do. These problems tend to bounce around the mixed populations of petting zoos, home menageries, carnivals and wildlife sanctuaries, popping up most frequently in youngsters or stressed adults.
Poor/Sparse Hair Coat And Hair Loss
It is not uncommon for tigers and lion cubs to develop hair loss at 6-9 weeks of age. These animals are growing extremely fast at this time. The problem resolves as soon as the cubs shift to solid, meat-based diets. Begin adding blended or homogenized meats to these cats’ diets as early as 5-8 weeks. If the hair loss is patchy, if the animal is itchy, if the skin is scabby or thickened, if its lymph nodes are enlarged, if the hair loss is accompanied by scabby or crusty eyes or ears, or if you start itching, the cub needs to be examined for mange or a bacterial or fungal skin infection.
Suggestions On Nursing Bottles
When a cub is learning to feed from a bottle, fill it with electrolyte solution the first time – not milk – until it has learned to use the bottle well. Gradually,, in the next feedings, increase the amount of milk formula in the mix. It takes time for cubs to adjust from their mother’s nipple to a rubber one. You can place a drop of milk on the cub’s tongue and dampen the nipple with the same mixture to help it get the idea. Have patience and just keep trying. Large cats can use 4 or 8 oz glass infant bottles such as Evenflo™ with standard or preemie nipples. Smaller cats do well on 2 oz kitten nursing bottles. I prefer you not use syringes or eyedroppers. It is just too easy to depress the plunger too fast and get formula into the cub’s lungs. Cubs can be choosy about nipples and bottles. If one brand or style doesn’t work well, try another. Buy many nipples. Burn a small hole through the nipple end with a heated pin. Start with one or two small holes; add more if you need to until the cub nurses comfortably without a lot of dripping. Many small holes are safer than one or two big holes. No milk should drip from the nipple when the bottle is full and held upside down. Shaking the bottle should produce a drop or two. Use a bottle brush and dish detergent to clean bottles and nipples between use and boil the clean, rinsed items. Do not warm bottles of milk in the microwave. Microwave a container of water. stir it with a spoon, check its temperature with your finger, and place the bottle of formula in that to warm it. Shake the bottle on your wrist. The milk should be pleasantly warm, not scalding. Never squeeze the bottle when feeding. Rubber nipples do not last forever with large cats. Throw them away when they begin to flow on their own.
It is easy to over-warm infant exotic cats. They should feel slightly warm to the touch – not hot – and their ears and paws should be pink – not red. Placing them in an environment that is 86-88F is usually sufficient. A hot water bottle wrapped in a bath towel, placed in a draft free box with fake sheep skin is usually sufficient. Human neonatal isoletes work well. Do not put infant animals in them until you have firm control of the temperature. For me, that can take a day or two. Heating pads, on low setting can be used. Place it under the pet carrier or box – not inside it. Again, let your system run a day or two while you get the temperature just right before you place cubs in it.Several cubs, kept together, chill less than individual cubs. Just be sure they do not suck on each other. Claws get snagged in towels – clip them.
Stimulating Cubs To Urinate And Defecate
You will need to stimulate young cubs to defecate and urinate for their first few weeks. Do this with a ball of cotton or gauze moistened with warm water. Massage their anal/genital area gently after each feeding. You will not always get a response. Don’t worry when you don’t and don’t massage too harshly or too long.
Judging Your Success Monitoring Weight And Growth Rate
Purchase a digital scale. One designed for food or postage is sufficient. Weigh the cub(s) daily just before their first feed of the morning and enter their weight in a notebook. Fingernail polish on a claw will tell multiple cubs apart. Steady weight gain is the best indicator that everything is going well. A weight gain of 4-6% per day while on formula is sufficient. Once the cubs begin solid food, their daily weight gain should be about doubled. After the initial two days, no weight gain over a 24-hour period may occur. But if it continues for 2 days, occurs more than once or is a weight loss, you have a problem.
Housing & Space Requirements
Snug containers help keep infant cubs warm and draft-free. But as soon as the cubs gain curiosity and begin to move about, they need more exercise space. Without it, their bones and muscles will not develop properly.Plastic pet carriers are often used. But I prefer using a plastic storage container with its snap-on the lid modified with a large ,½ inch hardware cloth, cut-out. These are less drafty and easier to clean and service and accept an under-the-bottom heating pad better. They also stack one-within-the-other when not in use.
Wooden containers are impossible to clean well. They stay damp and can harbor bacteria and parasite. If you must use wood, do not use treated lumber. It is also quite acceptable to use a stout cardboard box that you discard from time to time. As soon as the cubs are moving about, the container needs to be secure and well constructed. Synthetic sheepskin blankets are good liners. If you use old towels, be sure they do not have long stringy frayed areas that can tangle the cubs or catch in their claws. Once small wild felines are weaned, they can be moved outdoors into a natural-like enclosure. I construct mine of vinyl-coated 18 gauge welded wire or chain-link fence. I prefer concrete floors for sanitation. A well-built secondary fence is a really a must. It prevents feral cats, raccoons and opossums from transmitting diseases to your cats. Large cats intimidate ordinary folks and are likely to be shot when they escape and smaller human-raised species will not survive long on their own. Large cats attract inquisitive children and gawking adults who love to poke fingers through anything they can. If you are not willing to duplicate (on a smaller scale) the pen construction quality of a well-run zoo, you oughtn’t keep these animals.
Wild exotic cats are susceptible to all the diseases of ordinary domestic cats. I vaccinate them with Ft. Dodge, Fel-O-Vax PCT which protects them against panleukopenia (= feline distemper = cat parvo), rhinotracheitis virus (feline herpes-1 = cat flu) and calicivirus. All cats receive the same standard 1ml dose regardless of species.There is no sense giving these vaccines when cubs are less than 12-14 weeks old, unless you are in the middle of a virus outbreak in your nursery. Do not assume that multiple vaccinations before 4 months of age are effective. They are not a substitute for sanitation, good husbandry and common sense. The cats need to receive a booster vaccination at 6 months of age. After that, their immunity titre (level) can be checked yearly to decide if further vaccinations are required. Be sure that your veterinarian is using an all-killed vaccine. Most public health authorities do not recognize the effectiveness of rabies vaccines in exotic pets or wildlife and, in some US localities, it may be illegal for your veterinarian to administer rabies shots to exotic wild cats. So there is little benefit in giving them.
When I do vaccinate wild felines for rabies , I use Boehringer Ingelheim/Merial’s Imrab-3®. – but this is not a government-sanctioned use of the vaccine. Certain exotic cats also susceptible to canine distemper. Outbreaks of canine distemper occasionally occur in zoos and wild lion populations in Africa. If you vaccinate felines for canine distemper, a sub-unit vaccine similar to Merial/Boehringer Ingelheim’s Purvax® is probably safest.
The AAZPA does not currently recommend that zoo cats receive FIP, FLV or FIV vaccination. FIP occurs occasionally in exotic cats that are foster nursed on domestic house cats. However, the existing intra-nasal FIP vaccine is of questionable value.
Some zoos vaccinate their large exotic cats for leptospirosis as well. Lepto vaccines can cause a severe reaction at the site of injection and shock-like reactions when given repeatedly so I do not use them. Leptospirosis can be prevented through good sanitation.If not specifically labeled as “killed product” try to only use vaccines called “sub-unit” vaccines.There is very little we actually know about the effectiveness of vaccines in wild exotic cats. We assume they work because wild exotic cats and domestic cats are very similar. Bengal tigers and servals produce antibody against feline leukemia when they are given three doses of subunit feline leukemia vaccine. But no one is about to challenge them with virus. If exotic cats mingle with unvaccinated domestic cats or uninvited wildlife or if you run a wildlife rehabilitation center, you can consider administering these other vaccinations.
Weaning & Beginning Adult Diets
I suggest you begin to supplement your cub’s milk-formula diet with meat products as soon as you feel its teeth erupting and supplementing its diet with small bits of raw meat as soon as it shows interest in consuming them. The beginning of meat diets means it is also time to add a calcium supplement if you are not already doing so. Initially, canned meat products can be blended and added to the formula. Do not use human baby foods that contain ingredients, spices, onion or flavorings other than meat. Do not try to feed lumpy or chunky foods through a nipple.Raw meat, especially raw poultry, can be a source of salmonella. To avoid this threat, some professionals begin their smaller species of exotic cats on canned all-meat baby foods, Iams canned kitten formula or canned Zupreem or Mazuri exotic feline diet. Large cat compounds and zoos in the US tend toward Central Nebraska Packers . All three are already fortified with calcium and vitamins. This allows the babies to become larger and stronger before encountering these hostile bacteria. Others go directly to ground supermarket turkey or chicken with no problems. If the cubs are hesitant, sprinkle powdered milk formula over the solid foods. If the food is not eaten within 30 minutes, remove it. If they develop loose stools or diarrhea, cut back on the meat ingredients. I suggest you feed human quality products to your exotic cats – particularly young ones. If you feed them 4-D meats, pet store rats, road kill etc. , you will eventually get into trouble. Frozen rodent carcasses from national suppliers are more reliable as are whole healthy rabbits, poultry and barn yard animals depending on the species of cat you are raising. Large, mature exotic cats have more stamina and body reserves to get through the bouts of indigestion caused by contaminated foods. Any diet changes need to be made gradually. Juvenile cats do better when fed many times during the day. They are also less likely to bite you when they are not ravenously hungry. The number of feeding can be gradually reduced as the cubs mature. Begin keeping a bowl of fresh water in the cub’s pen as soon as it begins to eat meats from a dish. Once cubs are eating entirely on their own, they should consume 15-25% percent of their body weight each day. This is only a general rule of thumb. Feed the cubs only what they would consume avidly. But do so in several feedings throughout the day so they do not over-eat at any one time.Cubs need to chew on bone and consume whole prey. Chicken and turkey backs and necks are more bone than flesh and will block the cub’s intestine if too many are given. Always combine meat diets with a calcium/vitamin supplement.