Caging Big Cats
Since all exotic cats, no matter how early they are neutered or spayed, spray bucket loads of urine all day you will want to provide an outdoor cage. Because we have so many cats we have many varieties of cages depending on the cats’ needs. We will begin with our favorite cages and proceed down to our minimum cages. USDA only requires that the animal be able to stand up and turn around in the pen and that it be clean. Some states have minimum size standards but they, like the USDA’s standards, are nothing short of cruel and inhumane. In Florida, a 600 pound, twelve foot long Siberian Tiger may be kept in an area about the size of a one car parking space, and too many people do. Different cats have different needs, but ALL cats need the room and inspiration to be cats.
To successfully cage a cat you should understand his natural behaviours to most closely provide what he needs and to most safely confine him. Although individuals of several species may prowl by day, exotic cats are typically nocturnal. Except for Cheetahs, Lions and Tigers, the exotic feline is an exceptional climber. Servals and Caracals can climb well, but need incentive to do so. Margay, Ocelots and Leopards spend more time lounging in the trees than on the ground. Bobcats, Jungle Cats, Geoffrey Cats and all of the Lynxes are very active and are in and out of everything, all the time.
All cats swim if necessity demands it but Jaguars, Tigers, Servals and Fishing Cats live for it. Fishing cats and Servals will dive underwater for their food and although Tigers will dive, they usually prefer to “dog paddle” or just splash around in the water. Water loving cats will not be happy without a pool.
The behaviour of an exotic cat can be likened to that of the domestic cat on speed. All of this is said to prepare you to look around your home and envision the outdoor run as seen through the half crazed eyes of the exotic of your choice. The “tamed” wild cat does not discern between a tree and a hanging plant, or between vines and curtain rods. Your bubble bath or the fish tank are just as suitable “swimming holes” as a lake or stream. Exotic Cats urinate in the water, so you won’t want to leave dishes in the sink.
If you are building an enclosure for a pet that you have raised and who now is spraying everything in sight, the best option for the cat is the indoor / outdoor type. In these, the cats should have an inside room that can be bleached daily, and is air conditioned and most of all provides constant contact between the cats and the family. They should have a doggie door to the outside yard. Their play yard should be at least 1200 square feet. The fencing should be twelve feet tall and made of six gauge chain welded cattle panels and completely roofed.
In these yards should be kiddie toys including wading pools, plastic forts, igloos, balls and safe shrubbery. Obviously, none of these plastic items are to be left unattended with the great cats. Except for the shrubbery everything else must be cleaned and disinfected regularly (like daily). A pool is great fun but a lot of work. It MUST be changed daily. Even the dirt will need “cleaning” and by this I mean that you will need to walk the yard daily and pick up feces, and on occasion you may need to lock the cats in the house for a few days and dust the yard with lime. Don’t return the cats to the dusted yard until after it has been washed off of the grass and leaves and into the soil.
We used to treat the cat yards twice a month for fleas, alternating between Bio-Halt Flea Nematodes and Sevin Dust 10 percent. Since our cats have been on Advantage this has not been necessary. See the chapter on Fleas for more details. We don’t mow the yard very often because the cats seem to really enjoy the jungle effect. Your neighbors may not share your appreciation of a Congo styled lawn scape, and this is something to consider. Keeping your neighbors happy can be what keeps you happy and this usually requires that they not be able to see, hear or smell your cats. In most cases you will be better off if they don’t even know about your cats. Having them for the purpose of showing off to your friends will probably mean that you will be asked to move or euthanize the pet one day.
For our Tigers we have a three acre pen that leads down into a spring fed lake. The fencing is twelve feet tall, six gauge, four by six inch square welded wire. This pen has two eight foot square, concrete dens, and a safety pen for hurricanes, or so we can lock them up while cleaning their acreage. The safety pen is where we feed the cats so that they are accustomed to going inside. It is 900 square feet, with a top. When we clean the pen we coax them into the safety pen and shut them inside until we are finished. The safety pen must have a door that can be operated from outside. The safety pen and the safety gate are two separate enclosures. To include part of the lake in the Tiger pen we had to hire a dock and deck company to install the posts out in the water because it was fourteen feet deep in places. We hung the fence from the posts and attached shade cloth over that so that the cats would not swim out and hang on the wire. Inside the pen are stainless steel beer kegs, bowling balls (with the holes filled in) for toys and lots of shrubbery, initially… Palmettos are virtually indestructible and the yard was covered with them, but in just a few months they were trampled beyond recognition. We thought over an acre per Tiger would more than accommodate two yearling Tigers, but the foliage proves otherwise. The trees are all still standing but it was an established forest.
Our Leopards have pens that are more than 1200 square feet per cat and twelve to 16 feet tall with a roof. They are built around trees so that the cats can get up into the lower branches. Their concrete den, which is eight feet by twelve feet, by 2 feet high and is covered with concrete to look like rock and earth for insulation so that they look like hills in each cage.
We were fortunate enough to fall into a once in a lifetime deal in which we were able to purchase thirty three acres of concrete platforms. These platforms stand two feet off the ground on their own legs and come in eight foot, ten foot and twelve foot widths. They are all eight feet long and can be stacked side by side. These would not be cost efficient to build, but many people pour concrete slabs on the ground with a slope to the outside and a gutter to guide waste water to a septic system.
All of the pens have at trees, shelves or logs elevated for lounging on. We suspend natural cat-walks with chain from the top of the pen, at different levels, so that the feline has much more running space and to encourage exercising by jumping from one cat-walk to another. We also hang hammocks made of natural fibers for their lounging pleasure.
Each cage has a toy called the ” Nearly Indestructible Ball” in a size relevant to the size of the cat and a variety of large bleached cow bones. A cat can easily get stir crazy in a static environment, so it is important to always be offering something different to smell, taste or touch. Cats like having their own space and enjoy marking it and letting others know that it is theirs, but they also enjoy new things. Just like human children, they enjoy playing with the box the toy came in more than with the toy itself. Cut a few holes in the box and it’s good entertainment for a day or two. Oddly enough, the biggest thrill you can give most cats is a pile of cut branches. Check your poisonous plant list first and then your yard trimmings can provide hours of fun and exercise.
The entry door to the pen should be wide enough to accommodate your carriers or catch pens and tall enough for you to walk in without stooping. We use 4 snap hooks to keep them shut and a lock. You should also attach a safety gate to your entry gate. This is a small cage that you open the gate and walk into, and then shut the gate behind you before opening the gate to the pen. It should be large enough to accommodate two people and a large carrier or a wheel barrow, without having both doors open. At any juncture where you will be handling a latch or accessing a food or water dish, we would recommend that you cover the adjoining area with a small mesh wire. It can be very hard to fumble with a latch and keep your eyes on the cat at the same time. This is more necessary in the case where a cat has his claws. Even if the existing wire is too small for the entire paw to fit through, just one hook of their razor sharp claws could take off a finger.
We do not recommend adjoining cages that share a common wall. Often cats that like each other have been known to suffer a nasty bite for sticking their extremities through the wire. We saw a gorgeous black Leopard once whose tail had been so badly mauled that it had to be amputated.
Privacy can be as important as space. If at all possible provide lush foliage as a visual screen between animals. Space the cats as far apart as is practical. They are solitary creatures, except for the Lions, and really appreciate their own territory. Even most lions that you may end up caring for were probably single pets and will not want to be kept in cages with other lions.
Our cages are truly cat-a-tats, but because they are on the ground, the cats must be wormed monthly here and probably at least quarterly in colder climates. We buy six gauge welded fence panels from Bob Barker Fencing (641) 656-4097 that come in 4 x 4 holes and 4 x 6 holes and are 8 feet tall and 20 feet long. We have to buy 150 panels at a time to get them for $45.00 per panel. With 8 panels we can build a pen over 1000 square feet in area, eight feet tall in a free form style that doesn’t even look like a cage. The pen can be completed with two men in one week. These pens with labour and everything then run us about $7500.00 and the cats just love them. They are built out in the woods and around clumps of bushes so the cats have a natural environment. We use a tree as a center “post” and cage in around the trunk, up in the branches to give the illusion of the cage being open.
For open top pens we use a double row of hot wire that is powered by a solar unit that can withstand three days of total darkness, and this has proved successful in keeping lions and tigers in place. See more photos and explanation of Big Cat Cages