Big Cat Rescue’s Quarantine Protocol


30 Day Quarantine

30 Day Quarantine

To prevent the introduction of disease to animals already established in the Sanctuary, new animal arrivals are quarantined on arrival in the Sanctuary’s Quarantine Facility. Occasionally new arrivals will be quarantined elsewhere on site. To control certain health problems or outbreaks of disease, quarantine restrictions are sometimes placed on a certain Sanctuary area. The quarantine period is thirty days unless specified by the vet. The quarantine period may be extended indefinitely if the new animal has a health problem to be corrected.

While under quarantine animals are observed and examined for signs of illness, parasites, etc. At this time animals are acclimated and diets are established. These are designed to best settle the animal and may need modification once the animal moves to exhibit areas.Keepers must follow quarantine procedures strictly; use gloves, masks, rubber boots and foot baths wherever these are called for.

Quarantine is for the good of both the animals and the keeping staff.





  • Coveralls must be worn and regarded as quarantine material. Rubber boots must be worn and regarded as quarantine material. Face masks must be worn. Rubber gloves must be worn when handling animals or materials within the unit. All material leaving the unit must be thoroughly disinfected or in sealed plastic bags destined for disposal. One set of tools should be maintained within the unit to prevent cross infection. A phenol based foot bath must be maintained.
  • Phenol based disinfectant to be used within the area.

This unit should not be used as a passage between areas and minimal contact between staff and animals should be maintained.


CLEANING AGENTS:A number of different cleaning agents are used at Big Cat Rescue by Keepers in their daily cleaning tasks – disinfectants, bleach, soaps and window cleaners. Do not leave unattended in animal areas or where public can reach them.Disinfectants – there are two kinds in general use.TRL 35 Liquid Germicidal Detergent. This is used as a general disinfectant in cleaning exhibits. It contains a quaternary ammonium compound, so should not be used with soap. It is effective as a detergent and a disinfectant. At 2.5 oz. TRL 35 per gallon of water, it is an efficient fungicide and bactericide. It cleans, deodorizes and destroys bacteria in one operation and does not leave a film.TRL 132 Phenol Disinfectant Cleaner. Do not use cleaners that contain Phenol.  It is a coal tar derivative and dangerous when used near cats, primates or bearcats.

CAUTION: “Tamed” iodine is sometimes used directly on the animal to clean wounds, cuts and scratches. It can also be used in foot baths, but is quickly degraded by dirt and organic matter when it turns from brown to clear (at which point it has lost its effectiveness). It is effective against tuberculosis and may be used in TB quarantines where phenol would not be suitable. Remember that iodine stains. Chlorine is commonly used for water purification, general sanitation and as a deodorizer; it can be used to loosen tenacious fecal matter after initial cleaning. Chlorine is effective against many bacteria, fungi, viruses and algae; it is unaffected by the hardness of water and is inexpensive. Chlorine is very corrosive and must be thoroughly flushed from all surfaces. Dilute as per instructions. Should only be used in well-ventilated areas; do not breathe the fumes. Add bleach to water as it may splash up to the eyes when water is added. Chlorine reacts with ammonia. Do not mix with ammonia compounds; use discretion when using near bird faces, as ammonia fumes can build up in poorly ventilated areas.  Soaps and window cleaners: Use these as directed and for the purpose for which they were designed. (Hand soaps for personal hygiene; washing up soap for cleaning dishes, etc.)

NOTE: As some cleaning agents are transferred to smaller containers for storage near animal areas, it is very important that these containers are labeled with name of cleaning agent dilution ratio.Remember that just as water can be used incorrectly so can formulated products be a hazard to both Keeper and animal health , and to property, if they aren’t used in the correct dilutions – twice the recommended amount won’t do twice as good a job; it is a waste of cleaner. Use these products safely – read the labels and follow instructions. Take care of your eyes – you only have one pair; wear protective masks, glasses and gloves when necessary.We do not use a general cleaner with a deodorizer in the Sanctuary as this can cause some stress to certain animals when their own smell is replaced by a chemical one. Many animals will mark their cage furniture after a cleaning to reestablish their territory or familiar smells.



Sanctuary hygiene is rather unnatural when considered in the environment outside the Sanctuary. Wind, rain, sunlight, snow, dilution etc. all act as hygienic agents in the natural world, as do the air, bacteria and other plants and animals. However animals contained in confined conditions, in close contact with their wastes, and without the benefits of natural cleaning forces require some form of hygiene to survive.

Cleaning can be carried too far. Some animals which aren’t maintained in meticulously clean cages may do better than those in unnaturally clean, sterile environments. This depends on the animal species, and whether marking and urinating places are important to the animal. The Keeper should remember that much exists outside the rather limited range of human sensory experience that may be necessary for the health and or psychological well being of the animal he/she cares for.

Hygiene is relative and the Keeper must learn when to clean and when it is too clean. Primate care requires the highest standards of hygiene. The season affects the technique, as does the type of animal, and visitor enjoyment (smell, appearance).

At the same time the Keeper must always clean certain areas, notably water and food dishes (these must be scrupulously clean), and the areas around them. Try to minimize the chances of spreading disease or infection from one area to another; clean off your boots before you leave your area, use a foot bath if necessary. Keep a set of tools in each area and try to avoid using them in other parts of the Sanctuary. Always wash tools after use and disinfect if necessary.



Special consideration must be given to zoological specimens in order to maintain them in good health in a captive environment.


This order of animals is highly susceptible to parasite infection and therefore requires a high standard of hygiene; exhibits should be frequently washed and disinfected. Walls will require additional attention as cats will often spray urine well above their body height. Provide good ventilation for quick drying. Animals should have dry sleeping platforms, preferably of wood. Logs should be provided for cats and bearcats for the care of their claws and for other carnivores as rubbing and marking posts. Natural logs are difficult to disinfect and should be replaced periodically.





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Big Cat Rescue’s Communication and Records


White Serval at Big Cat Rescue

White Serval at Big Cat Rescue

The cats at Big Cat Rescue live much longer and healthier lives than do most exotic cats in zoos, sanctuaries or private collections.  A big part of that is because of the record keeping process that is everyone’s job at Big Cat Rescue.

We share our record keeping system with anyone who wants it because we want animals to get the best possible care; no matter where they are.  We share all of our forms, training documents, training videos, charts, policies and processes in one google site template called Sanctuary Template.  It’s free.

All you have to do is have a google account and create a site using google sites.  In the template area, choose to browse the gallery and search the term: Sanctuary Template.  Choose that as your template and you are good to go.

Once you choose Sanctuary Template and click create, your site will be populated with everything we use to run Big Cat Rescue and it has videos embedded along the way to show you how to customize the site to reflect your organization.  It also has tutorial videos for you to share with others in your organization, so that they can quickly begin to implement the site’s resources into caring for the animals at their location.

Some of the charts may reflect that they are password protected, because they were directly shared from Big Cat Rescue’s site, which is password protected, so here are some of the screenshots so you can create your own forms.

This site has an interview I did talking about how we transitioned from paper and word of mouth to written, shared protocols here:



This section deals with the Keeper’s role as an effective communicator in the Sanctuary; different forms of communications, record keeping and Big Cat Rescue phone and radio system.

The Keeper’s role in at Big Cat Rescue involves many different skills; one of the most important of these is the Keeper as communicator. The Keeper is a vital link between the animals in his/her care, and the rest of the Refuge’s operation, directly and indirectly. Communications at and between the different organizational levels in the Sanctuary allow for a flow of information and ideas in both directions, to the benefit of the individual and the Sanctuary as a whole. A good Keeper cultivates good working relationships with other Keepers and all Sanctuary staff and auxiliary personnel.

Kathryn Gale Susan Lockout

Communication is basic to human experience and takes many forms. We communicate through the written and spoken word, through our attitudes and actions, and through our “body language”, dress, gestures and stance. Speech, perhaps the most basic and effective communication, is often the most difficult. The Keeper communicates with his/her animals, other Keepers, various levels of Sanctuary Management and with the public.



The following points should be considered in improving communication skills:

  • Clarify your ideas before communication. Think about your idea or problem and decide the goals and attitudes (yours and the recipient’s). Plan ahead. What is the purpose of the communication? Don’t try to accomplish too much; identify your goals, adapt your language, tone and total approach to a specific objective. Consider the total physical and human setting when you communicate, because the impact of the communication depends on such factors as the timing, setting (social or private) and on past procedures. Consult with others, if appropriate; get consultation and participation to lend insight and objectivity when planning communications. Remember that your tone of voice, expressions, and receptiveness to the responses of others all have impact; be aware of the overtones and the basic content of your message. Try to know the other person’s point of view, interests and needs and try to convey something of help or value to the listener. After communicating, follow up, get feed back. Did you get your message across? Communicate for tomorrow as well as today; plan with the past in mind but with long range interests and plans. “Practice what you preach”. Persuasive communication is not what you say but what you do. 
    • Be a good listener; tune in to others, understand as well as be understood.
    • Use the Code of Honor:

1.   I will focus on what works best to achieve our mission of caring for cats & ending the trade.

2.   I will speak my truth to the best of my ability & listen attentively as others speak theirs, with an end goal of finding solutions that work for all.

3.   I will support my fellow Rescuers early, often & unconditionally.

4.   I will be truthful & responsible for my actions, accepting my role with grace and performing to the best of my ability.

5.   I will deal with complete transparency & proactively work to resolve any conflicts directly with those involved. I will be sensitive to their feelings & in no way belittle or challenge them in front of others.  If no resolution is achieved I will ask that all involved parties meet together with the person(s) who can settle the matter.

6.   If it’s not my story, I won’t tell it.

7.   I will celebrate the good my fellow Rescuers do & show respect by saying please, thank you and job well done.

8.   It is my responsibility to uphold the code & address breaches of the code with my fellow Rescuers directly, privately & respectfully.

9.   I will be mindful of my tone, body language & the fact that we are all on the same path, albeit at different stages, so I will be open & gentle when asked for clarification.

10.I will trust that my fellow Rescuers share my same good intentions and will give the benefit of the doubt or seek their input in a kind and courteous way.


Communications in the Sanctuary, with respect to the Keeper, depend on two major factors.

  • The policy of the staff and volunteers in providing means for communication within the Refuge’s operation. Can the Keeper exchange ideas and information with co-workers and administrative staff? Can he or she record important observations and data for the Refuge’s permanent record, and be involved with the Refuge’s Volunteers and with Sanctuary visitors? Is the Keeper encouraged to develop as a communicator within his/her own Sanctuary, and with the community and other sanctuaries?
  • The Keeper’s attitude: Even if all the above lines of communications are open, unless there is effort by the individual they are useless. Good working relationships with other staff members don’t just happen, they must be developed through communication. With the right approach and the proper attitude, and by trying hard enough you can communicate successfully.
White Serval Kitten

White Serval Kitten

It sometimes happens that the chain of command communication system breaks down and your communications don’t reach their goal in the form you intended. Keepers should be aware of this and be prepared to pursue a matter until they receive a satisfactory answer, especially where animal health or welfare is at stake. This is part of the Keeper’s responsibility.

If in doubt about any procedure or request communicate with your immediate supervisor.  Communication and information are both important and different. Information can be given with no exchange of ideas or experience, but these become meaningful when transmitted to others, especially when we consider all the practical aspects of Keeping. The communication can be written or verbal.

Verbal: Effective verbal communication at all levels is important in the Sanctuary. As a Keeper, much of the information you will receive from and impart to other Keepers will be presented verbally. Be clear and precise in what you say; don’t be ambiguous, and always qualify your statements. “Let the animal out” isn’t sufficient – which animal, where is it, where does it go, how do you do it? Does the other person understand what you said? Do you understand what you have been told? Ask questions if you aren’t sure. Not only general and specific job knowledge is transmitted verbally, but changes in daily routine too. Talk to your co-workers. Use the two way radio system and staff meetings to make and maintain verbal contact.

Written: A perceptive and alert Keeper is provided with huge amounts of data. This can be of considerable value when recorded in writing. Read and use the Important Updates section of the Intranet site for written communications. Always read the Observation Charts for your area after your days-off, sickness, or any absence, as well as getting verbal updates from co-workers.  Make sure you record information in the Observation Chart so that others can make use of it.




Cat Hospital Logs

The keeping of consistent, factual, accurate records of captive animals is of great importance in the Sanctuary today for a number of reasons.


  • The Refuge’s changing role in the community, with trends towards non invasive research, education and conservation. Sanctuaries can supply scientific information to universities, zoologists, researchers and zoos. New government requirements regarding information that must be made available to them; information such as the acquisition and disposal of endangered or threatened species, animal movement in or out of the country, post-entry quarantine animals or those acquired under permits must be available to the government.
  • Record keeping enables Sanctuary staff to know more about their collection and improve their husbandry, both directly through animal care and by planning ahead.
  • Public relations:  The public are intimately involved in the Sanctuary and often want to know an animal’s age and background. Records can supply this information.
  • Co-operative programs such as ISIS or SSP require meticulous records if their standards are to be met. Records represent knowledge to the Sanctuary, about its collection past and present, patterns, breeding information and medical and other data.



Modern records are more useful and trustworthy than those of the past. Both the contributors and the audience have enlarged. We can produce more and retrieve data at a faster pace, as shown by the advent of computers and special software used in Sanctuary record systems.

Keepers are direct contributors to Sanctuary records, not only in recording factual information such as arrivals and  deaths, but in recording behavioral and nutritional information.

Almost all categories of information are important. Inventory and veterinary data must be recorded; also information on all aspects of an animal’s life and behavior. Taken individually much of this data may seem to be without value, but faithfully recorded over time, may cumulatively reveal patterns or trends which are clear and meaningful. Keepers in their daily work use massive amounts of information gathered by many Sanctuary professionals over many years. Information categories of importance include:
(a) Acquisitions – births (shouldn’t happen at sanctuaries), rescues and rehab.
(b) Dispositions – deaths and release of native wildlife.
(c) Medical records – diagnosis, treatment, prognosis.
(d) Statistics – age, weight, size, longevity, etc.
(e) Necropsy and information on cause of death.
(f) Nutritional and dietary information.
(g) Life history information – adjustment to new cage, non-reproductive behavior.

In order for a record keeping system to be effective, individuals within a species must be identifiable to the person(s) generating the facts and observations. We use a number of methods at the Big Cat Rescue to identify animals and these are discussed fully under ‘Identification and Marking’.

Big Cat Rescue has an extensive and valuable records system utilizing both a full time Record Keeper and Veterinary records, the latter maintained by Animal Care staff.

All records are kept in the Big Cat Rescue Intranet site and all Keepers are required to log in each day they work to check the Important Updates and to log their observations.

The Sanctuary also maintains a library of great information on this Intranet site and Keepers should make good use of this function to broaden their knowledge and understanding of the Sanctuary and the animals they care for. There are many excellent books, papers, various articles and journals, and a wealth of Internet resources.


Big Cat Rescue keeps a census of animals including their name, species, microchip number, date of birth, date of arrival, age in the current year, sex, neutered or not, and weight.  These charts are in a sortable spreadsheet.  In this same document, on other tabs, we include the ability to sort by Florida’s permit classification, and a page with totals of each species and the animals who have died within the last year, arrived within the last year and those released as part of our bobcat rehab program.

In many animal collections they use shorthand such as “males, females, sex unknown” example: A herd or group of two males and seven females would be simply written as 2.7, while a pair of animals with three unsexed young would be reported as 1.1.3. If there isn’t a male or female being recorded then use a zero, i.e. a single female is written 0.1.



Every cat has their own Observation Chart.  At the top of that cat’s chart is a link to their entire medical history and the Date of Birth for quick reference.  The Observation Chart is a series of drop down lists so that there is consistency in the way issues are reported.  There is a section for notes as well.  Keepers are to report fully and accurately what they see. This information may be used in subsequent years to predict the onset of seasonal diet changes, animal movement or behavior patterns.


Observation Chart

As well as the Observation Chart as an information source, Food Prep maintains a sign up sheet for areas of the sanctuary to be cleaned and diet sheets are laminated and kept in there as well.


Keeping track of medications on hand and making sure those medications are discarded properly when they expire is critical.  This chart can be made as a shared Google Doc for your animal care staff:

discard expired meds

If an animal is to receive supplements or medications it is important that the Animal Care Staff know who dispensed the meds, when and if the cat consumed them.  This looks like a calendar, but was created using Google Docs, so that the caregiver can record their initials by each dose.

Med Charts





The purpose of identifying an animal is to give it individuality within the Sanctuary; identification is an important tool in the day-to-day animal management in the Sanctuary, allowing the Keeper and Animal Care Staff to interact with each animal as an individual.

With certain species and certain Keepers, visually identifying each animal (by appearance alone) may be a consideration, but the possibility of error, staff changes and the lack of permanency where the system is used without adequate marking techniques do not allow for sufficient accuracy and continuity. A system of individual identification that is accurate, permanent and that doesn’t rely solely on personal observation and memory without written aids, serves the Sanctuary as the basis for the kinds of scientific records required for present and future references.


When deciding on a system for identifying animals in the Sanctuary, the following criteria should be considered:
(a) The system should be as free as possible from pain and stress to the animal.
(b) It should afford minimal opportunity for infection of the marked area.
(c) It should not inhibit normal activity, moulting, sloughing or feeding behaviors.
(d) It should give no cause for negative criticism from Sanctuary staff or the public.
(e) It should be easy to use.
(f) It should be adaptable for animals of different sizes and types.
(g) It should be permanent.


With about 100 exotic cats at Big Cat Rescue we use several methods to identify animals.

(a) Passive Identification: Passive identification uses permanent natural differences between animals. Color, size, shape, scars and patterns are all useful aids to differentiate one animal from another in groups, and as a record of the identity of individual animals. Such identifying features can be recorded by description, photography, or drawing. Snow leopards can be identified by the pattern of black markings on their foreheads.
(b) Positive Non-natural Identification: This method includes the use of microchips and/or tattooing. Some of these identifications are visible during the animal’s normal activity while others can’t be seen unless the animal is caught up, and serve only to record the identity of the individual.
(c) Cage signs are on all of the enclosures at Big Cat Rescue and include the cat’s name, date of birth, brief history and information as to whether or not the cat has claws.  Most cats are housed singly, but where there are more than two we may include a sign with photos of spot patterns to discern identities.



One of the most important skills a Keeper can acquire is the ability to accurately observe animals in the Sanctuary and interpret what he is seeing. This ability grows with experience as the Keeper becomes more familiar with the animals themselves. The more you as a Keeper know about the animals, what constitutes their normal appearance and behavior, the easier it becomes to “know” when something is wrong.

Often this knowledge is in the form of an instinct or a feeling for something undefined; at other times cues may be more obvious, such as swollen limbs or lack of appetite, etc. The Keeper must learn to make his mind receptive to the information provided by his senses. The more receptive your mind is to this data, the easier you will find it becoming available to the conscious mind. Quite often your subconscious may register small changes in color or locomotion etc., that will trigger the feeling that something isn’t normal about your animal. Learn to trust your instincts.

Try to develop your “critical eye”. It is almost like a sixth sense; try to really see what you are looking at and train yourself to observe and absorb details. Keeping is one of several professions in which observation, retention and interpretation of information play an important part. It is imperative that you do not let your skilled knowledge blind you to other possibilities or interpretations.

Wherever possible a Keeper should know his/her animals individually, by their natural distinguishing differences as well as by scars, cuts, marks, disabilities, lost digits, etc.

Remember that the animal’s environment, objects in it, and how the animal uses it can all tell you things about your animal. Fresh secretions indicate that the animal may be marking. The condition of the feces can be an excellent barometer of the animal’s general condition.

Use all your senses, when observing, to give you a good composite picture of the shape your animal is in. Know what a healthy specimen looks like, learn to recognize stance or posture, eye shine, coat condition and smell. Be aware of fences, buildings, etc. and don’t take them for granted – train yourself to notice holes in fences, loose wire, etc. Report all damage on the Maintenance Observation Chart.

Animal Keeping is a dynamic learning situation. Every encounter with Sanctuary animals can provide the Keeper with a wealth of information, if he can learn to truly observe and interpret what his senses convey to him.



  • Observe your animals
  • Record what you see
  • Report what you see
  • Communicate
  • Follow-up (feedback)




Whenever the Keeper is looking at an animal he should be observing the following:


  • The animal’s condition: overall coat or feather condition, eye shine, manner of standing and walking, state of claws, weight; any cuts or injuries, discharges, etc.
  • The animal’s behavior: normal for the species and the individual, or out of the ordinary?
  • The animal’s stool and urine: normal?
  • The animal’s food and water intake: normal?
  • Are all the animal’s in the group present?
  • Having asked and answered these questions, the Keeper can then ask himself why? to each answer. Has an animal stopped eating because it is sick or stressed? There should be a reason why the animal is different from normal, and the alert Keeper must be satisfied that he/she can explain everything about the animal he sees. 


Remember that the animals in the Sanctuary are the Keeper’s greatest teachers.


Once an observation has been made it should be recorded so that other Sanctuary staff can benefit from it. Note taking is a very important tool in observation; there are other methods of recording information, such as tape recording, video tape, movie and still photography but basic written records of observations are the most important.

The Keeper should always record the time and date that the observation was made. For proper behavioral studies, check sheets of certain behaviors are often made up. Keepers using abbreviations or special terms should always include an explanation so that others reading the observation notes can understand what is meant.

When describing animal behavior or interaction there are many categories which can be used to define the animal’s actions.

Social Behavior: Structure: dominance, submission

Compatibility: intra-species (within a species) or inter-species (among species).

Environment:territorial marking or protection; the animal’s use of the display space, the effect of the environment on the animal and vice versa.

Cyclic Behavior: seasonal or daily changes – sleep, rest and play cycles, etc.

Maintenance Behavior:

Feeding: social structure of the feeding group, food preferences, etc.

Grooming: self and social grooming, interaction with the exhibit.

Communications: vocal, visual, olfactory and physical contact with others in their group.

Elimination: fecal deposition, coprophagy, urine marking.

Locomotion: methods, sleep/rest position, aquatic, aerial, arboreal, terrestrial; flight; other methods.

Agonistic Behavior

Threat: bluffing, attack.

Thresholds: changes in critical and personal distances, etc.

Communications: vocal, postural.

Cyclic Behavior: aggression during feeding

Social Structure: group interaction, or solitary. Male/Female: interaction

Other Behaviors

Stress: boredom, pacing, other nervous behaviors.

Displacement behavior: problems or stress manifested in other behaviors.

Intra/Inter species: relationships with other animals.

Spatial occupation: use of various parts and levels of the exhibit.



Keep your descriptions accurate – only record what you see, not what you think you see.

Use your senses; listen to your animals, even when you can’t see them. Knowing what sounds they normally make and what the sounds mean, can alert you to problems, even when you are out of sight of your animals.

Learn to be observant. Know what the public are doing, what animals on site (both caged and uncaged i.e. squirrels, groundhogs, nesting birds, etc.) are doing. Watch the weather and think about your animals. Listen to weather reports. (Some storms with thunder and lightning can be dangerous to animals, especially in open fields; there is the danger of the animal’s panicking, and running into fences etc. and also the chance of being struck by lightning.) Use your common sense.

Don’t take your animals for granted; there are always reasons for activity or inactivity; make sure you know why your stock are behaving in a certain manner.

Observe first, then interpret. Observations should be made all day, every day while you are working, as part of your normal routine. In this way animals can be observed in different behaviors – playing, eating, sleeping, etc. Keep a notebook with you at all times to record your observations – don’t rely on memory.

Share your observations with colleagues who share an interest or who can learn from your skills. Others may be able to apply your observations to their animals or problems in ways you cannot appreciate. Often simple observations have far reaching implications. Remember that you may not be there when some treatment is needed and others should know what and how you are interpreting data or observations.



Ethology, the biology of behavior, is the objective study of animals and man from a biological point of view with emphasis on species typical behavior, its adaptiveness (function) and evolution (Heymer, Ethological Dictionary). Another definition of ethology is the study of an organism’s reaction to its environment. Ethology has been regarded as a science and systematically studied for less than 100 years.

Animal behavior is very important to the Keeper in the Sanctuary, and any study of behavior assists the Keeper in doing a better job. Only by knowing the animals can they be properly cared for.

Some of the early animal behavior studies were based on comparative psychology which inevitably led to anthropomorphism by attributing human characteristics to the animal and interpreting its behavior in terms of human behavior. Other approaches interpreted animals as automatic machines. The modern scientists like Tinbergen, Lorenz, von Frisch, Hediger, Mech and other focus on the animal as an individual of a species and then search for that species’ typical behavior patterns, without any reference necessarily to human behaviors.

Ethology is a young science with many differing approaches and opinions. For the purpose of managing and caring for Sanctuary animal collections, a knowledge of certain basic principles is essential.


A Keeper must be able to recognize typical or normal behavior patterns in a species, in order to “read” the animal, and to notice abnormal behaviors. Take the time to observe your animals at various times. A good Keeper knows what their animals are doing when they are not there to observe. Different species very often have different typical behavior, even when taxonomically closely related. For example, except for prides of related lions, most cats are solitary and prefer to live alone.  In some cases, where cats have been raised together, they may be content to stay together…at least until dinner time.

Species should be studied and treated as individuals first; grouping together by common characteristics may then follow.


Unconditioned reflexes are automatic, innate (unlearned) reactions, such as the closing of the eyelids when some object approaches the eyes, or quickly pulling a limb back from a hot surface.

Conditioned reflexes are indirect reactions associated with experience or knowledge. There are many examples of this reflex in Sanctuary animals, especially with feeding routines, where animals are conditioned to expect food in a particular place at a certain time.


Instinctual behavior is an innate “programmed” behavior pattern. Animals are born with these patterns and follow them without conscious knowledge of their purpose. In order to sustain life and assure the survival of the species, these instinctive behavior patterns are inherited and specific for each species. Some animals’ behavioral repertoire is largely instinctive, with very little learning (as in snakes) whereas other animals such as primates learn most of their behavior during their lifetime.

The knowledge of instinctive behavior patterns and their sequences are very important to the Keeper; Keepers who can interpret these patterns and utilize them in their work with Sanctuary animals can make their job easier, safer, less stressful for the animals and more successful in every way.


The central nervous system has a selective innate mechanism, triggered by stimuli having meaning to a particular species. The key or sign stimuli and the response they engender, fit together like a lock and key. The animal is “programmed” to respond in a certain way to certain stimuli. Stimuli are species specific; only a particular set of stimuli is of significance to each species, to which it responds with typical reactions. “Releasers” are animal structures which send out or give off key stimuli.


Reproductive behavior is very complex and may involve a long chain of important steps. it is an effective way of controlling hybridization in nature. Where species are geographically out of contact in a natural wild state, sign stimuli (for reproductive activity) may not vary enough to produce this barrier to interbreeding.


Man’s primary means of communication is vocal, but in animals, motion, pose and coloration are all important communication forms. The Keeper must rely on close observation to interpret an animal’s intention or mental state. Without the specific knowledge of the species under observation, the layman or inexperienced Keeper is likely to interpret animal behavior in human terms. This does not often lead to accurate observations and can be misleading and dangerous. Aggression is often misinterpreted, such as the sometimes violent copulatory neck bite in many carnivores.

Expressional behavior must be studied independently for each species, and even variations in male, female and juvenile behavior must be recognized.


The following outline of general behavior and its many facets is very important for the Keeper, because animals in captivity can show all the behaviors of their wild conspecifics, as well as some behavior stemming from their captive situation. The Keeper must understand that an animal’s exhibit may be its territory, and that a good knowledge of animal behavior makes a better Keeper.

Animals don’t live completely free in a wild state because their living space is confined by boundaries which are often undetectable to the casual observer. The size of the habitat is determined by the needs of the individual and the species to survive. Distribution or Range is the geographical distribution of a species. Within this range are areas of suitable habitat. Habitat represents the suitable physical area that will support the species. Ecological Niche describes the living space of the animal with emphasis on its role in the community; it is where the species fits into the habitat in relation to the food chain, plant and animal associations.

For example the geographical distribution (range) of the Snow leopard, Panthera uncia, is mainly the mountains of central Asia, the Himalayas and ranges north of Afghanistan, into the USSR, east from Pakistan through northern India, Bhutan, Nepal to Mongolia and China. Its habitat within this range is between the tree line and the permanent snows (3000 to 6000 meters), descending in winter to the upper valleys (1500 to 200 meters). Its ecological niche is that of a large, often solitary predator at the top of the food chain; with no natural predators except man, it preys on wild ungulates, hares, mountain birds and sometimes domestic stock.


Territory is the living area used and occupied by an animal. It may belong to a single individual, a pair, or to a social unit (a group represented by a single dominant animal).

Typical behavior is associated with the establishment and protection of an animal’s territory. This behavior, and reproductive behavior associated with the territory, is unique for each species, and allows several different animal species to live in the same space without rivalry, utilizing different niches within the habitat. Some animal species maintain a territory all year round while others only establish one for breeding, and migrate. It is uncommon for animals to establish territories in areas where they winter-over.

Territory size is related to the body size of an animal and its feeding habits, with larger animals usually having larger territories than smaller species, and carnivores having larger territories than herbivores.

Not every part of the territory is utilized by the animal; usually trails lead from one area of activity to another. There are preferred routes, whether the medium is air, water, on the ground or through tree tops. Often parts of the territory are used for specific functions, such as sleeping, eating (food may be caught in one place and eaten in another), washing, drinking, and defecation, etc.

Animals will only reluctantly change their pattern of movement, and places of familiarity provide them with security. This “home” aspect is very important to the animal and provides a focus of safety within the territory.

The territory is an important possession which may be aggressively defended against conspecific intruders, and to a lesser degree or not at all against other species. The closer species are related to each other, the more likely it is for territorial disputes to occur.

A defended territory is defined by the animal in one or more of several different ways, depending on the species. The demarcation may be optical (visual), acoustic (sound), olfactory (smell)  or a combination of these.

Optical or visual demarcation may involve using the whole body or only parts of it. Hediger calls the demarcation static-optical when the result is achieved by the presence or appearance of the animal’s body in the territorial area (as in the giraffe), and dynamic-optical when the animal uses a specially adapted signaling apparatus in a typical movement (the waving of the claw of the fiddler crab). Form and color may be important.

Acoustic demarcation, such as the singing of birds, the calling of amphibians, the bellowing of alligators and the calling of some primates and insects all serve to denote the animal’s territory.

Olfactory demarcation is very common in mammals, with their well developed sense of smell (except for primates). Urine, feces and the products of special glands are used to mark territorial boundaries and important places. Usually scent glands are more developed in males than in females.

Animals are creatures of habit, moving within their territories in established routines set in time and place. These patterns of movement and activity can often be seen clearly in the Sanctuary.  The cats will make use of certain trails and will usually travel on these (or by certain routes) rather than use the whole enclosure. Other parts of the cage may be exclusively reserved for certain activities such as eating and sleeping.


Behavior in relation to time is based on set laws for different species. There are daily routines or cycles which govern the animal’s periods of activity and rest; often these are determined by the way in which the animal functions in its niche, (for example, nocturnal, diurnal, or crepuscular). During the year different activity periods can be identified. Often their onset or termination is determined by day length. Hibernation, aestivation, migration, breeding and raising young all usually occupy set times.The Keeper must be familiar with the species-typical cycles in order to provide for the changing needs of the animal throughout the year. These needs may be dietary (increase in food or change in kind of food), or adjustments in light cycles, heat or humidity requirements, the provision of heated boxes and dens, etc.


Free living animals are often pressed to avoid confrontation with their enemies, including man. Animals in the wild may constantly check their surroundings for danger. Because man is regarded as a universal enemy by nearly all wild animals, we can speak of predator-prey relationships to include enemy-prey relationships. An animal’s normal response to the approach of a predator is the escape reaction, aimed at avoiding the enemy, by fleeing, hiding or camouflage, etc. The escape reaction is specific for sex, age, the kind of enemy, and surroundings.


  • Flight Distance: is the measurable distance at which an animal will flee when approached by an enemy. The distance is related to the significance of the intruder, and the individual experiences of an animal can increase or decrease the distance involved. Man can have both a positive (i.e. Keeper) and a negative (i.e. hunter, visiting public) effect. Sometimes the flight distance can be considerably reduced, perhaps even eliminated, or the flight reaction can change to an attack.
  • Critical Distance: represents a part of the flight distance. An animal without the choice of escape will tolerate the approach of an enemy up to the point where it is forced to defend itself; the attack/defense takes place within the critical distance range.



In any interaction within groups of animals we can distinguish different hierarchies or peck orders, which deal with the social position of an animal or a species in relation to other animals of the same or different species within the living space.


Biological rank is a hierarchy based on definite rules, among different species which compete for food and space. It implies a state of biological competition in which the competitors generally try to avoid each other. The biologically inferior species yields to the superior species and so fights rarely occur, and the superior species maintains a dominance over feeding places and other areas of interest. This situation is well known in the wild, i.e. gorilla over chimpanzee, grizzly bear over black bear, but sanctuaries face a unique problem when exhibiting together various species not normally associated in a wild state. The Keeper must detect the developing biological rank system and ensure that all animals in the exhibit will have access to food, shelter and be able to relax.


Social rank is the position of the individual within the society of animals of the same species. Most species existing in herds, flocks, packs, and bands, etc., are organized into orders of preference, each clearly defined in relation to the others. Every individual maintains a certain position or rank with clearly defined behavior patterns. The organization of some societies may be simple and linear, while others are very complex social structures.

The top position, the premier or alpha position is occupied by the lead animal, and confers more privileges on that animal than any other in the group. Being the Top Cat is a stressful job though and often these will be the first cats to die from age related illnesses in a group of cats.

An individual’s social rank may be determined by physiological characteristics not just physical strength. If the alpha animal loses its hold on the top position, the next highest animal may take over. It is thought that each individual has an established social rank, with the most submissive animal at the very bottom of the hierarchy: this animal has no subordinate, just as the alpha animal has no superior.

The established group structure enables the group to replace a leader with a minimum of disturbance and disorder which might endanger the species. The members must constantly show the dominant and or submissive behavior appropriate to their ranks to other group members. Young animals in the group are generally the freest, until they reach a socially important age. Up to this point they aren’t required to adhere to the rules of the rank system, and may take liberties denied other adult animals.

If you found this helpful consider helping us keep it available with a Donation




MSDS for products that are typically used in an animal sanctuary or zoo.  These are the products and Material Data Safety Sheets used by Big Cat Rescue.







































































Homax_Nail Hole Patch







































































































Other products may be updated on the Big Cat Rescue Intranet site.

MSDS stands for Material Safety Data Sheet. The MSDS is a document that contains information on the potential health effects of exposure and how to work safely with the material it is written about.



Big Cat Rescue’s Animal Acquisition Policy

Tiger PictureOur board asks the following list of questions when considering a rescue situation:

• Is it a cat?

• Has this cat been with us before?

• Are we financially able and staff stable enough to take on this commitment?

• Will the owner surrender the permits and sign a contract not to own or use another exotic cat?

• Is this acquisition a governmental seizure?

• What are the legal ramifications?

• Is ownership un-contested?

• Is transport possible?  (we can only receive a cat in the state from a licensed person who owns it and there are state laws that apply to cross country transport)

• Is it a dire situation?

• Is the cat in danger of euthanasia?

• Is the cat starving?

• Is the cat being neglected?

• Is the cat’s health in danger?

• Would this cat be breeding if we don’t take it?

• Is the current situation unsafe?

• Are there no other good options for the cat?

• Would this acquisition negatively affect our current population?

• Do we have quarantine space?

• Does it cause our existing cats to not have sufficient green level keepers?  (300 manpower hours per cat according to 2006 stats)

• How would this acquisiton financially impact the care of existing population?  ($10,000.00 annually per cat according to 2011 stats)

• Does this cat further our mission sufficiently to offset the use of hours and dollars in solving the problem once and for all?

• Are there extenuating circumstances?

• Could the former owner be a potential source of trouble for our staff?

• Is the final vote, after all of the considerations are heard, unanimous?  (This one is non negotiable)

The AZA Acquisition Policy will serve as the default policy for any issues not covered above in Big Cat Rescue’s Acquisition Policy. Any change in policy must incorporate and not conflict with the AZA acquisition and disposition standards.

Acquisition Requirements:

A.  To acquire an animal, the following criteria must be met:

• The animal must be an exotic cat.

• Acquisitions must meet the requirements of all applicable local, state, federal and international regulations and laws.

• The Director or Chief Executive Officer of Big Cat Rescue is charged with the final authority and responsibility for the monitoring and implementation of all acquisitions.

• Acquisitions must be consistent with the mission of Big Cat Rescue by addressing its exhibition/education, conservation, and/or scientific goals.

• Animals acquired for the collection, permanently or temporarily, should be listed on institutional records.

• Animals may be acquired temporarily for reasons such as, holding for governmental agencies, rescue and/or rehabilitation, or special exhibits.

• Animals should only be accepted if they will not jeopardize the health, care or maintenance of the animals in the permanent collection or the animal being acquired.

• Animals acquired by birth should be listed on Big Cat Rescue’s records. Some known species to have a relatively high neonatal mortality rate, the recording of birth may occur after the animal reaches 30 days of age.

• Big Cat Rescue must have the necessary resources to support and provide for the professional care and management of a species, so that the physical and social needs of both specimen and species are met.

• Whenever an animal is acquired from the pet trade every precaution shall be taken to ensure that the surrendering owner does not continue to buy and use animals, including the surrender of their permits to own wild animals and a contract and agreement not to attempt to make a pet of any exotic cat.

B. Acquisitions from the Wild
Any capture of free-ranging animals should be done in accordance with all local, state, federal, and international wildlife laws and regulations and not be detrimental to the long-term viability of a population or species. In crisis situations, when the survival of a population is at risk, rescue decisions are to be made on a case-by-case basis.

Sample of contract for Small Cat

Sample of contract for Large Cat

Now at Big Cat Rescue March 18 2014

Now at Big Cat Rescue March 18 2014

The REAL Money is in Bequests


If you are operating an animal rescue shelter or sanctuary then you know that the real money is in bequests. What is harder to determine is how to receive bequests.

In part it is a numbers game and the more people who know about your wonderful work then the greater the chances that you will be remembered in their wills, but there is a way to maximize your potential for being the beneficiary of an estate:


Make a Difference


Tigers Shere Khan China Doll - 4

The shelter or sanctuary has probably figured out that the public loves a good rescue story and will line up around the block to donate to a starving cat, or to get an abused lion or tiger out of the circus. In the case of exotic cats there are tens of thousands in need of rescue, and in the case of domestic cats, there are millions who need help.

This creates a “buyers market” for those who want the instant gratification of donating to an organization that will rush in to the aid of the animal. Because there are so many “feel good” opportunities, that donor base can be quite fickle and if you are behaving in a responsible manner and not over crowding or over loading your resources, you will soon find that donors have moved on to someone who will.

In the end though, as a person reflects back over their life, and asks themselves what they did with it, matters come into sharper focus when thrill seeking is no longer the objective. They start to think about the good they have done and how the world will be a better place. They may discover, over time, that the places they funded did finally implode under the weight of taking on too many animals. That leaves them questioning what lasting good they did.

If there are organizations they gave to, who used the money wisely, rescued when they could and said, “no,” when they had to, those are the ones who will be considered further. There may have been several such groups, some animal related and others perhaps human oriented, so the further investigation reveals who did the most with what they had?

Did the non profit cure cancer, end hunger, stop the deaths of animals in shelters, put an end to the use of wild animals in circuses, end the feline fur trade, save wild places for wild animals or stop the exploitation of wild cats in captivity? If not, how successful were they and would this final gift be the boost to get them across that finish line?

That’s what donors want to know in their final hours.

Howard Baskin, CFO of Big Cat Rescue recently reported that, “the estate left to the sanctuary is over $300,000. from a person who had only donated $50. during their lifetime.” This non profit sanctuary in Tampa never courted this donor and the only contact with her was likely to have been a thank you note for her modest donation and a quarterly newsletter called The Big Cat Times. There were others in her will, but none given more than Big Cat Rescue, so it’s clear that she knew her money would be well spent.

What sets Big Cat Rescue apart from most other sanctuaries is that it is the leading sanctuary voice against keeping big cats in cages. Their mission is: Caring for cats – Ending the trade. This donor, and several other very generous donors, have committed in their final hours to being a part of that mission.

That mission makes Big Cat Rescue a target for harassment and smear campaigns by those who abuse big cats for profit or ego, but donors understand that if the bad guys don’t hate you, then you aren’t doing anything important.

Shelters and sanctuaries often shrink from advocacy to end abuse because they fear retaliation from those evil enough to abuse animals or they say they don’t want to be “political” but the real money ends up going to those who are putting themselves on the line to make a difference.

That money makes a difference, and making a difference is what most of us want in the end.

Feeding Kittens and Cubs

Feeding Kittens and Cubs

Feeding Wild Cat Kittens and Cubs


There is no substitute that is as good as a cat’s own mother. Big Cat Rescue has evolved since its inception in 1992. By 1997 we had seen enough of the abuse and abandonment caused by the pet trade that we had previously engaged in to know that there was no reason to breed exotic animals for lives in cages. As a result we increased our efforts through spaying, neutering and cage building to ensure that we would no longer be a part of the problem. As we have continued to learn about the causes of so much suffering we have become active in stopping the exotic pet trade through education and legislation.  The following is provided only for those who have already made the mistake of supporting the pet trade so that the animal in your care does not suffer even more after being ripped from his mother.

For Cougars and larger, we use a baby bottle, with a preemie nipple if they are very small. For smaller cats we use a little 2 oz. pet nurser from Pet-Ag, but we have to special order a gross of the longer, pointed nipples called N -30 Veterinarian N ipples from Four Paws at Central Islip , N ew York 11722 . Most of these nipples do not have holes in them and getting the right hole size is so important that you will probably throw away more nipples than you actually use. The object is to make the hole large enough that when you turn the bottle upside down it drips out slowly. The little things you use to hold corn on the cob are great for burning the hole into the nipple. The prongs are just about the perfect size and the little handle gives you something to hold on to. Heat a burner and then hold the metal prong to the flame or coil until it glows orange. Poke the glowing prong through the nipple and let it cool before trying it out. If the milk flows too quickly the cub will choke and if it flows too slowly the cub will tire before he can finish his meal. An alternative to the corn cob thing is a hypodermic needle and syringe. The syringe works as a good handle and the needle can be heated the same way, only it does not seem to retain the heat long and you may have to make several attempts. Human baby bottles usually have the holes cut already and they are usually sufficient, but check first. If your cub has teeth, you may wish to use the hard rubber juice nipples.


You should boil the bottle and nipple (take it apart first) before filling it at each meal. As soon as the cub finishes his meal we dump and rinse the bottle and drop it into a pail of bleach water to soak until the next feeding, at which time we will wash with soap and a bottle brush, before boiling. Pour about a quarter more formula than you think your kitten will drink, because sometimes they surprise you and if they stop nursing for you to refill, it can be difficult or impossible to restart them.

After filling the bottle and putting the nipple assembly back on, set it in the pot of hot water to warm the milk to about 100 degrees, until it is just warm to the wrist. The outside heats faster so slosh it around and ALWAYS test it on yourself before offering it to a cub. Sometimes they are so hungry that they will slurp down half a bottle of very hot liquid and scald the insides of their stomachs. We take a coffee cup of the hot water with us to the area where we will feed, so that we can occasionally rewarm, during the meal. Once the milk has been warmed for the kitten do not try to save it for a later feeding. When a kitten is fussy and doesn’t want to eat, it is easy to reason that the milk “wasn’t out that long” and try to avoid the bleaching, washing, boiling and re-filling process. N O MATTER WHAT, DO N OT RE-USE MILK OR THE BOTTLE, without going through the entire sterilization. N o amount of money or time saved will be worth the consequences.

It is easiest for me to sit at a table while feeding, but some like to have the cub in their lap. Whatever the surface, it should be easily cleaned and comfortable for the both of you. Put the kitten in a position tummy down, with all four feet on the table or lap. If you are right handed, use your left hand to hold the kitten’s head up and forward. As the kitten nurses it will pull itself forward, resulting in the neck bending backward, resulting in the milk having a straight shot down the wind pipe. This can cause the cub to choke, so you will need to keep the face pulled forward of the chest. This cub was not a resident of Big Cat Rescue, but is shown to illustrate the proper positioning.

With your right hand, grasp the bottle firmly near the nipple ring with your thumb and index finger. Guide to the lips and just barely touch them. Sometimes this will cause an involuntary sucking response and you can slide the nipple right in. This response diminishes almost entirely before three weeks, so you may need to acquire a little more dexterity. Using the remaining three fingers on your right hand, try to softly guide the kitten’s mouth toward the nipple. You may even have to press slightly at the jaw joint with your middle finger and then substitute the nipple in the corner. Once the nipple is in the mouth, half your battle is won and now you can concentrate on trying to get the nipple around to the front of the mouth and in between the canine teeth. One trick that has helped us greatly is to slide the left hand up and over the eyes, and wrap the thumb around the face, as if to muzzle the cat with your hand from behind. The lack of outside stimulus helps the kit concentrate on eating. Gently stroking the side of the mouth will stimulate the sucking response. If you are feeding more than one kitten, do not let anyone down to play until all have eaten.

For the first twenty four to thirty six hours we only offer a mixture of purified water, electrolyte solution and a little 50% dextrose for added energy, in a pet nurser for lynxes and smaller, and in a baby bottle for cougars and larger. You should wait for the merconium, or the first stool, to be passed before offering any formula to the cub if he has been taken at birth. A kitten won’t starve to death in the first day and a half without milk, but it must get plenty of fluids. A bacteria imbalance in the intestines can cause mal-absorption and diarrhea and if not corrected immediately can kill the cub. The water mixture for the first few feedings will help eliminate the mother’s milk from the intestines and give the flora the chance to stabilize before the introduction of new milk. The new milk should be added VERY gradually. Watch the stool after each feeding to determine whether or not more milk should be added to the water mixture at the next feeding. As long as the stool is yellow and of at least toothpaste consistency, and has no sign of blood, mucous, chunks of undigested food or traces of green then you are probably on the right track. By the third day you should be up to 50% milk and 50% water mixture and do not increase the proportion of milk for at least a week.

It can be very tempting to increase the mixture or change the mixture abruptly and then reason to yourself that it was okay, because the cub ate it, but a couple of days later when the kitten is refusing to eat anything you offer, it is too late and the damage has been done. Once you have upset the bacterial balance in the intestines, you have set yourself and your cub up for disaster. Some of the signs that a kit is in bacterial induced distress are: drooling, nursing and then making a face like the milk was sour (when you know it isn’t), eating less at each feeding and acting cranky like he is hungry but won’t eat.

How often you feed depends on the age, size, breed and individual needs of the cub you are raising. Your kitten will let you know by it’s growth rate, stool formation, and attitude what kind of a schedule it needs. The perfect schedule is one that most closely resembles that of it’s mother. In the wild a mother cat gorges herself before kittening so that she can remain in the den with her new young for several days with no need of leaving for food. The placenta and afterbirth she consumes are concentrated protein and calories she will need to remain close to her young. By the third or fourth day, she will leave only long enough to eat and drink, and the rest of the time she is laying with, suckling and cleaning her cubs. Kittens expect this and deserve this and it is our obligation to make their transition as smooth as possible. N o matter how old the kitten is when we pull it, we offer food and cleaning and cuddling every two hours for the first two days.

The following is strictly a guide and is too much or too little in individual cases: Formula required is 15-20% of the kitten’s body weight, divided into the number of feedings per day and offered as follows:


Age in Weeks Feeding Intervals and Food Stages

0-2 weeks every two hours, formula diluted with unflavored electrolytes

3-4 weeks every four hours, add strained baby chicken or turkey or A/D

4-6 weeks every five hours, sleep through the night. More solids/less milk.

6-12 weeks morning, noon and night. Remove milk entirely.

over one year nightly (6 days per week) Well balanced meals and vitamins.

A novel little trick to help you get up every two hours through the night: While feeding your kit, drink a glass of water. It is great for your health and in two hours nature will awake you without the necessity of an alarm clock waking the both of you.

Too often, the Novice caretaker will assume that their kitten is ready to go further between meals, when the kitten begins refusing the bottle. This is an easy assumption to make when you are sick of getting up every two hours day in and day out to feed a kitten who isn’t acting hungry. If your baby is usually active and feisty and then suddenly becomes, as gentle as a lamb, then he may be ailing. You must take the entire picture into account before assuming that your cub is ready to go longer between meals. Refusal to eat an entire meal may be the first obvious clue that the kitten is ailing and allowing the cub to worsen and not be kept fully hydrated can be disastrous. NEVER have we seen a kitten refuse a meal, and then eat well at the next one, although it may be some better than the first “food fight”. Do not be fooled into thinking that the situation will rectify itself, because it won’t, and by the time you resign yourself to take the cat to the Veterinarian, it may already be dehydrated, stressed and overloaded with bacteria. See Bacterial Overgrowth.



mountain lion cub sleepingWEIGH YOUR KITTENS! Use a gram scale or an ounce scale that measures in no less than tenths of ounces. In a small cat, Bobcats, Servals, Caracals, etc. a weight loss of one half of one ounce can be the red flag that if noticed will save the kitten, and if overlooked, may well lead to it’s near immediate demise. Weigh at the same time every day and in the same manner, with preference being given to that early morning, before I’ve eaten time. Keep a log of the weight, the date, the kittens age, and at each meal how much formula or food was consumed (in tablespoons, cc’s, ml’s or ounces) and the quality and quantity of urine and the colour, consistency and frequency of stool. An exotic can be dead within twenty four hours of the first good strong clue they give us that they are in distress. Only by monitoring and taking seriously the subtle changes in all of the factors listed above will you have any hope of catching a problem in time. Your well kept charts will help your Veterinarian in diagnosis and will give them much more insight to the cat’s health. If you ever raise another kitten, then this information to refer back to will become invaluable. See Figure ____ for a sample of the type of chart we use.


Date :_________________

Weight :_______________

6:00 a.m.

10:00 a.m.

2:00 p.m.

6:00 p.m.

10:00 p.m.






Breed :___________________ Age :________________________

Date of Birth ______________ Name :______________________


When the kitten is first taken from it’s mother a weight loss for the first day or two is expected and normal, because at our best, humans can only fall short of the natural milk and mothering provided by the cat. As long as the loss does not persist past the second day and is not more than 10% of the kittens initial body weight, there is no immediate cause for alarm. Check the kitten for fleas and ticks and ear mites which can quickly deplete a small cub of it’s life-sustaining blood. Use a flea comb to remove fleas. Wipe the comb with alcohol or a safe for kittens, flea spray and wipe with a towel to remove the excess. This will stun the fleas briefly so that you can pick them off. Few people can kill a flea with their bare hands, so have ready a cup of soapy water (use a safe soap) to rinse the comb in. Fleas can swim in tap water and while you’re picking off the next flea, they will be swimming to the edge of the cup and jumping back on the kit. If the water is soapy they can’t seem to get a grip on the sides of the cup. Even though most commercial flea shampoos say that they are safe for kittens, they don’t mean purebred or exotic kittens. Several years ago, one of my best friends (a five year old Himalayan) died from a toxic reaction to a well known flea shampoo available in any grocery store and when I complained to the company they said that they couldn’t guarantee the results on a purebred cat. N o where on the label was there any warning that it could be hazardous to specialized felines. Often Veterinarians will sell flea dips and shampoos to owners of exotic cats without any knowledge of the effect it may have on their systems. For this reason, unless fleas have reached epidemic proportions, we prefer to comb and drown. No cat was ever combed to death and this is great bonding time for you.

Take the first stool sample that you get in to a Veterinarian for analysis. Worms and parasites, such as coccidia can rob the young one of all of the nutrients it takes in, so while it may seem to be nursing frantically, it won’t be able to maintain it’s weight or gain. You cannot always tell when a kitten has worms by his appearance, but some tell tale signs are: Dullness in the eyes, a ragged, dull coat, very thin, or bloated with skinny legs or vomiting. Make a habit of taking in at least one stool sample per week to catch any early traces of worms or bacterial overgrowth. The oocyts only show up in the stool during certain stages of the parasite’s life, so a clean stool check is no guarantee that trouble isn’t festering. We worm with a mild formula such as Nemex or Pyrantel Pamoate whether we see worms or not, and whether the parents were wormed or not. If the parents had been wormed and no sign of worms is found in the kittens stool, then we worm at three weeks, once a day for three days and then once a week for three weeks and then quarterly for life. If we don’t know the status on the parents, or if we see worms in the stool, then we worm immediately once a day for three days, then again at three weeks, four weeks and five weeks and then quarterly for life. By the time they are six months old we move on to a stronger wormer, such as ivermectin and inject it into a treat or give it to them orally. Worming is such a common thing that it is often overlooked and parasites could be starving your cub to death, right under your nose. After the first couple days away from the Dam, the cub should ALWAYS gain or maintain it’s weight. N o loss is acceptable or normal.

The urine should be clear to light yellow and should not sting or burn the kitten. If the kitten screams when he relieves himself, then it is burning. If the genital area is raw, red or fur-less, then the urine is burning the cub. For the first three weeks the cub will need you to stimulate him to urinate and defecate. The muscles of a kitten are too weak and undeveloped in these first few weeks for them to be able to control their bowel movements. After eating, take a warm, wet wash cloth and gently massage the abdomen and genital areas. You will soon learn to feel a full bladder, like a hard rubber ball, which sometimes needs to be tended to before the kit can comfortably nurse. Instead of a rag we often use human type baby wipes that are Hypoallergenic and contain aloe or lanolin to keep the skin soft and protected. These need to be warmed before using on the kit as they tend to feel cold right out of the box.

Some thought should be given to your cubs’ den. Depending on the type of cat, it may grow very quickly and may need a succession of dens to accommodate him. Many people keep kittens in carriers, but it needs to have a raised wire mesh floor so that the kitten is not forced to lay in it’s own urine. Thick towels are a poor substitute, because any mess made on the towel will be rolled in by the kitten. Kittens don’t have the mental capacity, or in some cases the motor ability to soil one area and then crawl to a drier area. Any mess a kitten makes will be all over the kitten in no time at all, unless you have provided a goof proof enclosure. Exotic kittens produce a fantastic volume of urine and their den should be made with this in mind. If the urine is scarce or dark yellow it could indicate kidney failure and immediate Veterinary attention is required. If the urine stings, it is usually from rawness caused by diarrhea.

Diarrhea can deplete the cub of vital fluids, leaving him dehydrated and lifeless. A healthy kitten’s stool should be yellow if the cub is on formula and should have the consistency of toothpaste. It should not be foul smelling, watery, mucous laden, blood stained, green or hard. A kitten on food should have a brown to brownish black stool of firm consistency. The frequency of stool is an individual matter. There should not be more than one stool per feeding, but less is normal. We’ve had healthy kittens that only had two bowel movements per day and as long as the colour and consistency are okay there is no cause for alarm.


Stool                 Characteristic                      Indications                  Remedy

Yellow,             runny                                     Formula too rich       Dilute formula

Watery             Malabsorption                     Dilute Formula          See Veterinarian

Green Bile       Malabsorption                     Kaopectate                  See Veterinarian

Mucous            Infection or worms             Antibiotics                   See Veterinarian

Undigested      Intestines not working      Balance flora               See Veterinarian

Hard, dark       May be blood from worm damage                       Worm appropriately

Not enough fluids being given. Increase fluids See your Veterinarian

Blood stained      Intestinal bleeding                                                See your Veterinarian

Diarrhea            Many causes                                                              See your Veterinarian


Any of these signs can be reason enough to take your kitten to a good Veterinarian for a professional analysis. In most cases your kitten will get sick five minutes after your Veterinarian leaves for a three day weekend in the Bahamas . As a temporary measure you can help a kitten with diarrhea by giving 3-5 cc of Kaopectate with every feeding. This will help coat the intestines so that they are not stripped raw in the interim. It also helps to keep the anus from becoming so raw that the cub cries in pain while trying to relieve itself. Put diaper rash ointment on the genitals to help dissipate the burning. Whatever you are feeding, cut the strength with Pediatric Electrolyte Solution to keep the kitten hydrated. Taste the unflavored Pedialyte before expecting your kitten to. Walgreens has a store label that is actually flavorless and acceptable to kittens. Pedialyte taste horrid and it is no wonder that cubs won’t drink it, but it is the most commonly available form of electrolytes and will do in a pinch. You can find it in pint jugs in the baby department, next to the formulas. For the most part, cats won’t drink anything that is fruit or bubble gum flavored. Sometimes when a kitten is sick, it will accept pure water from a bottle or syringe, when it won’t accept food. In an emergency you can tube feed the cub, but a common problem in exotic kittens is bacterial overgrowth in the intestines and even though you may be able to force food into the stomach, you cannot force the intestines to absorb it properly and you may cause the kitten to bloat and die. If the stool is mucousy, has chunks of undigested materials in it, watery or blood stained it may be better if you have to force fluids to only force Electrolytes, such as Pedialyte or pure water, until you can get your kitten to the hospital.

If you detect any sneezing, coughing, wheezing, runny nose or runny eyes it is very serious and demands the attention of a licensed Veterinarian. I know how expensive it can be to run a cat to the Veterinarian at every little indication. We spend between $15,000.00 to $22,000.00 per year in medical bills, but to fail to get an early and proper diagnosis will cost you much more financially and in the health of the cat.


Note: I am not a veterinarian. If your cat is bleeding get him to a licensed veterinarian immediately.

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