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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

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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

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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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Giving an Exotic Cat a Pill



Giving a cat a pill can be a harrowing experience for both you and the cat. Exotic cats are worse because they are not as trusting, have a keener sense of smell and are more powerful. As with any aspect of exotic cat ownership, you must rely on your higher intelligence rather than brute force if you are to succeed. While it may be physically possible for you and all of your closest friends to tackle the cat and force a pill down his throat, this sort of force destroys any trust the two of you may enjoy and will not be forgiven for months or even years.

When we first dealt with sick exotic kittens we would catch the cat and restrain it by the scruff on the floor, so that it could only back into our knees and we could hold the rest of the kitten by squatting over him. An exotic cat can be scruffed and turn completely around inside their loosely fitting “pajamas” and bite the person holding. They can also jump and twist until they seriously injure themselves. This is why we grabbed as much scruff as we could (taking up all the slack possible) and then knelt down over the cat holding him between our knees on the floor.

Just try giving me a pill!The other person would have the pill inserted in a pill gun ( a pencil like apparatus that holds the pill until you press the plunger ) and the kitten would be hissing and snapping at the air, making the insertion of the “gun” into the mouth pretty easy. We would insert it as far back as we could see and depress the plunger. Using the plunger we would then gently stroke the cat under the chin and blow at his face until we saw him swallow.

When he would lick his lips the deed was known to be done. I go into detail on the hard way just in case you find yourself with no option. We always try to use a drug that requires as few doses as possible, for obvious reasons.

No matter how difficult it may be to medicate the cat, it is imperative that every dose be administered, because failure to do so can be fatal to the cat, if not now perhaps at a later time. To stop and start treatment over and over will cause the cat to become immune to the drug.

Most drug therapy runs a course of twice a day for ten days and by the second dose the cat is hiding from you and hissing at you every time you look in his direction. All of your training has come to an end. The cat is sure that you are out to kill him and that he has only barely escaped you twice. Even if you do manage to get all twenty doses in the cat and he recovers, it may take a very long time to make any personal progress with him.

We had a lot of kittens our first year and most of them forgave us within a month or two, but one, Little Dove was terrified of us for over a year and a half. We finally sold her to a pet home thinking that maybe she would not associate her new owners with medication, but several weeks later they called to say that she really hated them and had even escaped and been on the lam for a week.

They were able to recapture her in a barn and shipped her back to us. When she got back she talked until she was hoarse, as though she was telling me every moment of her time away. I cried at hearing the terror in her tale. Her bad time with inexperienced “doctors” made her a “pet” only a mother could love and to avoid the possibility of this happening to you it will be well worth your time to exhaust every other possible method.

Our favorite method is to hide the pill in a piece of food. Without exception, all of our cats adore chicken hearts and chicken gizzards. When it is time to medicate we do so at regular feeding times, so that the cat doesn’t know there is something weird going on.

A chicken heart is the perfect little pill container. It is slick and has a little hole pocket already cut in it. We will throw one or two without pills, so that if the cat is going to chew around looking for a pill that he will see there are none, and then when he’s swallowing them whole, we throw in the one with the pill.

If the cat is very sick he may quickly get nauseous, so don’t let him get full before he gets the medicated pill. Bring along a few extra hearts in case he chews the pill out and you have to stick it in another one. If the cat is running loose and you need to pill him but he gets crazy over food, we put the pile of medicated treats and unmedicated treats on a paper plate or a long handled spoon with the top ones being the bogus ones. Unless the cat was allowed to get too sick before treatment started he will usually inhale the treats without ever chewing.


Second only to hearts for usability are the gizzards. Because they are so chewy and the chewing will result in the cat biting into a nasty tasting pill, we cut a square just big enough to tunnel out a little pouch for the pill, trimming off anything that they may hesitate and chew. Stick a sharp knife into the chunk and keeping the entrance hole only large enough to force the pill through. Hollow out a place in the middle to harbor the pill. Sometimes the pills are sugar coated and when they get wet they may pop out. Your Veterinarian can often prescribe a Pediatric chewable version, so that if the cat is a chewer, he won’t bite into a bitter pill. If you must give a powdered medication, you can buy empty gel caps and fill them with the powder and give as above.

We had a Lynx that cannot be tricked into swallowing a pill, and if the cat chews every bite of everything suspiciously, then you may want to crush the pill, mix it with some honey, karo syrup or Nutrical, to mask the bitterness, and then inject this syrup into the cat’s food. If the Veterinarian says to pill the cat two times a day, this means the cat has to actually swallow the pill, and keep it down, twice a day. It does not mean offer it twice and if he takes it, fine and if not, too bad. If not before, then after the first bout of medicating that you and the cat experience, you will do everything super humanly possible to keep the cat from getting sick or hurt in the first place.



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Big Cat Enrichment at Big Cat Rescue


Watch another video of our enrichment HERE.



Enrichment Adds Quality to Life

Bobcat Enrichment (photos are from pumpkin enrichment)

At Big Cat Rescue, the volunteers formed a committee to focus on the development of appropriate enrichment for the animals in our care. When using different enrichment techniques, the animals can be stimulated to investigate and explore their surroundings. This can be accomplished by presenting novel food items (or presenting food in different ways), as well as novel objects and smells. The presentation of new items and scents can help relieve boredom and improve the overall welfare of the animals. The committee decided to focus our enrichment on trying to encourage increased natural behaviors in our captive cats.

Being a sanctuary to approximately 100 cats we had to decide exactly where to start. As a committee we determined the easiest
way to approach our task was one species at a time. We started with our bobcats for a number of reasons. We are home to a significant number of them (over 40) at a wide range of ages. Also, they represented a variety of backgrounds. Some were pets, some came from fur farms, some were hand-raised and some came from the wild.

For our study of bobcats and enrichment, we used the SPIDER model, which was
presented by staff from Disney’s Animal Kingdom at a recent conference attended by some our our volunteers. SPIDER stands for Setting Goals, developing a Plan, Implementation, Documentation, Evaluation, and Readjustment. This presented a simple and organized system for us to follow.

The committee then used a list of questions to research bobcat behavior in the wild. These questions related to their hunting techniques and prey, territories and markings, threats, interactions with other animals as well as other observations. We also reviewed the histories of our current bobcat population and examined their enclosures. We investigated what bobcats did in their natural environment and then brainstormed ways to try to encourage and recreate those behaviors in their enclosures here.

From our research, we were able to target a number of behaviors that we wanted to encourage with our bobcats. These included grooming, water play, sunning, climbing and denning. When the committee developed ideas to recreate these behaviors, the ideas were then submitted to our staff and veterinarian for further approval. (It is important to consider individual health issues for each cat when determining the appropriateness of different types of enrichment.) These steps covered the goal setting and planning part of our model. Next came the fun part, the implementation!

For grooming, we used scents that we could spray into their enclosures. We used star anise and vanilla steeped in water. We then put the scented water into squirt guns and sprayed logs and trees in the bobcat habitats. (Just a note: the star anise was much more popular than the vanilla.) The bobcats would usually find the scent and either roll around or rub against the area we had sprayed. We found that when multiple bobcats were housed in the same enclosure, they would often start to groom each other as well. This was probably one of our more successful enrichment goals and it was fun to watch the responses of the cats.

They loved it!

During our research, we discovered that bobcats will sometimes spend time in the water. We purchased a galvanized tub that was large enough for the bobcats to play in, but small enough to be easily moved from cage to cage. The tub was placed inside an enclosure and was filled with a few inches of water. We found that some of our bobcats really enjoyed splashing around and investigating the water.

We also wanted to find ways to encourage our bobcats to sun themselves and climb, which were other natural behaviors that we studied. This involved examining our current enclosures. We had to determine which cages naturally had
rocks and logs in sunny spots or trees for climbing and if or how we could improve or change the others. We used scented treats in the higher spots of their enclosures to encourage them to climb. The bobcats seemed to enjoy this as well. We did note, however, that on our types of cage wire, the cats that were clawed sometimes had difficulty climbing the cage itself. We restricted any treats on the cage itself to cats that were declawed.

Our research also revealed that bobcats will often create temporary dens. To encourage this behavior, we placed large boxes in their enclosures. The boxes had holes in them large enough for the cats to enter. The results of this were mixed. Some of our bobcats loved them (although they did not necessarily use them for dens) and some of them were not interested.

After each implementation of enrichment, we evaluated our successes and failures, determined what changes we needed to make and sometimes tried again (the readjustment part of the model). The adjustments we made were noted above.

As far as documentation, we decided the easiest way for us to record our enrichment was to make a list of all of our animals. When one of our volunteers gives an animal enrichment, the date and type of enrichment is logged on the list. The lists are updated monthly.

The enrichment committee at Big Cat Rescue has found this model to be helpful in organizing, researching and documenting our progress. We have learned so much more about our animals through this process and with that knowledge, feel like we can give them better care while they are with us. We hope you can use some of the information we have shared here.

Former Volunteer, Carolyne Clendinen


Enrichment Ideas

ENRICHSAM.JPG (137162 bytes)Reactions ran from leaping, pouncing, rubbing, drooling, spraying, guarding and eating the pumpkins.  Like most things, the best things in life are free.

These were some of the ploys used by zoo keepers across America to entertain captive cats. Our Volunteers  implement them here for our animal’s enjoyment.

  • Laser Mouse: The red pin light pointing device. The cats will chase this thing anywhere, just don’t point it in their eyes. Even during the day, the beam is bright enough to catch their attention.
  • All Spice or just about any other cooking spice will “spice” up an old toy or cause the cat to rub all over a log of specific spot.  Ask for outdated stuff at groceries or spice dealers.
  • Catnip
  • Cantaloupe, coconut, apples in water bucket
  • Use yogurt containers to make blood- cicles for the cats to lick in the heat. Use bucket forms to make them for the Tigers. You can get plenty of blood at food prep at 7 pm each night.
  • Move their cage furniture around to make things more interesting, just be careful not to make an escape route.
  • Do not use staples, tape, wire or string in making permanent cage toys.
  • Pinecones, dipped in blood with meat chips smushed in are great amusement, but not on Mondays as the cats might be hungry enough to eat the cone.
  • Civet poop is very aromatic. Have a sample tested by the vet to make sure there are no parasites to pass along.
  • Pumpkins full of crickets. The crickets will hang out in the pumpkin for food and the cats will have fun chasing them if they don’t. Use natural vine to hang chicken wings so that the cat can pretend to capture it’s food. Be careful that the cat cannot hang it’s self. Tape recorder playing bird calls sealing in a plastic ball. Geoffroy cats, put their litter boxes as high up as you can as they use trees in the wild.
  • Astroturf, outside Lemur cage, but within reach. Spread with peanut butter and let them pick at it all day. Be sure to wash thoroughly.
  • Toilet paper rolls make great places to hide treats for cats, lemurs, civets, coati etc…
  • Training dummies soaked in hunting scents, like rabbit and grouse, hung from heavy duty plastic chains, at just above nose height, will keep


The animals enclosure should supply them with ongoing things to do.

Above right, Pisces, the Fishing Cat catches a fish in his stocked pond.

All tigers should have access to a pool.  Three of our tigers have access to a lake in which they can swim.  11 of our tigers retired here in their golden years and had never had the opportunity to swim, so shallow cooling pools were created for them to insure they didn’t drown.  Their pools over look the lake and have pumps that keep the water from the spring fed lake circulating through the pool and then back to the lake via a water fall.  This creates a nice atmosphere in which the cats can lounge at the lake’s edge and dream about the swans and ducks they could catch.

A very inexpensive way to amuse cats for hours is to use paper towel, toilet paper and fabric tubes to hold various meats that aren’t the cats typical fare.  The tubes are sometime sprayed with perfumes, or marinated in spices.  All of our volunteers collect these card board tubes and save them up for enrichment days.  One of our supporters, Kay King has a fabric related company and donates the fabric tubes for the larger cats.  Photo by Anissa Camp of Mary Ann Reeds hands.

The cats will spend hours carrying the tubes around as if they caught the “prey” themselves.  They roll on them, drool on them and eventually shred them to pieces to get to the good stuff inside.  This stimulates all of their natural predatory instincts and provides a safe form of amusement.  Photo by Anissa Camp of Shadow the Western Cougar sniffing his tube to see what the mystery treat of the day is.


Enrichment on a Budget


Being a non-profit sanctuary poses several obstacles for enrichment activities.  Many resources, primarily money and time, are extremely limited.  Volunteers are required to wear multiple hats to ensure a safe and healthy life for our animals.  To add enrichment activities to the exhausting cleaning, maintenance, and fund raising was a daunting prospect.  But despite the struggle, Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, FL has implemented a successful enrichment program.

Many of the enrichment types we utilize have already been mentioned in several places, so this article will focus more on how we’ve implemented the program, giving some insight into the challenges we faced.

One of the first actions taken was to determine what enrichment activities absolutely could not be accomplished.  Mimicking foraging and other food-based enrichments are usually major activities at large institutions.  We see the benefit of such projects, but are not able to implement any for our carnivores.  Due to the fact that all animals are housed outside in Florida weather, mealtime comes just before
dusk for all meat-eaters.  Any other feeding time would run the risk of increasing our bug and parasite populations.  Another negative aspect is that the volunteers who prepare meals are not always the ones overseeing enrichment, so there is room for error in diet.

Instead, bite-sized “treats” are used in food-puzzles or as motivation to inspect a new object.  Using frozen fish for enrichment has proven very successful.  We feel that because fish is not an item used in our regular diet preparation, it is a novelty itself.  Frozen fish purchased by the bag is inexpensive, and the long shelf life helps with our time constraints.  A common use of food in our enrichment program is to hide a piece of smelt inside a paper towel roll with the ends curled in.  We’ve received positive responses from Cougars (Felis concolor), Servals (Felis serval), Caracals (Felis caracal), as well as Binturongs (Arctictis Binturong) and African Civets (Civettictis civetta).

After determining what enrichment activities were unsuitable for our program, we then brainstormed the ease of implementing the activities left on the table.  It may seem that the animals are being short-changed by our realistic approach, eliminating very effective and useful activities.  But it is our careful thinking and knowledge of how the sanctuary must be run every day that allows the program to continue and flourish.

After all the planning, we ended up with a selection of easy to implement, use and monitor activities to enrich all of the species (over 25!) at the sanctuary.  Many of the materials needed can be saved from the trash (yogurt cups make the perfect size bloodcicle to fit through our cages).  We modified projects that required purchasing items to use things that were cheap and easily available.  For example, a project that intrigued us was to cut holes in a gourd and stuff it with liverwurst.  Gourds are seasonal and can be expensive, so we modified the activity to use potatoes.  An apple corer is  used lengthwise on the potato, and then the left over center can be used to either plug the potato, adding a level of difficulty to the activity, or the center is rolled in sweet basil and pumpkin spice and given to our Geoffroy’s cats (Felis geoffroyi).  The Geoffroy’s have shown much more response to olfactory stimulation than any other toy or food.

What ties our enrichment program together is a database where all activities are recorded.  This database tracks the date, species, name, enrichment type, and the animal’s reaction.  The species, animal name, and enrichment type are fields that must be chosen from lists.  We are alerted when an attempt is made to add an item to these lists.  This gives us an opportunity to realize something new has occurred and we should discuss it with the rest of the group.

Besides reports on all the animals, the database can search on any of the first four fields (date, name, species, enrichment type).  This allows for all sorts of questions to be answered.  In an instant, we can learn who received enrichment last, what types of enrichment a certain species has responded to and how, as well as take a look at individual cases.

In particular, we have many cougars that were privately owned and truly enjoy human company.  While this is an added bonus to help care for them, they often prefer the enrichment volunteer to the enrichment activity.  It is extremely useful to have at our fingertips an individual history on each cougar of what has been offered them and how they have responded.

Big Cat Rescue houses approximately 100 animals on 69 acres.  With volunteers undertaking the daily workload, starting an enrichment program seemed impossible.  But with careful planning before implementation and the open communication of the database, we have logged hundreds enrichment activities and have seen wonderful reactions from all of our animals.  Now that the initial hurdles have been conquered, we are taking steps to implement some of the more labor-intense enrichment activities previously discarded.

Tiger playing in the water

Tiger playing in the water

By Jessica Hosford

We are avid readers of The Shape of Enrichment.

This may just be the perfect enrichment picture.  Conan, a retired circus tiger, enjoying life on Easy Street in his 2000+ square foot Cat-A-Tat with earthen floors, real plants, trees, leaves and grass, a waterfall, pool with boomer ball, two white swans swimming by the outside (top center) and a box full of enrichment goodies.  What a life!

The Ice Hasn’t Melted in Florida Yet


Below is enrichment made by Big Cat Rescue volunteers.  Mice in ice blocks, swings in the shade and cool rock dens are all ways the cats of Big Cat Rescue can endure the summer heat.

This was a great day of enrichment for a few of the cats.  Obviously, Moses and Ana really do love their swing.  I found them on it in the morning when I arrived and pointed that out to all the guests on the tour when they were still hanging up there together.

Although Apollo and Zeus really could have cared less about their block of ice (ironic since they’re Siberians, huh?), Shadow was another story.  He was still working on that block of ice at night when we were there to feed him.  As food aggressive as he is, can you believe he didn’t even come to lockout to eat?  He was still working on that rat in the ice and it had been hours already.  Sugar had only been mildly interested, but was really much happier to be able to eat her dinner in peace while the beast just kept licking his icicle.

It gives us such a good feeling to see them enjoying themselves this much.

Check out another Enrichment Video here:

Exotic Cat Infectious Disease Manual

Exotic Cat Infectious Disease Manual

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Infectious Diseases of Concern to Captive

and Free ranging Wildlife in North America





An official publication of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV), Infectious Disease Committee


Click Here to go get the Manual


See current USDA guidelines for Vet Care and Proposed Changes