Bearing Witness When It Is Unbearable

Bearing Witness When It Is Unbearable

I was up most of the night after seeing the image at the bottom of this page, so stop at the big Red Warning label below if you don’t want to see something you can never un-see.  I leave a lot of room after the warning so you won’t accidentally see that awful image, so please read this through and just stop at the huge red letters.

Bobcat rehab is the most rewarding, most challenging and most gut wrenching part of our work at Big Cat Rescue.

The moment a call comes in about a bobcat in distress the tension starts to mount.  Is it really a bobcat?  Can they snap and text a photo?  Is it really in need of our help? Can this caller give me enough information that we can find this cat when we get there?  Do I know a rehabber who is any closer?  Often calls come in from other states where we cannot rehab and release.  I feel my heart begin to race as I try to keep the caller calm enough to give me the details I need to make a life or death decision.

Assured that it is a bobcat, it is in peril and I have a close proximation to his location we launch into action.  The rescue truck, a Toyota Tundra our Facebook fans helped us win, has a permanent set of nets, carrier, blankets, gloves, etc., but depending on the situation we may also need to take the vet.  Despite the fact that animal rescuers frequently break the law and carry controlled drugs across the state and across the country, it’s illegal and we abide by the law.

DrLizWynnDrJustinBoorsteinIf a bobcat may be mobile enough to outrun us then having our vet come along gives us one more asset to bring the bobcat in safely; a dart rifle and sedation drugs.  If you’re reading this, you probably have pets and a vet. Imagine, every few months having to call your vet and ask, “Hey, would you mind dropping everything right this minute and help me go hack my way through the Florida swamps in search of a bobcat that may need to be sedated?”  Our vets will usually move Heaven and Earth to help us, but it isn’t always possible for them to hit the road with only a minute’s notice. Our wonderful vets are Dr. Liz Wynn and Dr. Justin Boorstein and they donate their services to our cats.

The tension only continues to mount as we hit the road because every traffic light, every Sunday driver, every road detour is putting minutes between us being able to save a life or not.  We have to be hyper aware of the speed limit because the last thing we need is to be pulled over and detained for precious moments longer.  Then there is the arrival.

Most of our calls are because a bobcat has been HBC, which is the short hand the vet’s use on their medical records to say, Hit By Car.  That means there is a very real danger that if we come up on the scene wrong we could drive the bobcat right out into traffic again, so we have to strain to assess the situation well in advance of pulling up.  Sometimes the caller is on the scene and we have to be patient as they relay all of the non essential, nervous chatter, that seems to go along with seeing a bobcat up close for the first time, to be able to suss out the important information, such as which way the cat went, how long ago and how fast was he moving?

Even if the cat has been laying motionless on the side of the pavement for the last hour, the minute people start walking toward him, he is going to gather up every bit of courage and energy left inside to escape.  Not once, in more than 30 years of rescuing bobcats, did one of them lay there and say, “Oh good.  You’re here to help.”  Even if they are so badly crushed that they cannot sit up, they can always scream like a woman being murdered while slashing razor sharp teeth and claws at your face.  Whether the bobcat is making a run for cover or laying on their back trying to kill us with their last breath, we have to be cognizant of the fact that our capture technique could kill the cat if we aren’t careful.  They are already suffering and scared out of their minds, so what ever we do next has to weigh the damage we could do to them in their fragile state vs missing an opportunity and losing track of them.

Once we lose sight of them there is only one thing that is certain; they will die a painful and horrific death.  I can’t even talk about all of the bobcats that we either never saw, or saw and then lost.  Hours and sometimes days went into trying to find them but they were better at hiding than we were at finding, and knowing their fate is what drives us on to do it better the next time.

As I think back over any of the bobcat captures, I’m always left believing that angels guided our nets.  Bellona had been one of those bobcats who had laid on the shoulder of the busy highway until we arrived, but the minute we stepped out of the van she ran like nothing you ever saw, swam a creek, ran some more and then tried to swim across a pond, but Chris was able to net her in the water.

Ace the bobcat had been eating out of dumpsters because she could no longer hunt in her aged condition, and had seemed to expire right on the steps to a building, but once our rescue team arrived she ran in and out of hedges and crossing business park roads and parking lots until Jamie nabbed her in a net.

Cypress the bobcat had laid along side the road until just moments before we arrived and then had disappeared into the thick underbrush. Despite her crushed pelvis she managed to drag herself heroically to open water where she must have thought she could out-swim me, but realized too late that she couldn’t tread water with her lifeless lower body pulling her down.  Scooping her up in the net and seeing the look in her eyes when she realized that she was either going to drown or be taken by the dreaded human, is a sight I still cannot put out of my head.

And then Ivan; who appeared to be missing a forepaw and yet managed to run, hobbling, ahead of rescuers who lost sight of him for hours. They didn’t give up, and finally Ivan was scooped up in Dr. Justin’s net at the edge of a canal.  Until now I didn’t realize how often bobcats will try to lose us by diving into water.  Maybe their predators, foxes and coyotes, are typically thrown off the scent this way.  Whatever the reason, we can usually count on being covered in mud by the time the bobcat is safely in a cage and heading to the vet.  We can also count on being covered in scratches because bobcats know every inch of briar patches in their forest and will dive into that thick, thorny cover as a last ditch effort to evade capture.

By the time the bobcat is in the truck we are bleeding, filthy, dehydrated, hungry and both physically and mentally spent, but this was just the first step of what will be a very long and emotional day.

Next we have to find a veterinarian who will tend to this broken bobcat, at what always seems to be the middle of the night, a weekend or a holiday.  We consider ourselves VERY lucky if Dr. Liz Wynn or Dr. Justin Boorstein is available, because most vets are not willing to tend to a wild animal, even though we will pay.  Having to educate an outside vet about the differences in drugs, doses, and reactions in wild bobcats is stressful enough and does nothing to reassure us that the bobcat will be getting the best care possible.  The novelty of having a wild bobcat in the clinic always brings out the entire staff who want to take photos and excitedly ask questions about the animal while we are trying to hurry the process along so that the bobcat’s suffering is minimal.

Bobcat Rescued From Fence

The first time we can really take a relaxed breath is when the cat is sedated.  At that moment we know the suffering has subsided and that is a huge relief, but it is only the beginning of that next phase of concern.  Exotic cats, captive bred or wild born, just don’t deal with anesthesia well.  Sometimes they die from it, so we are taking every breath with them and constantly watching the monitors, counting the heart beats under their fur and expecting that any minute the cat is going to crash and all heck will break loose in an attempt to stabilize them.


Blood work is done to make sure that the bobcat isn’t carrying some deadly disease.  X-rays are taken, and retaken, as the scope of the damage begins to emerge.  Sonograms look at vital organs to see if they have been pierced by the shattered bones or the impact of 2,000 lbs of steel hitting the cat at 60 miles per hour.  A physical exam is done to asses the trauma to the teeth, bones and flesh because skidding across the pavement can do a lot of damage; even to the tough hide of a bobcat.  As the picture of this cat’s condition begins to come into focus, the tension rises again, because now we have to decide:

Can this bobcat be saved?

Can this bobcat ever be set free again?  If not, what kind of life will captivity be for them.  Very young cats may be able to adapt to life in a cage, but bobcats who have known the freedom of patrolling miles of their home territory, are not likely to tolerate life in a cage.  This is one of those impossible moments because a decision has to be made in the next few minutes, but it is a decision that needs far more information than what is usually in front of us.  We need input from the bobcat, but they are asleep and we just won’t know what their tolerance level for follow up treatment, or a life in captivity will be.

Money has never been the issue.  We have spent over $5,000 to get a bobcat the surgeries they need to pin their broken bones back together, but sometimes these poor cats are so shattered that there just isn’t any way to fix them using technology and we are faced with the dilemma of fixing what we can and giving them quiet cage rest while they call on their resources to mend.  Cats of all kinds have a remarkable ability to survive based on the fact that their purr is at the exact frequency that heals bones, muscles, and ligaments. There’s an old saying that’s popular among veterinarians, “If you put a cat and a bunch of broken bones in the same room, the bones will heal.”

So, we usually will opt to have the vets work their magic and then assist the bobcats in working their own.  This is an element of our rehab work that sucks in many more of our staff, volunteers and virtual supporters into a vortex of emotion.  It is a daily, if not hourly, roller coaster ride of the highs when the bobcat eats on their own, drinks on their own or eliminates on their own and the lows when the bobcat seems so unhappy, or refuses their meds, or gets blocked up.  Then we have to make another painful decision:

Was the blockage due to the medications or the bobcat’s poor condition?  Should we go ahead and euthanize or should we flush him out now and see if it happens again?  We usually opt for the latter, but if it happens again, then we pretty much know that this cat is never going to be able to live a normal life and we aren’t going to prolong that suffering.  That’s what happened with Cypress the bobcat.


The first time she blocked up we thought it was from the fur in her diet of mice, so we flushed her out and put her on a ground diet. We did X-rays and the pelvis just wasn’t healing with enough room for feces to pass. When she blocked up again, we knew that she would never be able to pass food on her own.  Weeks of tense moments, where we watched for every sign of success or failure, ended in a heart breaking decision to euthanize her.

By then we all adored her.  We admired her ferocity.  We loved watching her on webcams because when no one was around she was quite content to watch the Cat Sitter DVD all day in between long, luxurious naps.  We had weeks of building up our hopes that she was going to heal.  We had weeks of hand feeding her to make sure she took her medications.  We had weeks of prayers, and positive visualization of her at least having a comfortable life here at Big Cat Rescue, even if she couldn’t eat whole prey.  We had all of it dashed by the realization that no matter how badly we wanted her to heal, it wasn’t going to happen.


Not even two weeks had passed since we made the tough decision to let her go and the call came in about Ivan.  When a cat passes it is our policy to publish the death immediately on our Intranet site, but with 100 volunteers we know that some don’t check the site but once a week, so we don’t publish the death to our social sites for 7 days.  For those of us who are on the Intranet site daily, it means we have to go through the entire mourning period twice; once when we tell our own volunteers and then again when we tell the world.

It’s not any easier a week later and may even be harder because we can’t grieve and move on.  We have to grieve, wait, expose ourselves to all of the thoughts of second guessing our decisions and then do it all over again next week.  For Jamie and I we have to go through it all again when we write it up for the AdvoCat Ezine and The Big Cat Times.  All of us who work here have to walk past our cemetery several times a day and go through it all over again.  And then the phone rings…

And it is a woman who is watching a bobcat with blood dripping from his paw, she says.  She is an hour and a half away and we are off again. What she saw wasn’t blood.  It was the shreds of dangling muscle from a paw that had been chewed off.  Despite what must have been excruciating pain this bobcat did his best to evade Big Cat Rescuers who were trying to net him and get him to the hospital.  It took hours for Jamie, Dr. Justin, and Interns, Lauren and Philip to catch him.  Once in the cage they could see that the one leg was completely gnawed off. Ivan (named for all the poison ivy they had to crash through) was deep in towels and blankets in the cage and hunkered down, so they couldn’t see anything more, but had some decisions to make on the way to Animal Coalition of Tampa where he could be sedated and treated.


A three legged bobcat would not be a likely candidate for release.  The rising and falling swells of emotional current were well under way. We were sad to get the call that a bobcat was hurt.  We were scared that we wouldn’t find him and he would suffer an agonizing death.  We were elated to spot him and yet terrified that he would elude capture.  We were horrified to see that he was missing a leg.  We were hopeful that we could save his life.  We were optimistic that he may adapt to captivity because he was just a kitten.  We were worried about what we might discover once he was sedated and we could get a good look, and then were devastated by what we then saw.

I say, “we” but I was just getting messages by phone and Jamie was keeping me posted.  I was sharing the news, as it came in, with our volunteers and supporters.  When I saw the image at the bottom of the page my heart rose up into my throat. It was the saddest thing I have ever seen and I’m never going to get that image out of my head.  For those of you who can’t bear to look, I’ll tell you, but it’s almost as hard to hear.  They discovered when they pulled Ivan out of the towels and blankets that BOTH of his front legs had been chewed off and he had been running on the dry and brittle bones of his forelimbs.  The only humane thing to do was euthanize him while he was still asleep.

It made me even more sick to know that my daughter, Jamie, had to see it and that our volunteers had to see it.  I am crying at the thought of you seeing it, because it’s the kind of thing you just can’t forget.  It’s that harsh awakening to the perils that animals face and once you have been a witness to such an atrocity then how can you bear it?

Since the bobcat was living near a canal, I thought that maybe he had been the survivor of an alligator attack, when I thought he was missing only one paw.  It really didn’t seem likely because alligators grab their prey and then roll into the water where they have the advantage of drowning their victims.  Any alligator big enough to do this damage would not have been fought off by a bobcat kitten.  Had the alligator just bitten off both front legs, the kitten would surely be writhing on the shore and an easy meal.

The only thing that makes sense, is the senseless act of trapping.


It seems clear that the bobcat kitten stepped into a trap and the only way out was to chew off his crushed and bleeding paws.  Dr. Justin said it took several days for the flesh to die back all the way up the legs, leaving the exposed and now brittle bones.  Every step the bobcat took had to have sent jolting pain through out his body.  Add to that misery that he could not hunt and he was starving to death.  I think what haunts me the most is thinking what must have been going through his head.  How could he sleep for even a minute knowing he had no defense against some other animal attacking and devouring him?  How could he look down, at those missing paws, and see the jutting bones and not be reminded every minute of his vulnerability?

In 1974 Florida became the first state to ban leg hold traps, so we don’t see this sort of thing very often, but it happens all the time in the U.S.   I’ve reported this incident to the Florida Wildlife Commission, but in a state where you can buy a permit to kill a bobcat for $25 it is hard to imagine that they will devote any resources to finding the perpetrator.  The only good news here is that there is a law against it in Florida.  If Ivan had just one thing to ask of you, I think it would be to ask that you bear witness for him and speak out for wild cats everywhere by asking your lawmakers for laws to protect them.

You might be astonished to know how many bobcats and lynx are being trapped and killed in the U.S. for the Russian fur trade.  I am not aware of any pending bills regarding the fur industry or trapping, but when such bills do get introduced we will post an easy to send email at  Please send one of our current letters to protect exotic cats and sign up to hear from us here:

Calling your lawmaker may seem scary, but that’s nothing compared to the horror that Ivan faced.




If you don’t want to see the poor legless bobcat

























Injured Bobcat Rescued – Euthanized

Injured Bobcat Rescued – Euthanized

Injured Bobcat Rescued – Euthanized


3/22/14 10:57 am a call comes in from someone named Stacie who says she is watching a bobcat, in a ditch across from her house in Northport, FL (1hr 17min away) and he is limping and has blood dripping from his leg. She says her father walked right up to the cat and it didn’t run, so I asked her to text me a photo and it was a bobcat. The cat looked to be in pain, but was sitting in the grass and the photo was blurry, so I didn’t know how bad the injury might be.

We sprang into action and loaded up the Tundra with nets, the squeeze cage, a carrier, first aid kit, blankets, water, Interns (Lauren and Philip) and Jamie and Dr. Justin. Since the cat was able to retreat to the woods, I felt that we may need to dart the cat to save him and we have to have a vet do that because the drugs are a controlled substance. That meant Jamie and Dr. Justin had to give up their day off to go searching for a bobcat, which is usually like seeking a needle in a haystack.

Nearly four and half hours go by, and still no word from Jamie, so I texted her and asked if they had seen the bobcat yet. She texted back the saddest image imaginable; a young bobcat with his front left paw chewed off.


My first thought was that perhaps the bobcat had been trapped and chewed off his own leg to free himself, but hearing Jamie describe the location where he was found it made me wonder if the bobcat had survived a gator attack.

She said they had beaten the bushes for hours and were just about to give up because the area the bobcat had disappeared into was an over grown canal that went on for miles.


They circled back around and heard dogs barking and thought that maybe they had flushed the cat out of the woods. Sure enough, as they headed toward all the noise, they found the bobcat in the canal where Dr. Justin was able to net him.


Now they are on their way to Animal Coalition of Tampa where Dr. Justin will amputate the leg and stabilize the bobcat, if possible.


They are thinking the bobcat’s new name should by Ivy if a female and Ivan if a male because of all of the poison ivy they tromped through to save the cat’s life.

Poison Ivy Legs

Warning Graphic Image

Do not scroll down if you are faint of heart because this image is just heart breaking.

When the Rescuers were trying to catch the bobcat, he was running on all four paws, even though it was obvious that one front leg was chewed off.

When he was netted and put in the squeeze cage he was deep in towels and covered with a blanket to keep him from going into shock.

Once the Rescuers arrived at the clinic and were able to sedate him and pull him out, they knew there was nothing they could do but put him out of his misery.

He had obviously been struggling to survive for days, as the bones were completely dried out.

It’s gut wrenching to see an animal in such condition, but he left this world surrounded by angels and more love than many animals ever know.


Read about how hundreds of bobcats and lynx are killed in U.S. traps each year for the fur trade.


Now at Big Cat Rescue March 22 2014

Now at Big Cat Rescue March 22 2014

West Virginia Bans Private Possession of Wild Animals!


Gov. Tomblin has signed a bill into law to prohibit the private possession of dangerous wild animals. Introduced by Del. Randy Swartzmiller (D-1), HB 4393 passed the House by a vote of 72 to 23, and the Senate by a 22 to 11 vote. The bill creates a Dangerous Wild Animal Board, whose members will determine which animals to include under the law. The Humane Society of the United States, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the International Fund for Animal Welfare praise Gov. Tomblin’s decision.

Summer Wyatt, West Virginia state director for The HSUS, issued the following statement: “There’s no good reason for private citizens to keep dangerous wild animals as pets on their property and thankfully that day has come to an end. We are grateful to Governor Tomblin and the legislature for standing firm on this issue, and working to protect animal welfare and public safety. West Virginia now joins the majority of states across the country in taking decisive action on this issue.”

With Gov. Tomblin’s signature, there remain only five states with little to no restrictions on the private possession of dangerous wild animals—Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wisconsin.

Ginger the serval

Ginger the Serval

No Animals Harmed

New from visionary director Darren Aronofsky comes “Noah,” starring Russell Crowe. The film is inspired by the epic story of courage, sacrifice, and hope, and is an exercise in humane filmmaking, as no live animals were used during production.

For the making of this film, Aronofsky — a recipient of The HSUS’s Humane Filmmaker Award — opted to use all computer-generated imagery to create the animals on Noah’s Ark, instead of using captive exotics. As public concern for captive animals grows, The HSUS applauds the filmmakers behind “Noah” for using new technology to tell this legendary story.

Don’t miss your chance to see animal-friendly filmmaking at its best on the big screen. “Noah” opens nationwide in theaters and IMAX screens on March 28. Watch the trailer and get tickets

Wayne Pacelle, President & CEO

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.

March for Lions Kids

For Adults, go to

Here is a collection of goodies for kids to celebrate the March For Lions event.  Getting children excited about and involved in saving big cats and wild life in general is very important so why not make it fun for them to participate.

Kids Lion Stationery

Your are never too young to be a voice for animals.  Here is something for kids to use to make a difference.  Kids can write a letter asking lawmakers asking for laws to stop letting people play with baby lions. Below are seven different versions of Kids’ Lion Stationery. Click on one of them and wait for the fill size version to completely load in your browser before printing it. OR, you can right click on the one you like and choose to “Save Targeted File” to download the stationery to your computer for later printing.

Make a Lion Cookie Box

(Featuring Cameron, Joseph, & Nikita) Click on a thumbnail below to get the pull size version. each cookie box is around1 mb or larger so please give the full size image time to fully load before printing it.  OR, you can right click on the one you like and choose to “Save Targeted File” to download the stationery to your computer for later printing. Print, Cut out, Fold, Tape or glue, Let Dry, and add a cookie to your gift box.

Lion Word Scramble Game

Click on the thumbnail below to load the full sized version in your browser.  Wait for the page to fully load before printing. OR, you can right click on it and choose to “Save Targeted File” to download the stationery to your computer for later printing.

March For Lions Bracelets

Featuring Photos of Cameron, Joseph, & Nikita – Print on white card stock, cut out,  wrap about child’s wrist and tape the ends together.  You can trim off the parts that are too long. Click on a small picture below to open the bracelet full size.  Wait for the bracelet to fully load in your browser then print it.  OR, you can right click on it and choose to “Save Targeted File” to download the bracelet to your computer for later printing.

4C 4D 5 5B 5C 5D 6 6B 6Bsmall 6C 6D 7 7B 7C 7D

Telling Time Worksheets

Telling time practice worksheets to print.   Click on a small picture below to open the full size worksheet.  Wait for the page to fully load in your browser then print it.  OR, you can right click on it and choose to “Save Targeted File” to download the worksheet to your computer for later printing.

Lion Door Hanger

Door hangers to print, cut out and hang on your door knob.  There are two per sheet.  Click on a small picture below to open the door hangers full size.  Wait for the page to fully load in your browser then print it.  OR, you can right click on it and choose to “Save Targeted File” to download the doorhangers to your computer for later printing.

Match Cats to Their Species Game

How well do you know the cats that live at Big Cat Rescue. See if you can match the cats’ names to the right species. Click on the thumbnail below to see it full size.  Wait for the full size version to fully load in your browser before printing.

Maze Game – Help The Lion Escape to Freedom

Find the correct path to help the lion escape to freedom. Click on the thumbnail below to see it full size.  Wait for the full size version to fully load in your browser before printing.

 What Do You See?   I See a Lion, a Tiger, and a Monkey


Willy Wizard sends your child off on a reading adventure to see a lion, a monkey, and a tiger.   Bright colorful cartoon graphics and big color photos or real lions and tigers. Children will learn about:  The colors green, red, blue and purple. They will learn about lions, tigers, and sharing.  They will learn that reading is fun and funny.  They will enjoy the rhyming and humor.  You might even get a chuckle or two while reading this to younger children.

Get the FREE iBook for iPads from iTunes   Get the FREE PDF version

Your feedback is valued.

Feel free to leave your comments below.  We are interested in knowing what you did or did not like and what suggestions you might have.

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.

If you find this site helpful then please help us keep it going:  Donate to Save Tigers