Big Cat Rescue’s Feeding Protocol
Nutrition is the process by which an organism takes in (ingests), digests and assimilates food. The types of food ingested and the manner in which they are taken in are as varied as the animals in the sanctuary. Nutrition is a science, while feeding sanctuary animals is an art. Feeding involves the animal’s behavior, the kind of food, when, where, how and why it is fed; the preparation and presentation of the food; feeding records and the sanctuary Commissary.
THE KEEPER’S ROLE
The Keeper is the interface between the animal and all the other staff in the sanctuary. This role is especially important where feeding is concerned because only the Keeper knows how well an animal is eating, whether or not the animal finds the food acceptable, and its general condition resulting from what, when and how it is f ed.
No matter how good the diet is, it must be properly presented to the animal, at the optimum time, and under conditions that allow the animal to eat adequate amounts. The Keeper’s role is extremely important in the preparation and presentation of food and cannot be stressed enough. A knowledge of the kind of animal, its behavior and nutritional requirements are all necessary to provide a properly presented diet. Check diet sheets regularly to familiarize yourself with any changes and to ensure the diet as offered matches the diet sheet.
For most animals food is presented on a daily basis. Feeding times vary with different species, and with animal management techniques; for example most of our larger carnivores are fed in the evening or late afternoon to reduce the attraction of flies and ants.
Sanitation is very important, especially where the food offered is moist or starts to decompose rapidly (e.g. fish, meat or fruit). Dry foods such as hay and browse offer less of a problem but must be kept clean and uncontaminated. Food bowls, trays, feeding platforms and areas must be kept clean and (usually) dry.
Every organism needs nutrients for its maintenance as well as for growth or production. Maintenance is defined as the condition in which an animal is neither gaining nor losing body energy (or other nutrients). A maintenance diet is one that keeps the organism alive and healthy but does not provide for additional energy uses; these may take several forms – exercise, building additional organic substances (growth), production of a fetus or milk, and increases in reserves such as fat. Maintenance requirements are for maintaining body temperature, physiological functions (such as respiration and digestion) and repairing and replacing tissue, without the animal gaining or losing body weight.
Volume 6 of the International sanctuary Yearbook lists several criteria of importance in the feeding of sanctuary animals.
|The employment of the teeth and digestive organs in such a way as to keep them healthy.|
|Supplying the necessary nutrients which each animal requires.|
|Providing occupation and contentment with respect to the feeding process.|
|Allowing for seasonal changes in needs (sexual activity, external environment etc).|
|Avoiding psychological stress, which is linked with nutrition. (R.Fiennes, Feeding Animals In Captivity)|
|The cost of various foods must also be considered in the sanctuary.|
In feeding sanctuary animals we try to ensure that each animal ingests sufficient food to maintain its physical, physiological and psychological well being. Several points should be considered.
|The nature of the diet being offered – is it a natural or man-made diet? Does it require supplementing or is it already balanced?|
|The type of feed container, how many are needed, and the location.|
|The type of exhibit or holding area.|
|The number of animals and the sex ratio.|
|Seasonal requirements (reproductive and climatic).|
|Mixed species exhibits.|
|The physical condition of the animal being offered food.|
|The animal’s previous diet.|
|Control of the animal’s routine.|
In order to establish an effective feeding method we must take into consideration the animal’s natural feeding behavior. Some animals have evolved into very specialized feeders, which causes problems when trying to provide natural or acceptable substitute diets for them in captivity. Some animals are continuous feeders while others are occasional feeders, and food must be offered accordingly.
The presentation of food is as important as its composition. Animals which feed on live food may be gradually weaned onto dead food, which is often easier to keep, less costly and less dangerous.
Animals seek their food aided by their sensory organs; sense of smell, taste, touch and vision are not all equally well developed in all animals. Some species may rely heavily on a single sense, in which case the presentation must make the food appealing to that sense. Birds are often very dependent on vision. A perfect food in pellet form for a bird may be unacceptable because the bird does not recognize the diet as food. It may be necessary to put animals which aren’t familiar with an “unnatural” food together with others who already recognize the food and accept it, in order that the first group can learn to identify the new diet as a food source by watching the other animal eating.
As well as the need to recognize food as such, the animal must also be able to eat it. The physical adaptations of an animal, its food intake organs (tongue, teeth, lips, beak etc) must be considered when offering food; we must also consider its feeding patterns.
Many species swallow food whole. The size of the food particle is important. Rodents require material to gnaw on for dental conditioning.
LOCATION OF FOOD:
The positioning and number of food bowls and troughs, feeding stations etc. should be based on the feeding behavior of the species. In displays with a number of individuals several dishes may be necessary to reduce or avert fighting over food.
Hygiene considerations also dictate where bowls are placed; they must be positioned to avoid contamination with feces and urine. Food should be protected from rain, snow, excessive sunlight and heat. Pests such as mice, sparrows and insects must be kept away from food as much as possible. The public should have no direct access to animal food containers except under direct supervision. Keepers must be able to service the feeding area in a safe manner.
Hay feeders should be above ground to avoid fecal contamination, but should not be so high as to force the animal to reach too high for its feed. Grazing animals, with their continuous feeding habits, would in this situation, spend much of their time in unnatural positions which could result in spinal deformation. Eye infections and irritations can be caused by hay particles and dust falling into an animal’s eyes when the animal has to reach into a high feeder.
Construction of feeders should utilize smooth surfaces and rounded edges to avoid injury. Dishes for many species should be well fastened.
There are other special requirements; experience and a good basic understanding of animal feeding habits, behavior and adaptations will provide a guide for constructing safe effective feeding stations and for proper feeding techniques.
TIMING OF FEEDING
Animals feed at different times in a 24-hour period (nocturnal and diurnal feeders); some feed over very long periods and are continuous feeders whereas others feed only for short periods. Some animals feed several times a day (or night) while others, such as snakes and birds of prey may pause for days or even weeks between feedings.
Keepers have less opportunity to observe feeding in those species which are nocturnal, unless the light cycle is reversed. Animals which are continuous feeders make it difficult to judge the total amount of food consumed, especially when they are exhibited in groups. Some animals may be separated at feeding times, as part of their normal routine. This allows the Keeper to monitor the animal’s food intake, make diet adjustments; it also allows for exhibition in natural groups once feeding is over.
FOOD AND WATER CONTAINERS
Big Cat Rescue uses different kinds and sizes of containers for food and water:
Rubber bowls (2.5, 5, and 10 gallon size)
Stainless steel bowls, ceramic bowls, and plastic bowls
Wood and metal feed troughs various sizes and shapes
Bird food dispensers “cement” bowls
Floor hay racks, hay nets, made to
measure fiberglass containers
Automatic watering systems with separate controls
Water bottle feeders and paper plates
Food and water bowls should be cleaned thoroughly each day. Don’t forget the outside and underneath of the containers.
When selecting a container for an animal’s food or water, consider the hygiene requirements, pest control, safety and serviceability, and the position and number of bowls required. Always remember to clean the area around and underneath food stations.
There are many different aspects of food intake and several categories can be identified besides herbivorous, carnivorous and omnivorous, which only describe the type of food eaten.
|Predators and Prey animals: Predators and prey show important differences in feeding behavior. Predators are species which may pursue and kill other animals, and consume them. The competition for potential food and the animal’s predatory skills develop an aggressive behavior and intolerance for other individuals. A Keeper may expect fighting over food with animals of this group during feeding. Ideally all individuals in a group of predators are presented with food simultaneously and spaced as far apart as is necessary to ensure a peaceful meal.|
|Competition and fighting over food stands in direct relation to its abundance or its availability to the species. Ungulates normally seen grazing peacefully together may become competitive and aggressive when a Keeper hands out tidbits, or where the feeding station is too small to allow all animals to feed together.|
|Group feeding disadvantages include:|
|Competition for food; fighting and possible injury.|
|Uneven distribution of various food items among individuals.|
|Lack of Keeper control over individual intake.|
|Individuals with specific needs (medication, lactation supplements, etc.) may not be served.|
|Individual feeding disadvantages include:|
|Animals may be fed “off view” and the visitors are deprived of a chance to see the animals feeding.|
|Increased housing and labor costs (extra bowls, cleaning, etc.).|
|No encouragement from other animals to accept food. It has been noted that individuals of species with gregarious feeding patterns eat more in a group than they do when alone.|
|Competitive fighting for food, allowed for sensation purposes, has no place in the sanctuary. Remember that animals will defend food or that food may be the cause of aggressive behavior in an otherwise calm and approachable animal. Take care in approaching animals which have food, or if you are carrying food.|
FOOD PREPARATION AREAS
Make sure your kitchen or food preparation area is kept scrupulously clean. All tools and equipment must be kept dry, clean and oiled if necessary. Keep knives honed sharp; make sure all equipment is hung or shelved. Any foods or supplements should be kept in tightly closed, rodent proof containers. Containers should be amber, opaque or light proof as many vitamins are destroyed by light and heat. Disinfect this area regularly; clean benches, and keep cutting blocks dry and clean, and sinks scrubbed.
Keepers spend a good part of their day preparing foods for the animals in their area. The amount of time spent depends on the kind of animals and their diets. Each Keeper must be familiar with the kinds of food being fed and the manner of preparation and presentation. Keepers should take special care to see that food items, additives and supplements are properly mixed and presented in a manner acceptable to the animal. Do not assume that refusal of certain items is a rejection of that food without first altering food size or method of presentation.
The sanctuary’s Nutritionist has the responsibility of formulating the animals’ diet, working with the curator and veterinary staff. The initial preparation of the properly balanced diet for all of the variety of sanctuary animals then falls to the Commissary staff. The Keepers responsibility is the final preparation and presentation of the food in a manner which is acceptable to the animal in quality, quantity and timing. Keepers should be familiar with their animal’s nutritional needs, and can have direct input into the dietary system through requesting diet changes and speaking with the Nutritionist.
COMMISSARY AND NUTRITIONIST
Big Cat Rescue believes in the nutritional concept of sanctuary animal feeding. We have a fully trained Commissary staff working seven days a week.
Animal nutrition in the sanctuary involves a two way flow of information between the Commissary staff on one hand and the Keepers on the other. Feedback on diet acceptability, consumption levels, etc. is essential in the planning of sanctuary animal diets. Not much information is available on sanctuary nutrition because it is such a new field. Diets are often based on those developed for domestic stock or through ranching of such animals as mink, and proceed by trial and error often, until the right balance is achieved for sanctuary stock.
If you find new or relevant information in your reading which applies to sanctuary animals, share it with the Nutritionist. People with specific interests may come across dietary information of value to the sanctuary. Because sanctuary nutrition has become such an exact science the Keeper can be a valuable source of information from outside the sanctuary, as well as information about his or her animals.
The Commissary staff prepare and store all the food used in the sanctuary. Food is distributed to the Keepers daily or special additions as needed.
Big Cat Rescue offers a variety of pelletized and cubed foods for its animals as well as commercially prepared and packaged foods, whole animals and live foods. Pellets, crumble, cubes are all dry foods, often specifically prepared for the sanctuary from formula provided by the sanctuary’s Nutritionist.
Most foods are supplemented to correct nutritional imbalances, and where possible, formulated diets, (prepared flash frozen meats, pellets, cubes) that have a complete balanced nutritional “package” are offered.
However, the change of seasons, personal preferences, or specific animal manipulations may require dietary changes that the Keeper should initiate. No diet should be altered without consultation with your Foreman/Overseer, Nutritionist/ Veterinarian, or Curator. Even the slightest dietary change could have far-reaching positive or negative consequences that all the above should be aware of.
By defining diets for each animal or group in the sanctuary, and closely monitoring animal health, reproduction, longevity and food intake, we ensure the best quality of life for our sanctuary stock. A number of forms are used to facilitate this feeding control.
Each animal or group of animals has a diet sheet listing the kinds of food the animals receive, the quantity, how often and what supplements are added. The sheet is kept in the animal’s holding area or in a central kitchen area such as in each pavilion. These sheets are the results of considerable work and the instructions and amounts should be followed accurately. Diet sheets must be kept up-to-date and should reflect changes in the group (births and deaths), seasonal needs and the amounts and types of supplements required.
The Keeper’s sheet must be up-to-date and represent what the animal is actually being fed; make sure your sheets are reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
Diet changes can be requested on a feed requisition form (see 2, below). Provided that you have supplied relevant information about the diet and the animals involved, and that the changes are nutritionally acceptable, a new diet sheet can be issued within two days.
Current diets for all animals in the sanctuary are kept by the Nutritionist; outdated diet sheets are also kept so that the entire dietary history of an animal is available for reference. This enables us to correlate diet with breeding activity, birth rate, survival and growth of young to establish species parameters.
FEED CONTROL SHEETS
For some species we utilize feed control sheets which record the daily amounts of food offered, the different kinds of food, and the amounts eaten and refused. Diet control sheets offer an excellent means of closely following variations in food intake; studies of these sheets can determine whether diet changes are related to seasons or are for other reasons. They are also useful in establishing diet parameters for newly arrived species, determining quantities and preferences, and deciding maintenance and lactating diets.
The sheets are filled out daily by the Keeper; food going into an exhibit as well as the food coming out (as refuse) must be carefully weighed and recorded.
GUIDELINES FOR ANIMAL NUTRITION
|Know what to feed and how much to feed. Underfed animals are more susceptible to disease; overfed animals may have health problems (from obesity) or reproductive problems.|
|Know what size food to offer each animal. Generally the smaller the animal the smaller the food size. You can provide occupational value by varying the food size.|
|Be familiar with different kinds of food used – different hays, pellets, etc.|
|Try to feed according to the animal’s needs and feeding patterns; always use a routine.|
|Don’t feed spoiled, moldy or dusty food or food of poor quality.|
|Check all your food for contamination and spoilage, even in the bag.|
|Always break up hay bales and straw bales before using to check for thistles, wire, other foreign objects (wire, paper, plastic). Remove all binder twine.|
|If the food has been rejected by an animal, find out why. Is the animal sick? Or the food spoiled or at the wrong temperature? Has it been fed at the wrong time of day?|
|Make sure all animals in a group receive an adequate share of food, supplements, water and medication.|
|Keep food containers, bowls, storage bins, etc. clean inside and out.|
|Observe, record, report and follow-up any diet changes. Follow up on diet change requests.|
|If you are in doubt about an animal’s diet, ask questions.|
|When reporting an animal’s food consumption, report its attitude towards the food.|
|Keepers can present food in exciting and imaginative ways to interest their animals, (e.g. hiding food so the animal forages for it).|
|Feeding should be limited to how much the animals need and can eat, not the amount you think because they “look” hungry. Feed by your diet sheet; if this is too much or too little, have it changed.|
|Rotate your feed stations where possible – always clean up underneath feeding areas.|
|Use as many feed sites as are needed to safely feed your animals.|
|Offer grit and oyster shell in small amounts in a clean bowl rather than leaving a large, seldom cleaned, bowlful in the exhibit; the same applies to salt blocks, cattle mineral, etc.|
|If your animal isn’t eating, tell someone. Note it on your report.|
|When storing bulk food, never add fresh food to older, stored food.|
|Empty and thoroughly clean out the container (jar, bin, etc.) before adding new foods.|
|Order only what food can be consumed in a reasonable period of time.|
|For example, the Mega C is readily oxidized. Even primate cubes with stabilized Vitamin C loses half of the Vitamin C within six weeks. Distinguish between production dates and expiry dates on bags before returning unused foods.|
Most animals require fresh water for drinking, bathing or living in. The basic rule for the Keeper when supplying fresh water is to provide it as often as the animal requires, several times a day if necessary. Always keep your water dishes cleaned and disinfected; clean them inside and outside and underneath. Place water dishes in the exhibit in such a way that the animal won’t defecate or urinate in the bowl e.g. don’t place the water bowl under an arboreal animal’s branch. Use a dish of adequate size for your animals, or more than one dish if necessary. Some animals and birds delight in manipulating bowls, so sometimes a heavy ceramic or concrete dish may be needed. Be sure the dish is shaded.
Remember that most animals have no access to water other than that which you provide for them; a good Keeper doesn’t go off on a coffee break if his animals don’t have adequate clean, fresh water.
Water is used in a variety of ways by many species. Snakes may bathe in a water dish prior to shedding their skin. Before supplying an exhibit with water, make sure it is at the correct temperature; try to match the temperature with the animal’s environment. Never offer water that is too hot or too cold.
City water supplies usually contain chlorine, often in amounts which can vary from day to day. The chlorine in the water reacts with iron or copper in the water pipes to form metal (chloride) molecules which can inhibit absorption through the skin of oxygen in the water by amphibians. It is important that tap water isn’t used directly in amphibian tanks or displays; a supply of water should be kept at all times, aged for at least 24 hours to allow the chlorine to dissolve out of solution into the air before the water is used.
A NO (PUBLIC) FEEDING POLICY
Most sanctuary’s discourage the feeding of sanctuary animals by the public, but a no feeding rule is hard to enforce. Visitors like to feed animals because it links them with the sanctuary animal; it is a contact and a relationship, however brief. It may allow them control over the animal and may also stimulate behavior or movement in an otherwise inactive animal.
All sanctuary animals receive good, plentiful balanced diets; extra food isn’t required and can harm the animal. Most animals are like children, and will eat sweet food or junk-food all day. The sanctuary’s responsibility is like that of a child’s parents who must control the child’s diet. An animal full of junk-food won’t eat its normal sanctuary diet.
Animals will often eat whatever is offered to them – cigarettes, matches, food, bubblegum, cans, etc. Other animals are more fussy and won’t accept food that is very different from their basic diet.
Visitors who attempt to feed sanctuary animals should be apprised of the following facts:
- The animal receives a nutritious balanced diet and doesn’t need extra food. Many animals will eat junk food or sweet food even when they aren’t hungry. The sanctuary can’t control what they eat when people feed them – animals can end up with deficiencies, poor teeth and bad health. Food offered by visitors to certain animals can transmit disease (such as measles and colds to primates). Feeding by visitors disrupts the proper maintenance cycle of the animals – renders any feed control data invalid and may cause the Keepers to make inaccurate observations on how much the animal is eating.
- Causes aggressive encounters and a stereotyped dependency (begging).
There is no such thing as a free lunch for sanctuary animals. Make sure the public understand why they aren’t allowed to feed. The sanctuary staff aren’t trying to spoil the visitors fun, they are trying to discharge their responsibility in caring for their animals. The exception to this are the supervised Feeding Tours.
Big Cat Rescue Uses Natural Balance Carnivore Diet
Big Cat Rescue feeds our 500 pounds of food per day and we use Natural Balance Carnivore Diet because it is the best and the cats LOVE it.
The Carnivore 15 Formula was developed, researched and tested by leading sanctuary animal keepers, nutritionists, and veterinarians. This fresh-frozen beef diet is made from high quality beef processed in a HACCP compliant California State inspected plant under stringent sanitary conditions. Natural Balance ® sanctuary Carnivore Diet 15 contains a sanctuary animal vitamin-mineral premix, which includes vitamin E, niacin, vitamin A and taurine – particularly important nutrients to felidae. The diet is nutritionally complete and needs no additional supplementation; it meets all NRC and AAFCO requirements for felids and canids, and does not contain meat by-products or grains such as corn, wheat, rice or barley. Non-meat ingredients conform to the feed standards defined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
Please call for further information at 1 (800) 829-4493 or email:[email protected]
Visit them online at: http://www.naturalbalanceinc.com/sanctuarylogical/carnivore15.html
Read this article on a site that specializes in pet cat diets
|Colorado Box Beef||$ per lb||Master Purveyors||$ per lb|
|Head meat||$1.52||Head meat||1.5|
|Back Rib bones||1.16-1.79||Back Rib bones||1.62|