KITTENS AND CUBS
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. With more than 25 years experience, with every sort of exotic cat, I can assure you that there is nothing you can do to raise up an exotic cat to be a housepet. It just isn’t possible. No matter how young you neuter or spay the cats, both male and female, ALWAYS spray when they become adults. The suggestions below are just so that you don’t become another one of the 98% who kill their exotic pet in the first two years.
If you have never raised an exotic cat up from a kitten, then nothing you have ever done will prepare you for the heartaches and headaches that you will experience during this most crucial time. There is no substitute for their mother’s love and if you have decided to try and be a surrogate mother you have taken on the responsibility of a lifetime of care. This is not a position to take lightly and we cannot emphasize strongly enough how much hard work and dedication will be required of you. Once the cub has reached sexual maturity you will not be able to trust this relationship but this will make the stress of life in captivity around humans a little less onerous for the animal.
Most breeder leave kittens with their mothers for a minimum of ten days, or until the eyes open, for several reasons. The mother’s first milk in the first 48 hours contains the colostrum necessary for the kitten to initiate it’s own immune system. Without this colostrum, which is not available to the public in synthetic form, the cub will have no natural immunities and will be in severe danger until after the second booster shot, which will be given at eight weeks. This is a long time to hold your breath. Even with novice mothers and potentially dangerous ones, it is still better to let the kitten get that first milk. The eyes usually open at ten days and if the kitten can be left with the mother until then there is less likelihood of eye infection, if she is properly cleaning and grooming her young. If your kitten was taken from his mother before then you are probably fighting a losing battle to keep him alive.
Everyone will want to see and handle the cubs, but this can be very stressful for the kits and stress can kill them as quickly as any virus. Studies on puppies have reported that interrupted sleep can lead to death. In the wild, the exotics must be especially alert, and even in captivity a cat will be aroused by the quietest approach. Keep them in a warm, dark, secured, quiet place overnight. To help accustom the new cubs to your smell, you can bed them in a soft Tee shirt that you have worn all day, as long as it does not have other cat “germs” on it. Cats will recognize you as much by your smell as any other factor and for this reason we try to keep that smell consistent by using the same laundry soap, shampoos, body soaps, etc.
Food: Nothing we have to offer is going to taste or feel like “mom” and if we try to introduce some foreign food and container right away the kittens are going to put up a huge fight and it gets your whole relationship off to a bad start. (Except for kits who may have been pulled due to the Dam’s inadequate milk supply. If they are restless and nursing on their feet or bedding then we will offer them something to drink right away) By early morning the kits are HUNGRY and ready (sort of) to accept anything. It’s almost always still a challenge, but it’s not an all out struggle and by the third feeding they have usually got the hang of nursing from a hard rubber nipple and a taste for that otherwise yucky stuff that makes the hungries go away. (At this point you have to wonder who you thought you were to take this baby away from his mother. The kitten is miserable and the mother will be crying for days for her lost offspring. If you bought a kitten to bottle raise, you supported this horrid practice.)
WASH your hands before and after handling the kittens and we suggest sterile aprons or hospital gowns be worn over your clothing when you handle the cubs. Handle them as needed, but resist picking them up as much as possible for the first three weeks, especially the first week of their life. We treat them as much like their mother would as possible by keeping them in a “nest” and feeding and cleaning them within this makeshift nest. The nest material will have to be replaced frequently and the kitten will have to be picked up, but try to keep it to a minimum at first.
At three weeks they are better able to handle being picked up and this is when you will be getting them accustomed to frequent handling. Begin laying the kit on his back in your hand or lap and rubbing his belly and under his chin. When the cat is grown you will want him to feel comfortable with this behavior because you will need to inspect, groom or pick fleas or burrs from this area. If not trained young that he can trust you to touch his most vulnerable spots, you will have a hard time trying to convince him later.
The bonding that you will do with your exotic kitten during these most crucial times will last a lifetime. Just pulling the kitten out every two hours, feeding him, helping him eliminate waste and putting him back in the carrier, may keep him alive, but he deserves so much more. Do not wake the kitten to play, but if you see he is awake take the time to nuzzle, snuggle and caress. If you cannot drop what you are doing every time, just the warm, loving sounds of your voice can convey the love you feel. The cub will remember these early times and will respond a lifetime to familiar words, feels and games. I have long hair that always falls down around the kits when I am tending to them and all of my adults now love hair. We have adult Bobcats and Siberian Lynxes that will jump onto a strangers shoulders and nuzzle in their hair like they have known the person all their lives.
These learned responses will stay with the cat throughout his life, so choose your games wisely. Our 150 pound Leopards still love to leap up on our shoulders and snuggle in our hair, and this is NOT a good thing. We have since learned that any cat, full grown, we cannot carry must be trained to keep all four on the floor. My late husband nearly had his head severed at the neck, when in play, Simba a full grown Asian Leopard leaped some twenty feet across the pen, expecting Don to catch him. The cat was smiling, a big open mouthed smile as he sailed through the air. Don caught him, breaking the impact and fall, but Simba’s upper canine raked across Don’s neck, from his ear down to the other side of his Adam’s apple. I didn’t know a person could live through such a bad injury to the neck, but it did heal in time.
Even though you spend all of these sleepless days and nights training your cub to know and love you like a mother, consider the reality: In nature, by the time the cub is old enough to go out on its own (1-5 years) it must stake out its own territory and if its mother were to end up crossing the line she would be killed because nature has hardwired the exotic cats for survival of the fittest and you will never be any match for an exotic cat.