BIG CAT RESCUE’S ANIMAL HEALTH PROTOCOL
In brief, this is how we insure the good animal health of our many exotic cats.
When the Keepers clean, if they do not find poop, the cat goes on the ‘check again’ chart. Then a second team goes around and searches for their poop. If none is found the cat is watched closely and checked on frequently and they go on the “No poop today” chart. This chart is looked at by the founder, coordinators and vets. The cat’s medical history is checked and the cats is watched closely. If there is no poop the second day they go on the vets’ ‘needs checked’ list.
The same with meals. If the cat does not seem excited about meal time, it is charted. If a cat does not eat all of their meal it is charted and the cat goes on the ‘observation sheet’ and is checked on frequently. The Operant Conditioning team tries throughout the day to offer food treats to get the cat to sit, lay, show mouth, show paws, and show belly so they can carefully watch how the cat moves and looks. The results are added to the observation chart for the vets.
If cats’ body language, behavior, attitude, appetite, or anything changes from the norm the cat goes on the observation chart. Cats are experts at hiding symptoms so it is crucially important that everyone here is trained to note any changes at all and charts it on the observation charts. Also, after mealtime keepers go back around and check to see if everyone ate all their food and if a cat still seems hungry after eating all their meal it gets noted on the charts as well for the vets to review the cats’ weight, medical history, and dietary needs. Catching problems as early as possible is really important because cats are so good at hiding symptoms by the time you see symptoms they really need quick attention.
The Keeper is the first line of defense in caring for the animals in the Refuge. Big Cat Rescue maintains a close relationship with two full-time Veterinarians, and their Lab Technicians. However, the Keeper, being responsible for the daily care of the Refuge’s animals, plays an important part in the Big Cat Rescue’s animal health program. The effectiveness of the Keeper’s role depends on several factors.
Attitude:The Keeper’s attitude and the attitude of the Refuge’s Veterinarian and Management are all important for effective animal care.
Awareness: The keeper should be aware of his/her role in maintaining animal health, the policies and procedures of the animal health care program and the needs of the animals.
Prevention: The Keeper can help prevent problems caused by being uninformed, using poor techniques and practices, poor animal nutrition, improper use of tools and equipment, and substandard husbandry.
Observation: The Keeper must carefully observe the animals and all things in the Refuge which directly or indirectly affect them. Knowledge of an animal’s normal routine, behaviour and appetite is important. N ot all changes in behaviour will be caused by disease.
Communication: Good communications with co-workers and all other Refuge staff at all levels increases a Keeper’s effectiveness. All observations are to be documented immediately on the Observation Chart.
Co-operation: The Keeper is part of a team and should accept the role of others in animal health care, nutrition, etc.; record all information for the use of other staff and for future reference.
Disease is a condition of ill health or malfunctioning in a living organism. There are many forms of diseases which may be manifested by various signs or systems.
SIGNS OF ILLNESS
Wild animals, especially cats, often mask the symptoms of disease, illness or injury until death approaches or the disease has reached an acute stage; this is a matter of survival. The Keeper must be aware enough to detect subtle changes in his animals.
There are 11 signs of disease or change that a Keeper should look for and which may be significant to the Veterinarian or Director. In a specific animal any one of these may be normal by itself, but all of them should be recorded and reported if they occur. In all cases a comparison should be made with known behavior or history of the animals and with other individuals in the group.
- Changes in behaviour: A quiet animal becoming aggressive, an active one becoming listless or depressed. A herd animal isolating itself or being ostracized. Evidence of pain, reduced grooming etc.
- Changes in defecation: Diarrhea, foul odor, white flecks or blood in the stool, increase or decrease in frequency or amount, straining, presence of foreign objects. N o feces at all.
- Changes in urination: Increase or decrease in frequency or amount, absence of urine, discolouration, presence of blood or pus, straining.
- Discharges: From the eye, ear, nose, vulva or penis. Amount, colour, consistency and odor are all important.
Coughing, sneezing, gagging: How often and how much.
- Limping or refusal to rise: Which leg and severity of lameness.
- Change in appetite/water consumption: Eating less or not at all, drinking more or less, etc.
- Wounds, sores, lumps: Appearance, size, location, rate of growth.
- Change in appearance: Loss of hair, dull or matted coat.
- Sudden loss or gain in weight, changes in general carriage, eye shine, etc.
- Respiration: Change in depth and frequency of respiration, animal may tire easily.
- Regurgitation or vomiting: When does it occur in relation to eating, how much, how often? Presence of foreign bodies, hair balls, parasites or blood.
KINDS OF DISEASE
Diseases can be classified according to the cause or etiology:
Infectious : Caused by lower organisms (virus, bacterium, fungus, internal and external parasites). May or may not be contagious (capable of being transmitted directly from one animal to another).
Nutritional : Caused by a deficiency or excess of any part of the diet (protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, minerals).
Mechanical : Injuries or trauma, burns, foreign bodies, obstructions, intestinal twists, etc
Neoplastic (new tissue): Growths or tumors; may be fast or slow growing, malignant or benign.
Metabolic: Disorders of metabolism, eg. diabetes, capture myopathy.
Toxic: Ingestion or absorption of toxic substances.
Psychological: Stress related such as self trauma.
Developmental : Abnormalities of organ growth or development may be hereditary (genetic) and/or congenital (present at birth).
DEGREE OF ILLNESS
Various intrinsic and extrinsic factors will determine the severity of disease:
Species of animal and type of disease: Some species are resistant to certain diseases. Some microorganisms affect animal species, others are quite specific.
Genetic variability: Some strains or individuals are more susceptible, i.e. poor conformation may lead to foot and leg problems.
Age: Old and very young animals are generally more susceptible.
General state of health and nutritional status: Any underlying disease or deficiency can exacerbate disease or affect the immune system.
Stress: From humans, other animals, captivity can directly affect immune system.
Infectious diseases are acquired in various ways: through the skin (cuts, scratches, punctures), orally, into the respiratory system, from the mother utero or by other routes i.e. urogenital system.
Transmission occurs directly by contact through the air or by way of infected feces, saliva or discharges. Indirect transmission may occur via animate carriers (boots, tools, clothing) or through vectors (living disease carriers such as insects, bats or other animals, etc.).
Most diseases caused by microorganisms have direct life cycles. In the case of some parasites the life cycle may be indirect involving one or more intermediate hosts. An animal group or species in which a disease exists permanently is known as a reservoir. (i.e. skunks for rabies).
Knowledge of the methods of disease transmission and parasite life cycles is important in disease prevention.
To prevent disease from occurring in Big Cat Rescue animals we can do a number of things:
- Keep groups of animals properly separated: Besides interspecific aggression, some species may act as reservoirs.
- Keep all pets outside: Diseases that are mild domestic animals may be lethal to wild animals.
- Quarantine all new animals entering the Refuge: Examine, test, treat or even reject them.
- Hygiene: Wash hands, tools, boots before going from one area to another. Clean pens, dishes, bowls. Dispose of manure, bedding properly. Avoid conditions suitable for microorganisms such as wet areas.
- Vaccination program: Rabies, distemper, rhino, calici, chlamydia, tetanus, etc
- Parasite control program: Routinely screen all animals and treat as necessary.
- Effective pest control program: Including wild birds, rodents, insects and other animals.
- Other preventive medicine measures: TB tests, hoof and teeth care, routine health examinations, good nutritional program.
- Encourage participation in the Refuge’s Public Health Program.
Other points to consider in animal health care:
- The Keeper should always record all changes in physical appearance and behaviour of the animal he or she works with. Do not feel stupid about reporting any small changes in your animals – their lives may be at stake. When reporting on animals’ condition, use the correct anatomical terms.
- Quarantines and foot baths help reduce the spread of disease or infection. When finished in an animal area clean tools and maintain separate sets of tools for each animal section.
- Never smoke in an animal exhibit or holding area.
Injury or illness in the Refuge may be caused by a number of factors- accidents, fighting among animals, problems with Refuge visitors, sudden stress, mismanagement, escapes, and problems during restraint are some. The Keeper can eliminate many of these problems or minimize the trauma by being alert and prepared. Anticipating certain problems allows the Keeper to prevent their occurrence:
- Know your procedures for fire, escape, and dangerous situations.
- Know your equipment, its location and how to use it; keep all your equipment in good condition.
- Know your animal’s behaviour; be aware of problems, such as increasing stress, and try to remove the cause of the problem.
- Never close a shift door unless the animal is in full view (all limbs and tail). Always check the ropes and snaps to be sure they won’t slip after you have secured them.
- Keep a look out for toxic material-plastic, plants, wire, etc.
- Protect animals from each other and the public-rectify any unsafe situations.
- Try to take precautions before problems occur, not afterwards.
- Think before you move animals; prepare in advance for their arrival or departure.
- Prepare pens in advance with the needs of the animal taken into consideration. N ew animals in multi-use holdings can be injured by lights ( deer that bounce off walls) or limbs and heads can become trapped in wire fences (servals and goats).
- Because animal catch-ups or knockdowns are not part of the daily routine more diligence is required to check animal areas after these events. Ropes, pens, darts, needles and other veterinary tools may be left behind or become covered with sand.
- The cool weather substitution of heat lamps for regular lights may cause serious problems. Water from rain or hoses will cause infra-red lights to explode. Fixtures used for regular spot lights may not be designed to withstand the heat provided by infra-red lamps. Wood used near lights can easily catch fire with the heat provided from infra-red lights. If water is used in an area for the first time ensure that electrical outlets are designed for use in moist surroundings and have suitable covers or grounds.
When the Keeper enters a cage for any reason he should always use the following checklist to ensure that the area is safe for the animals.
- Look for sharp objects such as glass, nails, screws and wire projections.
- Look for flaking paint.
- Make sure there are not any cleaning agents or chemicals in proximity to the animal cage, or within sight to tempt the animal to reach for them.
- Look for holes in the floor, walls and ceiling in fences, wood and mesh, etc.
- Check that the water supply is clean and unobstructed, and that the cat can reach it.
- Check that the food and water is properly positioned where the animal will not walk, defecate or urinate in it.
- Check that there are no sharp point on the cage that the cat can injure itself on.
- Check that all temperature, lighting and humidity controls are functioning correctly.
- Check ventilation and electrical systems.
In good animal husbandry, prevention of disease, illness and injury is a prime task of the Keeper. The prevention of disease through proper care, feeding and vaccination is better than having to treat a diseased animal.
CONSTRUCTION – PROBLEMS & DANGERS
New construction or repair and upgrading of existing facilities is a common occurrence at Big Cat Rescue. This presents the potential for a) animal contact with hazardous materials, b) the accidental (wind) or intentional introduction of hazardous materials into animal exhibits from construction areas.
Keepers should always be on the lookout for litter of any kind even if it is outside the cage. If construction material must be stored near animal areas arrange for barriers to be installed around the construction area.
Hardware disease is caused when a foreign object, usually metal, punctures the reticulurn of the ruminant stomach, The reticulum (or honeycomb) is one of the compartments of the four-chambered ruminant stomach and often retains heavy foreign objects swallowed by the animal. Problems may not occur unless the object is sharp (such as a nail or piece of wire), and punctures the stomach wall during that organ’s muscular contractions. The object may then puncture the liver or the diaphragm; in the latter case it may pass into the chest cavity and puncture the lungs or heart, causing death.
This is not a rare problem, because in general ruminants are indiscriminate feeders and will eat wire, plastic, rope, nails, etc. along with a mouthful of hay. They may even seek out certain objects if their diet is deficient. Cats will swallow anything they can get into their mouths.
Knowledge of these habits and close supervision of work in his area helps the Keeper to avoid problems. Scrutinize the exhibit before allowing animals into it; use the magnet to find small metal objects. Make sure your inspections are persistent and relentless, and remember that fill may also be contaminated, and requires continual inspection.
OTHER ASPECTS OF ANIMALS HEALTH
Other aspects of animal health care include feces, fecal samples, prescriptions, the necropsy and handling carcasses.
Feces are a very interesting material and any good Keeper over a period of time becomes a connoisseur of texture, colour, smell and amounts of fecal material. Every Keeper should be aware of feces as an indicator of the animal’s condition; feces are a source of much information about an animal and a good Keeper can extract much of this information.
The terms feces, stool, dung and excreta are all interchangeable. The Keeper should learn what normal feces are for a particular species, for only by knowing what normal stool is can he be aware of abnormalities or problems.
The first thing a Keeper considers is, are there any feces? Lack of fecal matter can indicate a serious problem. Feces begin as food in the mouth of the animal and shows up at the rectum after enzymatic, bacterial, protozoal and chemical actions have occurred. If an animal stops eating, a similar reduction in stool production will occur; the time between the animal stopping eating and when if stops defecating depends on the species. It can range from a few hours in small cats to weeks for larger felids.
When determining normal feces for a particular animal, consider the following:
Feces should appear at regular intervals and be of about the same type each time it is observed. The nature of the animal will dictate the type of feces seen. Obviously excreta from a lemur will be different from a cat or bearcat. These differences are due to different foodstuffs being consumed, different types of digestive systems, and different modes of digestion. Each animal has a complex relationship with its total environment and if the animal’s state changes it may be reflected in the feces. A Keeper, when checking feces, looks for changes in consistency (diarrhea, looseness), foul odor, an increase or decrease in the amount and frequency of defecation, parasite eggs or worms, blood, mucus or foreign objects.
The Keeper should know that many animals can produce diarrhea at will, especially when under stress, such as mating or fighting, or during catch-up.
Anal glands may pass a secretion out with the stool and provide a characteristic odor.
Certain abnormalities visible in feces may indicate specific problems:
PARASITES: Tapeworms, roundworms and other worms are sometimes seen in feces. Feces should be broken up so that the insides can be checked for parasites. Parasite eggs can be seen microscopically.
MUCUS: Mucus-covered feces may mean an inflammation or irritation in the intestine, a serious problem, and may indicate bacterial or protozal infection of the gut.
BLOOD: Tarry, black stool may mean bleeding in the upper digestive tract. The blood (a protein) is digested by enzymes and the pigment seen at defecation is black. It may indicate a serious problem, intestinal parasite or foreign bodies. Carnivores consuming blood in their food (meat) tend to produce a dark, tarry stool, depending on the amount of blood in the food; this does not indicate a problem. Blood or blood flecks in the stool can indicate an inflammation of the colon or caecum, caused by both infectious agents and non-infectious processes.
Whenever parasites, mucus or blood appears in the stool, or even if you are not satisfied that the stool is normal, take a sample of feces containing the abnormality. Always wear rubber gloves; never handle fecal matter with naked hands. When reporting, describe whether the blood is throughout the feces (inflammation of the colon or caecum) or only on the outside (indicates difficulty in passing stool – straining, possible constipation; may need oil or diet change). Label the sample clearly and precisely and indicate whether any previous behaviour may account for the condition of the feces.
Fecal examination in the laboratory takes place on a regular basis to prevent parasite build-up in the host animal. When parasites are detected, treatment should be carried out according to the Veterinarian’s specific instructions, with repeat doses administered on schedule to complete the worming process. The Keeper will probably administer the worming medication, and should observe the feces and, if necessary, collect further samples for prompt delivery to the laboratory.
When describing feces in daily reports and other records the following standard descriptions should be followed to avoid confusion.
NORMAL : Regular for that species or individual in all respects.
SOFT/UNFORMED: Softer than the consistency normal for the species or individual, but still has “body” .
LOOSE: Feces with the consistency of pancake batter.
DIARRHEA: Watery stool – a sample should be taken with a syringe or spatula.
Additional descriptions can provide other data, such as foul smell, mucoid, tarry, watery, etc.
Antibiotic treatment of an infection may kill off an animal’s gut fauna; it may be necessary to re-introduce bacteria into the animal’s gut as replacements. Remember that feces can tell you a lot by their presence or absence, whether the animal is in good health or whether it has parasites, has swallowed a foreign body, or how well it is digesting and absorbing food.
Don’t just throw feces in the garbage – have a look at them first to see what you can learn.
Animal fecal samples are routinely submitted several times a year to the laboratory as a part of the Refuge’s animal health program. Other reasons for fecals to be collected include testing new arrivals at the Refuge, animals transferred within the Refuge and clinical cases, where there is diarrhea or persistent loose stool, for example. Submit as early in the day as possible for quick examination.
When submitting fecal samples the stool must be fresh, in a sealed, plastic bag, and properly identified; the animal’s species, sex, I.D., area, whether routine (R) or clinical (C), and the reason for submission if clinical, as well as the date are written on a tag attached to the plastic bag.
If the feces are from a group, try to identify the individuals. Use full species name and identification. For instance we have a Serval, a Cougar and a Bobcat, all named Cleo.
From time to time the Keeper will have the responsibility of administering certain prescribed medicines or treatments for his or her animals. Expired drugs are not allowed; read expired drugs
If you are not sure what the chart means, don’t guess, ask.
Report the treatment’s effectiveness, dates administered and when finished on the required Medication Chart and turn in to Coordinator when done.
Feed back to the Veterinary Department any suggestions you have for more effective presentation of medication (i.e. offering the Rx in a particular preferred food). Return any unused medication as soon as possible.
Necropsy means, simply, examining the dead. When an animal dies, decomposition (autolysis) begins immediately in cases where the animal is under heat or stress. This means that bodies must be submitted for post-mortern as soon as possible after death. Specimens should be refrigerated (not frozen, which destroys tissue) immediately and taken to the Veterinarian as soon as practicable.
The body is usually collected and bagged (if its size allows) by the Keeper. A tag is attached to the bag or animal, stating the date, time found, the animal’s identification, and the Refuge area. The animal’s medical history should accompany the animal to the Vet.
Be sure that information you record on the tag and form is accurate, (especially the animal’s identification), and as full as possible. Information from the necropsy may save other lives in the Refuge by telling the Veterinarian what killed the animal, its parasite load (in relation to Refuge worming procedures), its general state of health before death (in relation to nutrition and diet), and its reproductive state. The data supplied by the Keeper may be important in the final diagnosis of the cause of death.
Disposable gloves must always be worn.
If the animal is a rabies suspect or a wild animal, place the carcass in double plastic bags.
Handle the carcass as little as possible; use a branch or tool to push it into the bag.
Make sure the carcass is transported immediately to the Veterinarian.
Report the death and animal I.D. on your Observation Chart .
KEEPER’S READING LIST
The following books and journals are recommended reading for Keepers wishing to gain more insight into, or a more detailed understanding of some of the topics covered in this manual.
|– Management of Wild Animals in Captivity
|– A Zoo Man’s Notebook
|– The Carnivores
|– Restraint and Handling of Domestic and Wild Animals.
|– Man and Animal In the Zoo
|– Psychology and Behaviour of Wild Animals in Zoos and Circuses
|– Wild Animals in Captivity
|– A Safety Manual for Keepers (Animal Restraint)
|Young, E. (Editor)
|– Capture and Care of Wild Animals
|Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia
|International Zoo Yearbooks
|(Vols. 1-21) EXCELLENT SOURCE
|Mammals of the World
|( Walker, 3rd Edition)
American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums – Conference Proceedings Animal Keeper’s Forum (journal of the A.A.Z.K.) – a wealth of articles. Ratel (journal of the Association of British Wild Animal Keepers – ABWAK).
Big Cat Rescue PUBLICATIONS
Animal Fact Sheets – ZooKeeper Taraining, Volunteer Guides, Big Cat Rescue – background information (Education Department) Standard Operating Procedures – all staff Emergency Instructions, The Safari Guide Book and Free Spirits in Captive Cats.
There are many other publications – books, magazines, articles and journals in the Refuge Library, many dealing in detail with specific subjects. Keepers are urged to use their Refuge Library and to become familiar with the various sources of information.
SOURCE LIST – BIBLIOGRAPHY
|American Association of Keepers – Animal Keeper’s Forum Vols. 1975-1982
|American Refuge & Aquarium Association
|– Keeper Training Manual 1968
|– Animal Husbandry Training Manual 1981
|– National and Regional Conference Proceedings
|Association of British Wild Animal Keepers
|(ABWAK Journal) – (RATEL) Feb.1981
|– RATEL vol.7, no.1
|– ABWAK N ewsletter
|Association of Zoo Directors of Australia and N ew Zealand
|– Bulletin of Zoo Management, Oct. 1981
|Buchsbaum, Ralph & Milne, Lorus J.
|– The Lower Animals-Living Invertebrates of the World
|(Double Day & Company, Inc. Garden City, N .Y. 1967)
|– The Zoo
|– The Management of Wild Animals in Captivity
|( University of Chicago Press, Chicago)
|– Zoo Man’s N otebook
|( Univ. of Chicago Press)
|– The Carnivores
|(Cornell University Press, Ithaca, N ew York 1973)
|– 1978 The Restraint and Handling of Wild & Domestic
|( Iowa State University Press, Ames , Iowa )
|– 1986 Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine
|(W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia )
|– 1981 Marine Mammal Care
|(O.V.C. University of Guelph , Ontario )
|– The Dictionary of the Biological Sciences
|(Van N ostrand Rheinhold)
|– 1977 Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia
|(Van Nostrand Rheinhold , N ew York , 13 volumes)
|– Man and Animal in the zoo : Refuge Biology
|(Routledge and Kegan Paul, London )
|– The Psychology and Behaviour of Animal in Zoos and Circuses
|( Dover Publications, N ew York )
|– Wild Animals in Captivity
|( Dover Publications, N ew York )
|– Ethological Dictionary
|(Garland Publishing, Inc., N ew York )
|Hickman, Cleveland, P.
|– Integrated Principles of Zoology 4th Edition
|(C.V. Mosley Co., St. Louis, 1970)
|International Union for the Conversation of N ature and N atural Resources
|– Red Book on Rare and Endangered Species
|( Gland , Switzerland )
|International Species Inventory System
|– Manuals and Codebooks
|( ISIS , Apple Valley , Minnesota )
|– A Source Book of Biological N ames and Terms
|(Charles C. Thomas, Publisher, Springfield , Illinois )
|Jennings , J.B.
|– Feeding Digestion & Assimilation in Animals
|(Macmillan, St. Martin ‘s Press 2nd Edition)
|– Calgary Refuge In-Service Training Program for Refuge
|(City of Calgary , Calgary , Alberta )
|– 1974 Safety Manual for Keepers (Animal
|Larousse Encyclopedia of Animal Life
|(1967 Hamlyn Publishing Group)
|– Zoo Animals, People, Places
|Pettingill, Jnr., O.S.
|– 1970 Ornithology in Lab and Field
|(Burgess Publishing Co.)
|Sheridan College Keeper I Course N otes 1981/82
|Schwabe, Calvin S.
|– 1969 2nd Edit. Veterinary Medicine & Human Health
|(Williams & Wilkins Company, Baltimore)
|Taylor, S. and Bietz A.
|– 1979 Infant Diet/Care N otebook
|(A.A.Z.P.A. Wheeling , West Virginia )
|– What’s for Lunch – Animal Feeding at the N .Z.P.
|Van Tyne,J.& Berger, A.J.
|– 1976 Fundamentals of Ornithology (Dover Publishing, Inc.)
|Walker , E.P.
|– 1975 Mammals of the World (Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore , Maryland ,
|3rd Edition, 2 volumes)
|– Ecology and Evolution of Animal Behaviour
|(Goodyear Publishing Co. California , 2nd Edition)
|– The Life of Birds (W.B. Saunders, Co., 2nd Edition)
|– Deer of the World (Constable, London , England )
|Wilson , C.L. & Loomis, W.E.
|– Botany (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 4th Edition)
|– Capture and Care of Wild Animals – The Work of
|18 Veterinary Medical & Wildlife Experts
|(Ralph Curtis Books, Florida )
|Zoological Society of London
|– International Refuge Yearbooks – Vols. I – 21
|(Zoological Society of London , England )