When to Euthanize a Tiger

When to Euthanize a Tiger


At Big Cat Rescue we have a general  decision tree that we and our vets use to determine when it is time to euthanize a big cat, but every situation is different. The vast majority of the time we just aren’t sure that it is the right decision until we do the necropsy, which is the animal version of an autopsy.  The reason it is so hard to know, if we are doing the right thing, is because cats are hard wired to live the mantra of the wild; “Survival of the fittest.”

They just will not reveal their illness or their suffering until they cannot hide it any longer. We just had two situations, back to back, where we had to make the gut wrenching decision to euthanize an exotic cat.

One was an ocelot (known in Central and South America as the Tree Tiger) and the other was an actual tiger.  Both were 20-22 years old, but their histories were so different, that the decision in each case came after painful deliberation of our veterinary care team.

ocelots Amazing GraceAmazing Grace the ocelot was 22 years old and had been with us since 1996.  She had always been robust in health and purr-sonality and had been a favorite of Keepers and Guests alike.  We knew Gracie’s moods, what she liked and didn’t like to eat, how to get her to relax when her hyperactivity was getting the best of her and what her favorite enrichment treats were.

When Amazing Grace came up on the Observation Chart for NOT being excited about dinner, and yet looking bloated, we knew something was wrong and scheduled a visit with our vet, Dr. Wynn. Sedating a 22 year old cat is not something we would do without considerable cause, but Amazing Grace was in excellent condition and there wasn’t anything we could determine about her failing to eat from just looking at her.

When she was sedated it was discovered, via blood work and being able to get our hands on her, that her kidneys were done and she had several tumors.  The bloating was from fluid filling her abdomen, which is usually a sign of a failing heart.  At 22 we did not believe that she had any chance for improvement and had to say, “Good-bye” to our precious, long time friend.

Her necropsy gave us the peace of mind that we had done the right thing for her.  It revealed that she did, in fact, have liver cancer, advanced heart disease, many other masses throughout her organs and a tiny, blister – like surface over her entire omentum (the tissue that envelopes your organs).

The second situation was even harder to make because Kimba the tiger had just been rescued 17 days before we had to make a life or death decision.  We knew almost nothing about Kimba, except that she was literally starving to death in NY and that we weren’t even sure she would make it through the day that we loaded her into a transport and gave her food and water for the first time in who knows how long.

She and her two family members were all starving and dehydrated and drank 8 gallons of water between them in the first 24 hours. As soon as they arrived at Big Cat Rescue we began offering food and Zeus ate like there was no tomorrow, but Keisha and Kimba were shy about it, so we couldn’t be sure if they were coming into the feeding area at night.

Within a few days, Keisha overcame her shyness and would eat while Keepers were present, but Kimba was still not packing away the chow like the other two.  We weren’t sure if she was just more shy, or if she had been starved for so long that she just couldn’t eat as much at any given time, so we started feeding her several times a day.  She would eat a couple bites, off a long stick, but then no more.  She was seen drinking regularly, so we just did all we could to increase her food intake, in the hopes that we could build up her strength enough to sedate her and look for anything else that may be going on.

Maybe she had bad teeth and eating was painful?  Maybe she had tumors or an obstruction that was keeping her from eating?  Maybe she had some disease?  Some things you just can’t tell by looking at a tiger, no matter how well trained your eyes.

We had noticed that she was missing much of the fur from around her rump, and thought it was from sitting in her own feces in her den in New York, which was the only place she could site that wasn’t on rocks.

We wondered if the heat was too much for her, even though she had a pool and the day we rescued her it was the same temp as what we have down here.  We have overhead sprinklers and turned those on for her.

Kimba seemed happy.  She would walk around, climb up and lounge on her platforms over looking the lake and would sleep the day away, like most tigers her age do, but she just wasn’t eating enough to improve her condition any, so we had to make the scary decision to sedate a very ill, 20 year old tiger.

More about that here: https://bigcatrescue.org/now-big-cat-rescue-june-11-2014/

Her exam showed that her teeth were fine and there weren’t any palpable tumors or obstructions but her blood work showed that she had a urinary tract infection and that her kidneys were in failure.  Sometimes a UTI can make kidney values worse than they really are, so we began treatment for the UTI with antibiotics and fluids.  At her advanced age, if there was any chance of turning this around, she had to get injections twice a day and 5 liters of fluids.


To do that we had to keep her in a transport wagon in the Cat Hospital and that worked for a couple of days because Kimba didn’t feel good enough to try and get away from us as we tended to her feeding, watering, brushing out the dense and dead Siberian coat (with a long handled back scratcher), and washing her down with the hose to keep her cool and clean.

She would let us get about 3 liters of fluids in her before objecting and moving away and that isn’t something you can force a tiger to endure. Repeated sedation would kill her for sure and add to the toxicity that her kidneys were trying to purify as well.

It looked like, no matter what we did, she was going to die.  The question was, would she do so in a tiny cage, after days or weeks of being poked with needles, or would she do so in comfort?

Since close confinement wasn’t working so well, and she seemed to be in better spirits, we decided to let her back into her yard in the hopes that she would drink enough on her own and yet still come to the side of the cage to get her meds, either in her food, or via injection.

Her first day back outside she was SO happy!  You can see her pouncing around on her platforms here:  https://bigcatrescue.org/now-big-cat-rescue-june-12-2014/

But she wouldn’t take the meds in food and wouldn’t come to the side of the cage to be injected.  We still had to get them in her though and had to dart her with the antibiotics to ensure she was getting them.

She hated that and began hiding in her den and just growling when anyone approached.  We set up trail cams to see if she was getting up to eat or drink and she wasn’t doing enough of either to survive.  Her condition was worsening and she now had gone more than a day without eating at all.

So our choices were to sedate her yet again, put her back in the transport wagon in the Cat Hospital, keep injecting her twice a day with antibiotics and keep trying to give her fluids, when she was pulling away from us after only getting a tenth of what she needed and hope for a miracle, OR let her go to sleep peacefully in the one place where she had found happiness, however brief, where she could be surrounded by her tiger family and let her last moments be that of drifting off to sleep, in the shade of her beloved platforms, while gazing out over the lake?

Along with our vets we weighed the pros and cons and decided that Kimba had overcome death for the past couple of weeks through little more than her strong will and now that she was giving up it should be on her terms in a setting that she chose.

It took us several hours and many tears to make that decision, but her necropsy showed that it was the right one for Kimba; no matter how hard it had been for us.

Four days after making the decision to euthanize Kimba we got the lab reports back and they showed that Kimba’s UTI was complicated by E. coli, from the filthy conditions she was forced to live in, and that the drug we were using was the best drug for her infection. That both broke our hearts, because Kimba wouldn’t have been so ill if her former owner had just cared enough to keep her cage clean, and gave us some peace in knowing that we were doing all that was medically possible for Kimba, and that if she had not responded to the drugs by now, she wasn’t going to.


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  1. Thank you for suggesting to us that it is important to know when is the best time to euthanize our pets. My wife and I own an exotic cat as a pet and unfortunately, our pet cat has been sick. I will call our vet to ask about euthanasia.

  2. I am in absolute tears reading this.. I am so sorry for those who took care of Kimba, how awful & sad,.. I never got to meet these 2 precious kitties you just had to put down, it is never easy, being in the Veterinary field I know.. I am so sad but happy that you gave her a brief time to be happy and to be actually CARED FOR! I hope her spirit is at peace … and the MANY years you gave to Grace, you folks are such a blessing, thank you so much for the work you do, no matter how sucky days like these are..

  3. having to euthanize an animal is always a very hard and painful decision whether a human owner or a rescue. I applaud the fact that you did everything you could do to make them comfortable and well but sometimes the best thing you can do is to let them go with dignity and grace. You made the best decision you can for them. It is a hard but it is the last loving thing you can do for them. Thank you for all you do for all these beautiful cats. My condolences to the staff and volunteers at Big Cat Rescue

  4. I had just started to follow BCR right before you rescued Zues, Kimba and Keisha so I kinda felt an attachment to them as well. I am so sorry Kimba has passed over the rainbow, however, am grateful for your kind care and treatment of her in her final days. No one (person or animal) should have to endure those dreadful conditions. I was in tears while reading about Grace and Kimba so I wanted to give my sincere condolences.

  5. So sorry about Kimba . It just wasn't meant to be. You did all you could. RIP Kimba and Grace.

  6. Thank you for all that you did for Kimba! At least she got to experience, if but for only a short time, what it was like to have human caregivers that truly loved her and cared about her. Unfortunately, cats like children do not understand that often when you are so very sick that there is pain associated in getting better. It does not sound as if that was likely to happen for Kimba though. I hope that her previous owner is facing significant punishment for having done what he did to Kimba and her family members.

  7. I was sorry to hear about Grace. I had been waiting for word on Kimba's progress, though this wasn't what I had hoped to hear. Even though one loves all the cats, I am prone to tigers and some come along that just resonate with you. Flavio was one and Kimba became another. I am so very glad that Kimba got to spend her last days with you. I shudder to think that her death could have come inside that cage and her owner would not have cared. My tears tonight have not finished so I will close with a heart felt thank you for all you do, which is a massive undertaking. Blessings, Light and Love to you all <3

  8. This absolutely breaks my heart. What a difference in circumstances though. Gracy had the most incredible life with the Rescue, while Kimba suffered a life that no animal should have to. Especially one that that should never be in captivity in the first place. Thank you so much for what you do.

  9. It saddens me to know that we have lost two wonderful cats. Amazing Grace was a wonderful ocelot with such personality she will be missed. And for Kimba at least she knew love for her final days. Thank You BCR for what you do for these cats.

  10. these stories break my heart. All of you do such amazing work…a big THANK YOU TO YOU ALL, but we cannot undo what neglectful individuals have chosen to. At least in the final days that poor Kimba had some freedom and peace…however brief. Having been on tiger safaris in the wild, I know how important it is for these beautiful cats to be left in the Wild where they ultimately belong, but thanks to all of you, at least the ones who find their way into our civilized world have a place like this to call home.



  11. Peace to them and a green world where they can forget the bad things and look forward to a return in better circumstances. You did your best.

  12. Have you tested the other two tigers, to see if that's why they are so undernourished? Being fed roadkill, and dealing with the same conditions as Kimba, that could very well be in all of their kidney's. The keeper did say that Zues always lost weight and regained it, infections could very well be the culprit rather than age. Their body fights it until it lies dormant, he regains weight, then it takes over again, it's a deadly cycle.

  13. I'm so sorry for her, after being rescued having the profit of a better life only so shortly.
    Even though I'm rather used to make decisions like this as a vet for pet animals, this sad story almost made me cry. How can people be so careless about just any animal??
    But offcoure the good news is that the other two tigers enjoy there new environment and are being taken care for very well at your place as I good see when I visited it.

  14. AMAzing grace so sweet the sound that saved a WRETCH LIKE MEEEE!!!!!!! I'm so sorry for your loss and I am so glad that i was able to meet Grace a year ago……….she is amazing.

  15. I am so sorry for your losses. I had to put my Fluffy down way back in the early 90's & it broke my heart, even though I knew it was the thing to do for her. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, so I know how hard it was for you! I know how much you loved your cats. I was praying for Kimba to recover, even though I've never been to BCR. I know she felt your love for her in her last hours on earth. Sending love, prayers, for all of you. God Bless you for all you do!

  16. I'm so sorry for both Grace and Kimba. At least they both had the opportunity to know love and to be cared for to the end of their days.

  17. Sad and such a difficult decision to make. Glad you had confirmation that the right decision was made for both cats. Best that they went peacefully than to prolong their suffering. Thank you to all of you who work so hard for the big cats.

  18. U did ur best u should be proud of that i think exotic cats ars the mkst gorgouse animals on this earth and with ur hard work hopefully we all can continue. To enjoy them

  19. I'm so sorry. That had to be awful having just rescued her. Again, you guys do such a great job, it's just a very hard one. Thank you for everything that you did for Kimba. Thank you for giving her a great place to live out her final days. *HUGS*

  20. Poor Kimba… I'm hoping she realized that all humans weren't so cruel and her last days gave her some comfort…

  21. Rest in peace beautiful Kimba….we will see you on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. We all were rooting for you, but you were tired, worn out from mistreatment and ready to go home. Same thing for Amazing Grace…what a lovely cat. Both will be sorely missed here….but our Lord will take good care of them now. Thank you BCR for all you do for these magnificent gifts from God…

  22. It's so sad to have to say good-bye to beloved friends, but you should all take solace in the fact that you all did the absolute best you could to make the lives of these cats the best they could be given they couldn't live in the wild. My deepest sympathies to All at BCR. Grace was one of the most beautiful cats I've ever seen and I thank you for all you did for her. I also thank you all for traveling to NY in an attempt to save the Tigers. Kimba's life was better, albeit for too short a time, but it was because of the wonderful people connected to The BCR. I'm certain both these beauties knew how much you all care for them.

  23. You're so right Audrey! No one could have fought harder to give Kimba a chance, but the Great Cat Spirit was waiting and now she has gone over to the wonderful green land over the rainbow bridge.

  24. I am so sorry for your loss. You gave Amazing Grace & Kimba such a wonderful place to live, even if it was just a short time for Kimba, I'm sure she was happy with the change in her environment. She must've felt like she was in heaven compared to where she was living before. Cats will never, never ever ever show their illness or weakness. Thank you for sharing their stories with us. The amount of love that you put into their care is very apparent. My hearts goes out to y'all. <3

  25. So sad. Poor Kimba. Thank you for taking such good care of her and trying to save her. She never would have received the medical care up here. At least she got to enjoy a better life, however briefly.

  26. Poor beautiful Kimba, I am so glad you rescued her so that her last weeks of life could be spent in her beautiful new home, in clean conditions, and with enrichment instead of filth and boredom. I am also sorry to see that Grace also passed

  27. Sad, difficult choices, for both cats, but the best thing to do under the circumstances. It infuriates me how poorly Kimba was treated in New York.

  28. So sorry to hear this. But so glad that they got to live out their last days being so well taken care of and loved. I admire everything you do for these cats, and thank you for helping them.

  29. I'm sorry about Amazing Grace and Kimba. Amazing Grace was my favorite animal at the sanctuary and I'm sad to hear of her loss.

  30. Me and my mom went to visit the BCR last year. I have photos and videos of Amazing Grace on my Facebook profile. She was my FAVORITE one to see. She was just such a character and so full of personality. I shed some tears when I saw this story in my email. I'm glad she was taken care of by everyone at the BCR. She sure was full of spunk and seemed to live a long, happy and healthy life. RIP little angel.

  31. As a RN I saw this coming and prayed I was wrong. Anyone involved with animals will have many heartaches and much joy. Thankfully this cat did not die in its own filth. If only for a short time it knew care and love. So, I shed tears with you and thank you for making her last days peaceful. You are special. Janice

  32. :'( I'm so sorry for the losses!!!! This makes me sad! I'm glad tho that the two other tigers are better! Atleast you made the right decisions

  33. Thank-you for taking such good care of both Amazing Grace and Kimba. You gave Kimba love and happiness that she had not received in years. She passed with the knowledge of love and compassion surrounded by people that cared for her. Both of these lovely girls will be waiting to greet others at the end of the Rainbow Bridge in the Summerlands.

    Thank-you so much. Much love, light and hugs for all the good work you do for those entrusted in your care.


  34. We just visited the Big Cat Rescue 2 weeks ago and heard the stories of these 2 cats as well as the other many cats in their care. I can not fathom why humans feel the need to have these wild animals as pets. Their stories are very sad.

  35. I am simply heartbroken at Kimba 's passing. I was so hopeful she would be okay. I'm so sorry for her loss, but know everyone at BCR did everything they could to save her. My thoughts are with you. Rest in peace Kimba. You've earned that after the life you were forced to live.

  36. I am happy that Kimba had some joy in her last days. Thank you BCR for all you do!! Prayers to you all at BCR, Kimba and Amazing Grace!

  37. I remember Grace from my time in Tampa in 2011-2012, how she would pace along the front of her enclosure and grumble and chuff. I enjoyed seeing all the cats, but she was the one I always wanted to see the most. I still have a magnet with her picture on my refrigerator. Thank you so much for giving her such a good life.

  38. FB friends, I'm not sure why my comment to BCR's story posted on my timeline as well as BCR's site. But since it's here, those of you who wrestle with the question of "when" will find Kimba's story comforting to read. By the way, Big Cat Rescue does amazing, amazing work. If you aren't familiar with them, their website provides the best education on exotic animals out there, and they work tirelessly to get legal protections passed.

  39. So very sad for the loss of Amazing Grace but consoled in the mere fact that she had been cared for and loved at BCR; she had a very comfortable life and she couldn't have been in a better home. My heart breaks that Kimba had decided to let go and I'm angry as hell at the former owners for ever letting her get in that deplorable condition. I know BCR made the right decision to let her go on her terms and made her as comfortable as possible for her short time with you all. Overwhelming happy that Zeus and Keisha are eating heartily and taking in fluids. God Bless All at BCR and thank you for taking care of these wonderful cats.

  40. So sorry, guys. I had a similar situation this week when I lost my special needs feral cat. The only consolation is absolutely knowing you did what was best for them, but that knowledge still doesn't stop you from missing them. Big hugs to everybody there.

  41. Poor Amazing Grace and Kimba. I've been keeping up on the story of Kimba and kept hoping she would get better. I'm SO sorry for the loss of those two beautiful cats! Thank YOU BCR for taking in Kimba and giving her Some good, comforting last days on earth. RIP Amazing Grace and Kimba!! Forever in our hearts!

  42. It is so hard to make that decision, but at the end of her life she knew love and care and that is more than way too many never know. They both are looking down on you from The Bridge and are grateful for your love and care

  43. Heartbreaking…God bless you all for taking care of these amazing creatures and for humanely ending their suffering

  44. So So sad….Thank you for giving her a chance and taking such good care of her. At least she had that before going to heaven. I wish people would learn and not treat animals like they are nothing. People should not own exotic animals!!!! RIP little Kimba. I love you.

  45. I am so sorry about the two beautiful cats; thank you for giving them some pleasure and happiness at the end of their lives! There's not much difference in making those hard decisions, no matter what animals are involved. In "small cat rescue", it IS so much easier to handle sick ones than big sick cats. I also found that when truly truly feral cats are sick, they will allow a certain amount of handling, sometimes even "asking for help". It seems that all cats, big and small, know how to hide their illnesses really well, to the point when it can be almost too late.

  46. Thank you for trying.Sometimes life is not fair.Remenber.you did save 2 and Kimba will live though them.

  47. Wow – That was hard to read and harder to experience I'm sure. Thanks for all you do guys – just wish she could have gotten out of there sooner. But thats why we have to get the legislation in place for these places and people that neglect and abuse these beautiful animals. Thanks for all you do.

  48. So how was the euthanasia then done? Still outside in her cage? So sorry…poor baby……RIP..she is now happy & healthy again…or maybe for the first time in her life 🙂

  49. RIP, sweet Amazing Grace and Kimba. BCR is heaven on earth for these magnificent creatures (and people like me) so I know they spent their final days in the happiest place on earth for rescued big cats. I'm so relieved that Kimba's last days were surrounded by people who loved and cared for her. When we let them go to the rainbow bridge, it's the greatest give we can give them because they can't make that decision for themselves. <3

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