Formulas for Feeding Exotic Cats & Cubs

There is no substitute for the cub’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.

It seems that everyone has a little different formula and we have found that different breeds need different formulas and even different individuals within the same breed, often need a little more of this or a little less of that. We are often feeding more than a dozen kittens at any given time which means our refrigerator is always full of separately labeled fruit jars, full of different formulas. Most breeders and zookeepers will agree that the base of these formulas will be KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer), Esbilac (Puppy Milk Replacer), GME Goat’s Milk Esbilac or plain Goat’s Milk, available at the grocery store in the canned milk section. There are a whole slew of milks available, such as Just Born, Unilac, Cimicat in England and any number of other brand names, but none are as widely used as the KMR, Esbilac, GME and Goats Milk.

If you were to read the dietary requirements of exotic felines and then try to most closely match the percentages and ingredients, the best formula, on paper, is the KMR. Unfortunately, many kittens suffer from diarrhea if they drink it. Subsequently, if you cut it with water, or electrolytes, then you have diminished the original percentages and nutritive values. We don’t use KMR unless a cub comes to us already on that formula. Some have and have been in excellent condition with firm stools, but that is the exception and not the rule.

GME or Goat’s Milk Esbilac seems to be the most easily digested by cats who can store a lot of fat and they seem to do better on this base. These cats would be the stockier breeds such as Tigers, Lions, Bobcats, Lynx and such. You may wish to add a little corn oil to improve the coat.

GME Goat’s Milk Esbilac is very high in fat and is good for the leaner cats, such as Servals and Caracals. When kittens won’t drink anything else, they will usually drink goat’s milk. The draw back to the high fat that cats require is that it can be difficult for them to digest, so they must gradually work up to full strength concentrations. While this is true of any formula, it is especially true of one that is high in fat. Adding just a drop of Lactaid helps the digestion.

Regardless of which base we use, there are some additives that are essential for a healthy kitten. Calcium Carbonate, can be ordered from your pharmacy in powdered form with no other metals, or minerals included. We prefer Calcium Carbonate to plain Calcium because kittens are subject to indigestion and the Carbonate is an added bonus. The type of cat will determine how much of this to add, based upon the growth rate of the cub involved. A Tiger will grow much faster in the first year than a Bobcat, thus the Tiger will require much more Calcium per pound of body weight than the Bobcat. To my knowledge there are no charts that specify how much to add, so we go by sight and X-ray vision. The teeth should be brilliantly white, with no holes or dark spots. The legs should be straight and thick boned, even in Servals and Cheetahs, who are considered rather fine boned. A kitten should have no broken bones unless you hit it with a car and if your cub does break a bone, ask to see the X-rays and ask the Veterinarian’s opinion of the condition of the bones. Sometimes the teeth will appear almost clear or transparent and this is a very bad sign of a calcium deficiency, because the cat’s body knows that without the teeth, the entire cat is doomed and therefore, it will draw strength and nutrients from the rest of the bones in order to keep the teeth operative, which means if you see bad teeth you are looking at a cat with paper shell bones. Sometimes, even when a blood tests comes back indicating proper levels and the teeth appear in good condition you may still need an x-ray to expose a calcium deficiency. If the gums are separating or receding it can be due to a calcium deficiency. The blood will pull from the bones the nutrients it needs and a blood test alone may be deceiving. The blood has only a limited supply to draw from in the bones and teeth however and soon secondary problems will develope.

Lactobacillus Acidophillus (go ahead practice saying it, because your pharmacists won’t understand you if you don’t) is the good bacteria your cub needs in his digestive tract in order to process food or formula. You can add plain, unflavoured yogurt, or you can get it in capsules and open and sprinkle into the food. We also use Benebac gel and place 1 gram on the back of the tongue according to the directions and more often in cases of stress or illness. Also, from the health food store, or your pharmacist you can get Papain which is a helpful enzyme derived from the Papaya to add to the formula. ProZyme is an animal brand enzyme available through mail order catalogues.

We also add Hi-Vite Kitty Drops, available from Omaha Vaccine mail order in the milk mixture and graduate to Mega -C Vitamins, available by mail order from Orthomolecular Specialties, which we add for life. When the kitten is three weeks old we add Prescription Diet’s A/D cat food (most Vets sell it) to the milk using a blender. Once the kitten accepts the meat, you can begin offering a little in the palm of your hand. This is where you will want to introduce the cubs final food. If you will be feeding chicken, then add ground chicken to the A/D. If you will be feeding a prepared diet, the palm of your hand is where the graduating takes place. We have tried using a blender to mix in the final diet and increase the size of the nipple hole to accommodate the thicker mix, but kittens often get too excited over the new food and choke on the chunks as they pass through the nipple.

We get bitten in the case of mistaken identity sometimes, but a bowl just isn’t as inviting to the newly weaned kitten. The warmth of your hand keeps the food warm and enticing and with your fingers you can guide the food into the mouth. By the time the kit is eating from a bowl, you will have muscle control in your fingers that you never knew possible. The graduation from hand to bowl is slow, first lowering your food filled hand into the bowl while the cub is eating and then pushing some of the mix to the edge of the bowl and allowing the kitten to get the feel of the hard dish. This bond of trust that you are establishing by allowing the cub to eat from your hand will be helpful later on when you need to give medicated morsels, or when you need to reach in the cats mouth. Since everything they see will end up in their mouths, and some things will inevitably get stuck, you will need this early practice.

The earlier you can wean the exotic cat, the fewer health problems you will encounter. In some cases we can get three week old kittens onto a meat based diet and although this sounds harsh, it is better than the alternative, in most cases. The exotic cub is surprisingly small when it is born, often no larger than a domestic kitten, but in the next few weeks it will grow at a tremendous rate. Unless you are able to feed the little one every two hours for the first eight weeks, you will find that he gets incredibly hungry and will attack the bottle with such vigor that he rips the nipple off spilling his whole meal, or worse yet chokes trying to eat the nipple. Most of our fingertip bites have come from trying to retrieve the nipple before it goes down their throat. The greatest threat to the kitten, however, is aspirating on the milk he is wolfing down. He will be so frantic in his sucking that he will suck milk into his lungs and won’t stop to cough.

If you hear him rattling or wheezing, stand up immediately. Place the kit in the palm of your hand, facing away from you and put your other hand down over his back, bracing his neck and head. Violently swing him down and back between your legs. If milk comes out his nose, quickly wipe it off and repeat the process several times, or until he sounds clear. Even if you get it all out, you may as well count on getting him to the Veterinarian, because any trace of milk in the lungs, will immediately begin growing bacteria and in a couple of days your little loved one could be dead from pneumonia. Milk is the worst thing that they could get into their lungs and there is no good way to get it out. If your kitten contracts pneumonia he will require an oxygen tent, antibiotic therapy and will probably have to be tube fed, because an ailing cat will usually refuse food. Half way into the antibiotic treatment the exotic cat will contract thrush, and require even more medication four times a day. To compound matters, many exotics are intolerant to otherwise acceptable medications which gets into a long process of trial and error, hair loss, appetite loss and a whole host of adverse reactions requiring more and more therapy.

It is we humans who have this hang up on feeding babies milk from bottles and with the exotic cat it is not always the best thing for them. It is a great way to bond, but not at the expense of your cub’s life. We have found that the solid food must be very high in calcium and vitamins to make up for the switch, but once the kitten has made the transition, he begins gaining much more rapidly and seems less vulnerable to disease and infection. By allowing the cub to eat from your hand you can continue to bond at a much lessor risk.

Lion cub formula: This formula came to us, second hand, by the breeder of the MGM Lion and we have found it very successful in the raising of Lions, although we have not used it on other large carnivores. In a couple of blenders mix 3 cans of Evaporated cows milk, 3 cans of light evaporated cows milk, 1 large can of Esbilac puppy milk replacer, 6 egg YOLKS, 2 jars of strained baby chicken, 2 jars of strained baby turkey (use a brand that does not contain onion powder, as onion causes anemia in kittens), 2 jars of strained baby beef (again not Gerbers because of the onion powder), 1/2 a tube of N utrical, four teaspoons of calcium carbonate, one table spoon of corn oil, two teaspoons of powdered cat vitamins, 1/2 tablespoon of Acidophillus. This makes about a gallon and should be discarded after 48 hours if not used. He recommends keeping them on the bottle along with their solid foods for four months.



Cubs Belong with their REAL Mothers

1 Can Goat’s Milk or preferably 8 oz. of fresh Goat’s milk.

1 cup of powdered milk

1 cup cooked ground turkey pureed

1 teaspoon Chapparal Vitamins

1 teaspoon DiCaPhos a dicalcium phosphate supplement

1/4 teaspoon Fel-O-Max or some such pro-biotic

8 ounces Plain Yogurt

1 tablespoon N utrical (if kitten is stressed)

1 tablespoon A, D and E oil from Health Food Store


Boil ground turkey in 1 cup of distilled water until clear and puree in blender. Add the rest of the ingredients and enough distilled water to make a total of two quarts. Blend well. Discard after 32 hours in refrigerator. Serve in a bent baby bottle with stage two nipple for infants.



8 Ounces of plain yogurt

1 cup of powdered Esbilac and enough water to make 40 ounces

Calcium supplement such as Calci-Pet or Pet-Cal

Multi-vitamin with iron such as Poly-Vi-Sol


Mix well in blender. This can be used for Lions, Tigers, Cougars, Bobcats, Wolf Hybrids and Binturongs.

A lot of thought should go into the selection of foods that you introduce your exotic feline to in these first few months. Get familiar with what meats are a part of his wild counterpart’s diet and match these as closely as possible. For instance, a Bobcat is never going to catch and eat a cow and a Tiger cannot live very well on little birds. Canned foods are usually cooked and are not appealing to exotics. We offer them on occasion because all cats need some roughage or vegetable matter, and canned cat foods are mostly cereal. We offer fresh vegetables, such as lettuce and celery if the cats cannot get to plenty of grass. Cats need green plant matter and your hanging or potted plants will be supper if left unattended. For this reason, be extra careful in your selection of plants so that you do not poison the cat.

Note: I am not a veterinarian. If your exotic cat has ingested a toxic plant please consult a licensed veterinarian.

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