Housing the Kitten or Cub

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.

A kitten cannot maintain it’s own body heat above the surrounding temperature for more than a few hours. The room may seem quite warm to you, but don’t rely on your feeling. Keep a thermometer close to the kitten, but out of his reach. The normal body temperature for exotic cats is 100 -101 degrees, and when they are raised by their mother, they snuggle up to her for warmth, and if she is out hunting, they pile up on each other to maintain their body heat. Often a wild exotic feline will abandon a litter if it consists of only one kitten, or if there is only one surviving kitten, because nature has taught her that her time and energies will be wasted. We have a climatically controlled nursery that maintains a constant 86 degrees, which is pretty uncomfortable for humans. The surrounding air temperature for your exotic kitten should be 85 to 90 degrees for at least the first three weeks, and then drop gradually to 75 degrees by the eighth week. If you are going to raise this cub in your home, you will need to provide a warm place for the kitten. Heating pads can be very dangerous, if not frequently monitored. We never leave a cub on a heating pad, but rather will suspend the pad under one half of the container and inch or so away, or sometimes attach it to the side of the container so that the kitten can crawl up to the warmth, if needed. In either case, we always make sure that the kit can crawl to or from the warmth. We keep a thermometer in the makeshift den to keep an eye on the temperature. Heating pads can go bad, or come unplugged, so you should check the temperature often. If the kitten is too weak to get to or from the heat, you will have to monitor his comfort, much more frequently.


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We never let a cat or kitten come in direct contact with a heating pad unless we are holding them. Cubs love to chew and the plastic pad and cord are most inviting. Sometimes, when using a heating pad for warmth, it dries the air out and subsequently dries the kitten out. Be sure your kitten is getting plenty of fluids. Pull the skin up on the back of the neck and see if it snaps back like it should. If not, you will need to supplement. Another clue is to touch the kittens gums and tongue. They should feel wet, not sticky, nor should the nose feel crusty. You may need to set up a vaporizer to raise the humidity to about 55 %. You can also use overhead infrared heat lights that are thermostatically controlled, but this is not as widely accepted as the heating pad.

If you are raising more than one kitten, you will probably have to keep them separated, despite the benefits of group heat therapy. Sandy, who is one of our small cat care givers, likes to give each kitten a soft toy or rag to snuggle with, although this greatly increases her laundry load. Very often, (more often when you are not looking) they will suckle on each other. It is usually not as a result of needing food, but more often it is a psychological need. When the kits are with their mothers they nurse for hours, only extracting a small amount of milk. When you are shortening their nursing to 15 minutes, they still feel that need to nurse and will suck on each others ears, tails and genitals. Even kittens that will spit good milk back in your face, will fill themselves on urine, and the germs and toxins present in the urine will cause an overgrowth of bacteria in the cub. Within only a couple of days he will become septiceamic and die, having given you very little warning of his dangerous condition.

The container you provide for your kitten should be easily cleaned, because you will probably have to do so four or five times a day. There is no substitute for stainless steel in this department. It should have adequate ventilation, without being drafty and should be large enough for the kitten to crawl about in. The floor should be raised and made of small enough mesh so that the urine and most of the feces can drop through, but small enough so that the cub is in no danger of catching a foot, or a toe, in the wire. The flooring should be easily cleaned, and preferably removable as this will need cleaning more than the rest of the den. Because your kitten will be growing so rapidly, the entire box will probably have to be revised each week.

We use stainless steel compartments with three solid walls and a small grated front. The floor is also stainless steel and slides out for cleaning. The catch pan underneath is also stainless steel and removable. The heating pad is kept in the catch pan, an inch below the floor grate. The catch pan is lined with newspaper for ease of cleaning. We keep two compartments for each kitten so that they can be moved to a clean one, while the other is being cleaned.

The pen should never be more than twice as tall as the kitten. They will climb to the top of anything they are in and then rather than climb back down will just let go and fall. The exotic is not as agile as the domestic and although they may land right side up, they still are subject to break a rib or puncture a lung. As the kitten grows and becomes more mobile, we graduate them to larger pens such as the collapsible wire pens with epoxy coated wire grates and catch pans. In these larger pens (2′ x 2′ x 3.5′) we introduce them to litter pans. These crates are available through mail order magazines for 50-75 % of their retail cost and can be folded down and easily stored. They are also very convenient for taking the cubs out into the sunshine.

The next pen is 4′ x 4′ x 8′ and is usually the yard pen. Depending on the number and sizes of kittens, we may set one up in the house as well. We only put the kittens out in the early morning or in the evening, when it is cool. We live in Florida and most of the year the temperature is in the high eighties or low nineties by lunch time. We don’t let cubs stay outside all night until they are either a year old, or capable of fending for themselves in the event a possum or raccoon should enter their pen. It is essential that your kitten get time out in the sun so that he can process the calcium in his diet. Cats cannot process Vitamin D in supplemental form and therefore cannot utilize the Calcium you are supplying, without the natural form of Vitamin D provided by sunshine.

By the time the kittens are five weeks old they have the run of our cub yard which is roughly fifty feet by fifty feet. The fence is six foot, eleven and a half gauge chain link with a two foot extension on top that leans at a forty five degree angle back over the yard. The bottom of the fence is buried one foot into the ground, to keep other animals from digging in. Along the bottom three feet we attach 1″ mesh so that the smaller kittens cannot slip through the diamonds of the chain link. A couple feet up we attach a three foot high panel of wire mesh, also leaning back over the yard at a forty five degree angle along the full length of the fence. This part is detachable, when the kittens are old enough to jump over it, and serves to keep the small cubs from climbing higher than they should.

In years past we had a bout with Cryptosporidium which is a common cattle disease, but sometimes found in cats, rodents, dogs and people. Many animals carry the protozoa without any clinical signs, but weak or young animals are at a high risk of developing the disease. Until recently it has been almost always lethal and there is no treatment. The symptoms are chronic diarrhea, mal-absorption and loss of appetite. Our Veterinarian had heard about three cats (domestics) having survived by using 1/8 teaspoon of Tylan once a day for fourteen days and we found this to be successful, although not fully tested and approved. Other studies recommend Antirobe, then Tylosin or Paromomycin. The Cryptosporidium had apparently been in the soil for some twenty years, but record rains and mud caused it to surface in the cub yard. It is very difficult to kill the oocysts, even with aid of most commercial cleaning agents. The spores are licked from the paws during grooming and invade and destroy the intestinal tract. Due to the fact that exotic cats have little or no natural immunities, we now keep them on concrete or wood flooring in their outdoor pens until they are a year old. This helps to keep a host of soil dwelling parasites from attacking their already challenged systems.

Some good alternatives for concrete would be forest bark, mulch or white sand. All of these would need replacing, but they are more hygienic than dirt and more natural than concrete. For large areas you can have these substances delivered by the truck load much more inexpensively than by the bag at the local hardware store.

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

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