Tiger Taking a Bath at Big Cat Rescue

Hygiene and Pest Control

Big Cat Rescue’s Hygiene and Pest Control




Hygiene serves as a most important tool keeping sanctuary functioning property. There are several reasons why hygiene must be effective in the sanctuary.

(a) Health Needs: to help prevent the spread of disease among animals and zoonosis between staff and visitors and the animals.
(b) Husbandry needs: to provide clean safe conditions for the maintenance and housing of animals (biological needs).
(c) Aesthetic needs: to provide a clean environment to enhance visitor learning.

Hygienic work practices include the following procedures

Removal of animal discharges.
Removal of spilt and left over food stuffs.
Removal of other wastes and organic material that will decompose rapidly.
Removal of all waste material without exposing it to other animals or to visitors.
Regular cleaning and disinfecting of tools and equipment.
Periodic replacement of exhibit furniture.
Cleaning of exhibit surfaces with water, steam, chemicals, etc.
Replacement of natural surfaces (sand, earth) and bedding materials.
General maintenance of grasslands in pastured exhibits.
Frequent changing of pool water, cleaning of pool surfaces and flushing to remove chemicals.
Daily cleaning of food and water containers, replacement of drinking water.
Cleanliness in handling, presentation and storage of foodstuffs, including hay.
Cleaning of food preparation utensils and areas.
Pest control.
Personal hygiene.
Cleaning of public areas, washrooms, facilities, general sanctuary grounds.
Care and attention in handling animals.

Big Cat Rescue endeavors to house its animals in naturalistic surroundings. This means additional labor to maintain substrates, plants, cage furniture etc., and not many “wash down” exhibits. However, basic wash down procedures are used in feeding areas, all primate holding areas, in the Cat Hospital and recovery cages.




Tiger Taking a Bath at Big Cat Rescue
Tiger Taking a Bath at Big Cat Rescue

Personal cleanliness and hygiene in the sanctuary cannot be emphasized enough; it is an extremely important part of Keeping. Many of the problems of disease and infection can be prevented by cleanliness and common sense.
The keeper should be aware of the ways in which disease and infection can be spread. Disease can be introduced into the body through injuries from animals, particularly cuts, bites and scratches; it can be caused by contact with feces, urine, saliva, skin, or direct respiratory exhalation. It can be present in cage soil or substrate, in objects removed from the cage, boots, dirty hands, clothing, or it can come from direct contact with the animal. (Don’t kiss the llamas)

Avoid unnecessary contact with animals; wear rubber gloves, coveralls, boots and proper protective clothing. Use a face mask when spraying or working in very dusty areas.

Before leaving the sanctuary site, wash up  and change clothing.Report any cuts, scratches or bites, no matter how small, to your supervisor and to first aid.Wash your hands before eating or smoking, whenever leaving or between work areas, or after handling animals.Don’t eat or smoke in animal containment areas.In quarantine, follow the posted procedures; they are for your protection and the protection of your stock.Never touch dead animals or animal fecal matter (especially primate) with the bare hands. Use rubber gloves.Remember you can bring disease into the sanctuary from farm animals, pets, and other humans, as well as spreading sanctuary diseases outside the sanctuary site. If you are sick or have any kind of respiratory ailment, flu or cold, try to stay away from primates – they are susceptible to human diseases. Wear a face mask if primate contact is necessary.  Cats are carriers of strep throat. Keep your fingers out of your mouth, eyes and nose.



Zoonosis is defined as those infections which are naturally transmitted between vertebrate animals and man (W.H.O. Committee on Zoonosis, 1969). There are more than 100 diseases of vertebrate animals that can be transmitted naturally and directly from wild and domestic animals to humans. Read about some of them HERE.

Big Cat Rescue has a Human Health Program and Zoonosis Control Advisory Group which meets several times a year to monitor and control zoonosis in the sanctuary. It is made up from the Animal Care Supervisor, volunteers and first aid staff.

Every zoonosis is a potential threat to human health; zoonosis is an occupational hazard for sanctuary staff who have close contact with the animals.Zoonosis is defined as  infectious diseases, and are caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa or by parasites. They may infect the body through the respiratory tract, mucous membranes, the mouth or the skin.Zoonosis can be transmitted from animals to man by several methods. The diseases used as examples below are listed according to their main method of transmission, but most can be transmitted by several different methods:

  1. Direct Transmission; direct or immediate contact with a diseased animal. (e.g. Rabies, ringworm). Indirect Transmission; exposure to disease by being in contact with objects or materials which have been contaminated by a diseased animal. (i.e. Amoebiasis, hookworm). Contact with Disease Carriers; some diseases may be carried by a species without causing illness, but contact with the carrier may cause illness or death in susceptible species. (i.e. Herpes B virus). Infections from Food and Water; some diseases persist in contaminated food and water, and are transmitted by ingestion. (i.e. Giardiasis, salmonellosis).
  2. Air-borne Infections; disease organisms can be transmitted on droplets of moisture coughed or sneezed by a sick individual, or on dust particles in a contaminated environments, and breathed in by the susceptible host. This kind of transmission is facilitated by close proximity and a closed-in environment. (i.e. Psittacosis, tuberculosis).

Infections from Blood Sucking Arthropods; Some diseases of man and animals are normally passed through the bites of fleas, flies, mosquitoes, lice, or ticks. (i.e. Equine Encephalomyelitis, malaria, West Nile Disease, FeLV).Zoonosis confirmed in animals at the Big Cat Rescue (as of 11/2003) include:
Salmonellosis (one lemur in 1999)
Scabies (bobcat in 1993)
Ringworm (bobcat in 1995)
Cryptosporidiosis (lion 1994)

Most zoonotic infections can be avoided by persistent cleanliness and sound personal hygiene. Prevention by means of vaccination and control by check ups, X-rays, and stool checks on a regular basis are successful. All new keepers should participate in the sanctuary’s health program, including vaccinations and regular fecal samples.

By knowledge of disease transmission, good personal cleanliness and clean working habits, the keeper can take precautions against being a link in the transmission of disease between animals and man and vice-versa.


For further more detailed information on zoonosis see “Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine”. W.B.Saunders 1986, edited by Murray Fowler, D.V.M



Pest control in the Sanctuary is necessary to help prevent the spread of disease and infection, to protect the visitor from exposure to certain zoonosis, to reduce the annoyance to both animals and man, and to ensure that captive animals receive the food set out for them (rather than having that food consumed by rodents, birds or insects).


Rodents include rats, mice and voles, both those common to human habitations as well as local and naturally occurring wild rodent populations. Rodents can be disease vectors as well as freeloaders on a Sanctuary’s food supplies, and rodents can also cause physical damage to material and to other animals.


Birds such as pigeons, sparrows, starlings, raptors and various waterfowl can compete for food with sanctuary animals, foul food and water and be vectors and reservoirs for disease.


Cockroaches, flies, ants, ticks, fleas and lice all cause various problems, they contaminate food supplies (their larvae), spread disease and are parasitic on (or annoy) sanctuary animals. Cockroaches can carry several infectious agents and parasites. Spiders are generally beneficial but centipedes can bite.


Predators can cause much damage in sanctuaries by killing and injuring animals spreading disease such as rabies, and generally stressing animals. Stray cats and dogs, raccoons, foxes, skunks and owls all cause problems.


Poisonous plants, thorny brush, trees and weeds can also be annoying/dangerous to animals, staff, and visitors.


Many factors contribute to the presence of pests in the sanctuary today and much can be done to eliminate them or reduce them to manageable proportions.

Improper sanitation: Spilt food in food storage areas and kitchen refuse all become a food source for pests. All bulk food should be stored in rodent proof containers, preferably off the floor in a clean dry place. Always clean up spillage, never leave spilt food where it may attract pests. Kitchen areas must be kept scrupulously clean, as must all storage areas. Animal wastes should be bagged where possible and stored in a proper location until garbage pick-up. Bagged refuse should not be accessible to rats, mice, raccoons, etc. Keep drains and ditches clean eliminates breeding places.

Nesting areas: Don’t leave timber and other material laying around where it can provide resting places for rodents. Keep your area tidy, clean up woodpiles and block all holes in floors, walls, eaves, etc. to keep out sparrows and other birds.

Inadequate barriers: Many buildings abound with places for rodents to hide and nest. Keep food in tightly lidded containers. Keep doors shut; check fences top and bottom and ensure that they are predator proof. Block off holes which might provide access for birds.


Sanitation: Maintain a clean work place.

Physical control: There are various live traps which can be used for rats and mice and others to catch larger predators – skunks, raccoons. The simple rat and mouse traps, spring loaded, can be very effective when properly used. (Trainees should read the chapter on “Catching Mice Without Bait” in H. Hediger’s book “Man and Animal in the Sanctuary”, available in the Sanctuary library. Flypaper, mechanical devices, electrical fences and pest proofing can all reduce pests to a controllable minimum.

Chemical control: Application and procedures involving chemical poisons must follow federal and provincial regulations. Poisons can be dangerous in the sanctuary unless sanctuary animals are absolutely protected against accidental contamination, from both the poison source and from poisoned pests. Pesticides (paints, sprays, fogs, dust and baits) are used; so are anti-coagulants in baits and traps. No-pest strips can be used in small exhibits to control insects, especially overnight if the cage is empty. Flypaper is safe and effective in non-animal areas -corridors and kitchens.

Biological control: In some cases biological control of pests using natural or imported predators or disease may be undertaken, but this isn’t very common in the sanctuary. The use of ferrets and snakes as a control on rodents has been successful under some circumstances; lady bugs have been used to protect some of the sanctuary’s plants against whitefly (aphids).


Pest control at the Big Cat Rescue is carried out by the staff and coordinated by the Supervisor. The staff are responsible for traps, poison baits, bait stations, spraying, etc. but can only be effective if the Keeper does a good job and reports any pests or signs of pests. The Keeper must also take care that all pest control measures in his area can in no way be a danger to Sanctuary animals:

Maintain a clean and tidy work environment.
Know the location of traps and bait stations in your area.
Don’t wait until an area is saturated with rodent or bird fecal matter; act as soon as signs of pests are noticed.
Look for fecal matter in bowls, on ledges and in the exhibit and in and around food daily.
Use wire mesh to block off holes where mice or birds may enter a building.
Make sure that regular checks of the bait stations and traps in your area are a standard part of the routines; don’t just leave this to the pest control officers.
Kill all pests, voles, deer mice and field mice, etc. Just because something looks cute doesn’t mean it can’t transmit a disease or contaminate or consume Sanctuary animal food.
Use boiling water or grits on ant beds inside cages and Amdro outside cages.
Hire a licensed trapper to relocate raccoons and other large, unwanted pests.

Pest control is the Keeper’s responsibility and the commercial agency used by the Sanctuary is a means to control pests.


Hazards to the Keeper – Never handle dead animals with bare hands -always use rubber gloves. Be especially careful of unnatural behavior in animals such as raccoons, foxes, skunks; these animals may be rabid. Do not approach them if alive, and if dead, use extreme caution when handling the carcasses. Always double bag the body. Use care around sprays, baits and traps. Wash your hands if you have been working around any poisoned material. Avoid skin contact with poisons, which can cause skin reactions.
Hazards to Sanctuary animals: Rodents or birds can consume so much of an animal’s food that it does not get enough to eat. Check all feed dishes, especially dry food, for rodent feces, by which disease can be spread to your animals. Rabies is a dangerous disease; its frequency of occurrence coincides with increases in natural predator populations (such as skunk and fox.) Observe your animals for any bizarre behavior or sudden behavior changes, both of which might indicate contact with a rabid animal.
Hazards to the public: Remember that Sanctuary visitors can be exposed to infection or disease through contact with pests in the Sanctuary. Keep your areas as clean as possible.
Wild birds: Wild birds are often a problem in the Sanctuary. Their extreme mobility makes them a dangerous disease vector, their droppings contaminate food and water areas and they can consume more sanctuary animal food than the animals for which the food is meant.  Wild bird populations may also be reservoirs of avian T.B.
Poisonous plants: Poisoning of Sanctuary animals by consumption of plant material containing toxic substances is uncommon, though any animal fed in a controlled environment can be exposed to toxins. Usually when good food is available foraging animals won’t select poisonous plant; as many of these taste bitter. Dried and cured poisonous plants usually lose their toxic properties (i.e. in hay.) Sometimes they may inadvertently be used in an exhibit as cage furniture, decoration or be offered as browse or occupational food. Poisonous plants should not be planted or allowed to remain in or near animal exhibits; all areas in and around exhibits should be regularly checked for poisonous plants.
Mold: Common mold is not poisonous to most animals, but is an indicator that the food it is on is undergoing chemical changes and that toxins may have developed. Sweet clover is poisonous when moldy; equine animals are most sensitive to moldy hay; sheep are often affected while cattle and pigs appear most tolerant. Never feed moldy hay or allow hay to get moldy or damp. Check each bail before feeding out.

Botulism: (Clostridium botulinum) The botulism organism develops in decaying plant or animal matter; it is anaerobic and doesn’t require oxygen for its survival. It can also be found in stagnant water and in food that does not appear to be spoiled. This organism can be controlled if hygiene principles are closely followed when dealing with foods and feeding.

Fungi: Ergot, a fungus found on rye and some other grasses, produces a large misshapen dark “seed”. Poisoning isn’t very likely in the sanctuary, as grain normally undergoes control by feed companies.



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