Over the past 20 plus years, Big Cat Rescue has rescued over 200 exotic cats of more than 16 species. If you look at the cat’s signs you will see their date of birth and wild cats age similarly to domestic cats, which is about 1 human year being the same to the cat as 6 years.
In the wild and at zoos exotic cats usually only live to the age of 10 or 12 but here at Big Cat Rescue the cats frequently live into their late teens and early twenties. Some of the oldest recorded cats in history have lived out their lives here. Scratch the cougar lived to almost 30. Flavio the tiger live to be 25. Several of our cats are over the age of 20 now, which would be like being more than 100 years old if they were humans.
We attribute their longevity to several factors:
Big Cat Rescue is a peaceful place to live where the cats get excellent food, daily cage cleaning and a unique approach to their health care. At better zoos they will often sedate the animals annually to check their health, which seems like a good thing, but the chemicals build up in the animals’ system and in time they will die from renal failure.
At Big Cat Rescue we do something called Operant Conditioning, or you might have heard of it as, “clicker training.” That is where we give the cat a reward if they do what we ask and make a clicking sound to let the cat know that they got it right. We never use punishment, and we never withhold food and if the cat doesn’t want to do it that day we just move on to the next cat.
Most performers will tell the public that they only use positive reinforcement to train their cats, but if the “show must go on” then you know that’s a lie. Cats do what they want and can only be made to perform consistently, on cue, through abusive tactics.
Our cats get to choose if and when they want to participate in training, and most really enjoy it. We only train the cats to do things we need for dealing with their medical issues, like showing us their paws, opening their mouths, laying still for shots, etc. That way we are able to provide most of their health care without sedating them.
Most of our cats are elderly and are on supplements for their joints and get daily pain management. We look to the cats to tell us when they have had enough of this life. If they stop eating we do have to sedate them for lab work, x-rays and sonograms to determine if there is anything we can do. Most of the time their ailments can be treated but when they get to be extremely old and stop eating that is their final signal to us that they are ready to go and we will euthanize them so that they do not suffer.
We then do a necropsy, which is like an autopsy, to see if there is anything that can be learned from the cat and we share those tissue samples and results with Universities and the veterinary community. The bodies are then cremated and their ashes are laid to rest inside the concrete memorial walls. Each cat is then memorialized in a marble plaque so that their lives are never forgotten.