Rehabbing Bobcats

Rehabilitating Bobcats

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Depending on where you live, you could one day be called upon to care for an injured wild cat. The Bible says that God knows when the sparrow falls, and I believe that God knows how to get help to his injured cats. Perhaps His reasoning is more geared toward making better people of us by coaxing us into caring for something other than ourselves, but whatever the reason, if you keep big cats, the day will come when you will be called upon to care for a non domesticated version of felid. This has been very emotionally rewarding for us and has helped us to better grasp the reality of what life is like for most wild animals.

The more I see of the condition of wildlife, the more I am amazed that any of it still exists. The indomitable spirit is the life blood of these animals and the phrase “survival of the fittest” takes on renewed meaning. No wild animal has ever come to us that was not eaten up with worms, fleas, mites and ticks. Add to this the fact that they are almost always on the brink of starvation and haven’t an ounce of body fat. Just when it looked like nature was going to do them in, they have come in contact with man. They have been trapped, or shot, or hit by a car, and now broken and bleeding they are cursing us with every breath as we step in to alleviate their pain.

This was most true in a case when just after midnight on Christmas Eve we received a call from my brother, who was on call as a Deputy Sheriff. He said a wild cat had been injured in an auto accident but that it was still very much alive. Half dressed, my husband and I grabbed flash lights, nets, blankets and a carrier and raced to the scene. When we arrived she had dragged herself into the brush a few yards off the highway and four deputies were searching with flash lights. Around here, we could assume that a wild cat sighting could be a 15 to 20 pound bobcat or a 50 to 80 pound cougar, and not much else. As Don and I pushed our way into the brush, the startled cat let out a howl that sent all of the deputies, except for my brother who had cared for our cats, back out to the road. In the quivering light I could see the cat, a bobcat, all rolled up into a ball on her side. I put my net down over her to keep her from crawling further into the woods. Don slipped his net under her and picking her up thusly, we were able to slide her into the carrier.

We rushed her to a nearby Veterinarian who advertised a 24 hour emergency service and waited for thirty minutes for a Veterinarian to arrive and let us in. The bobcat was now deep in shock and had balled up in a most uncomfortable looking way. She stared straight ahead and was breathing very shallowly. The Veterinarian who arrived had never handled a wild cat (although the clinic catered to exotics), and she told us that there would be nothing anyone could do for the cat until after the holidays (three days later). She injected the bobcat with three cc’s of Dexamethazone 9 mg for shock and sent us home. Not knowing if there were any internal injuries or broken bones we located our regular Veterinarian nine hours later who took a series of x-rays showing that there was no indication of internal bleeding nor of any broken bones or vertebrae. Our Veterinarian, believed, based upon these findings that the injury was a temporary paralysis caused by a severe blow to her head. She had cuts over one eye and had apparently made contact with the car or pavement with her head. Our Veterinarian sent her home with four days worth of injections, to be given twice per day. She prescribed injections of the steroid Dexamethazone, and 100 units of subcutaneous fluids to be administered twice daily.

We modified a large Sky Kennel pet carrier to be her temporary home. We built a frame out of two by fours and covered it with plastic coated 1 inch mesh wire, so that it would fit down snugly into the bottom of the carrier. On top of this we piled fresh hay so that the cat could lay down comfortably without the risk of having to lay in her own urine. We attached a food and water dish to the front grate, but she would not be using those for a while. When we had to tend to her we could easily detach the top of the carrier and take off the door. If she were not paralyzed this would not have been possible.

The Bobcat had loosened up from her tightly balled condition and she was now able to move her head to focus on us as we worked on her. In a language that only bobcats speak, she told us repeatedly that as soon as she was able to stand up she was going to kill us all. You would expect this while you are giving shots and IV fluids and even while helping her to eliminate waste and cleaning her up with baby oil to keep her skin from chaffing, but the whole time she is eating and drinking she is still growling and hissing and threatening to tear us to shreds. When you give of yourself to a wild animal, it is only because it is the right thing to do, not because anyone, especially the animal will ever say thank you.

It is very difficult to get a wild cat to eat in captivity. In the wild, they will only usually eat what they have killed themselves. We cut her food into easy to swallow strips and with gloved hands and long bar-be-que tongs dangled the strips of chicken, turkey, gizzards, hearts and red meat over her nose. More than anything, she was snapping at the food out of ferocity and the side benefit was that she was swallowing it and getting the nutrition she needed. She began consuming full meals this way, all the time pretending that she was just biting out of anger and not that she was really hungry. She doesn’t chew her food, so we were able to worm her with her food and when her belly filled with gas we were able to sneak a little Tagamet into her food to help with the heartburn. We filled a rabbit type water bottle with sterile water and let her bite at the steel nipple to get water into her. She was taking enough water this way, by the fourth day, that we discontinued the subcutaneous fluids.

At each feeding, which was twice per day for her, we use a warm wet paper towel to massage her anus and lower abdomen. After she had eliminated we would soak a paper towel in baby oil and thoroughly clean the fur, so that there is no chance of urine burning her skin. We would also turn her from side to side so that she would not get sore. By the third day she had use of her front paws and was able to strike out and hit what she was aiming for. She could kick well with one back leg and just barely with the other. To keep her from smacking us around we draped a thick towel over her head and legs while giving her shots, cleaning her or turning her, and while she was eating, we only uncovered her face. Twice she has pulled herself around on her own and each time we would turn her we could detect a little more mobility than the time before.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you should find yourself caring for a wild cat :

Take care of yourself. Make sure you have your rabies and tetanus vaccines and wear heavy leather gloves and protective clothing.

Protect your other cats. Do not let the injured cat in contact with your own animals. Keep in mind that germs can travel under doors and through the air vents to other rooms. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after exposure to the wild cat and wash all clothing, towels etc. in bleach before allowing your animals in contact with them.

Protect the wild cat from your domesticated stock. The greatest threat to the wildcat is some little house cat sneezing on him. Domestic cats and domestic exotic cats have had the benefit of vaccinations to protect them from the five big cat killing viruses, but the wild cat has no natural immunity and has never been vaccinated. If the animal can withstand it upon arrival we vaccinate with the Fel-O-Vax LV-K IV which is a killed cell vaccine protecting against Panleukopenia, Calici, Rhinotracheitis, Chlamydia, and Feline Leukemia Virus. A second dose must be given ten days later and a third dose would be great, ten days after that. By doing so, you will probably add more than a year to the cat’s life once it has been returned to the wild.

Unless it is a kitten under a year in age, keep in mind that one day this animal may have to be returned to the wild. You don’t want this cat to approach humans because most people don’t take it very well. Keep your contact with the cat to a minimum and if possible do not let them make the association between people and food. We feed the cat from a position where it is hard for her to see us. We keep her bedded in straw and natural fibers that do not have the human scent upon them. We don’t talk to her much or pet her or try to play with her and we don’t let other people around her. She doesn’t listen to the radio or TV all day, although we do give her a cage full of birds to look at in an attempt to get her on her feet.

Try to find a safe place for the animal to be returned to the wild. Typically, wild cats are not happy in captivity, so if it is feasible to return the cat to the wild, it should be attempted. Find a place where they are protected, such as a State Park, or a place so isolated and desolate that the cat will never encounter another car, hunter or trap. A river or lake will usually provide the resulting prey that a cat needs.

The cat must be in optimum condition before attempting any release. Even if you can eliminate man as a menace to the cat you must consider the fact that hunting grounds for cats are dwindling and each cat in an area already has an established range which they protect fiercely from other cats, especially males. When you drop a cat off in the woods, you don’t know whose territory that is and whether or not there are any vacant territories around. A bobcat keeps a five square mile territory and will protect his or her turf to the death. Your displaced cat must be in a condition capable of dealing with the sort of fight that is sure to ensue.

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