The Worst Possible News 2008


Years of Over Breeding Shorten a Tigress’s Life

TigerTrucha and Modnic were the two 14 year old sisters that we rescued from Savage Kingdom (See video at the bottom of this page)  Thanks to you and some very generous donors we were able to build them a tiger cat-a-tat that was much larger than our usual tiger enclosures with an extra large den and pool. Since they had always lived together in much less space, we thought this would be sufficient for them, but I think they looked around at other tigers who had their own individual dens and pools and figured they could get on that list.

They got along most of the time, but would not share the den or the pool and even though they have separate feeding lockouts, they would still scream at each other at feeding time. If you have never stood between two screaming tigers you just cannot imagine that heart stopping sound. It sounds like the end of all time, but that is all it ever is with them…just a lot of scary noise.  Savage Kingdom had been shut down by USDA in August and until the following May, when we were first contacted, these tigers were only subsisting on what  woman would drive in to give them a couple times a week.  Zoos and backyard breeders had rushed in to get the white tigers, but left these four to starve to death.

A few of our old circus tigers passed on and the circus is out of tigers now (they no longer buy and breed them, but do rent them from breeders) so we can use the cages they built here. We took two of the 1200 square foot enclosures and joined them with a hallway so that Trucha and Modnic could be together and yet still have their own pools and their own dens and at feeding time we could shut the hall door if that made them feel any more secure about their food. Starving is something big cats don’t forget or get over easily and they had been starving for 10 months before the rescue.

“As soon as Dr. Wynn felt Trucha’s stomach you could see on her face that things were very bad.”

Modnic has always had a sore, about the size of a quarter, on her shoulder. It looked like a hot spot the cats get from a mosquito bite and it came and went (almost) but never quite healed. We had been working with both girls to get them used to the idea of going in the transport wagon so we could move them, but they weren’t having any of that. You just can’t argue with a tiger. We decided that since we would have to knock them out to move them we would biopsy that sore and see if there was something else going on. We did that in August and moved Modnic to the new double cage after removing the sore, but it took so much of the drug to knock her out that we didn’t have enough to move Trucha. The sore really looked like a tumor once the vet started cutting at it but the lab report didn’t come until about 10 days later.  Read more about Modnic in the Fall issue of the Big Cat Times.

Modnic Gets a New Lease on Life

Trucha tigerThankfully, it was benign. Modnic has already healed, made new friends with Flavio the tiger who lives next to her and all would have been good, but a similar sore appeared on Trucha about the time of Modnic’s move.  As it turns out, it was a good thing that Trucha wasn’t moved the same day as it would have complicated her treatment.  Many places house big cats in large groups but that can be very dangerous for the cats because of fights (they don’t share space in the wild) and because it can be hard to monitor each cat’s health as closely.

Trucha’s pink spot was, like Modnic’s, just the size of a quarter, but it was on her belly. In just a few days it went from being just a pink spot to being a big oozing knot that looked like an infected teat. On her moving day the plan was to knock her out, and Dr. Kelly Rice and Dr. Wynn would attempt to remove it as cleanly as Dr. Wynn had been able to do for Modnic. The idea was to cut it off, send it to the lab and let her wake up in her new digs in the double cage with her sister.

As soon as Dr. Elizabeth Wynn felt Trucha’s stomach you could see on her face that things were very bad. She showed me that beneath the swollen nipple, buried in the soft baggy underbelly skin was a tumor the size of a grapefruit. As she felt up the mammary chain on each side she would smooth the fur back and showed the underlying shape of tumors all up and down her stomach, from the size of an orange to the grapefruit sized one. She said that with it spreading so rapidly even if she were to remove all of these tumors that we could see, there was a very good chance that her lungs are riddled with them as well. As she removed the swelling protrusion she could see that the cancer had spread tendrils in every direction. It would be impossible to remove every bit of it, if it is malignant.

“I suppose the one thing you can really hang on to is that… she’s not going out in a deprived and terrifying environment through some hideous method. And that counts for a lot.”

Dr. Wynn suggested sending the tissue to the lab to see if it is and we will have to decide after the report comes back what to do. If it is benign, and she continues to be in the great spirits she has been in, then we would just keep an eye on her. If it is malignant and there are no other good options for Trucha then we would watch even more closely for signs that she is uncomfortable and will put her out of her misery.

Sadly, her lab reports came back revealing the worst of possible news.   We know her days with us will not be long.  She has been eating, playing and acting like she feels fine.  Trucha will continue to get the best of care and attention.  One of Trucha’s supporters summed up the situation best when he said, “I suppose the one thing you can really hang on to is that, if this is a terminal illness, she’s not going out in a deprived and terrifying environment through some hideous method. And that counts for a lot.”

Thanks to all of you who enable Big Cat Rescue to rescue great cats like Trucha we are all a part of ending the abuses that lead to such “terrifying environments” for big cats.  Thank you from me and all of the big cats at Big Cat Rescue.

Carole Baskin, Founder

Stop the Cycle of Breeding and Discarding

Update on Bella and TJ:

Bella was spayed shortly after arrival to be sure that we would not be contributing to the population of inbred white tigers.  Even though TJ and Bella are both golden tigers their physical defects indicate that they carry the white gene and were probably being used to produce white tigers as golden tigers do not fetch the price that a white one can.  At least one accredited zoo who took white tigers from Savage Kingdom failed to insure that cubs would be born and such is often the case now that the American Zoological Association has publicly announced opposition to this abusive practice based upon the fact that none of the cats used in these lines are pure bred and thus do not contribute to conservation in any way.

Due to the fact that both tigers LOVE the pool, but neither is willing to share it, we joined two cages together so now TJ and Bella have twice the space, two pools and two hillside dens.

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Feline Mammary Tumors

Trucha’s diagnosis: Mammary gland carcinoma.

At least three issues contribute to the high prevalence of cancer in big cats.

  1. A meat based diet, of food raised for human consumption, is laden with hormones and antibiotics.
  2. Big cats are bred repeated for the photo op/ cub market instead of being spayed.
  3. Melengestrol acetate (MGA), has been used as a contraceptive in zoo felids since 1975 and is linked to an increased risk of developing mammary cancer.

More than 80% of feline mammary tumors are malignant. Mammary tumors are known to be at least the third most frequently occurring tumor in the cat, following hematopoietic neoplasms and skin tumors. The incidence of mammary tumors in the cat is less than half that of humans and dogs. However, this tumor accounts for 17% of neoplasms in female cats.

Mammary neoplasia has been reported to occur in cats from 9 months to 23 years of age, with a mean age of occurrence of 10 to 12 years. The majority of affected cats are intact females.

“Mammary cancer in cats often spreads to the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, and kidneys

Hormonal influences may be involved in the pathogenesis of mammary tumors in the cat. Although the association between ovariohysterectorny and incidence is not as strong as in the dog, most studies show that intact cats are more likely to develop mammary tumors than oophorectornized cats. Studies have been done to determine the role of progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen in causing feline mammary tumors. Low levels of progesterone receptors have been found in the cytoplasm of some feline mammary tumors. Several reports have also documented a strong association between the prior use of progesteronelike drugs and the development of benign or malignant mammary masses in cats. Dihydrotestosterone receptors have not been found in mammary tumors in cats. Only 10% of the feline tumors assayed were positive for estrogen receptors; a much higher percentage of positive tests is seen in dogs and humans.

Pathology and Natural Behavior

Many of the tumors, especially the large, more invasive neoplasms, adhere to the skin and are ulcerated. Lymphatic and lymph node invasion is frequently present and visible at necropsy. In several studies, more than 80% of the cats with a mammary malignancy had metastases to one or more of the following organs at the time of euthanasia: lymph nodes, lungs, pleura, liver, diaphragm, adrenal glands, and kidneys.

More than 80% of the feline mammary tumors are histologically classified as adenocarcinomas. The frequency of diagnosis of the specific types of adenocarcinomas differs slightly among pathologists, but most agree that tubular, papillary, and solid carcinomas are the most common.

History and Signs

“Cats with a large tumor size will have a average survival time of 4 to 6 months.”

Feline mammary tumors are often presented to the veterinarian 5 months after they are initially noted. Thus, the tumors are usually in an advanced state of development when they are handled clinically. The neoplasm may adhere to the overlying skin but rarely adheres to the underlying abdominal wall. The tumor is usually firm and nodular. At least one quarter of affected patients have ulcerated masses. The involved nipples may be red and swollen and may exudate a tan or yellow fluid. The tumor can involve any or all mammary glands and is noted equally in the left and right sides. More than half of the affected cats have multiple gland involvement. Metastatic lung and thorax involvement may be extensive and may cause respiratory insufficiency because of a pleural carcinomatosis with an effusion, often containing malignant cells.


The success of surgery is hindered by the invasive nature of the disease and its tendency for early metastasis. Radical mastectomy (i.e., removal of all glands on the affected side) is the surgical method of choice because it significantly reduces the chance of local tumor recurrence. The cat usually has four pairs of mammary glands. The two cranial glands on each side have a common lymphatic system and drain into the axillary lymph nodes and then to sternal nodes. The two caudal glands tend to drain to inguinal lymph nodes.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is not used routinely to treat feline mammary tumors. Presently, there are no major claims that radiation increases the survival rate of feline mammary tumor patients.


Combination chemotherapy using doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide has been shown to induce short-term responses in about half of the cats with metastatic or nonresectable local disease. In one study, 7 of 14 (50%) had a partial response (> 50% regression). The median survival time for those cats responding was 5 months versus 2.5 months. The chemotherapy protocol can be repeated every 3 to 4 weeks. The major side effect with this protocol has been profound anorexia and mild myelosuppression.


In the last 20 years, little progress has been made in extending the survival time of feline mammary tumor patients. Because stromal invasion is almost always present and metastases are frequently present at the time of surgery, a guarded-to-poor prognosis should always be given. With conservative surgery, 66% of the cats that have had their tumors surgically excised have a recurrence at the surgical site.

The most significant prognostic factors affecting recurrence and survival for feline malignant mammary tumors are tumor size, extent of surgery, and histologic grading. Tumor size is the single most important prognostic factor for malignant feline mammary tumors. Cats with a large tumor size will have a average survival time of 4 to 6 months. Cats with a small tumor size will have a significantly better survival time with a median of about 2 years.

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