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Cub Nutrition and Care

This format was designed specifically for the needs of larger felines (i.e. lions, tigers, leopards, and cougars). After years of experimentation we have found the following general map to be the best diet for these types of babies. Remember, all babies are different and may have special needs which may mean consulting an exotic animal veterinarian for more specific advice.

General Care

Holding cubs is an art and should not be attempted until properly instructed. The correct way to hold a cub is to place one hand under each armpit; do not hold them by their legs. Be sure the shoulders are not being stretched out. If done correctly it looks terribly uncomfortable, almost as though you are hanging them by their arms, but when you position your hands correctly they will be quiet, comfortable, and relaxed. Cubs stomachs are very sensitive at this age, do not try to hold them like a human baby. They will tell you very quickly that they do not like it.

Now for the fun part- Stimulation 101. Stimulating is the most important thing you do with a young animal. Their health is easiest identified through their stool. Babies need to be stimulated to pass their stool a minimum of once a day. The younger and more premature they are, the more often you may want to stimulate. Most more mature cubs will urinate on their own. If you notice they are not urinating you may want to increase urinary stimulation to after every feeding, this may also increase their appetite. We would not recommend stimulating stool more than 3 times a day.

Normal stool is yellow to brown and the consistency is firm to pudding-like. If the stool changes, this generally means the health of the animal is changing. If changes are seen, the general rule of thumb is to run a fecal as soon as possible. If there are no abnormalities in the stool sample, water their formula down for a day or two (with pedialyte instead of water if dehydration is a concern) until the stool returns to normal. Teething and stress may change stool as well. This is normal but still important to keep an eye on. Regardless of the changes, a baby with diarrhea can dehydrate and die in just a few hours. If dehydration becomes a concern immediate sub-Q or I.V. fluids needs to be considered.

This is a short synopsis of how to care for baby big cats. Please do not let this be your comprehensive guide. Always call a professional if there is any question about your animal's care. Please do not forget their shots. They are given the same 4 in1 as domestic cats.

Big Cat Feeding Guide

Because all babies develop at different rates, formula and vitamin dosages may vary. The best way we have found to distinguish the stages is not by age, but rather by teeth development. The stages are pre-teeth or teething, incisor, canine, and molar. Because some babies are born premature or late, in a 90 to 105 day gestation period a few days can make a major difference in teeth maturity. For example, a tiger was born 10 days premature. She had little fur and her eyes and ears were shut. She never opened an eye until she was 5 weeks old, normal development being at 2 weeks, and finally had a tooth break skin at 6 weeks. A mature tiger cub at 6 weeks may be eating the “canine” or even starting the “molar” diet, a diet of this strength would surely kill a premature baby like the one mentioned.

Teeth development is tested by rubbing your finger along a cub's gum line.  See the list below to place in the correct stage. Remember even without teeth, a teething big cat has incredible jaw pressure, so be careful.

If the baby is not nursing the mother, it is often necessary to rub their gums to release the teeth and ease gum pain. We have found that rubbing the jaws (from the outside of the mouth) also helps relieve discomfort. BEWARE- do not let sucking your fingers become a habit. They tend to get possessive about hands as they get larger, and as you can imagine this can become a great problem..

*A special note should be made when discussing the use of vitamins. Lions should get a greater dosage of vitamin A, and cougars tend to have calcium deficiencies and need additional calcium added, particularly after weaning.

Pre-teeth or Teething stage- Characterized by feeling no teeth or small nubs. At this time, babies need a basic formula. The following makes a little over 2 oz. This is the maximum feeding for the first 2 days. Feeding should be done 4-8 times a day, until the cat starts eating regularly.

One ounce Esbilac to two ounces water and 2 CCs of Nutra-cal

The following makes one gallon of milk. This is more convenient when the baby starts eating more. When they are eating regularly, you may increase the amount and feed four times a day. Although every baby is different, generally during this stage I would not recommend giving more than 6 oz. during a single feeding.

Basic Formula:

Esbilac- One 12 oz. can (powder)
Goat milk- 12 oz. (fluid)
Nutra-cal- 4.25 oz. paste
Bottled water to make 1 gallon

Incisor stage- Characterized by small top and bottom incisor protrusion. These teeth need to be the majority of the way in. At this point they are ready for some meat products. As with any transitional period, the change should be made slowly. Start by adding the following to each gallon of formula for 1-2 weeks:

1 container beef Gerber stage 2 baby food
1 container chicken Gerber stage 2 baby food
1 container turkey Gerber stage 2 baby food

After this period, add an additional jar of each to every gallon. This will make a total of 2 beef, 2 chicken and 2 turkey Gerber baby food jars. It is important to use Gerber, many other brands add onion as a preservative which is toxic to the cats, this is often not identified on the jar.

Canine stage- Characterized by the eye teeth being all the way in. At this time you may start adding ground turkey to their diet. You may start by adding small amounts into their formula. As you increase the amount of ground turkey you may decrease the amount of the Gerber baby food. If the cat is ready for it, you may want to feed the ground turkey in a bowl. Realize this may decrease its desire for a bottle. The longer the cat stays on the bottle the more attached and gentle it will be towards humans. This is something you will have to decide for yourself. At the end of this stage you may be adding 1 lb. of ground turkey to their gallon of formula.

Molar stage- Evident by the molars being present. Do not rub these teeth as they will draw blood. This is the stage when your baby becomes a juvenile. It is ready to eat whole pieces of chicken. Only use chicken legs or leg quarters. In the beginning the skin must be removed. This will help avoid choking. Small slices should be made in the meat allowing the cat to tear the meat easier on their own. At this time the babies do not nutritionally need any formula although it is highly recommended to continue giving them a bottle. Formula continues the addition of vitamins into their diet and the cat’s attachment to you. Because the formula is optional you may want to use a more economical formula.

Ground turkey- 1 pound
Evaporated milk- 4 -12 fluid oz.
Vitamins of your choice:  We recommend Pet Tabs, Missing Link or Oasis. Pet Tabs are easiest to add to the formula. Do not forget the additional Vitamin A (lions) and Calcium (cougars) for those in need.

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