TECHNIQUE

Hand-rearing Felis silvestris - Wild cat (Wildlife Casualty Management)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B. This information should be read in association with Hand-rearing of Orphaned Wildlife which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Felis silvestris - Wild cat.

Wild cat kittens can be reared in a similar manner to domestic cat kittens, however it is important to remember that these are wild animals and should not be encouraged to become tame while in care.

Initial Care: 

General mammal information: 

  • On arrival any young mammal should be weighed, warmed, stimulated to urinate/defecate and given supplementary fluids by an appropriate route to counteract dehydration. 
  • The age should be determined if possible. (See individual species information page, sections "Appearance - Neonate" and "Life Stages - Reproductive stages").
  • The first feed given should be an oral rehydration (electrolyte) solution (e.g. Lectade, Pfizer Limited), with a gradual changeover to a milk substitute over several feeds.
  • See: Hand Rearing of Orphaned Wildlife for further general information.

General Care (including warmth and hygiene):

General mammal information

  • Young mammals have poor ability to maintain body temperature and are prone to hypothermia, hyperthermia and burns, particularly when unfurred or only sparsely furred.
  • Keep out of draughts but ensure ventilation is adequate.
  • Provide a temperature range, e.g. by heating one end of the container more than the other, which, while not allowing either overheating or chilling, permits the animal to chose the position at which it feels most comfortable.
  • The container used should be sufficiently large to allow the occupant to move into a comfortable position.
  • The sides of the container should be sufficiently high to prevent the occupant falling out.
  • Bedding materials should be soft, comfortable and either disposable or easily washed. They should keep the animal dry and be changed as frequently as necessary to prevent soiling.
  • (B194, P3.1987.w5, V.w5)

Carnivore specific information:

  • Maintain at 29.4-32C (85-90F) and relative humidity of 50-60% initially.
  • Gradually reduce temperature over the first three weeks to 21.2-23.9C (70-75F).
  • Excessively high ambient temperatures may cause hair loss.
  • (B10.48.w30)

Milk replacer:

Suggested milk replacers include:

  • KMR kitten milk replacer (Pet-Ag Inc).(B16.4.w4, B10.48.w30)
  • KMR kitten milk replacer (Pet-Ag Inc), pre-digested with lactase enzyme (2ml Lactaid (Lactaid Inc.) per 100ml milk, left for 24 hours, refrigerated.(J23.35.w1)
  • Cimicat kitten milk replacer (B69)
  • Goat's milk with added vitamins has been used successfully for rearing cat species. (B195)
  • Condensed milk diluted with water (one part milk to three parts water initially, with milk concentration slowly changed to reach one part milk to one part water) has been used when kitten milk has not been available, but tends to cause diarrhoea, due to the high lactose level.(B16.4.w4)
  • Formula may be fed diluted initially to reduce the risk of diarrhoea.(B10.48.w30)

Utensils:

  • Kitten feeding bottle with a small teat.

Feeding Frequency:

General mammal information: 

  • Varies depending on species.
  • In general, every 2-3 hours during the day and longer intervals at night.(P3.1987.w5)

Cat specific information:

  • Initially (neonates) 8-10 feeds per day; gradually increasing the interval between feeds. (B10.48.w30)
  • Feed 7-10 feeds in first 24 hours.(J23.35.w1)
  • Six feeds per 24 hours from 7 days old. (J23.35.w1)
  • Five feeds per 24 hours from 19 days old.(J23.35.w1)
  • Feed every two hours before eyes open.(B195)

Feeding Technique: 

  • To encourage feeding in very small animals, place a drop of milk on lips, preferably with animal held upright.(P3.1987.w5)
  • To feed using a medicine dropper:
    • Hold the infant in one hand with its head slightly higher than its body, place the dropper just inside the animal's lips and press the bulb extremely gently to place a tiny drop of formula in the infant's mouth to encourage feeding to start. As it begins to suck or lick the dropper may be pressed very gently to assist the infant to take the formula.(B194)
    • If a bubble of liquid appears at the nose or the infant opens its mouth wide, immediately stop feeding and tilt the infant head down to allow the excess formula to drain from its mouth. Give the infant a chance to recover then start again more slowly.(B194)
    • Refill the dropper as required.(B194)
    • Some infants may feed by licking individual hanging drops of the end of the dropper.(B194)
    • Clean any excess from the infant's nose/chin after each feed.(B194)
  • A similar technique can be used with a small syringe, pressing very slowly on the plunger as the infant sucks or licks.(V.w5)
  • When feeding very small neonates it is vital that the feeding technique used provides milk at a sufficiently slow rate to minimise the risk of milk being inhales with resultant aspiration pneumonia. (V.w26)

Quantities:

General mammal information:

  • Energy intake (kilocalories per day) = 200-250 x weight (kg) 0.83. (P19.1.w5, P3.1987.w3)

General rodent/carnivore information:

  • May feed 10-30% of body weight per day.(B10.48.w30)
  • May be fed up to 35-40% of body weight per day.(J34.9.w1)
  • About 25-50ml/kg per feed.(J34.9.w1)
  • Stomach capacity of neonate carnivores may be 50ml/kg, but filling to capacity at any feed is not recommended.(B10.48.w30)

Cat specific information:

  • Newborn kitten requires 250kcal per kilogram body weight per day.(B194)
  • Target intake 20% of body weight per 24 hours.(J34.9.w1)
  • Feed until the point at which abdomen is rounded and plump but not distended and hard (B194)
  • 20-30ml/kg per feed.(B10.48.w30)
  • Increase quantity if the animal is consistently appearing restless and hungry between feeds.(B10.48.w30)

Toileting: 

  • General mammal information: most infant mammals require gentle stimulation of the ano-genital area (using e.g. a damp cotton bud, damp cotton wool or damp soft paper towel) in order to urinate and defecate. 
  • This should be done when the animal is first presented and at every feed until voluntary elimination is observed.
  • Cat specific information:
    • Kittens should be stimulated to urinate and defecate at every feed. (B16.4.w4, B195)

Weighing: 

  • General mammal information: weigh daily. 
  • Cat specific information:
    • Daily weighing recommended.(J23.35.w1)

Weaning:

Release:

  • Do not release until formally identified as a wildcat and not a feral cat or hybrid. (B151)
Appropriate Use (?)
  • Wild animals should not be taken for hand rearing unless they are definitely orphaned, abandoned or injured, or in immediate danger.
  • Kittens which have not been fed for a time are likely to be weak and depressed, with empty abdomens.(B195)
Notes
  • Rear together with conspecifics if possible.(B10.48.w30, J23.35.w1)
  • A surrogate such as a stuffed toy may be provided if a kitten must be reared alone. (J23.35.w1)
  • Restlessness between feeds in a young kitten may indicate insufficient food intake. (B195)
  • Reduced milk consumption is commonly an early sign of illness.(B16.4.w4)
  • An ordinary outdoor thermometer may be used to indicate the temperature in the container used to house the orphan. (B194)
  • Routine records should be maintained of daily weight, times of each feed, quantities of milk consumed, urine/faeces production and general condition/demeanour. Such records provide an objective means of assessing progress and provide useful data for improving rearing methods.(V.w5)
  • Stomach capacity of neonate carnivores may be 50ml/kg, but filling to capacity at any feed is not recommended.(B10.48.w30)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Constipation may occur associated with dehydration, failure to stimulate urination/defecation and when kittens are being weaned; urinary retention may also result if the ano-genital area is not stimulated at each feed.(B16.4.w4)
  • Diarrhoea may result from incorrect milk formula, improperly cleaned feeding bottles, gastro-intestinal tract infections or ingestion of foreign bodies.(B16.4.w4, V.w5)
  • Wild cat kittens are susceptible to all the diseases of domestic cats. The standard vaccinations against feline rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, feline panleucopaenia and feline leukaemia virus should be given starting at 6-8 weeks of age.(B16.4.w4, V.w5)
  • Hand-reared kittens (which are deprived of a dam to suckle on) may 'nurse' (suck) on one another (limbs, genitals or ears) continuously, with resultant trauma. (B10.48.w30)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • KMR (Pet-Ag Inc, Illinois USA; Pet Ag, Kruus UK Ltd., Unit 17, Moor Lane Industrial Estate, Sherburn in Elmet, North Yorkshire, LS25 6ES): from pet stores.
  • Cimicat (Hoescht Pharmaceuticals): from pet stores.
  • Lactaid (lactase enzyme; Lactaid Inc., Pleasantville, NJ 0822, USA): from chemists (pharmacists)
  • Catac feeding teats: from pet stores
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Considerable time commitment involved, particularly initially for very young orphans requiring frequent feeds.
  • Manual dexterity is important for caring for these small individuals. R (Manual dexterity important.)
  • Requires empathy, observation skills and the ability to "read" the animal's body language.
  • Experience with hand rearing is useful and likely to greatly increase the success rate.
  • It is strongly recommended that juvenile wild cats are transferred to expert individuals or organisations as rearing and successful release requires considerable expertise and specialised pre-release accommodation. While rearing by inexperienced persons may result in a physically healthy juvenile, the chance of survival after release may be seriously reduced if expert techniques have not been correctly applied.
Cost/ Availability
  • Products and equipment all widely available, not particularly expensive.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Hand-rearing should not be started unless the carer is prepared to give the time and effort required for rearing to release, or to ensure that appropriate care will be continued through to release.
  • Consider whether hand-rearing is the best option for the individual compared with leaving it in the wild.
  • Consider whether euthanasia is a more humane/kinder option for the individual than attempting hand-rearing.
  • An offence may be committed under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 Section 1 if a released animal does not have a reasonable chance of survival (i.e. a chance similar to its non-rehabilitated peers). It is an offence under this Act for a person having control or charge of an animal to abandon it permanently or otherwise in circumstances likely to cause unnecessary suffering. This may include release at an unsuitable site, in the wrong territory, unfit, not having learned to hunt, at the wrong time of year etc. (J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, W5.Jan01)
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman
References

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