Unusual exotic pets (Proceedings)
Felids are a large group consisting of 37 species in the genera Felis (small cats), Panthera (large cats), Neofelis (clouded leopards) and Acinonyx (cheetah). Some species of exotic felids such as tigers, lions, bobcats (Felis rufus), caracal (Felis caracal), servals (Felis serval), and serval hybrids have become have become popular pets. I do not condone the ownership of exotic felids as pets. However, this information is aimed at providing veterinarians who are presented with these animals the basics of their natural history, husbandry/nutritional requirements, preventative medicine and common presentations.
All exotic felids in the pet trade should be captive bred and should have been acquired from a licensed breeder. Veterinarians should be familiar with the specific county, city, state and federal laws that determine the permit requirements for legal ownership. For example, Georgia requires either a Wildlife Exhibitor permit, or a Wild Animal License, in addition to a USDA permit. Among other things, USDA permits require a "program of veterinary care". Veterinarians are discouraged to sign on as "program veterinarians" without careful knowledge of the requirements of a program veterinarian, the facilities and husbandry and a strong client-veterinarian relationship. For more information on USDA licensing, visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ac/Safety and Restraint
Exotic felids come armed with large teeth and claws and powerful limbs. They are agile, quick and find it easy to free themselves from physical restraint. The staff should be aware of how to handle these animals when they present to the clinic. Owners should be encouraged to bring the animals contained in adequate carriers (not on a leash) and in a manner in which they can be removed from the container if needed. Most felids are easy to train and owners should be encouraged to use positive training methods (ie: clicker training) to manage their animals. This will minimize the stress associated with veterinary care and, in some cases, aid in simple veterinary procedures. Small felids (<10 kg) can be physically restrained (with the help of a net and gloves) for hand-injection of anesthetic agents. With few exceptions, a thorough physical exam cannot be performed on a conscious animal under physical restraint. It is important to inform owners that if they not consent to sedation/anesthesia for a physical exam, there are important aspects that will be omitted (ie: dental exam). Squeeze cages are useful for larger cats. In some cases, such as tigers in an outdoor enclosure, administration of anesthetics may only be possible with pole syringes or via darts. Safety protocols should be designed prior to the exotic felid appointment or visit. If in the clinic, protocols that deal with cage escapes, etc, force the staff to think about the equipment and action necessary if these situations arise. When on a mobile visit, it is important to visually inspect the grounds, doors, cage locks, fencing equipment, etc prior to initiating a procedure in order to anticipate an emergency.
Housing: Exotic felids require large spaces to allow them to display a range of natural behaviors related to foraging and territoriality. Most felids are solitary, but some are social or can adapt to small groups. All felids are good climbers, swimmers and jumpers. Some felids are arboreal and require vertical space in order to feel secure. Adequate fencing and other containment facilities are part of all permitting requirements. Large outdoor enclosures are preferred as they allow exercise, exposure to ultraviolet light, the maintenance of natural circadian rhythms and improved ventilation. Problems associated with outdoor enclosures include traumatic injuries from other animals (ie; feral dogs), escape, vandalism/theft, and exposure to feral cats. Many pet felids are kept 100% indoors. Owners should understand the pros/cons of indoor/outdoor facilities as it related to the species at hand. When housed outdoors, the substrate should be easy to clean; however, felids housed on concrete flooring often suffer from chronic degenerative joint problems and food pad ulcerations. A mixture of substrates is ideal.