Big cats are complex organisms and exotic animal medicine is a rapidly deploying field. All big cats require special care. When they come from backgrounds of neglect or abuse their medical needs may be more challenging.
It is rare that a cat will come to us with complete medical records. More often than not, the people who send the cats to us know nothing about their background.
This requires us to follow strict medical procedures when a cat first arrives. There are routine operating procedures and quarantine procedures that are strictly followed.
A quarantine procedure helps identify medical needs of new arrivals and they protect the other cats against other diseases.
All cats are placed in a quarantine area when they first arrive and are kept there for a minimum of thirty days. Stool samples are taken for analysis, and the cats are watched closely for any signs of illness.
Should the cats require medical treatment that necessitates them being tranquilized, blood is taken for analysis. We do not like to tranquilize a cat unless it is absolutely necessary, but if we suspect serious illness or disease, it must be done.
If a situation is serious enough to require tranquilization, all possible diagnostic tests and necessary treatments are performed at that time.
All the cats are vaccinated each year with the same shots that you would get for your house cat or dog, but there are also specialized vaccinations that the big cats require. The cats are also de-wormed monthly.
We can administer vaccines and other medications to many of the cats by simply giving them a shot as they are comfortable enough with their handlers to accept hand injections. This is the least painful method. Many times they do not even feel it. But some, like us, are cowards when it comes to the needle and we have to sneak up on them and use a blow dart injection.
Cats are susceptible to many of the same maladies as people, including growths and tumors, cancer, kidney disease, arthritis, and pneumonia. They even have dental problems. A toothache in a tiger tooth is a big toothache.
Just as with people, each condition may require treatment by a specialist. And just as with people, quality medical care is expensive.
Many cats were injured prior to their coming here and required corrective surgery, as in the case of Kalahari. Ganda lf, the big Siberian tiger, had seventeen large bite wounds when he arrived that need cleaning and sutures.
Shortly after Kanpur arrived from South Carolina, we noticed that she had large growths in her throat. They were removed, but even though we have inquired with several veterinarians who have extensive experience with big cats, we have been unable to determine what caused them or how to prevent them from growing back.
Big cats are susceptible to the same diseases as a common house cat, as their genetic makeup is very similar.
Examinations and Procedures
Our veterinarian UTCVM visits Tiger Haven at least once a week to examine the cats. If we have a health problem, or suspect one, they always come immediately. We are privileged to have the services of Dr. Ramsay and Dr. Schumacher from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.
Horrors of Declawing
The declawing of big cats is a horrendous thing. Not only does it affect them at the time of the operation, but it actually worsens as the cat grows and ages.
To declaw a cat, the first knuckle joint (P-3) is actually amputated. This is the equivalent of a human having its foot removed and having to walk on its ankles for the rest of its life. Over the years, the cat develops arthritis (much earlier than a clawed cat) since it has been forced to alter its natural gait. A cat's ankles are not made to carry its body weight!
We have seen countless cases of improperly performed declaw procedures. For example, pieces of P-s3 bone are left inside the paw (which often needs corrective surgery). We have also had cases where cats have come to us mutilated or paralyzed from botched declaw procedures, and there is nothing medically we can do to repair this damage.
Most people declaw big cats because they think it will make the cat safer to handle. In fact, the big cat's method of killing is a suffocating bite to the throat of its prey. Even if you remove the fangs, the jaw pressure of the cat will still kill you. It just won't leave as many lacerations.
Tigger Roo front legs paralyzed.
Sunny mangled feet from an owner that tried to perform a declaw job without the benefit of a medical degree (or any medical knowledge)!
Sunny's feet and x-rays
Bombay had to have his botched declaw procedure repaired one foot at a time
Removed from left foot Foot after repair surgery
It took Bombay 5 hours of surgery, 6 weeks in confinement, and $2000 dollars to repair one foot so he can walk without pain. He still has to have corrective surgery on the other foot. All of this from an improper declaw job to begin with.
Sadly enough Bombay is not the only cat we have rescued with this type of problem (or worse)
Bombay is lucky that his problems from the declaw procedure are correctable. There are many more cats waiting for their turn to be able to walk without pain.
When declawing a cat this is what is removed 5 times per foot.