When I was first asked to write an article on how to work with big cats, the definition of “big cat” got me thinking. That’s because there are several different types or classifications of what people commonly refer to as “big cats.” Some examples would be tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, and mountain lions (cougar/puma). These are all classified as “cats” but they are very different in their natural history, behavior, and temperament. Asking someone who has worked primarily with one type of “cat” for advice about working with another is not always advised. When giving tips based upon our personal experiences it is best to consider the subject being addressed and the ability, experience, and ultimate use of the information we are sharing.
Some advice may be too difficult to implement or attain and some will not apply at all because it is based upon a different type of cat. For example, I recently received an email from someone concerned about keeping her pet cougar’s nails short. She wanted to know if there was anything she could do about this problem as she didn’t want her cat scratching her furniture.
The only thing that came to mind (after thinking long and hard) was that perhaps using a tall scratching post would help as this big cat would not have been able to reach up high enough on any other type of scratcher due to its size. It would have been impossible to give a list of tips for working with “cats” without mentioning a very important subject. Big cats are not domesticated. They have been caged, chained, and in some cases tame from birth but they were born free and will remain free despite their non-natural environment.
This is the single most important factor to consider when dealing with these magnificent animals that can reach weights of up to 600 pounds or more! There is no way to predict how a captive-raised cat will react in any situation until it happens so being aware of this beforehand makes all the difference in the world when thinking about working around a big cat or trying to handle one regularly.
Cougars are fairly new additions to anyone’s collection of exotic pets and though they have been bred in captivity for several years now, they are still considered wild animals and will continue to exhibit the behaviors that define their species.
They don’t purr or meow as domesticated cats do but some have been taught how to imitate those sounds as well as some other cat-like mannerisms. Despite this, they lack the vocabulary that most domestic cats have been raised with from birth and show very little interest in toys unless there is a real need for them such as playtime with a kitten who has not learned how to stalk prey on its own yet.
I often tell people first getting into big cats it’s best never to get your hopes up about anyone particular cat knowing what you want it to do because until you can read these animals’ body language, you will never truly know what they are thinking or feeling. This is one of the challenges that keep people who love these cats coming back for more! A cougar was once cited as being more like a dog in its trainability whereas most people relate to them as being very cat-like with their aloofness and mostly independent behavior patterns.
It has been said that “with age comes the ability to reason” but big cats are an exception to this rule. They continue to learn after they have reached maturity but it is normal for most captive-born cubs to not show much interest in human contact until they reach full adulthood at about three years of age.
On the other hand, some have been socialized from an early age and will show a lot of affection towards humans as long as they are not forced to interact with them. There is one exception, however: lions! Lions have been bred in captivity for so many years now that they tend to be much easier to work with than most other breeds and this has given them an advantage over the others, especially those cats who came from the wild or were rescued from foreign countries where their lives depended on their ability to escape from people if necessary.
In the latter case, the only time you may see a truly frightened big cat is when someone comes running at them full speed which tends to elicit this behavior pattern. Many people think that because these animals look like smaller versions of their counterparts in Africa and Asia, they should act the same way too. This is not always the case however and just because they can be difficult to work with, it does not mean that their minds are too small to learn new things! It may take a little longer for you to teach them anything but if you use your imagination and change your approach, you will see results very quickly.
As I get older, I tend to feel more sorry for people who follow this kind of thinking than anything else because so many of them give up on trying early on in the process which takes the fun out of working with these cats in my opinion. They are smart enough to know when you don’t want them around anymore and in most cases, they will let go right away rather than try to continue to prove that they can be trusted. On the other hand, once you have taken the time necessary to teach them what you want them to do, then it is very likely they will behave in a manner that is predictable and you won’t have any more problems with escape artists either.
The secret of teaching a big cat anything is patience and by using food as your bait whenever possible, there’s no reason why anyone cannot make their cats come when called or learn how to do things like jump through a hoop for example. One of my favorite methods for getting these animals under control has always been the use of an open paper bag which I lay down on the ground at my feet every morning when feeding them.
When working around one or more cougars, I will kick the bags along in front of them while calling their names which is a very effective way to get them to move off the path ahead of me so that I can easily pass by without any problems. This method also works well for leopards and cheetahs but not lions since they are much too big to fit into the bag! If you have more than one animal whose management is causing you problems then there are several things you can do to help your situation including making use of an elevated dog leash or leash system for two cats who are just not getting along with each other.
Remember it’s always best to plan when working around these animals to avoid any unnecessary injuries or escapes due in most cases, to human error. A lifting mechanism is great for any cat who is too dangerous to work with on the ground level and they will reduce your risk of getting hurt or having your cats injure one another tremendously if you decide to make use of them in the future.
Elevated dog leash systems are available from most major pet supply retailers and can be used to help children feed their new pets without any problems whatsoever.