Management and Conservation of Captive Tigers

R. Tilson, G. Brady, K. Traylor-Holzer, and D. Armstrong (eds.). Minnesota Zoo: Apple Valley, MN, 1994: 2nd edition.

Birth, Growth and Rearing of Tiger Cubs
M. Bush, L. Phillips, R. Montali, E. Dierenfeld, S. Hakala, K. Traylor-Holzer, G. Binczik and R. Tilson

Hand-Rearing of Cubs

(M. Bush, L. Phillips and R. Montali)
[Editors' note: Whether to hand-rear or not hand-rear tiger cubs is controversial and one of the most polarized issues in tiger husbandry.]

Milk Replacements

There are numerous protocols for handraising tigers (Hoff 1960, Husain 1966, Theobald 1970, Kloss and Lang 1976, Hughes 1977, Richardson 1988, and see Dierenfeld below) using various products and techniques. The AAZK Hand-Rearing Protocol is another good source. Certain guidelines are important, initially the cubs should receive 5% dextrose for the first two feedings and then started on milk replacer. The choice of milk replacer for tigers seems to be Esbilac or KMR (Borden, Inc., Hampshire, IL 60140). London Zoo uses Cimicat (Hoeschst). We suggest adding the enzyme lactase to the milk to break down the lactose and have noted fewer problems with gastrointestinal upsets. The cub should be kept hungry the first day or two and then the diet increased in volume to about 10% of body weight/24 hr. Initially the cub is fed by stomach tube to minimize the risk of inhalation pneumonia, but also to assess residual stomach content by aspiration prior to the next meal. When started on the bottle the first liquid should be 5% dextrose to minimize lung damage if inhalation occurs. The cub is held in a normal sternal feeding position when taking the bottle. When the cub is taking 5% dextrose well with no coughing, milk can be started. The concentration of the formula is started at 6% and elevated to 12, 15 and 18% as the cub grows to meet the energy requirement without overfilling the stomach. The cub should be receiving the 18% formula at 4-6 weeks of age.

The cubs should be stimulated to urinate and defecate after each feeding by massaging the ano-genital area with cotton moistened with warm water. If diarrhea occurs, the formula should be diluted with an oral electrolyte solution and total volume decreased by 20-40% for 8-12 hrs. A stool culture prior to antibiotic therapy should be obtained to check for pathogenic bacteria. If diarrhea is severe and persistent, all oral intake should be stopped for 12-18 hrs and the cub supported with subcutaneous fluids, and then started on oral electrolytes followed by dilute formula and returned to normal feeding over the next 12-24 hrs.

Many hand-raised tigers develop hair loss at 6-8 weeks of age (Kloss and Lang 1976), possibly due to some deficiency in the diet. The addition of liver homogenate to the diet has been helpful in preventing and correcting this alopecia. Weaning the cubs to solid food also usually enhances hair coat, growth, and general appearance. This should begin at 5-8 weeks

Feeding of Hand Reared Tiger Cubs
(from E. Dierenfeld)

Milk mixtures for hand-rearing should simulate cat's milk as closely as possible, containing approximately 20% solids comprising 44% crude protein, 25% fat, 26% carbohydrates, and 7% ash (Borden refs.). Queen milk (wet basis) provides 1.42 kcal/g (1 g = approximately 1 ml) (Scott 1977).

Although fresh cow's milk is not suitable for cats, a mixture of 20 g skim milk powder dissolved in 90 ml warm water to which 10 ml of corn oil or 30 g egg yolk has been added should prove adequate, as it has for kittens (Scott 1977). Sugar solutions should be avoided, as felids may have a limited ability to effectively utilize high glucose loads (MacDonald et al. 1984).

TIGERS OF THE WORLD. R.L. Tilson and U.S. Seal, eds. Noyes Publications: Park Ridge, NJ. Pp. 167-70, 1987.

Bush, M.; Phillips, L.G.; Montali, R.J. Clinical management of captive tigers. In TIGERS OF THE WORLD. R.L. Tilson and U.S. Seal eds. Noyes Publications: Park Ridge, NJ. Pp. 171-204, 1987.

Hakala, S. and Traylor-Holzer, K. Analysis of pre-natal and post-natal behaviors in Siberian tigers. ZOOSCHOOL JOURNAL 12: 17-34.

Hemmer, H. Gestation period and postnatal development in felids. CARNIVORE. 2:90-100, 1979.

Hoff, W. Handrearing baby cats at Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago. INTERNATIONAL ZOO YEARBOOK. 2:86-9, 1960.

Hughes, F. Handrearing a Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) at Whipsnade Park. INTERNATIONAL ZOO YEARBOOK. 17: 214-18, 1977.

Husain, D. Breeding and handrearing of white tiger cubs (Panthera tigris) at Delhi Zoo. INTERNATIONAL ZOO YEARBOOK. 6:187-93, 1966.


MacDonald, M.L.; Rogers, Q.R.; Morris, J.G. Nutrition in the domestic cat, mammalian carnivore. ANN. REV. NUTR. 4:521-62, 1984.

Mlikovsky, J. Sex ratio distribution in the Siberian tiger Panthera tigris altaica ZEITSCHRIFT FUR SAUGETIERKUNDE. 50:47-51, 1985.

Miller, S.A.; Allison, J.G. The dietary nitrogen requirements of the cat. JOURNAL OF NUTRITION. 64:493-501, 1958.

Richardson, D.M. Hand-rearing exotic felids. In THE HAND-REARING OF WILD ANIMALS. Association of British Wild Animal Keepers: Bristol, UK, 1988.

Scott, P.P. The nutritional requirements of cats. In BASIC GUIDE TO CANINE NUTRITION. Gaines Professional: White Plains, NY, Pp. 79-92, 1977.

Seifert, S. and Muller, P. INTERNATIONAL TIGER STUDBOOK. Zoologischen Garten Leipzig: Leipzig, 1985.Theobald, J. Experiences in maintaining an exotic cat collection at the Cincinnati Zoo. JOURNAL OF ZOO ANIMAL MEDICINE. 1:4, 1970.