The cub petting industry is damaging for many reasons, but one of the most common ones is Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). MBD is an umbrella term for many different conditions causing weak bones. Many of the animals we have rescued suffer from MBD.
Most often, MBD develops from a lack of proper calcium intake. Calcium is very important for the body. 99% of calcium is found in the bones and teeth. In addition, calcium strengthens and stabilizes tissue. This allows for normalized body movement. Calcium also flows through the bloodstream. Here, it’s in charge of blood vessel contraction and dilation, muscle function, blood clotting, nerve transmission, and hormonal secretion.
While this look into calcium in the body focuses on the human body, cats use calcium in a very similar way. Unlike humans, cats don’t get calcium through dairy products or dietary supplements. They get it from drinking their mom’s milk and eating bones.
A tiger cub is weaned from their mother about 6 months after they’re born. This means, for the first 6 months of their life, a cub is entirely reliant on their mother’s milk for their calcium intake. Along with calcium, a cub is receiving important nutrients, including antibodies, vitamins and minerals, digestive enzymes, and hormones. In the cub petting industry, cubs are taken away from their mothers as soon as days after they’re born. They are often put on extremely insufficient diets and underfed. They’re sometimes drugged to keep them compliant or underweight. Because of this, these cubs don’t develop strong bones and bodies and are faced with MBD.
As cubs grow up, they stop drinking their mother’s milk, and they replace it with consuming bones. In facilities that practice cub petting, they’re often not feeding their cats proper diets. These diets can include things like diseased or contaminated roadkill and all ground or boneless meat diets with no calcium supplement. Cats that already lost calcium from being unable to nurse from their mom continue to not receive the calcium they need to be healthy. Once again, these cats are faced with MBD.
A litter of cubs TCWR rescued from Colorado in 2016 suffered from some pretty serious MBD. Blackfire, Rocklyn, and Peyton were all used in the cub petting industry. When TCWR arrived in Colorado, these three white tigers could not use their back legs and were crawling on the ground. TCWR staff worked quickly to get them help. With the help of a proper diet and veterinary care, Blackfire, Rocklyn, and Peyton can walk and play like tigers should. However, even with the care they received, all three tigers walk with noticeable limps, are on pain management medication, and have special diets, a result of MBD.
Our diets are built to ensure that our cats are getting the proper amount of calcium. In most cases, getting meat with bones is enough. However, for a variety of medical reasons, not every cat here can receive a bone diet. Any cat that needs a boneless diet gets supplemental calcium. It also extends to special circumstances, like our young animals, who need it while they’re growing. Each cat is treated as a special and unique individual, so each cat’s needs are met.