African servals, exotic cats as pets

Serval/Exotic Cat Care
Intestinal Blockages due to Foreign Object Injestion
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Servals have a marked tendency to eat things they cannot digest. This often leads to a foreign object causing an intestinal blockage. If untreated, this will kill your serval, and in many cases the object must be surgically removed.

Each case is an individual situation and should be handled by a good veterinarian experienced in working with servals.

Christmas trees are prime examples of the kinds of things that servals should not be exposed to. Many people don't want to give up having a Christmas tree, but it's one of the costs of owning a serval.

It’s never pleasant to read or write about the things that can go wrong, especially where our beloved pets are concerned. However, I do feel it’s important for serval owners to know about one of the primary hazards to the life of your cats. Servals have a marked tendency to eat things they cannot digest. This often leads to a foreign object causing an intestinal blockage. If untreated, this will kill your serval, and in many cases the object must be surgically removed.

In fact, servals are somewhat infamous for swallowing strange things and requiring surgery to remove them. I know of one person whose serval underwent four separate surgeries during his lifetime to remove various foreign objects. Unlike most domestic cats, servals chew on things including shoes, electrical cords, baskets, plants, bed frames, etc. Serval-proofing your house can be a formidable task.

It has happened to Sirocco and to many other servals around the country, so please don’t write this article off as irrelevant. Sirocco once ate the strap off the back of a shoe; many veterinarians later, he threw the strap of on the eve of the day I was to take him in for exploratory surgery. We weren’t so lucky the second time around, when he chewed up and ate a heavy-duty rubber dog toy. He had to have surgery, and stopped breathing on the table. He survived and made a full recovery thanks to a good vet and a lot of help from God. The whole incident ended up costing $1,600.00 and a lot of pain and heartache. One of these days I’ll post the whole story.

In the meantime, I’d like to share what some other serval owners have written on the subject. Please note that none of the contributors to this article are veterinarians, and that nothing on this page should be taken as veterinary advice; treating it as such could endanger your cat’s life! Each case is an individual situation and should be handled by a good veterinarian experienced in working with servals.

Serval owner Terrie Kaufman writes: “Many years ago when E'Leisha was about 2 or 3 years old (she is now an old lady of 7) she decided the purse I used to leave laying around had great shoulder straps and would make a fun thing to chew on. Servals will swallow many items not food related, at least she does. She had to have surgery because most of the cheap vinyl was stuck in her intestines.

What I will tell you is this.....if you watch your cat closely and know her habits you can tell when she is not feeling well. She did not eat, she did not poop and she laid on our bed just looking at me as if saying, "mommy, I got a terrible tummy ache".

The x-rays prior to surgery showed all the little pieces in her intestines. Surgery was successful but I vowed never to put her through that again. We are now down the road several years and even though we have done everything we can, she still gets into stuff. We have a 1,000 sq. ft. garden conservatory and koi pond in the middle of our home and we once let her out there to see what she would do. We have tropical plants that she went for and when I tried to remove her I was told, in no uncertain terms, that she would bite if I didn't just give her time to smell the roses. Most plants are poisonous to cats, at least a big bunch we have in our homes without thinking.

Plastic bags are the worst. I haven't a clue as to what is the attraction but something in plastic makes her want to chew on anything, bubble wrap, bags, purses (I do not buy leather anymore because she ruins them so fast). Dried flowers do not last long because these cats, like other's, want grass often, so we grow some of the "oat grass". We try to give her enough veggies to help distract her need for my dried arrangements.

New shoes are usually put up high but then again, Servals are long and can reach so my shoes now reside in a drawer in the closet. Beautiful antiques are now in a "shard pile" someday to grace on of our gardens because Servals, unlike domestic cats, do not watch where they are walking, they walk THROUGH things and anything in their way usually falls on the tile floor only to be looked at with a sigh of "oh well".”

Jeff Miller also knows about this from bitter experience, writing “We recently had a surgery for our serval. He chewed up one of my wife's shoes. He passed some, barfed some but alas some was stuck. They had to cut it out of his intestine and stitch everything back up. It cost about $1.500 when all was said and done. We have been religiously using bitter apple spray on things he has a tendency to chew on. Also, we bought some new toys that he loves to chew on. Bottom line, "bitter apple spray" and "toys"!

Patrick Babin has a few suggestions for those who think their serval may have a blockage due to a foreign object. He says: “The first thing to do is take the cat to the vet and have a blood test done and x-ray. If the blood test shows no abnormalities, you probably have time to try to get the object to move through using laxatives and/or fibrous food. If the blood test indicates infection or significant changes in kidney/liver function, exploratory surgery probably should be done. If the fibrous food doesn't work within a day or so, you need to have a barium x-ray done and/or a sonogram and another blood test. If the cat is lethargic, not eating or eating and vomiting, then surgery is probably needed Some vets suggest feeding the cat bread. I've never seen a serval that would eat enough bread to push a blockage through and I don't know of anyone who has successfully used bread to do this.

I would not suggest inducing vomiting. If the cat vomits on its own that is one thing. You may cause more damage inducing vomiting. And there is a risk of aspiration. The object may be in the stomach but may also be in the ileum or large intestine. Sometimes you can dislodge the object so that it goes out naturally, if it is small, by using certain types of food such as frozen mice and rats, or vegetables. However, there is also a risk of causing a larger blockage so you need to have gone to the vet regarding the problem before attempting this.

Blockages are the most common cause of pet serval death. It is your responsibility as a serval owner to keep things that would cause a blockage out of the servals reach. It usually takes a complete rearrangement of your house to accomplish this and it may take a year or two to remove everything as you see and remove what the serval chews on. Christmas trees are prime examples of the kinds of things that servals should not be exposed to and many people don't want to give up having a Christmas tree. But this is one of the costs of owning a serval.”

Former serval breeder Sara Comstock also had a heartbreaking experience that serves as a reminder that we must not neglect the more familiar hazard of choking. She writes: “This is hard for me to write, really hard, but learn thru my experience. I was once a breeder of servals. One of my serval kits, approx. 6-7 weeks old, swallowed a small plastic ball. It became lodged into his throat. I heard him gasping and observed his running, as stress started to take its toll on him. I grabbed him, and forced my fingers into his throat to where I could feel the ball. By this time, he had gone limp in my arms, and I could see he was fading rather quickly.

No matter how I tried, I could not get the ball out, so I continued pushing air thru his nostrils, as my hubby grabbed the truck keys and I jumped into the front seat, with this limp little body in my arms. I continued breathing air into him, trying to get the ball out, and praying. I watched the life leave his eyes. He died in my arms, and the vet could not resuscitate him.

This has been a burden I have had to bear for about 10 years now. The images of him playing, the softness of his fur, and the incident, the feeling and the heartache of losing a precious one. To go home without him that day, and to have to tell Siss-E, his mother, that I lost one of her sons, was hard. That day, I removed and/or destroyed everything and anything, that was small enough for any of the servals to get into their mouth. I completely serval proofed my home.”

There is another article on this subject here. It was written in 1976, and some of the advice within seems a little off the wall and outdated to me, but it is a resource and as such I'll share it and let you and your vet evaluate it yourselves.



 

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© Jessi Clark-White, 2004
Veterinary Care for Servals, Caracals, and other Small Exotic Cats