African servals, exotic cats as pets

Exotic Cat Care
Neonate Felid Care - A Beginner's Overview
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Submitted by Bobby Bean

This is a compilation from contributors at the EFBC-Feline Conservation Center in Rosamond, California, Hexagon Farm, Wild Feline Breeding Facility in San Juan Bautista, California Mountain View Breeding & Conservation Center in Langley B.C., Canada, and Robert Bean of the International Zoological Research and Exchange in Knoxville, Tennessee, done for the AZA felid TAG. This is intended as an overview, not a detailed guide to hand rearing kittens. This group of authors advocates for allowing kittens to remain on the dam for rearing when possible.


All data prior to 1995 regarding formulas using KMR and Esbilac are based on a different ingredient content than currently in use. Butterfat replaced coconut oil (listed on the label as vegetable oil), and, while this works well for domestic dogs and cats for whom the products were intended, in a number of non-domestic species, including felids, sudden constipation resulting in death have been attributed to blockages caused by undigested butterfat found in the stomach during necropsy.

This does not appear to be species specific and occurs randomly, but concerns have prompted most institutions to switch to a new Borden/Pet-Ag line of products, available only in powder form. Called Zoologic Milk Matrix, the original (and safe) KMR and Esbilac are now marketed under the names Milk Matrix 42/25 and 33/40 respectively.

There have been a wide variety of different formulas used for felines. Some of the most common formulas used for felines had been KMR feline milk substitute by Bordon/Pet-Ag, and, Esbilac canine milk substitute also from Bordon/Pet-Ag, and the new Milk Matrix 33-40 from Borden/Pet-Ag. Other formulas include goat’s milk and dairy milk.

Goat’s milk and dairy milk by themselves are not very good formulas for normal hand raising purposes. The addition of supplements is necessary for adequate nutrition. There may be times when specific incidences require a formula comprised of these products, but always check with your veterinarian first.

KMR had been widely used as a milk replacement for felines but in our opinion incidences of quality control and constant reformulation made this a questionable choice. The formula most widely used is the old Esbilac formula (now called Milk Matrix 33-40) liquid milk replacement. Esbilac was available in two forms, a liquid form and a powder form that has to be mixed with water. The old powder form was not recommended for small felids unless mixed with an electric blender because it had a tendency to clump and settle at the bottom of the bottle. It has also been known to separate in the kittens stomach and cause a blockage. We recommended the liquid formula available in 8 and 12 oz cans.

NOTE: The newer Milk Matrix blends much easier and does not clump. Although 33-40 (Esbilac) is somewhat lower in fat content than natural feline milk, the short time that the animals are on this formula and the ease of supplementing it makes this formula a good choice.


This is extremely important! There is a tendency to want to hold the kitten in your arms when feeding and, unfortunately, it usually means the kitten is not in the correct position to feed. Holding the kitten in your arms usually causes the kitten to end up in an upright or head back position thereby increasing the chances of aspiration. It is best to immediately start feeding the kitten on a table with the animal in a sternal position, that is laying on its stomach. At first it will tend to peddle forward, but in time it will become adjusted to this routine.

Many thanks to Bobby Bean for allowing the use of this article on in cooperation with the Feline Conservation Federation. This article is copyrighted 2003 by Bobby Bean, and originally appeared in the FCF Newsletter. All rights are reserved. FCF members receive a bi-monthly newsletter containing a wealth of articles like this one, and I highly recommend becoming an FCF member to learn more about exotic felines.


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© Jessi Clark-White, 2005
Neonate Felid Care and Feeding