African servals, exotic cats as pets

Siberian Lynx
The Siberian Lynx as a Companion, by Lynn Runkle
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Lynn Runkle and her Siberian lynx Anna


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It is my feeling that my exotics are more "companions" than pets...domestic creatures are pets...that is what they are breed for (on the whole) exotics have their natural instincts and behavior and CUNNING intact. Which keeps us ALL on our toes in trying to provide a safe, healthy, and enriched life. These creatures change, evolve as they grow in size to adulthood as well as they mature, meaning that what works today, may not work tomorrow, so staying one step ahead of any exotic can be a challenge...but isn't that what we were after when we decided to bring this creature into our lives.

If a daily challenge of care and responsibility of these animals isn't what a perspective owner wants...then PLEASE don't take an exotic animal into your life. There are no "doggie and kitties" motels that I know of to leave your exotic to take a vacation or whatever....Not many humans are willing to put a animals need before their own and that's why our rescues are full! Taking an exotic into our lives SHOULD BE to benefit the life of that exotics life NOT ours. ALL exotics BITE, it's just a matter of when and how hard! Exotics respond to their instincts BEFORE their trust or "tameness with US.

I have strong, wonderful, loving bonds with all of my animals...hence the name "“im the real snow white”" given to me as a tease because of my way with them....AND i still get BIT from time to time....not in reaction to what I'm doing TO them but what is going on in the environment...and no one can control everything! So it happens. The instant after the bite, my exotic shows "remorse" for lack of a better word...their head goes down and they show submissive behavior (since I'm the alpha member for all of them) and that too is a natural behavior...we all "snap" from time to time :) All of my exotics are ambassador's for community educations and conservation. There are few resources for us to find on "how to" for our travel down the road to and of ownership. We all care for our animals differently but most have to same outcome...happy, healthy companions that we spend years of our lives with. Good for all of us who come here to ask questions and share our experiences.

Any wild cat is all muscle, agile and unbelievably fast. Some owners have de-fanged and declawed their exotic cats thinking that they have “disarmed” that cat rendering it “safe”, this is a dangerous assumption. Those WILD CAT instincts are totally intact, and if that cat WANTS that "object" it’s going after it regardless of how tame it is, whether or not it’s harnessed and on a lead, etc…and it can inflict harm; how fast, to what extent...that depends on the individual situation. NO ONE that I know with a wild cat, monkey, or parrot can move as fast as they can. As responsible owners we must always be aware of lurking dangerous situations for other animals, humans and our cats themselves.


A baby! I am sure you are excited and rightfully so! You are in for lots of amazing surprises :) I got Anna when she was 2 weeks old and she’s pretty much looked like a domestic kitten. Bottle feeding her was no problem. Kittens can easily aspirate when bottle feeding on it’s back, so, position your baby as close to a natural position as you can, on it’s belly/all fours out, with the head lifted up before you offer the bottle. Always warm the milk to kill bacteria and such even when adding to ground turkey meat At 3-4 weeks old, it was surprising what an aggressive eaters she was and it became apparent that she was a "wild cat". Her nails quickly became little razors. Clipping them went well and helped some, but she ate so vigorously that I had to resort to covering my hand with a dish towel and then pick up the bottle to protect myself :).

For her kitten bedding I used a heating pad, on low heat, covered with a towel, making sure you have enough room in the cage so that your she could move on and off as she chose. If I needed to travel with Anna i.e.. To the vet’s office, I would put a zip lock bag of ice wrapped in a towel in the travel cage with her and so she could go over and lie on it should she feel to hot, living in the south it really is a must.

Once weaned and now I feed Anna raw chicken that has been frozen and thawed. She refuses to eat chicken that is cooked. At present she eats three times a day, a quarter piece, a drum stick/ thigh. One of the reason I don't like to use litter is because she likes to bat and play around with her food and I don't want her to put her food in the litter box and have "litter battered" chicken...yucky! For enrichment purposes I put her chicken into various delivery containers such as a paper bag, tupperwear, PVC pipe, 2 L soda bottle...stuff like that, just so she has to work at it a little bit and she has a great time. She will, on occasion, eat some small pieces of cooked pot roast and steak. When she's outside in her pen she will some grass and enjoys lemon grass now and then.


Like any kitten using the litter box seems to be more of a “natural” behavior, not so much trained a trained one. I’ve heard all kinds of things about what litters to use, but I have used newspaper and regular cat litter successfully. I know it sounds weird but it works and it makes it easier when traveling :). For her litter box I use a plastic "under the bed" storage box that I bought from the local Wal-Mart. Home Depot/Lowe’s also have some large plastic and rubber boxes that would be great for a "big" kitty litter box.

She has not ever "sprayed" anywhere within the house other than her box, and has been box trained since 4 or so weeks old. I don't find changing her box any worse or different than a regular house cat. Just as an FYI which you may know already, wild cats prefer running water to "poop and pee" and Anna is no exception. She has learned to turn on bathroom sink and bath tub faucet to get a drink and if poop and pee J . I have also read that you can use water in place of litter, since lynxes prefer to use streams and such in the wild. Another issue that I have encountered is that I can’t just leave a bowl of water out for her....she'll use it as her “potty place“, so, a friend gave me a good idea, use a 5 gallon bucket with a whole on the side any big enough for her head which works well.


Siberian lynx’s are ALL muscle and speed...So Anna wears a harness 24/7 for her safety as well as everyone’s else’s. I hang her lead on the door knob of her room, and she does not leave that room until the lead is ON, and she knows that rule and will hesitate (not stop... Hahaah ha) at the threshold. If she does, (and she does sometimes), gets past's ALL HANDS ON DECK!!!! until she is on that lead. I'm 5'10" 180 lbs, and Anna at 1 year old, 35lbs., she walks me, and to tell you the truth, it's a little intimating to me. Intimating because WHEN not IF those “wild” instincts, muscle and speed kicks in, am I going to have enough strength to hold her back. I haven't had this happen yet...BUT…my senses are heightened that this is a potentially dangerous situation.

I do have two leads. The 6’ lead hangs on her door and I have tied it so that is shorten to about 3'. That way it gives me some flexibility of control but also allows her a little move range to explore out in front of me. The second lead is 20' long, that lead I use when she is outside in open areas outside of her pen. The strategy here is that she has a lot more freedom BUT it gives me a little bit more control should she takes off after something. I think of this as fishing for large fish in the ocean...once on the hook...they are given slack in the line, to RUN...and when the time is right the line is jerked back and tighten. If Anna is attracted by something and goes for it, I have a better chance of stopping her because once the lead is jerked back...her stride is broken and she's thrown off balance, at least long enough for me to bring her back under control. When out side, her lead is TIED to my body, for her safety and everybody else's.

When Anna is outside on her lead, she will flop down on the ground and bury her nose and rub her face in the ground/dirt. She acts like she's in heaven...sniffing all that dirt up her nose!!! It is nearly impossible to get her attention...I have to go back and rally her up from that spot and get her going .."cause she ain't moving “on her own!!


Because of Anna’s size and power her natural nails are sharp and accidents can happen. I have such respect for how even the slightest bit of growth can be dangerous. Despite Anna being “grown” she is still very good about letting me clip her nails. Her nails grow so fast, the front more than the back so...every 2 weeks I clip all the front claws and "check" the back.. I lay her in my lap like a baby in my lap, flip her over on her back of course, and clip the tips off. She talks the whole time..."MAMA...WHY!...I DON'T WANT YOU TO DO THAT"..hahaha...but that's all the fuss I get out of her. Even though Anna still has her claws you wouldn't know it when we play not even when she jumps or smacks us. It still amazes me how gentle she is and all you feel is her "soft velvet paws. I think that it’s important to start training wild cats to have there nails clipped at young age.. I have discussed the issue of keeping her nails intact with my Vet who has tons of experience with all type of exotic cats. With Anna's gentle, loving personality, and my ability to clip her nails, he supports my attitude about not declawing.


I have noticed many owners talking about biting problems. Altering Anna’s teeth? No Way! Knowing that biting could be a very serious problem I started to address this with Anna when she was just weeks old. Biting and mouthing is a natural behavior so I haven't' really discourage "mouthing" but have trained parameters...just like they would in the wild. If she got to rough I would do all of the following but not especially in a particular order but rather to the situation:

  • I would give the command "Anna...NO biting!
  • I would be over dramatic about saying "ouch"! I figured that if she were playing with a visitor/stranger that might be a natural thing "they" would say.
  • If she was biting too hard I would put her own foot in her mouth allowing her to see how it felt.
  • I would bite her back!!! I bite all of my's a natural response if you think about it, and it works really well...hahaha.
  • I have realistic expectations of her and again I maintain constant awareness of who's she is with and what she is doing.

Anna is very smart and she seems to catch on to what the "correct" behavior is. Now when Anna plays, she will mouth our hands and forearms (and our necks) She seems to be more rough with my kids (22 yr old identical twin boys...just FYI that they're not little children) so I'm not sure if they're less tolerant to her force, or she in fact is biting harder...never the less I remind the boys to say "Anna..NO!...easy!! if her behavior doesn't change immediately, I give the command, in a very "mama means business" tone...Anna..NO!!! She so funny she will stop dead in her tracks and start mouthing her own arm...hahaha.

I reinforce all the time when I play with her that "mama" is ALPHA. I will get her on her back and gently grab her around the front of the neck...again, like would happen in the wild. I also play bite her around the scruff of the neck...firmly again just to reinforce that I'm alpha, I rule and she better not cross me...EVER. I know it sounds awful, but I'm very gentle...honest :). But basically how all babies are raised and taught, human or other wise; "The Golden Rule" (do unto others...) it's basic response that applies to all creatures, I think and practice anyway. It has worked for my kids, my parrots, my monkeys and Anna. I have no marks or scares from playing with her.


It’s important to socialize a wild cat early. I introduced Anna to all of my animals that she would be living with, part of her pride, and let them have supervised interaction . That included teacup sized dogs (I've attached a picture of Anna sleeping with my teacup sized dogs (2-3 lbs), monkeys and parrots. . Anna loves and still accept these little dogs and my monkeys (they also weight 2-5 lbs) and play with them like they were her babies; she GREW...they no longer wished to interact and trust her (nor did /do I) because she doesn't know her own strength. Anna and my ragdoll cat would groom each more...Anna wants too...but again. WE don't (hahaha).

I would not encourage you to introduce any strange animal and that includes any animals you bring into your own home after she is 6 months old. ALWAYS remember she is a "wild cat" and her instincts are firmly intact! Wild cats like and will go after anything (living or dead) that are small and move quickly...her instincts kick in and she will go after it (their main food in the wild are RABBITS!! ALWAY KEEP THAT IN MIND. No matter how tame and docile she is with us.


Anna has an indoor room that is 11'x12', and a topless outdoor enclosure is 12' h22'Long18'wide, it is a irregular pen that was first used as my outdoor aviary for all my large parrots, including hyacinth macaws, so it's very sturdy, and the irregular shape adds for enrichment. Adjacent to this enclosure is, like mark suggests, is a topless 6'hx25'x20'chain link pen which the 25' side butts up to the main house. Here she can be supervised and play with the Scotties.

Anna also has 2 other enclosures that are close to my cottage where i house mainly my parrots, one is a 12'wx12'lx7'h avian net covered enclosure that is set under a large dogwood tree for shade and has 8' azaleas behind it to add some camouflage where she can watch the wild birds and squirrels; the other is a huge run that is hidden with more azaleas and other vegetation and large pine and dogwood trees. This areas just offers her other areas that adds to her enrichment.

My purpose in sharing all of this is that, one, it's important to provide as many different areas for play and exploration as you can...but also there are many was to provide these areas for their interest and safety. It's fun to watch her in each of these areas because her behavior changes from enclosure to enclosure...the more open areas, the more she runs and jumps and plays (and boy is she fast!!!), and the more secluded it is she stalks, and creeps and just enjoys being hidden ( it is amazing how she can disappear as her coat blends in with the surrounding environment).

My property is just over 1 acre and I try to optimize what it offers. Of course some of us have more land and space than others but the most important thing is to be creative with what you have. I don't use treated lumber for any of my animals, I get untreated lumber of any dimension from a local lumber yard. I also use natural trees that I "hunt" and cut down and occasionally I'll find a recently fallen tree that looks exciting will catch my eye. I hope my sharing helps :)

Many thanks to Lynn Runkle for allowing the use of this article on This article is copyrighted 2005 by Lynn Runkle. All rights are reserved.


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