Learn More about Management of Captive Carnivore Animals

The management of captive carnivores involves prevention of injuries and disease, assessment of animal health and putting into practice laws and regulations.  While laws are sometimes difficult to implement and compliance difficult to monitor, standards can be imposed in environments where animals are involved for the betterment of their wellbeing. 

Many carnivores spend their lives in the company of humans. In captivity, carnivores may be:

  • Kept as pets, e.g. dogs and cats
  • Exhibited in zoos, wildlife parks etc., such as the big felines, canines and bears
  • Trained and used as working animals, e.g. racing dogs, hunting dogs

Animal welfare provides the basis of managing animals. Animal welfare management involves putting into practice strategies for avoiding problems with animal health and assessing the outcomes of those measures. 
When we are keeping carnivores in captivity, we must ask:

  • Is this animal provided with an adequate diet for the species, and fresh drinking water?
  • Is this animal in any discomfort, and is the animal provided with the correct environment?
  • Is this animal suffering in any way from pain or injury? 
  • Is this animal able to express normal behaviour, and is it able to express natural behaviours within its environment?
  • Is the animal living in fear or distress in any way?  Is the animal being caused any mental or physical suffering in the way it is kept as a pet?

By asking these questions, this allows us to assess the situation for our carnivorous pets, working animals, exhibition or farmed animals, and decide whether we are managing them appropriately.

Part of animal welfare is determining who is responsible for an animal – in other words, with whom does it duty of care lie? Without establishing this, it is impossible to enforce protections and welfare for captive animals. Many governments have registration programs for both pets and industry, which allows for appropriate responses to contraventions of animal welfare.

Animal welfare assessments are usually broken into four groups:

  • Behavioral
  • Physical
  • Physiological
  • Production

Examples of assessment across these indicators include:

  • Behavioral: self-mutilation or injury
  • Physical: body damage, cuts or scratches, loss of hair, swollen joints, infection or abscess, presence of parasites
  • Physiological: reduced feed intake, altered physiological response, low weight, high or low adrenal activity, immune suppression
  • Production: low or impaired growth, impaired reproduction

Using an example of a tiger in a zoo, these general factors could be used and adapted; production would be of less importance, but comfort with audience or people would be an appropriate altered metric. Here, environment would also be an immediate factor – as animals are transported or viewed, temperature regulation, particularly in a heat wave, is important. Proper care in this case would include access to shade, air, and water.

Sometimes prevention is more important than the treatment, and it is vital that we investigate the ways in which we can help prevent illness, injury and disease in captive carnivores.  It is important that we not only look after the general health and wellbeing of the animal, but also the environment around them.
There are many points for consideration in the way we help prevent disease and injury. These include:

  • Inspect pets regularly for signs of ill health
  • Follow preventative measures advised from vets
  • Observe behaviours
  • Feed a balanced nutritious diet
  • Change water regularly and keep free from contamination
  • Provide suitable exercise for animals
  • Provide stimulation, both physical and mental 
  • Provide good ventilation for sleeping areas
  • Ensure animals are not exposed to extreme temperature fluctuations
  • Ensure there is adequate shelter and protection if housed outside
  • Check environment for potential threats such as toxic plants, sharps, broken areas and anything on which they might potentially injure themselves
  • Ensure animals used for production are not overworked or stressed

Health Checks and Observations
Full health checks should be completed by a vet regularly to ensure any health issues in captive carnivores may be picked up early.  Health checks are a way of picking up any injury or illness before it worsens.  
Observing an animal is equally important and it is vital to learn their normal behaviour, then you can observe any changes which may occur, allowing early diagnoses if necessary.  Some behavioural changes to look out for include;

  • Increase in urination or defecation
  • Decrease in urination or defecation
  • Unhappy, lethargic or quieter than normal
  • Aggressive, or short tempered, which is unusual
  • Hunched posture
  • Changes in eating behaviour

These behavioural changes may not necessarily mean an animal is unwell, but may indicate there is something going on and it is worth keeping up your observations to assess improvement.