What do you feed captive wild cats?

If you want to know what to feed captive wild cats you can do a lot worse than reading Big Cat Rescue’s articles on this subject. They have become experts through trial and error over many years. Whether you like BCR or not – and I like them – they are very impressive in their knowledge of the captive wild feline diet.

Premix for adding to wild cat diet of meats
Premix for adding to wild cat diet of meats
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

It is complicated and it is not simply a matter of chucking lumps of raw muscle meat into a cage and letting the captive wild cat get on with it. However, at its core feeding captive wild cats is very similar to feeding domestic cats a raw food diet which is unsurprising since they are essentially the same animal physiologically.

On this page I cover the topic in outline. If you want more hard detail please read the BCR information. There’s lots of it. As I said it is complicated and requires real thought and precision.

Raw Meats + Premix

For the record, you can’t feed captive wild cats kibble (dry cat food) which is very popular with domestic cat owners as they hate it. As I understand it, the core diet for captive wild cats at BCR is raw meat, supplied commercially and frozen, to which is added a ‘premix’ which is a combination of essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, niacin, vitamin A and taurine. BCR use or used Triple A Brand Meat Company.

This core diet is or was provided by Natural Balance Zoo Carnivore Diet which satisfies the requirements of captive cats at a fundamental level. BCR have been using Natural Balance Zoo Carnivore Diet since 2005 they say. Things may have changed over the years. The video below shows the same system of raw meats – a mixture of chicken quarters and beef – to which is added five pounds of premix which is the essential nutrients as mentioned. The video shows tiger food but the basic model is the same for all wild cat species. The video was made 10 years ago so they may have adjusted the method since then but the basics are the same.

Before that, in the early days, they used a canned diet, Zoopreme® which the cats hated. I can’t see it on the internet, incidentally, so it may have been discontinued. They also tried a specially prepared dry food for zoo animals and that failed as well. It was Purina’s Mazuri Zoo Diet®. The cats simply did not like it. They mixed it with muscle meat but it seems it was never successful.

Whole Prey

To the basic diet mentioned above is added the experience of eating whole prey. This is because while cats like the experience of crunching their prey and it helps to keep their teeth clean. The fur and feathers also helps to keep the digestive tract in good working order. BCR say that the fur and feathers also encourage play. It’s about stimulating the cats. Feeding time is the best part of the day for the cats so they make it as interesting as possible. These are pre-killed animals such as rabbits and chickens.

Live Prey

If the cat is being prepared for return to the wild such as rescued bobcats then they are occasionally feed live prey such as mice, rats or rabbits. A carefully thought out system is used to feed the cats live prey to ensure that they can survive when they are independent.


Lastly, the cats are put on a regime of fasting during one day of the week which I believe is Sundays. They feed the cat six nights a week and fast on Sundays. The fasting is meant to replicate what happens in the wild. BCR say that they do not fast young cats, old cats or ailing cats.

You’ll see in a video that BCR also feed treats from time to time of raw muscle meat to the cats in smallish chunks.

The fasting is interesting because yesterday in The Times newspaper there was an article about the benefits of fasting for humans. One man said:

“Giving one’s body a break from food, for anything from 12 hours to five days is like taking a car to be serviced.”

It replicates the eating pattern of our ancient ancestors. Check with your doctor before trying it out.

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