How do you treat a cougar? Very carefully

By Kathryn Reyes

News-Times intern

A bad arthritis attack could compel anyone to go to the hospital for treatment. It is not any different for 14-year-old Eiger, a cougar owned by Greenbank resident John Lussmyer.

On Monday, a few days after Lussmyer noticed that Eiger has been coughing and limping a lot more than usual, the 150-pound cat was brought to Best Friends Veterinary Center in Oak Harbor for a check-up.

They handled the formidable feline carefully, using a special gas anesthesia called sevo-flourine, which is very safe even for human use. That helped Eiger recover very quickly after all the medical procedures had been done.

After a series of tests, including an x-ray, ultrasound and blood work, veterinarian Dr. Eric Anderson’s prognosis is that Eiger’s limp is primarily caused by his arthritis.

“The x-ray shows that he’s got a lot of arthritis in his joints and so we are going to give him some medicine that will take care of that,” Anderson said.

The veterinarian was more concerned about what’s likely causing Eiger’s incessant coughing. The x-rays showed a mass in his lungs. “I have yet to confirm that with the radiologist but he could have cancer in his lungs. That’s a possibility,” Anderson said.

Lussmyer has had Eiger as a companion at his 20-acre property for a year now. He has two other cougars, Tiva, 14, and Talina, 4, who was “adopted” by Lussmyer when she was a kitten. Last year, he got Eiger and Tiva from his friend, Steve Johnson, who took care of the two cats for 13 years.

His fascination with the large, tawny animals soon became a passion and motivated Lussmyer to give the cougars a home.

Eiger, who is eight-feet in length, is compared to a “marshmallow” by his owner because of his friendly attitude toward people.

“Every time I go into a cage with him, he walks over, leans against me and starts purring. He likes me to pet him,” Lussmyer said.

“I like cougars. Of the larger felines, they’re the ones most like a house cat.”

Dr. Anderson said Eiger needs to return for further tests, including an analysis of his tracheal fluids and a biopsy. In order to examine the feline closely, he had to put Eiger to sleep for a few hours.

Anderson, who does not personally advocate having wild animals for pets, said that he consulted with his friend and fellow veterinarian, David Hunter, who is a wildlife animal expert. He was happy to say that Hunter commended how they handled Eiger’s case, adding that they were very conscious about safety measures and protocols while examining the cougar. “Most animals of Eiger’s age would not have survived through a very strong anesthesia,” Anderson said.

Eiger’s blood work, according to the veterinarian, showed that he is generally a very healthy animal. He has already lived longer than animals his age do in the wild, he said.

The cougar should be feeling better shortly. “We put him on some medicine for his arthritis and some antibiotics to help him with his discomfort,” Anderson said.

Lussmeyer realizes that some people oppose keeping wild animals as pets and there is always legislation pending to tighten restrictions. But, in his view, critics don’t understand the benefits as long as you’re committed to caring for the animal.

“Most people have never been this intimate with an animal like this,” Lussmyer said. “Once you decide to take care of exotic animals, you’re not going to be able to get rid of them generally. You have to keep it for its lifetime.”

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