The Great Escape

I’m always thinking about how to make life better for my breeding cats. Although this does not include setting things up so that any of our males can freely interact with the girls. 

Anyway, we have a fabulous boy here, imported from Rosie May of Maynetree Maine Coons in Australia. He is a huge silver ticked tabby poly boy with an interesting pedigree. (What’s an interesting pedigree? For us, it is a pedigree that contains some less common lines and supports our aim to breed cats that are genetically diverse and therefore, hopefully, more healthy).  He’s also polydactyl and it’s nice to introduce a new poly line into our breeding. 

However right now, I also have two other boys and I’m not ready to neuter Joe, our older stud, until I can be sure that Chevvy will a) tick all the boxes – most importantly, that he free from or has only mild hip dysplasia, because we can test for this as young as 10 months and get a reliable result, whereas HCM testing at 10 months or a year is unlikely to tell us much, as these days we rarely see HCM in very young adult Maine Coons.  And b) will be fertile (though infertility is rare in males with descended testicles, and when present is most likely due to infection, which can be treated). This means that the two stud cages with the largest outside runs are already occupied. 

When I thought he was of an age that he had better be separated from the girls, I put Chevvy into one of the spare stud cages with a smaller run. Initially I did not allow him access to it as the grass in it was waist high. About a month or so ago I got to work and tackled the grass, checked the wire mesh netting (all secure), and replaced a sliding bolt on the door. In my set up I have the two small runs for adjoining stud cages which are also adjoining, so it was possible to lock the outer gate and leave the internal gate between the two runs open. This, I thought would give Chevvy more space and a more interesting outside environment. The next door stud cage was not occupied and was being left with the door inside the stud house open. My stud house opens onto the fully secure outside play area that my female cats and kittens use. It has a central space that the girls have free access to, and four walk in stud cages with cat door access to individual runs.

Of course, I locked the cat door that allowed the girls access through the empty stud cage into the outside run.  I did not close the door of the empty stud cage, because some of my girls hang out there on the sleeping shelf. Besides, the cat door to the outside run was locked. 

The first thing that happened was a mystery Chevvy escape. Not to the outside, but into the girls outdoor play area. I simply could not work out how he had managed this as I assumed he had broken out of the run (and then into the girls area (though I could not find out where/how). I put him back in his cage and I locked his cat door so that he could not access his outside run, while I tried to figure out how he got out.  The next day all was revealed. I went into the stud house to find Chevvy looking a little bemused and FIVE count them FIVE girls in his cage with him.  Also a kitten or two. 

Of course, then I figured it out. Possibly assisted by the fact that Chevvy had barged through it when locked, the cat door in the spare stud cage was no long doing its job. It was apparently still locked, or partially locked, but this had not stopped the cats from managing to get out into the outside runs, and then into Chevvy’s stud cage (another cat door fail, it appeared to be only functioning to stop him going out but not stopping anyone from getting in.) So once they were in, they could not get back even if they wanted to.

One month down the track and I have replaced all the cat doors with Surepet microchip pet doors (at huge expense, thank goodness we had all those kittens!). Not because we want to use the microchip function but because when locked they are much more secure than the relatively cheap cat doors I had previously.  Only one of the girls is pregnant. Chevvy is not related to our girls at all so from that perspective any ensuing pregnancies are not a big problem. But I would have much preferred to know about his hip status before deciding (or not) to breed with him. 

The Surepet doors appear to be working just fine. The door from the spare stud cage is set to fully locked both ways and there have been no more unauthorised invasions by the girls or unsanctioned incursions by Chevvy . And we are waiting with interest to meet his first kittens if all goes well with the pregnancy. (It might not – but that’s another story)

An Excess of Kittens

I’m not going to lie. There are times when I look forward to some of our kittens leaving home (I wrote this blog at one of those times – but then somehow forgot to post it – too busy I suppose!).

I love kittens, they are of course adorably cute and a lot of fun to watch and hang out with. And there’s always the excitement of watching them develop and hoping that there will be a promising breeding or show cat. But they also generate a LOT of work, and just at the moment we have 23 kittens aged from 7-9 weeks. You read that right – 23. I know what you are thinking. What is this breeder doing??? must be kitten mill, imagine having 4 or 5 litters due like that at the same time. Well, let me set the record straight. This multitude of little furry bundles of joy are the progeny of just three matings. Normally my preference is to have no more than two litters of similar age at a time, with perhaps a third or third and fourth overlapping but not born till the earlier litters are just 2 or 3 weeks off leaving home. This means that the younger litters will usually be being well cared for by their mums with relatively little support needed by me.

However the requirements of breeding sometimes just don’t conform to our preferences. Amber had a small litter of two kittens back in December, one of whom died the following day. I knew that all was not well with her, as she typically has large litters. I took her to the vet for an ultrasound and my vet saw debris in her uterus suggesting resorbed kittens (as both placentas were delivered). Another sign of trouble was that she had little milk which is VERY unusual for my queens. He agreed with me that she had an infection in her uterus. If you follow this blog you’ll know that we had almost a year of severe fertility issues affecting all our queens and Amber was one of those queens. After treatment with Clindamycin she had successfully delivered a litter of 8 kittens – but, three of them were stillborn – a fact I should have paid more attention to at the time. The remaining 5 thrived. My vet having confirmed that she was one of the queens affected by our fertility crisis (and that she had been assisted by Clindamycin treatment) put her on 5 weeks Clindamycin, at a reasonably high dose of about 11mg per kg twice a day. Amber’s condition, milk supply, and coat visibly improved during treatment (and she successfully helped raise two Devon Rex kittens – but that’s another story). Good news. But with uterine infections, it’s always part of the plan to avoid unmated heats and mate the queen again sooner rather than later if there are few or no surviving kittens as a healthy pregnancy can help eliminate lingering infection. So when Amber came into raging heat when her single kitten was 6 weeks old, I mated her. She was by now completely well, had completed her course of antibiotics, and was in great condition. Still, I think it’s the only time in 25 or so years of breeding that I’ve mated a queen with such a young kitten.

What I didn’t anticipate was that she would have TEN live healthy kittens. It was really wonderful, of course, to find that her uterine infection had been successfully eliminated. And at and post delivery, she appeared as happy as a clam and with her normal great milk supply.

We had already had Coco deliver her litter of 8 kittens. Unfortunately one of these had a bad case of intestines outside the stomach and on vet’s advice we had him euthanised, but the remaining seven thrived. And a week later Navani had delivered six healthy kittens. So we already had 13 kittens of similar age on the ground (along with some older kittens who had not yet left home). I didn’t think it was reasonable to have Amber raise 10 kittens so I gave two of them to Navani raising her kitten count to eight. Navani had no objection and the two younger kittens fitted right into her brood straight away. Amber continued to feed the other eight kittens. The smallest girl needed supplementing and some fluids for a day or two but soon found her feet. I have been fortunate that my girls normally have excellent milk supply (provided they are well). It is one reason why I have kept daughters and most of my current girls are descendants of many generations of my breeding. Sure they may be hormonal and need to be mated more often than some, but they are stellar mothers. I didn’t need to do any further supplementation for any of these kittens. I didn’t even need to make significant efforts to introduce them to solids, because all three mums kept amazing condition and kittens gained weight nicely. Kittens became interested in wet food at around 4 weeks or so, of their own accord (as usual).

However this number of kittens has meant I’ve had to organise them into three areas. Navani doesn’t like sharing mothering and kittens anyway. She gets quite aggressive and territorial and needs to blend in with the larger group in her own time. So Coco is in the small kitten room with her 7, Amber is in the big kitten room which is shared with the other adult females with the 8 she is raising, and Navani is in one of my walk in stud cages in the stud house (now with the door open so they are not restricted to too small an area.) Mostly this has worked well.

Keeping kittens confined to a relatively small area is usually helpful with toilet training. I combine this with clumping litter to start with (in view of worries about kittens getting blocked from ingesting it, I start with a plant based litter) as it is usually very appealing to kittens and helps kick start their natural instincts. And it seems they usually head for corners, so if litter trays can be strategically located in those areas, it helps. How did we go? Initially I ran into some issues with Coco’s kittens because you can’t place a litter tray in the corner where the door opens as it opens inwards. There was a lot of piddling and some pooing in that corner. I managed to solve that problem eventually by setting up a temporary fence inside the door so that the litter tray could be located in the corner that it made. This worked really well and the misplaced piddling rapidly stopped. Success! These kittens have now been successfully transitioned on to wood pellet litter.

Navani’s kittens, confined to a much smaller area (about 1.5m x 1. 6m) did even better. Literally no accidents, it was brilliant. They too are now successfully transitioned onto wood pellet litter.

Amber’s kittens however…. I had them confined to a very large walk in cupboard, with a means for Amber to come and go (used my temporary fencing again). About the time they started eating, and therefore were going to start peeing and pooing independently, Amber decided they needed to be out of the cupboard. I expect that the timing was no coincidence, ie that her instincts told her that they should be ranging more widely so that they would eliminate away from the kitten nest. After a couple of attempts to achieve this by moving them individually over the fence and to a location of her choice (at which point I moved them back again) she simply broke open the fence which was attached by magnets to the door frame. And I gave up. Unfortunately the result of this was (exactly as I feared) that while some kittens caught on quickly to using the multiple litter trays about the place, some did not. In addition all the adults LOVE the clumping litter and kick litter all over the floor when using the shallow trays I have put out for the kittens and fill them up with giant nursing mother wees.

So… there’s a lot of vacuuming and mopping and disinfecting. There’s a lot of changing litter trays or replacing with fresh litter too. 23 kittens do at least 46 poos and God knows how many wees a day…..The quantities of wet and dry food consumed are huge. Socialisation is more challenging in some ways, there is less time for play and just hanging out, but on the other hand the time spent cleaning and frequent exposure to the vacuum cleaner means there is a lot incidental contact.

Now, of course, you may be wondering what I’m complaining about, given that when these kittens are paid for the cat account will be looking very healthy again (it’s quite sickly at the moment). I do look forward to that day. After I’ve paid off the Q card (used for high vet costs like the emergency hospitalisation and spay that another queen needed), and refunded someone for a queen that didn’t manage to ever get pregnant, paid for a mating or two, and refunded myself for cat food and litter paid out of my personal funds…..there should be a comfortable (but not massive) amount left to cover our ongoing costs, assuming no awful health disaster hits us.

Seeing Red

Even a relatively straighforward delivery can have a few unexpected hiccups. Coco, my maiden queen had her first litter of kittens a couple of days ago. I thought she was in early labour the night before and stayed up till about 2am with her. I desperately needed some sleep so I set my alarm and checked her again at 4am. No indication that she was in second stage labour or about to have kittens. Woke again at 7am and she had had 3 kittens! And then had another between 7 and 8, at which point I settled down to weigh them and identify colours and sexes. All were lively but unfortunately one kitten had a section of intestines outside the stomach. While I couldn’t be sure, it looked as if they had pulled out during birth through a hole in the stomach wall rather than developing outside the stomach in utero. Normally when I’ve had an inside out kitten (and we haven’t had one for a while) they have been stillborn and no difficult decisions have had to be made. But this was different, so I called the vet and brought the kitten in to be evaluated – could he be repaired, or did he need to be euthanised? Two vets looked at him but because his intestines were quite twisted, they felt his chances were poor of gaining normal gut function and recommended euthanasia, which I accepted.

Meanwhile Coco hadn’t finished having kittens (I had been aware of that but because time would be of the essence if the newborn was to have a repair operation, had opted to take him the vet anyway). On my return she now had 6 kittens. I weighed the new arrivals and noticed that it looked like we had ANOTHER kitten with intestine just protruding a little bit. Back to the vet again. Again two vets checked the kitten and this time the news was much better. The fat tube I could see coming from her umbilicus was an unusually thick section of umbilical cord, NOT intestine. And indeed looking at it closely I could see the characteristic white stringy looking things that we see inside the cord. The vet put in a dissolvable stitch into it at the umbilicus end and thought that the cord would dry and drop off naturally (which in fact it did within 24 hours).

The dramas were over. Coco settled well with the kittens and all were feeding. I weighed them in the evening and all but one had gained weight, and even that one had not lost any weight. As mum was a red silver tabby and white and dad a red tabby, all the kittens are in shades of red (some red silver tabby, some red tabby, one or two possibly the dark red tabby that is typical of a genetically non tabby red). And all are polys as their dad Arrow is homozygous poly. At times like this it’s great to be able to quickly identify which kitten is which when you are weighing them and I recently discovered that the coloured mask ear loops that you can get on Amazon are perfect for this – soft, adjustable and come in many colours.

Next morning I woke to one last surprise – Coco had had another kitten in the night! Mind you I had suspected eight when she was still pregnant and was a little surprised when only seven eventuated. The eighth kitten was lively and strong just like the others. Coco appears to have gallons of milk and is doing a great job of caring for the 7 survivors. Clever girl!

A Spoonful of Sugar

… was not enough to reverse Finn’s hypoglycaemic episode a couple of weeks ago. I’ve written about Finn’s diabetes before and I admit I’ve been pretty confident that we knew how to manage it. He’s been stable on 4 units of insulin twice a day for almost a year. I don’t test his sugars all the time although I usually do some glucose testing before his 3 monthly vet reviews, or if I have a feeling that something has changed. While we had achieved remission in the past, after his last diabetic relapse reducing his dose only led to high glucose readings so we stuck with the 4 units dose. And his readings prior to his last vet review had been unremarkable 6.5s and 5.8s.

A couple of weeks ago my husband came to me. “There’s something wrong with Finn” he said “he can’t walk properly.” He was lying on his side drooling, and when I got him to stand, he was staggering about. Scary! Finn has not had one hypo during his 4+ years of diabetes so it took me a few minutes to figure out what was going on. Then I tested his sugars and they were 2.6 which is pretty low. I immediately gave him 2 teaspoons of icing sugar dissolved in water (couldn’t find the glucose or glucose syrup which is absorbed faster). Then I tried to get the vet. Needless to say it was a Sunday and due to current vet shortages my vet clinic is no longer open on Sundays and also no longer has its own after hours service but is on a roster with 4 other clinics. The phone did not switch through correctly and no-one answered. I kept trying. I tested Finn’s sugars again 20 minutes after giving the icing sugar and they were even lower (2.3). Someone finally answered the phone and told me that I needed to contact Mornington Vet Clinic and gave me the number.

I left Finn at the vets. The vet on duty was in surgery so I didn’t see her. There was a cat club AGM that day and nothing I could do to help, so I attended the AGM with my phone on and beside me – but no phone call. When I rang them at the end of the meeting it turned out that the vet had been so busy with emergencies – that were legitimately triaged ahead of Finn (dogs with seizures) – that Finn had been monitored but had no treatment. However soon after that Finn had some sedation (he was not cooperating with having a catheter inserted into his leg) and a glucose drip, followed by fluids over night. The vet rang me later that evening to reassure me that Finn was stable, his blood sugars had come up, and he was to stay overnight and then probably transfer to my own vets Humanimals.

So the next morning I raced off before work to the vets to transfer him and arranged to see a Humanimals vet that afternoon (and hopefully bring him home). On returning that afternoon, Finn had been doing well with normal blood sugars in the sixes. I was given a bit of a lecture about not being OK with sugars as low as 4 when he is on insulin as they will go lower during the day (the ‘glucose curve’). I had when testing, felt that sugars between 4 and 8 were fine. Although looking back at the record on the glucometer, Finn’s sugars were rarely as low as 4. It was also explained that if not trying for remission, sugars as high as 11 or so are fine as cats don’t get the same diabetic complications as humans or dogs at these levels. (However I don’t feel comfortable with this. Finn already has a tendency to urine infections. I think we can manage his sugars better than that but without risking hypoglycaemia). The clinic let me take him home but asked me to do a couple more sugars that day (which I did). Despite that he’d had no insulin they remained in the sixes. I continued to test him throughout the following week. I’d heard that some cats could go into remission after a hypoglycaemic episode and it was clear anyway that his insulin needs might have changed. The vet had recommended restarting him on 1 unit twice a day…. but as he continued to test with absolutely normal sugars, we did not in fact restart insulin at all.

The happy ending to this is that Finn is officially in remission. No more insulin for now. I am very aware that diabetic cats can relapse, and that a remission is not a cure. Finn remains on his ‘no carb’ diet and if anything changes with him, or even if he has a particularly stressful few days, I’ll restart testing to make sure his sugars are not going up again. In the few weeks prior to his hypo, there had been a few instances where Finn was struggling to make jumps. I put this down to his arthritis, but in retrospect I wonder if these were times when his sugars were low but not desperately low. On the other hand – his arthritis does trouble him so, who knows?

Has Joe lost his Mojo?

I’m vey fond of our stud boy Joe. Sure, he hasn’t got the biggest ears, and he might be a mite overweight these days, but he has sired many beautiful kittens for me. He has a strong square muzzle and lovely open expression, strong boning and the best nature. With just 19% clones and 46% Top Five he brings less common lines into my breeding (one of my breeding goals). Like many cats with a lower clones/Top 5 mix) I found he typically produced better than he was with my girls. He’s gentle and sweet, a little reserved with strangers but very loving to people he knows. And, he was my super reliable, always gets his girl, boy. I nicknames him “Joe gets the job done” because although I rarely witnessed his matings, girls placed with him always got pregnant. He was a gentle lover who would wait till the girl was ready for him – no unsolicited pouncing or grabbing for him.

So, anyway, we had our year of fertility issues and during that time Joe spent time with a couple of girls who were, well, not very cooperative – one of them was intermittently quite aggressive with him, one was a roller, (and neither got pregnant). Joe is six years old now and I do have plans to retire him – once I have a replacement stud who is not related to Killian (or to Joe). But I’d also love to get another litter or two from him. And two of my girls can only go to him or to an outside stud as they are Killian daughters.

When Amber came on heat earlier this year I put her in with him – and was disappointed when she didn’t get pregnant. But I was not entirely sure he had even mated her – I didn’t see any matings and I didn’t hear any mating screams. Never mind I thought, I will make sure to witness the matings with the two first time girls I planned to put to him.

Well, I can only say, it is one of the most frustrating experiences to watch a stud, who SHOULD know what he is doing, repeatedly fail to connect successfully. On each occasion the girl was in full heat and was crawling around entirely cooperative and willing. Joe was interested, and he’d mount them, but consistently fail to achieve penetration. “Just a bit lower, come on, move down a bit!” I longed to say to him. It was like watching a novice stud’s first time. Now Joe is a bit short in the body. But he had mated Amber, who is a big girl who is, yes, longer than him, more than once in the past. He persisted for quite a long time but each time would eventually get fed up and hop off. For both queens I spent 1-2 hours witnessing multiple failed attempts on more than one day. Neither girl showed any aggression to him.

I also left them together unsupervised – we can always hope – but no pregnancy ensued for either. I was beginning to think that Joe, had, mysteriously, simply forgotten his former skills. I can’t really say he’d lost his mojo because the spirit was willing – more than willing, and I’m sure if he’d actually achieved penetration, mating would have been completed successfully.

Amber came on heat again and I decided to try again. Joe was enthusiastic, but still struggling to actually connect successfully. Once again I left them together unsupervised, in hope. And what do you know, Amber IS pregnant! Encouraging.

Meanwhile what about my other two girls? I could try them with Joe again. But it’s not ideal – he’s their grandfather (we do need a new stud but arrangements to import a boy two years ago fell through when his hips didn’t score well enough) though the pedigree is otherwise quite unrelated. Also if he again doesn’t manage it we are multiplying the number of unmated heats for these girls. In my lines that tends to predispose to infection and fertility issues. Seems like we would do better to find another mate for them. Watch this space!