DISCLOSURE: Everything written in this post is strictly opinion, which everyone is entitled to. Feel free to comment on your thoughts as well!
When a Kitten Presents a Health Issue
This article was inspired by a Facebook message I received a few weeks ago from a random consumer who thinks she did NOT buy a healthy Maine Coon kitten. She purchased a kitten as a pet from another cattery and was coming to me for advice. I’m assuming her breeder wasn’t willing to discuss the issue with her, which is jus sad in itself.
The kitten she purchased was diagnosed with a physical disorder in its hips. The condition required femoral head ostectomy (FHO) surgery to repair. This, of course, frustrated the buyer and she immediately went on a “bad breeder” rampage.
I can totally understand why she was upset.
Coming from a place of ration rather than emotion, I explained to her that these kittens and cats are living animals. They’re not perfect creatures, just as humans aren’t. At any given time, sometimes even suddenly, they can develop symptoms that indicate a problem.
I started giving her things to think about before she passed quick judgement on this breeder.
For example, is this the first instance in a kitten where this issue has come up? How old is the cat? Are the parents of this cat still active in a breeding program? Do the parents have this issue? How did the breeder respond to this? Is this something that is passed down genetically or are we dealing with an anomaly? Were the parents tested for any genetic defects?
Being a breeder myself, I’d be disappointed to think my buyer put me at fault for something happening to her kitten. I’m sure most breeders feel this way, especially if they really are breeding Maine Coons to improve the breed, as we should be. Of course not everyone breeds for the same reasons, but most of the breeders that I know personally do a good job and are always striving to get better. 🙂 It’s definitely not an easy job, but…that’s another blog post in the works.
Cats Are Not Perfect Creatures
If there was a guarantee that anyone could give promising that this wouldn’t happen, they certainly would. Breeders are not miracle workers, not even the “good ones”. We can’t predict the future of any animal. All we can do is the best job that we can when selecting the animals that are used for breeding, and practicing excellent husbandry.
I told her to refer back to her sales contract with the breeder and see what is covered under the health guarantee.
Screening for Health Risks: Not Always Certain
Receiving a NEGATIVE DNA test DOES NOT mean that the kitten or cat will not develop any of these problems during its life. It only means that the risk factor is less than that of a cat who tests positive, or from two parents that carry the same gene. This is big misconception from buyers, thinking that their kitten won’t develop one of these conditions because the parents test negative. What the buyers can trust when they see testing don on parents is that the chances are LESS LIKELY than from someone who doesn’t do testing.
DNA Health Screening is what is performed to check to see if the breeding pairs are carriers for genetic risks. The most common health risk for a Maine Coon is HCM. This is the most feared diagnosis amongst pet owners. This is the one that I want to avoid the MOST.
With a simple cheek swab, as many as 30 genetic health risks in the Maine Coon can be tested prior to breeding that animal.
These are the genetic risk factors that I test each one of my breeding parents for, and guarantee against:
Genetic Risks in a Maine Coon
- Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)
- Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA)
- Feline polycystic kidney disease
- Hemophilia B, mutation F9: c.1014C>T
- Hemophilia B, mutation F9: c.247G>A
- Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia
- Autoimmune Lymphoproliferative Syndrome
- Congenital Hypotrichosis with Short Life Expectancy
- Acute Intermittent Porphyria
- Chylomicronemia, Lipoprotein Lipase Deficiency
- Congenital Erythropoietic Porphyria
- Mucopolysaccharidosis type I
- Mucopolysaccharidosis type VI
- Mucopolysaccharidosis type VII
- Vitamin D Dependent Rickets
- Congenital Myasthenic Syndrome (CMS)
- Myotonia Congenita
- Periodic hypokalemic polymyopathy
- GM1 gangliosidosis
- GM2 gangliosidose
- Niemann–Pick C2 disease
- Niemann–Pick C1 disease
- Glycogen storage disease type IV
- Progressive retinal atrophies
- Retinal dystrophies
- Frontonasal dysplasia
There are hundreds of health conditions or illnesses that a cat can develop during its lifetime. Some of them common, and of course some more rare.
A reputable breeder will always, and I mean ALWAYS perform the DNA screening on their animals before breeding them and reproducing. They should be willing to share those results upon request or have them posted on their website for the public to review.
You can review all of our breeding cats DNA test results on each of their profiles.
Using Healthy Cats for Reproduction
In addition to DNA Screenings, it’s equally as important for the breeders to monitor other health factors in the cats. There are certainly things that develop in adult cats that can be passed down (read my story about Delilah). These cats should not be used for reproduction. The bad part about this, is that sometimes these problems don’t develop until the cats are older and have already produced kittens. Until an issue is presented, there’s certainly no way of knowing it exists.
It takes years, follow-up and diligence to become very familiar with the bloodlines of a breeding cat. There will certainly be health-related issues that surface, regardless of the bloodlines. It’s up to the breeder to make good decisions about early retirement (spay/neuter) of a cat that has life-altering genetic defects that pass down to kittens.
Monitoring the Lives of Kittens and Cats
There are three ways to monitor the health and vitality of breeding cats, which will help a reputable breeder make desicions.
- Heath and Vitality of Parents and Grandparents [Of Breeding Cats]
- Health and Vitality of Cats Being used for Breeding
- Health and Vitality of Offspring
By staying in contact with the parents, grandparents, and the offspring of the breeding cat being used, a breeder can learn any and all of the commonalities that cats in this line may share. This is important as the cats get older.
If the cats are young and don’t have a lot of history yet, then communication should be made with the new owner of the kitten to stay informed. Even the slightest issue is helpful knowledge, especially if more than one kitten shares the same traits.
I encourage the Guardians of all Sassy Koonz kittens and retirees to keep me informed on how the kitten is developing, and if there are any concerning health issues to be documented.
Health, Temperament, and Type [In That order]
Any health issues that affect the quality of life in the kitten or cat as an adult should ultimately be a reason to discontinue that line in the cattery. Additionally, a cat that presents good health, good temperament and good type should be used to continually improve the breed.
Unfortunately, the health history of the cats used for breeding isn’t information that is readily available to the consumer. Without a close relationship, it’s not even available amongst breeders. Each breeder monitors the health of their breeding cats and the reputable ones use only the healthiest lines for reproduction.
Health and Replacement Guarantees
Every reputable breeder will offer some sort of health guarantee for their kittens. There’s somewhat of an industry “standard” to guarantee the cat’s life for at least one year against genetic defects that result in loss of life.
As of May 1, 2020, any kitten that is adopted from Sassy Koonz Maine Coon Cattery will have a Five Year Health Guarantee against all 33 genetic risk factors that I test for.
I’m also adding a 2 year guarantee against Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIPV), a deadly infectious virus that kills cats within the first year of life. If any of my kittens pass away from FIP, I’d like to be informed so that I can investigate the lines, and likely retire the parent that could be carrying the gene that causes the FIP mutation.
As of April 2020, I have ZERO incidents of loss of life from any kitten that has left my cattery.
In addition to genetic defect guarantees, reputable breeders will guarantee that the kittens are free from FIV/FELV, infectious or contagious diseases and parasites at the time of delivery. These are items that should be confirmed by a veterinarian prior to the kitten leaving the cattery.
It’s very possible for any kitten to contract any of these problems once he leaves the cattery. Since they are contagious, it’s not feasible to guarantee against these things once the kitten leaves, since the breeder has no control over the new environment.
Always Read the Sales Agreement Before Buying
It’s up to the consumer to review the contract, especially the health guarantee. Make sure that what is being offered is acceptable to you not only today, but in the future once your kitten comes home. You want a healthy Maine Coon kitten today, and in the future.
Bad breeders don’t stand behind their health guarantee or even worse, don’t offer one at all! The entire point of buying a Maine Coon from a breeder is to know exactly what you’re gettin. The ultimate goal should be a healthy Maine Coon kitten with wonderful temperament and excellent blood lines.
Please remember this: Even the BEST, Most Reputable and Conscience Maine Coon Breeders will unknowingly produce kittens that have underlying health issues. There’s just no way for everything to be prevented when dealing with live animals. This is a risk that you take when you commit to bringing ANY animal into your home.
Be sure to do your research and due diligence on a breeder before adopting your new Maine Coon kitten. You should feel comfortable with every effort that is made by the breeder to ensure that you’re getting a healthy kitten, and have realistic expectations if something should go wrong.
My Promise to You for a Healthy Maine Coon Kitten
The actions and decisions that take place behind the scenes are really what affects you and the kitten in the long run. Everything I do is in the best interest of the kittens, and for YOU, the new owner of these babies.
Although my top priority is to produce healthy cats 100% of the time, I know that is just not humanly or statistically possible. What I do promise my buyers is that I put forward the most effort possible to ensure everything in my power to keep my lines healthy.
If a health issue does arise, you’ll have my undivided attention, and we’ll work through it together. I’ll always strictly adhere to the terms of our written sales agreement when it comes to the health guarantee. Just as much as you do, I want you to have a healthy Maine Coon kitten in your family! <3
Feel free to leave your thoughts about my article, and how you feel about the subject of breeding and owning healthy Maine Coon kittens.