Archive for June, 2007

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Naming kittens

26 June, 2007

Before the kittens get their posh pedigree names, we always give them nicknames. 

The first ever litter of kittens we had we named after bears:  Panda [Pandora] … Honey … Yogi … Teddy … Bear.

In the second litter, one of the kittens ended up being called Squeaky because she was the loudest and most vociferous – I was hand-feeding her some of the time and she would always greet my arrival with the bottle with joyous squeaks.

Some breeders name each successive litter using a letter of the alphabet, so they can tell immediately from the name which number litter the kitten was from.  I’m afraid I’m not that organised, and rely on inspiration instead.

This litter are butterfat plump and so adorable they’re edible.  We’ve nick-named them Roly and Poly.  Roly’s the tabby-boy and Poly the girl.

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6 July update:  Poly just didn’t do for the little girl.  She’s jet black, with just a flash of white on her chest and her belly.  An intense black.  I think she’ll be a pretty one with a special quality.  So I’ve started calling her Jolie, and sometimes Tres Jolie, and she seems to like it.

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Argggh … she’s calling again!

26 June, 2007

About three nights ago I was roused from sleep by Ananda pacing around the bed and making a loud and persistent, deep throaty mew. 

It had the sonorous sound a female cat produces that bypasses a tom cat’s brain and heads straight for his base chakra.  My sleep-befuddled senses went into instant denial.

The next morning I discovered my mistake.  Ananda started snuggling herself round my legs, rolling on her back, all the while mewing.  So I caught hold of her scruff, and she started paddling with her hind legs.  Then I caught a wiff of cat pee somewhere in the house. 

My heart sank. 

My girl was on heat.

Yep, barely 2.5 weeks after kittening Ananda is calling again.

I thought it was impossible – after all, she was still suckling her kittens.  But several breeders and the the www have confirmed that a female cat can be suckling and be pregnant at the same time.  In fact, it wasn’t unusual for a queen to come into heat again from 1 to 6 weeks after kittening.

I tell you, cats have the most efficient reproductive systems on this planet, if not the universe*:  Female cats not only come into heat and will cycle until mated throughout Spring and Summer, they can come into heat even during pregnancy and also while suckling kittens.  They can mate with more than one tom and produce in the same litter, kittens from more than one tom cat.  They can carry kittens of different ages in the same uterus.

It’s amazing evolutionary efficiency, and if cats had opposable thumbs we would be in real trouble.

Anyway, what it means is that I am now suffering from extreme sleep deprivation despite a pair of super ear plugs because the kittens are in the bedroom and so is Ananda by necessity.

I’m going to have to wait until the kittens leave for new homes before deciding what to do – mate her?  Resort to the unspeakable contraceptive pill for cats?  Grit my teeth and bear it?

Kittens I can cope with, and a cat on heat.  But both together?

I’m not sure how breeders with more than one queen cope.  I suspect that they have outdoor cat pens where they confine calling queens.  Something I’m definitely going to look into.

With 4 planets in Virgo, my middle name is Micro-Manage.   So what all this breeding business has taught me is to let go: that you can’t control things, that you can’t control Mother Nature.  Cats calling … kittens dying … it’s all part of being a breeder. 

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* I suspect the person who came up with the Vulcan pon farr drew his inspiration from cat mating frenzy.

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I still haven’t received a concrete answer on why she’s calling.  Some breeders have said it could be due to her only having had two kittens this litter – her body is showing that two kittens is a walk in the park.  Others have said her hormones are out of kilter.  Some have suggested trying a homeopathic remedy, Folliculinum to stop her calling.  But I’ve been trained to use homeopathy only if there is a state of “dis-ease” and being in heat is a natural state, surely?

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Large litters vs Small litters

17 June, 2007

AnandaKittens1Ananda recently kittened and this litter had just two kittens. It’s not a criticism of the cat, but compared to previous litters where she had six to seven kittens, this one was smaller.

I don’t think there’s anything bad about a smaller litter. In some ways, it’s been interesting this time round, to just have two kittens.

Last year, with a litter of seven there was great competition for milk. As you know a cat has eight teats, and the ones at the top (near the front legs) tend to be smaller and have less milk. Needless to say, it was the smallest kitten who ended up having to suckle from that teat. Because it got less milk it fell behind in the weight-stakes, so I had to hand-feed during the daytime, every two hours. I also used to be woken up several times at night by the cries of kittens fighting to get at the teats – I would shine my torch on the squirming mass of kittens to see the larger ones use their huge paws to shovel the smaller ones out of their way. It was a brutal demonstration of Nature in practice.

And because there were seven kittens, Ananda’s teats got sore and painful. I don’t know how she put up with it for so long.

Seven kittens also meant seven bums and other assorted bits to clean. As you know, a mother cat licks her kittens’ bums to stimulate them to poo and pee. She then swallows the stuff up. Doing it seven times was a bit much and there were times when Ananda would stop and pant vigorously.

It was non-stop with seven kittens too. And Ananda would sometimes go downstairs and flop down the floor, totally exhausted.

So, this time round, with just two, Ananda has actually been more relaxed and been able to give the kittens more attention. As there are only two, each has the choice of four teats (“ooh, I think I’ll try the chocolate-flavoured teat today”), the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet. So because they’ve not had to waste energy fighting for food, and because it’s food-on-tap, they doubled their weight in seven days and their eyes opened after just one week. They don’t keep me up with squealing and squabbling. They’re really a contented litter.

Last year, in order to feed seven kittens a home-prepared raw diet, I would spend 2-3 hours two evenings a week, plus one at the weekend at the meat grinder. I found it exhausting and would have preferred to have spent that time playing with the kittens instead. Hopefully, with just two this year I won’t be chained to that meat grinder.

Teddy, my boy neuter is a little disappointed though. Last night I took the kittens out of their box in order to change their bedding, and I put them on this warm plant propagator I have at the side of the box. Teddy began investigating the kittens who were squealing. He started licking them and cleaning their bums. Last year he had seven bums to clean, and he took to it with an expression on his face reminiscent of a wine sommelier (“ah, eau de chat 2006, full-flavoured, tongue-tingling … .”). He used to pursue those kittens around the house until he cornered them and pinned them down with a huge paw so that he could get his quota of kitten water. After doing last night’s two, he looked up, licking his lips as if to say: anymore, mum?

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To intervene or not in your cat’s labour

17 June, 2007

Just sharing some thoughts on my experience with Ananda’s latest litter in the hope that this will help some novice breeder out there who may be faced with the same situation.
As mentioned in my earlier post, she had three kittens, but one was born a day late, and was unfortunately dead.

In retrospect, I should have taken the vet’s advice and allowed oxytocin to be administered the evening before. Who knows – that third kitten might have been born living. I’ve done a lot of thinking on why I turned down the recommendation for oxytocin, and I think it’s a hang-up I have about trying to do things the natural way, and the belief that holistic is best.

I’ve since discovered that oxytocin is not the demon drug I thought it was. Oxytocin is a hormone that is already present during labour. Increasing the amount of oxytocin is safe provided it’s monitored by the vet. The form of oxytocin used does not express out in the milk and so does not affect kittens. Some vets and breeders have oxytocin administered as a matter of course in order to make sure the uterus is clear of any residue. Oxytocin should only be administered if the cervix of the cat is open.

Well, it’s knowledge I wish I’d had. But everything’s easy in retrospect. Another issue I have to work on is trust in my vet. Again, it’s that allopathic vs holistic belief in me. I think that it’s obvious that in situations of crises, you want something that will work immediately. And even though I tried homeopathy, I’m not good enough a homeopath to know if a different remedy should have been used. But on the other hand, if I’d opted for oxytocin and the kitten had been born dead, then I’d probably have blamed myself/the vet.

A number of my breeder friends have been very supportive, and have assured me that kitten deaths are, unfortunately, part of the experience of being a breeder. I’ve been lucky so far in that Ananda’s previous litters were large and the kittens were small, so they shelled out like peas at 20-minute intervals. And that’s another thing, the timing of the arrival of the kittens, that should have alerted me that this labour was not going to be easy: each kitten took 50 minutes to be born, and they were double the size of kittens from her previous litter.

So it’s a matter of knowing how your queen kittens, and even better, how her mother kittens, because these things are genetic. Ananda’s mother always gave birth easily.

I guess I got complacent with how easy the previous two labours were. We buried that third kitten with a cat toy, flowers and bird feathers.  Well, it’s been a sad lesson learnt – that kitten would have been alive if not for my stupidity.  Makes me wonder why I went into breeding in the first place. But then I look at the two living kittens, tickle their fat tum-tums and listen to them suckle while Ananda purrs contentedly and it’s magic.

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Kittens are here

17 June, 2007

AnandaKittens2 The kittens were born on Wednesday, 6 June 2007, a day later than expected.

There were two kittens, born approximately 50 minutes apart. They were much larger than kittens from Ananda’s previous litter, so I guess that’s why they took so long to pop out. Ananda was an excellent mother, and knew exactly what to do. This time I didn’t have to break the placenta or the umbilical cords for her. She did it all herself, chewed through the cords and ate the placenta.

After another hour, no other kittens appeared and she appeared happy to just lie there and suckle so I assumed that there were just two kittens for this litter. The two kittens were fat and glossy and suckling strongly.

Later I called the vet because suddenly I wasn’t sure that maybe it was just two kittens. Ananda still looked plump around her middle. But she wasn’t straining or anything. The vet turned up in the evening and palpated her. He thought he felt another kitten. He suggested either an injection of oxytocin to strenghten the contractions or to wait. I opted to wait.

Nothing much happened that night, and I gave Ananda some homeopathic caullophyllum. The next morning she started crying out again, and gave birth to a third kitten. It was much larger than the other two kittens. It was perfectly-formed, but unfortunately, was dead. Because it was so large, it had probably been stuck in the birth canal.  I tried to revive it by massaging it and trying to give it Carbo Veg, but it didn’t work.  So I ran to the vet’s which is 5 minutes away and they tried to, with Dopram-V under its tongue and chest massage.  Unfortunately nothing worked.

I had the vet visit again, and this time I opted for oxytocin to clear out the uterus.

At the time of writing, mum and kittens are doing well, and fingers and paws crossed, will continue to do well. Please keep checking my flickr album for new photos.

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The Waiting/Weighting Game

5 June, 2007

 

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Well, the photo speaks for itself.  Here is Ananda waiting for the stork to arrive.  She hasn’t shown any overt signs of wanting to kitten, apart from licking herself, and sleeping and investigating all the kitten boxes that I’ve improvised for her.  I keep thinking that if I offer her a really nice cosy box, that she’ll settle in and have her kittens.

Not that I’m trying to rush her, of course.  Just that I’m finding the waiting game nerve-racking.  The previous times she’s had her kittens near dawn, or near dusk.  Last year I rushed home from work and she had her kittens almost immediately, as though she had been waiting for me to get home.  This year I’ve taken time off work, and I think she’s got used to the idea that I’m around so there’s really no rush.  Just yesterday we took an amble in the garden (photos in the flickr album) and she was so laid back you wouldn’t have thought she was due to kitten.

The average gestation period for cats is 9 weeks plus 2 days.  There is a handy calculator in http://www.pandecats.com/due_date_calculator.htm which enables you to type in the date of the first day when your queen was bred and the due date is calculated for you.  While the average term is 65 days, some cats can kitten several days earlier, and up to 5 days later.  I’ve heard that if a mating is carried out over several days, then the gestation will last as long as it takes the kitten produced by the last mating to mature.  But this is not a confirmed fact, so don’t quote me.   Kittens born too early are not always strong enough or mature enough, so better late if ever, is what I believe.  But who knows the ways of nature?

I checked through my kittening kit again yesterday, and good thing too because I plugged in my weighing machine and it wouldn’t fire up.  I finally tracked it down to the wire to the plug – there were teeth marks on the wire!  This from someone who prides herself in using cable tidy to stop cats from biting on wires!  I was shocked/surprised/scandalised – I honestly can’t remember how it happened, I was just grateful I hadn’t lost a cat to electrocution.  I tried splicing the wire, but I didn’t have any insulating tape, and not surprisingly it didn’t work.  So I had to buy some batteries from the local corner shop, and very exhorbitant they were, but what choice did I have?

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Here is a photo of the weighing machine, an Ultraship 50.  

It’s a digital machine and designed to weigh post, and I like it because of its sensitivity – it measures in increments of 2g for the first 2 kg.  This is far more accurate than a lot of digital kitchen scales.  I once tried out the kitchen scales in John Lewis – I got a bag of sugar from the baking department, and measured the same bag on about 4 different scales.  They all gave different readings and not one of them gave the exact weight.  Also, they tended to measure in 10g-50g increments, and when you think how small a kitten is, and how little the weight gain can be from day to day, you really want accuracy.  I did look into postal scales as used by the post office, but they were horrendously expensive.  As for professional vet scales, I think the cheapest was several hundred pounds!  Anyway, I got my Ultraship 50 from e-bay and yes, it was more pricey than ordinary digital kitchen scales, but wayyyy more accurate.

I think what I’ll have to watch out for is a tendency to be overzealous in weighing the kittens.  I think if you have runt, it’s important to keep track of how it’s doing so that you can top up if necessary before it falls behind too much.  But for one of the litters I was weighing twice a day, and getting weird readings.  In the end a seasoned breeder whom I consulted told me to stop weighing and get a life.

Here are some photos of the two kittening boxes I’ve got ready for Ananda.

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One of them is in the bedroom – it’s a purpose-built cardboard box from Purrsonal Touch which cost about twelve pounds.  What I’m not comfortable about is that in order to take off the lid to do housekeeping, the front comes off as well.

 

Waiting4 The second is a vacuum cleaner box placed in a Kalven Kitten Pen.  Notice the blankets.  I’ll cover most of the pen with the blankets to create that dark, cave-like effect cats like.

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Music for kittens to grow by

3 June, 2007

OK, call me eccentric, but I play music to the kittens.

Research has been done on the effect of music played while human babies are still in the womb, and it’s been positive. I know that a kitten’s sense of hearing doesn’t start to really function until its second week, so any music during the first week is really for the benefit of the mother cat and myself.

Because I have to leave both mother cat and kittens alone by the third week, I feel it’s good for them to have the sound of music, with vocals, in particular, to get them used to the human voice.

So what’s in the playlist for watching kittens grow by?

Well, in the hope of evoking a calm, soothing atmosphere, I tend to veer towards the classical:

— Josh Groban’s “Closer”. His Oceano is beautifully soothing. I never thought I’d like opera until I came across Josh Groban. The previous litter of kittens had no complaints either.

— Hildegard of Bingen’s “A Feather on the Breath of God” as sung by Gothic Voices (Hyperion). Unbelievable, transcendental music. Gramophone Award Winner, Best Classic CD Top 100 CDs of all time. Yes, it’s religious, yes it’s Gregorian chant/medieval-type music, but the music soars and takes you with it, tears in your eyes. Hopefully a kitten pleaser again.

— Gregorian Chants sung by monks. Not as ethereal as the Hildegard of Bingen, but very atmospheric and calming.

And of course I’ll be handling and playing with the kittens as much as possible from day one, to get them used to human smells.