Archive for April, 2008

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CoonTICA Easter Purrade 2008

26 April, 2008

I visited CoonTICA’s Easter Purrade on Saturday 19 April.  Easter Purrade is a cat show organised by the Maine Coon Club in the UK that’s affiliated with The International Cat Association (TICA) – I’m a member of CoonTICA.

It wasn’t just Maine Coons at the show, but all breeds of cat.  All in all there must have been about 250 cats being shown, in 5 rings, over 2 days.  It’s definitely one of the highlights in the cat show calendar.

Like I’d done at a previous year’s show, I decided to help out by ring-stewarding.  This involves cleaning out the show pens in between classes.  It doesn’t sound very glamorous, but it does put you in close proximity to the judging.  I highly-recommend it as a way of getting to see all the cats in the show, and to learn how the judges do it.

I was put in Ring 3 which was under the judging of Laura Cunningham, a TICA judge who also breeds Maine Coons under the prefix Coonyham.  So definitely a very seasoned pro.  She was amazing – really focused; she involved the audience and cat owners and just loved explaining what she was doing.  She was on the go from 9am to 5.30pm, judging 250 cats almost non-stop – she had more stamina than me!

Discovery Channel were there too, filming the show for their Animal Planet documentary.  Here are some photos of the judging in action:

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Smile!  You’re on Animal Planet!

Notice the judge’s props – scratching post, ticklers, feather toys, wands.  They are not used to play with the cats, but to get the cats to lift their heads or extend their bodies so that the judge can better assess their profiles or standard.  Of course, most of the cats thought that it was just an great excuse to play!

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Laura admires a beautifully-marked marble Bengal

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One of the best Persians in the show (sorry about the red eye!)

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Some of the beautiful rosettes awarded at the show.

Cats sometimes spray in show pens (especially stud cats), and it’s the owner’s job to clean-up after them.  The problem was that the smell of stud cat pee tended to persist.  So even after the owner had had a go, I still had to clean the pen multiple times, and use an enzyme-based odour-destroyer.  Even then the pen had to be taken out of action until the smell had worn off.  Furthermore, any cleaning towels had to be disposed of away from the judging ring because if another stud cat subsequently smelt it, that would trigger the stud cat to start spraying.  All in all I must have had about 3 spraying cats that day.  I was exhausted!

If I was exhausted, so were the cats by the end of the day, and in the final few rounds some of them threw hissy fits so that Laura had to ask the owners to help take them out of the show pens and put them on the judging table.  Not surprisingly, the feisty Bengals were the main culprits, but having said that, one of the winning Bengals was a fantastic male who calmly sat on his owner’s lap while she sat in the audience – good as gold!

With thanks to Laura Cunningham for permission to use the photos I took of her judging.  And a huge round of applause for Ros Wood, President of CoonTICA and Martin Wood, for organising this very popular and successful show and for allowing me to help out.  See you next year!

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Secale – another remedy for the homeopathic birth kit

23 April, 2008

Last year, I posted on the homeopathic kit I’ve put together for the birth process.

The birth last year for my queen did not go as smoothly as with previously litters.  One of the kittens was very large and was born hours late, and sadly, dead.  I’d ignored the vet’s suggestion to use Oxytocin to strengthen her contractions and thought I’d let nature take its course, instead.  I tried 2 homeopathic remedies which had been recommended:  caulophyllum and cimicifuga.  Neither worked.

This year, at the Natural and Organic Products Europe show, Helios the homeopathic pharmacy was exhibiting, and one of their homeopaths was on the stand.  I took the opportunity to discuss what happened last year, and she had another suggestion, the remedy Secale.

According to the Helios own-guide to Homeopathy in Childbirth, “Secale … like Pulsatilla, intolerant of stuffy rooms, but emotionally more stupefied in labour, with much longer contractions.  If these stop, trembling may start.  Most often used to antidote ill-effects of Syntometrine, often routinely injected to speed up expulsion of placenta.  Can be used to encourage a retained placenta to be pushed out naturally if contractions are too weak.”Helios Homeopathy in Childbirth kit

Another suggestion was to use the remedies in a higher potency than 30C, in fact to use them in 200C potency because the birth process is a particularly intense experience.  This advice went against what I was taught about using the minimum dose, but I was open to anything that would help my cat.

I bought the Helios homeopathic kit for childbirth which contains 18 remedies for use before, during and after labour.  (Aconite, Arnica, Bellis per., Calendula, Carbo veg., Caulophyllum, Chamomilla, Cimicifuga, Gelsemium, Hypericum, Ipecac., kali carb., Kali phos., Phytolacca, Pulsatilla, Secale, Sepia, Staphisagria).  Some of the remedies I already have, but this kit had them in 200C potency.

I truly hope that I will not have to resort to any of the remedies to assist in labour, but it pays to be prepared.

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Negative for HCM

22 April, 2008

Good news.

Ananda, my breeding queen, has tested NEGATIVE for the known gene for feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (“HCM”).

HCM is a disease of the heart.  It causes thickening of the heart walls, weakness, build-up of fluid and eventually, heart failure.  There is no cure for HCM; medication can only slow the progress of this disease.  The anguish of a much-loved pet dying suddenly is something that all responsible breeders want to avoid.  For this reason, any test that can diagnose the possibility of HCM is welcome so that affected cats can be taken out of a breeding programme.

HCM is an inheritable disease, and affects ALL breeds of cats.  However, because studies have been done using Maine Coon cats, there is a tendency to associate HCM with Maine Coons. 

In a study entitled “Familial Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in Maine Coon Cats” by Dr. Kittleson, a dominant gene was identified that could lead to the expression of HCM in cats.  Recently, a mutation in the MYBPC gene which is suggested to cause HCM in cats was found by Dr. Kathryn Meurs (Washington State University, USA).

There are a number of testing labs worldwide, but I opted for the Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine HCM genetic testing service.  It costs US$60 per cat.  Registration for the service is done online and offers a choice of testing using either blood samples or cheek swabs.  I opted for cheek swabs, based on the advice of other Maine Coon breeders because it’s apparently something you don’t need special training (aka a vet) to do.

The College sent me the Test Kit, which consists of two cheek swabs.  These are like the mini versions of brushes used to clean baby bottles.  Written instructions were included on how to take the samples.  They were deceptively easy:  each brush had to be inserted on either side of the mouth, between the cheek and gums, and then twirled for about 20-30 seconds to gather the cell samples.  The brushes then had to be air-dried, before being popped into a plastic bag and sent back to the College.

I read the instructions out loud to Ananda, in the hope that she would open her mouth and allow me to insert the brushes and twirl them merrily.

Oooh, the look she gave me.  She was on heat and not looking very cooperative.  On second thoughts, maybe not.

Fortunately, I had a contingency plan.  She was due to go to the vet for a blood test before going to the stud cat.  So I asked the vet if he would take the samples for me.  My vet kindly agreed, and asked his two assistants, to carry out blood test and the DNA sampling.  I gave them the instructions, the twirly brushes and waited.

Much later, the door to the surgery opened, and there stood the two strapping young vets, looking a little hot around the collar.

Apparently the blood test hadn’t been the problem.  But who would have thought that a sweet-natured tortie cat would make a fuss about a few brushes?  After checking to make sure they still had their fingers and toes, the vets handed me the brushes with the samples.

I had the choice of sending the brushes via courier or Royal Mail International Special Delivery.  I called several courier companies and nearly fainted at the cost – the cheapest was about £30!  I was worried that if I didn’t send the samples by courier, the cells would degrade, but a breeder assured me that once air dried, the samples were quite robust.  So I chose Royal Mail in the end, and the samples got there.

The DNA test is not the only means of testing for HCM.  Because there may be more than one gene involved in HCM, another recommendation is to diagnose using an echocardiogram which may show signs of the developing disease.   Echocardiograms only show the state of the heart at a particular point in time, which means that repeated testing is necessary.

The problem with all these tests is that they are inconclusive.  In humans alone, several hundred mutations have been identified that cause HCM.  HCM can develop at any age, and a cat that is normal one year could still have HCM and develop symptoms later in life.  Also, a cat may test positive for the HCM gene, and yet not have any signs in its echocardiogram.

And because the tests are inconclusive, a number of breeders are not convinced that they are absolutely necessary, preferring to breed according to the general longevity and healthiness of bloodlines.  It means that breeders have to put their trust in the honesty of other breeders.  It means that there is an element of the guessing-game if breeding with untested cats.  This perception about not needing to test is slowly changing in the UK, but testing in this country isn’t as widespread as say, in the US or Australia.

There is also, of course, the difficulty amongst breeders in being “open” if a cat tests positive for the gene, in case they get tarred with the HCM brush.  Just to confuse the matter, the HCM gene is variable in its expression – just because a cat tests positive doesn’t mean that it or its offspring will go on to develop HCM. 

More openness, more work, more studies need to be done to address this silent killer.

More links:

For more information on HCM, see: members.aol.com/jchinitz/hcm/index.htm.

And from the same site:  Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy – The Silent Killer – a tragic story from a Ragdoll breeder about the pain and devastation that can result when cat breeders are not open with one another about any occurrences of HCM in the lineages of their cats.

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What’s new in the health products industry

15 April, 2008

Yesterday, I made my annual pilgrimage to the Natural and Organic Products Europe show at London Olympia.  It’s the trade show for the natural, health, organic, speciality foods industry.

I know this post isn’t directly cat-related, but if you’re like me, you probably know that a keen interest in all things holistic usually means a desire to learn about nutrition, complementary health care or organic food.

Most of the trade stands at the Show offered samples, or tastings of products from all over the world.  All of the exhibitors were passionate about what they’re selling, whether it’s organic honey or a new type of skin cream.  It was simply fantastic to be able to pick the brains of these people who’re experts in their field, and add to my knowledge.

So what caught my eye this year?

1.  Comvita’s Olive Leaf Complex.  Olive Leaf extract is a powerful antioxidant, anti-bacterial substance.  I’d previously seen it in a powdered form, but what made this version different was that it was a LIQUID extract pressed from fresh leaves.  That’s minimum processing, with none of the drying process which would destroy potent compounds in the fresh product.  I tasted some – it was palatable, but had bitter overtones, no worse than Swedish Bitters.  I found that reassuring.  It showed it hadn’t been over-processed to remove its natural taste.  I’ve also seen Olive Leaf extract used in other supplements as part of an immune-system booster.  It is apparently 400% stronger than Vitamin C.

maharishi honey 2.  Maharishi Vedic Organic Honey.  For those not in the know, Maharishi was the guru whom the Beatles feted in their younger days.  The name has been used to sell food that is manufactured or farmed to Ayur-Vedic standards.

OK, there were loads of honey suppliers at the show.  But Maharishi Vedic claim that their honey is energetically more vibrant because of the way they nurture their bees, a process which includes chanting/singing to the bees as they make their way to and from the hives.  You can either take it with a pinch of salt or see whether it’s made a difference to the quality of the honey.

I’m not sure I could, but I only had a small tasting.  I tried some honey water made from Maharishi Vedic Honey, and it was very light, like acacia honey.  I didn’t suddenly sprout wings and feel one with the Universe, but it was a nice honey.  They also produce honeys made at different times of the year, and with different flavours.  The Maharishi Honey Site is worth it jmaharishi gheeust for the happy New Age colours (emphasis on the pink!).

I’ve previously tried Maharishi homemade ghee, and I was blown away.  The best ghee I’ve ever tasted.  Ghee is clarified butter with the lactose and milk solids removed.  Most ghee tends to be greasy and sicky-rich.  Maharishi ghee was delicate, light, with a sweet flavour.  I could eat it out of the jar with a spoon.

3.  Sancler Organic Yoghurt Cheese.  Yoghurt Cheese is also known as Labneh, a traditional dairy product.  It’s actually strained yoghurt.  Sancler Yoghurt Cheese is made in Wales.  I spoke to the man, Elwyn, who was exhibiting, and he turned out to be the farmer and owner of Sancler too.  The herd is 70-strong, and it was obvious he loved them – he fed them the best of organic produce, he knew their personalities and they all had names.  I had an interesting chat with him about TB and cows and the methods he used to prevent TB.  Wonderful to meet someone who is passionate about farming organically and creating a great product.

The Yoghurt Cheese itself is very light and refreshing and can be used as a spread.  In texture it was a bit like Philadelphia Cheese, but in terms of quality and flavour it was far superior – it is, after all, a live product.  And think of all those happy cows!

4.   Barleans Extra Virgin Coconut Oil.  Now that coconut oil has been proven to be one of the most beneficial oils around, the market is full of coconut oil manufacturers.  What makes Barleans different is that their oil is obtained from coconuts that are hand-picked from the tree, and not coconuts that are immature, over-ripe or have fallen to the ground.  Tree-picked coconuts means the coconut meat has a gel-like consistency, is fresher and has optimal nutritional values.  I tasted and smelt some – I’m careful to do this ever since I bought some coconut oil (certified organic etc.) and it smelt like hair oil – have you ever cooked a curry and have it smelling of perfumed hair oil?  I liked what Barleans produced – the smell wasn’t too cloying, so I bought a jar.

5.  Maaic Collagen Gel.  I’m not usually into face creams because they promise much and cost the earth and don’t deliver, but this intrigued me.  Collagen is a substance in the body that is necessary for the regeneration of body tissue.  With age, collagen breaks down resulting in less elastic skin, and wrinkles.

A lot of collagen preparations in the market are made from either marine algae or bovine sources.  However, Maaic claim that natural collagen that works can only be found in humans and animals, but even bovine collagen isn’t very effective because the size of the particle does not allow it to permeate into the skin.  Maiic’s source is collagen from fish, to be specific, fresh-water carp.  The skin is taken from the belly of the carp which is more closely approximates the texture of human skin.  (though mind you, I’ve never stroked the belly of a carp, so I wouldn’t know!).

The product is from Poland where it has been available for a number of years, but is new to the UK market.

cleargen 5.  ClearGen Anti-bacterial gel made from Mangosteen.  Mangosteen is a tropical fruit.  It has a hard, thick outer skin that is purple, and inside are soft and white segments of sweet fruit.  I’ve eaten  a lot of Mangosteen in my life, but have never heard of a medicinal use for its skin.  But research has shown that Mangosteen contains a class of compounds called as Xanthones, which are potent anti-oxidants.  Xanthones have also been demonstrated to have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties.   And it’s apparently used in South East Asia for skin conditions.  So there you go.   It’s especially efficacious as an acne treatment.

6.  And at last … Pet food.  Namely dried dog and cat food.  One exhibitor was selling gourmet dog biscuits.  Their biscuits were cooked by baking, not using the extrusion method which apparently means a better product.  I’m not sure why you can’t just give your dog normal human biscuits vs these gourmet dog biscuits.  There were some interesting flavours, like mint and herbs (to freshen the dog’s breath).  And the packaging was suitably premium to match the price and the market.  Cat biscuits are in the pipeline.

SUMMARY: 

So what trends have I spotted in this year’s show which will possibly set the tone for the rest of the industry?

Last year, the stars were the new superfoods like acai berries and goji berries.  But more importantly, superfoods that were sourced from exotic locations:  acai berries from Brazil and goji berries from the Himalayas.  Their appeal was to a market that was jaded by Western sources of food and seduced by the promise of Eastern healing, and elixirs of life yet to be discovered in Brazilian rainforests.

The trend is still toward sourcing the exotic – there’s loads of products out there with acai and goji in them (even the mainstream Innocent Smoothies have got into the act) – for example, the anti-bacterial gel made from mangosteen fruit.

However, in terms of health products, the keywords are freshness and purity.  The gold standard that is emerging is finding ways of delivering a natural product with maximum potency and minimal processing (hence the liquid olive oil extract and the coconut oil) and a minimum of preservatives or chemical nasties.  Health food consumers are becoming more demanding and canny about the quality of products available and are willing to pay more for what they perceive as a product that’s as close to its source as possible.

And if it is possible to put a spiritual slant on the product, so much the better – see the honey produced by Maharishi’s happy bees.

Innovation is key as always, and there will always be new takes on old products, for example, the collagen face cream made from fish skin.

In terms of food produce, organic is now the de facto standard.  Biodynamic is the next step up, but I didn’t see that many biodynamic producers in this year’s show.  I didn’t see much furore over food miles either.  Fairtrade seems to be the name of the game at the moment – consumers in the West seem to have a need to couple consumption with the need to save the world, the feel-good factor you get when you drink your cup of coffee knowing that it will benefit not just a small colonial estate, but change the lives of 1000 farmers.  And why not?

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Snow in April – some photos

6 April, 2008

I woke up this morning to feed the cats, and this was the scene in the back garden at 6am.  It was the first, real snow of the season with flakes that didn’t melt immediately, but settled into a pretty Christmas-card scene.

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I opened the door to the garden and Teddy and Maya decided to investigate:

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Er, mum … what’s that white stuff falling from the sky?

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 Bengal Snow Dance!

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 Teddy makes his mark too.

Teddy took to the snow pretty well.  You can see here why Maine Coons with their thick shaggy coats are made for snow and winters.

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Teddy decided to have a pee in his usual spot (ssh … don’t let him know we’re peeking!).

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Hmm … this white stuff works quite well.

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Ananda tests the snow.

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But I’m a Bengal … we don’t do snow.

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Tulip buds in the snow.

By noon the snow had melted.  Pity because I’d planned on making a snowman for the cats.

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When should you breed your cat?

5 April, 2008

If you are a cat breeder, and new to cat breeding, here is some information I’ve picked up on when to breed your cat:

1.  If your queen is a maiden queen (i.e. never been bred before), then the rule of thumb seems to be wait until she is a year old, or has called at least 3 times. However, some breeds of cats come into call earlier than 12 months.  For e.g. the Orientals have been known to go on heat at 4 months old! 

In the end, you have to play it by ear – a calling cat can lose condition if she calls repeatedly – and take the advice of the breeder who sold you your queen.  She owns the mother cat to your cat, and in most instances what applies to the mother cat applies to the daughter too.

2.  You don’t want to have your queen calling repeatedly because of the possibility of her developing pyometra which is an infection of the uterus.  It is a condition that all breeders fear and dread because undetected it can be fatal.  A holistic cat breeder in the US told me that a healthy cat (raw-fed, unvaccinated from a line of unvaccinated cats) should not pyo, but of course the reality is that breeders are not all able to have such cats, and in any event, genetics plays a part too.

3.  The GCCF guidelines on how often to breed your cat is that she may have 3 litters in two years.  Again, and maybe I’m rocking the boat, but it depends on how old your cat is, and how large the litters are. 

Some breeders prefer to breed a cat more when she is younger and has more strength and resources in her body to nurture kittens, and then neuter her early. 

Some breeders say wait at least 9 months so that the queen has enough time to build up her iron stores for the next pregnancy.

4.  If your queen has had a very small litter, e.g. 2 or fewer kittens, she may come into heat fairly shortly after kittening.  This happened last year.  My girl had a litter of 3 (1 died) and started calling 3.5 weeks after giving birth.  

A breeder wrote into me and said that that was nature’s way of telling me that this litter/birth was “a walk in the park for her system” and that she bred her cats more frequently when young and then neutered them.  However, I took the advice from other breeders and didn’t breed her that time. 

I’ve since heard another school of thought:  if a girl has a very small litter and comes into call soon after, and hasn’t lost much condition, if you breed her as soon as she comes into call, this next litter will be a large-ish one.  Apparently, and I don’t know if it’s true, I’ve heard that this is the practice that some US breeders have adopted. 

The explanation given to me was something along the lines of:  each time a cat calls and not bred, the eggs in her ovaries that are ready for insemination get old and are discarded by her body.  Each time she calls, fewer and fewer eggs are therefore available for insemination.  So it’s best to breed as soon as she starts calling after giving birth to a small litter.

There are lots more articles on the web about when to breed your cat – please consult them and don’t take this one as gospel truth.  At the end of the day, you (with the advice of your vet) know your cat best and will know when to breed her.

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New – Links page

2 April, 2008

I have added a new page to this blog, it contains links to sites that I have found helpful or interesting in the course of my reading about cats and holistic approaches to health.

You’ll find links to cat clubs, raw-feeding sources, homeopathy and other cat-related sites.