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Fleas (1) – the Holistic vs Conventional approach

30 May, 2011

Image taken from http://www.hanklee.org

Summer is on its way, and with the warm weather, one of our least favourite visitors:  fleas.

I hesitated to write this post because as a cat breeder, fleas are one of those things that you shouldn’t admit to having.  But in the interests of cat owners out there who’ve been plagued by fleas, hopefully my experiences will help.

I’ve prided myself on a flea-free household.  Because of that, I’d never had to use flea repellents, or flea killers and this meant I could rear cats as holistically possible, with a minimum of medication and a natural diet.  It was part of my holistic approach to rearing cats.  I’d read that the best flea repellent was to feed a raw diet.  Maybe that’s true for a lot of raw feeders, in which case I was the unlucky exception.

Many years ago, when I was grooming one of my cats, a small black speck moved in the fur on the brush and yep … to my horror, it was a flea.

I can say, hand on my heart, that it was the first flea I’d seen since my moggy, Sophie died some 5 years previously.  (After she died, I spent months steam-cleaning the house and it was flea-free when my new cats arrived. )

I knew that it probably wasn’t the only flea around.  It could have come from any number of sources: hopped in from the neighbour’s garden, from a visitor’s clothes, from a visit to the vet … who knows.

But the fact is, by the time you find one flea, it probably means the house is infested and full of fleas in various stages of egg laying and adulthood.

And to my horror … I spotted something jumping out of the carpets.  And what was that itch on my ankles …

So, how did I get rid of the fleas? 

I did a lot of research on the internet on flea eradication.  If done the holistic way, it would be through baths (the cat, not myself!), vacuuming twice a day etc. 

However, vacuuming only gets rid of existing fleas, not the eggs that hatch into more fleas that would jump onto the cats and feed then drop off and hatch again.  And you can imagine how much time vacuuming the entire house, including all the nooks and crannies would take. 

The faster way would be to medicate using Frontline or Advantage and chemical sprays.  There’s no need to tell you that these are non-holistic remedies. 

Both Frontline and Advantage work by entering the bloodstream of the cat and poisoning the fleas who drop off and die.  Frontline and Advantage are supposedly toxic to fleas, and not to mammals.  But there are many articles on the net with examples of cats which have experienced bad side-effects from these neurotoxins.

So, a quandry. 

The holistic way which would take a long time and may not work. 

Or the non-holistic way that could have long-term health consquences for my cats.

I hate having to make decisions like that.  Of course my vet recommended the latter method.  He pointed out that at least with Frontline I could be sure that any fleas landing on my cats would die.  And in the meantime, I’d have bought myself some time and could try other methods in getting those blasted fleas out of the house.

More later.

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Part 13 – So you want to be a Cat Breeder – The Birth

15 May, 2011

It’s the Big Day!

For the past few days your queen has been checking out the kitten box and pulling out all the newspaper and towels that you lovingly-prepared for her. 

If all goes well, then you’ll hopefully have a boxful of kittens nursing and a purring mum. 

However, if there are complications then you may need a visit to the vet.

(I’m sorry if I keep making it sound like a horror story, but I want you to go into cat breeding with your eyes open.)

If a queen is showing distress and can’t kitten … and it’s 3am on a Sunday morning (and it will always be in the middle of the night because that’s cats for you) … and you’ve had to rush her to the vet … and the out-of-hours vet examines her … and decides she needs a caesarian … which means general anaesthesia … then be prepared to hand him your credit card.

An out-of-hours caesarian can cost up to £2,000.  (Bye-bye holiday and new clothes for the whole family.)

And don’t forget that you may have to hand-rear the kittens if your queen is too weak from the surgery to nurse the kittens.  That means feeding every two hours on-the-hour night-and-day.  That’s why as a precaution I always took two weeks off work around the time of the birth.  Fortunately I had bosses who thought I was a mad cat lady, so that’s all right then.  Fortunately I never had to hand feed.

You’ll also have to watch your queen because she may decide to take out the stitches herself.  It happened to the mother of my Bengal cat.  Twice.  Each time she had to be rushed to the vet.  She and her husband enjoyed two sleepless weeks feeding the kittens. 

But if all goes well … a box full of warm bundles of … what looks like little blind mice, but are actually kittens.  And the promise of loads of funny moments in the weeks to come.

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Meet the Breeder – Molly Barr of Mythicbells Persians

8 April, 2011

A little peek at Mythicbells Persians

This is the first in a series of interviews with cat breeders. I met Molly through my blog. It turned out that she also fed her cats raw. I was thrilled and impressed by her dedication because she’s got more cats and has multiple litters than I do so it must have been hard work.

Molly breeds Persians that have a more traditional look – they have a ‘bit more’ nose. You can catch up with Molly and her cats on her own Mythicbells Persians website and blog.

http://www.mythicbells.com/index.htm

http://mythicbells.wordpress.com/

Question: Why did you become a breeder?

Molly:  I’d always had the intention to breed cats. About 7 years ago, several things came together in my life more or less at the same time:

I’d been retired for quite a few years and realized one day that if I wanted to breed cats, I now had the time to do it.

I also had 3 elderly Persians, all with health issues and this factored in heavily.

First, I knew “my” breed — it had to be Persians.

Second, my beloved cats were so important to me that I was very fearful of how I was going to handle losing them.

(One cat had just had surgery for intestinal lymphoma, one had just been diagnosed with heart disease, and I’d been fighting inflammatory bowel disease in the third cat for years. I wanted the distraction of a younger generation of kitties coming into my life. Breeding would allow me to do that.)

The third reason I wanted to try breeding was feline nutrition. I’d raised my 3 older Persians on the usual — dry kibble.

When it finally became obvious to me that the vet wasn’t going to figure out a way to help my cat with the IBD, nor were any of the medications working, nor any of the prescription diets, I took the plunge into (GULP) raw feeding.

Over the next few months I began to feel so strongly about it, I felt that I wanted my next cats to be raised on a species-appropriate diet.

I felt that kittens born to such cats and started out with good nutrition would also be healthier overall.

Question: How did you get started?

Molly: The general plan was to get one kitten with breeding rights and have a litter every year.

(Looking back, that was a terribly naive plan, but there you have it.)

However before I made my move I researched for several months, so was a bit more tuned in when I actually did approach a breeder for a kitten. And that was just the tip of the iceberg of the many things I was to learn in the next few years.

I wanted to do it right, so registered a cattery name with CFA and began my search for registered kittens from a reputable source.

I purchased 2 female kittens with breeding rights, and arranged for stud service with the breeder.



Simba Khan, the majestic studcat

Question: What was your happiest moment?

Molly: I don’t recall a happiest moment, but the kittens a so incredibly precious, I enjoy every second they are with me.

Question: What was your saddest moment?

Molly: My saddest moment was the loss of a kitten in an accident here at home. She was six weeks old and had a family waiting for her.

No matter how careful you are, most breeders are eventually going to experience this, and it’s very difficult.

Question: Do you have any tips for anyone thinking of breeding cats?

Molly

1. Have a mentor if you can find one. Someone experienced you can call.

2. Do your research…. and I would like to tell you to “do it right,” but I know many of you won’t listen.

By “do it right”, I mean breed only from registered cats.

I KNOW that your undocumented [i.e. not officially registered with a cat registry for breeding] boy (or girl) is the most precious cat in the world and you’re probably thinking: what a pity that his or her genes won’t go on.

Well, I don’t know how many times I’ve had this conversation with someone wanting a kitten to breed. Though I can understand people who want to have some pretty kittens to play with and, yes, I know many do it without undue consequences or heartaches, but many do not.

3. You will also want to consider these questions:

  • Who are you giving (or selling) these cats to?
  • Do you know the health consequences to your queen and stud?
  • When your stud starts spraying, then what?

… the list goes on!

4. Do not breed unless you can find quality homes for your kittens and do not breed unless you can be a source of support and information to the families who adopt your kittens.

5. Many breeders will tell you to not breed unless you show your cats. I don’t show my cats and I do breed. I’m not listening either. You’ve got to follow your heart.

6. Never stop learning. Your kittens depend on you.

7. The business end of breeding cats is tough. I’m in the United States, so I know it may be different in other countries, but you will need a good website.

Do not trust your kittens to ads in the paper. You should have a contract and be able to guarantee your kitten buyers various things as far as the health and pedigree of your kittens.

Sirocco, one of the queens at Mythicbells Persians

Question: What advice do you have on how to sell kittens?

Molly: If you are breeding unpedigree kittens and plan to sell them cheaply or give them away, I want you to think of how you are going to feel when a perfect stranger arrives on your doorstep, hands you a couple hundred bucks and walks off with a kitten you’ve raised and treasured. If you give the kittens away, same thing.

I’ll never forget the adoption of my first litter. I vetted the people carefully and felt that they were good homes, but when they drove off with those kittens, I felt that nothing short of full FBI and CIA profiles on them as well as their extended family would suit.

1. I now have an extensive questionnaire that must be filled out in detail and I pour over them weighing the pros and cons of each family.
2. Also, I charge a good price for my kittens to weed out that young kid who is going to buy his girl friend a cat, or the impulse buyer.

3. I like my kittens spoken for early so that by the time the family arrives to pick up the kitten, I know them pretty well. There are no guarantees, but you have to try.

Question: What cat breeding books would you recommend?

Molly: There are many fine books on breeding cats. I wouldn’t choose any one over another, I would have them all.

Your greatest resource for information, however, is the internet. Make sure you find the cat breeder forums and particularly a few of the ongoing Yahoo lists regarding feline health. Breeders from all of the world participate in these. You will find over time that you will know more about some the latest developments in feline reproduction than your vet.

One book I strongly recommend to anyone who has a cat and wants it to live a long and healthy life is: “Your Cat” by Elizabeth M. Hodgkins, DVM.

All photos copyright Molly Barr of Mythicbells Persians

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Part 12 – So you want to be a Cat Breeder – The Kitten Birth Kit

25 March, 2011

OK, your queen has managed to get through her pregnancy without any problems and she’s about to go pop.  

So here’s what could help you get prepared so that if a suprise does happen during the delivery, then you’re prepared.

By now you’ll have put together a Kitten Birth Kit, if not, please read my earlier post about what you might like to have in the kit.

A very quick summary:  your Kitten Birth Kit can be as expensive or as back-to-basics as you want to make it.  If this is your first litter, and you’re not sure you want to carry on breeding, then I would advise you not to invest in expensive kitten pens or expensive kit. 

Estimated cost of Kitten Birth Kit:  £50 to £250.

BASIC KIT

THE KITTENING BOX

Good excuse to buy a new TV ...

1. Box for mum to have kittens in.  My first kitten box was a large TV box.  So make friends with Currys or Comet.  All you have to do is cut a hole in one half for mum cat to go in and out.  I use another box about the same size and cut that down to make a cover for the main box. This allows you to lift the cover off to do general housekeeping for the cat.  Cost of box:  Free. 

(oops – I’ve just realised one problem:  most TV boxes nowadays are quite flat because TVs are flat-screen.  So unless you’re breeding Singapuras, a better substitute would be a PC box, or read on …)

Snowsilk uPVC kitten box

The alternative would be a beautiful uPVC purpose-built kitten pen (like the one above, from Snowsilk) with add-on modules or clear perspex sides so you can keep an eye on the kittens.  The advantage is that uPVC is easy to clean, and you can use this pen again for the next litter.  The disadvantage:  costs about £200 upwards.

 A compromise is to buy a disposable kitten box.  I use these and find them a good size for Maine Coons.  I also prefer boxes that aren’t see through (i.e. plastic sides) because queens like it dark and cosy.  Cost:  about £20.

Disposable Kitten Box (the box NOT the kitten!!!)

If you buy a cage with mesh, please make sure that the mesh is quite small because kittens will climb and paws can get stuck in them.

Temporary housing for kittens

Remember, after about the first 4 weeks, the kittens are going to be out and about, so you’ll have to think of another way to confine them if you need to.

(box and cage available from Purrsonal Touch)

2. A smaller cardboard box to put kittens in if you need to dry them while mum is busy having kittens and you don’t want her to roll on them

3. Newspaper to line box – you may need to change this often if it gets soaked during the birth process.  Cost:  free.  Or £.150 if you read The Sunday Times.

4.  Small face towels (cotton) to dry the kittens, and also to clean mum up after everything’s done (she will probably clean herself up though).  A good substitute is soft kitchen towels.  These have the advantage of being disposable.

5.  Larger towels (bath size) for mum to sleep on after she has kittened – you will need to change these everyday – mum will appreciate this as cats are clean creatures.  I made friends with the housekeeper at the gym I go to and she gave me a batch of towels that were worn out and going to be thrown away.   Cost:  free-ish.

6.  Kitchen towels – for general cleaning up

7.  Torch in case it’s dark (many births occur in the evening/early morning)

8.  Bin bag(s) to get rid of the waste stuff

9.  Weighing machine (preferably digital) in 5g increments to weigh kittens – this is a very valuable piece of equipment.  It will enable you to track the weights of the kittens and know which ones are not getting enough milk or not feeding properly.  So don’t skimp on the weighing machine.  Cheap ones can be inaccurate. 

Very accurate digital postal weighing scales

Try out the machine before you buy it.  I used to go to the baking department and “borrow” a bag of sugar and then weigh it on different machines – the discrepancies in weights on the different machines was an eye-opener.  A 1.5kg of sugar wasn’t always 1.5 kg on another machine.

When trying out weighing machines, a bag of sugar is a good substitute if you forget to bring your kitten along ...

You can afford to be inaccurate in baking, but not when your kittens’ lives depend on you!

OPTIONAL

10. Small pair of blunt scissors and surgical spirit to sterlise it, for cutting the umbilical cords if you are squeamish about doing it with your fingers.  I have never had to use scissors so far.

11. Dental floss to tie ends of umbilical cord if necessary.  Again, I have not had to use this.

12. Bulb syringe to suction fluids out of kitten’s airway.

13.  Homeopathic remedies: carbo veg (to resuscitate kittens or kittens that are having breathing problems), arnica (good for post-natal swelling and bruising for mum cat).  If you are seriously into homeopathy: caullophyllum and cimicifuga. Do not use any of these remedies as a preventative – they are to be used only if there is a presenting problem or an emergency.  Helios does a childbirth kit for about £20 (depending on which web store you buy it from).

14.  Nappy changing pads – these are large, absorbable pads which I use to line the box, under the towels – they save the cardboard base from being soaked in case kittens pee etc.

KMR kitten milk replacement

15. KMR kitten replacement milk – only necessary if mum cat isn’t producing enough milk or there are too many kittens and she can’t feed them all.  It’s not something that’s stocked by the local pet store so I order it in advance.  It’s not cheap though – about £20 for a tin.  But I still think it’s worth it for the just-in-case.  It’s a small investment and you can always still feed it to mum as a supplement.  An alternative would be Royal Canin kitten milk and feeding kit.

16. Kitten feeding kit – this is usually a bottle with a variety of teats.  One brand is Catac’s Foster Feeder.  I only use this if a kitten falls behind in its weight and needs topping-up.  Some breeders don’t believe in topping up, preferring to let nature take its course.  I haven’t got the nerves of steel for that.  Cost of kit:  approx. £12.

Catac foster kitten feeding bottle

17. Nail polish to paint claws of kittens if there are more than 2-3 kittens of the same colour, so you can distinguish between them. Or you can use food dye in the ears.  Or small coloured pony tail bands over their paws.

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I’m published! Cat Fancy article – “From birth to your home – your kitten’s journey”

7 March, 2011



I have an article published in the April 2011 issue of Cat Fancy, the leading cat magazine in the US.

Entitled “From birth to your home – your kitten’s journey”, it is about the first twelve weeks of your kitten’s life.

I got the inspiration to write the article after a friend of mine who loves baby-sitting my kittens remarked that most kitten owners seldom get to see how their kittens grow and look like during the weeks before their go to their new homes.

The article is chockful of photos of Catswhiskers Sorrel, a beautiful red silver girl.

Thank you to Sonya, Adi, Den and Francesca who helped in the writing of the article, for letting me use your photos and for your patience in reading all the drafts and giving constructive feedback. 

And a huge thank-you to Annie Shirreffs, Editor of Cat Fancy for her support and encouragement in writing the article.

And thank you to all the kittens and cats of Catswhiskers without whom this article would not have been possible!

To celebrate, I’m giving away my kitten guide, “Taking your Kitten Home” to anyone who leaves a comment on this post.  Please note that the guide was written for British kitten owners, so the sources for food and cat products will have a UK slant.

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Part 11 “So you want to be a cat breeder” – While waiting for the stork to arrive …

5 March, 2011

OK, now that you’ve forked out for the stud fees surely it’s plain sailing until Kitten Day?

FOOD

A pregnant cat will eat a lot of food.  Loads more.  So count on at least double the usual food bills for your queen, especially in last few weeks of the nine-week gestation period.

VET BILLS

All going well, there shouldn’t be a need to visit the vet for any reason.  However, this being cat breeding, you have to be prepared for every eventuality.  And vet eventualities, in my experience, cost money.

So what can go wrong? 

Your queen could develop an infection of the womb called pyometra.  This is one of the greatest fears of cat breeders.  If you catch it early then it’s curable, by using drugs.  If it isn’t treated, it can be fatal.

The problem is that pyometra can be hard to detect.  With an open pyo there may be a discharge.  But with a closed pyo there may not be any obvious signs.  A cat breeder I know only realised her queen had a pyo when she stopped eating.  Treatment for pyometra can be expensive.  And she may yet lose the kittens.

Your queen could also develop other infections that will involve veterinary intervention.  Sometimes, these infections can cause her to miscarry. 

Or your queen could absorb the kittens – this tends to happen early on during the gestation, but it is still a sad event and a disappointment.

I can’t place a figure on how much these bills are.  These are just expenses that cat breeders are prepared to accept.  So every time someone thinks that cat breeders are minting it, it’s good to bear in mind the fact that the money is there … for a rainy day.

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Mythicbells’ feline Pampers solves cat pee problems

18 February, 2011

Despite the zookeepers' efforts, Leo just wouldn't keep his nappies on ... (photo from http://www.theblogofrecord.com/tag/lion-spray-warning-at-the-san-diego-zoo/)

When my queen was in heat she had this delightful habit of announcing her availability by spraying the house with her cat pee. 

A breeder I know told me how her queens had spray that could reach 4 feet high.  She found out when she heard her daughter’s screams and found out that a dress she had hung up on had been annointed.

Research indicates that an average 10 lb cat will produce approximately 3.5 oz – 6.5 oz of urine in a 24 hr period.   That’s a lot of disaster potential for furniture and furnishings.  And a lot of cleaning.

So what’s the solution? 

Isolating the cat is one.  Most breeders who have stud cats have dedicated quarters for them.   But if you want to allow your cat to roam, a far better solution is to use cat diapers (aka stud pants).

Yes, that’s right, now you can give your cat the equivalent of feline Pampers so that it can roam the house and socialise with the family and other cats.

Mythicbells Stud Pants and Princess Panties

Stud pants are not a new invention. Versions already exist for dogs. The ones for cats tend to be based on a human diaper model, with standard sizes and velcro to hold it on.  While the intention was good, cats are not engineered like humans:  Picture yourself holding down a cat with one hand.  With the other hand, you’re trying trying to work a pair of panties in the wrong direction up its tail. Picture the cat squirming.  Now see yourself repeating this twice to three times a day.  See the velcro get balled up with fur.  Yes, quite.

These issues led Molly Barr of Mythicbells Persians to hunt for a better type of stud pants.  She found a photo of a pair on the internet that used a harness instead of velcro to hold the pants on.  However, because they were no longer being made she designed her own.  And because they worked so well, she was asked to share them by other cat owners.

Demo of putting on Mythicbells Stud Pants

Mythicbells stud pants are easier to put on because they have a buckle that fastens with a snap.  The waist is adjustable via a slider.  The pants can be lined with human incontinence pads or panty liners.  They are also made-to-order by a professional seamstress in snazzy material.  They are machine washable.

Photo from Mythicbells Persians

Please note that the effectiveness of stud pants will depend on the individual cat.  If your cat is a heavy hoser, than you may wish to consult Molly about whether these pants will work.  And if your cat doesn’t use the litter box to poo, then you’ll need the cat diaper version that fastens around the tail.

If you have any questions, Molly will be happy to answer them (persians@mythicbells.com).  Please also check out her page on stud pants.

This is a labour of love!  Any money from the sales of the stud pants will go towards covering the expense of producing them, and any leftover is donated to the cat charity The Cat House on the Kings.

[NB – stud pants are available only in domestic cat size!!!]