Raise all available eyebrows if a breeder tells you they never have fleas or diarrhoea. They should be willing to discuss these and other problems with you and advice on how to deal with them. Mind you, some of us can get annoyingly smug if we have avoided a summer flea plague when other breeders are struggling, but the odd flea crops up at some time or other however careful you are. Kittens often get the runs when their digestive systems are changing over from milk to meat, and some have a reaction to the immunisations. Breeders should also worm their cats regularly.
Maine Coons from responsible breeders should be sturdy healthy cats, and all pedigree cats should be a very much safer bet than moggy kittens or rescued cats. Nobody is perfect and neither are their cats, but breeders should be prepared to discuss what precautions they take against disease and genetic defects. Don't be afraid to ask for some sort of written comeback if a duff kitten slips through the net.
Make your own mind up about whether to believe a breeder who seem to never have any problems or one who is prepared to honestly discuss them.
Diseases which can be controlled by vaccinations are Feline infectious enteritis Feline viral rhinotracheitis, and Feline calicivirus, and all kittens must have these inoculations. Another very advisable vaccination is against Feline leukaemia, FELV which is now a major killer of pet cats and is caught from unprotected and feral cats. Once caught, it is incurable, and leads to a slow decline in most sufferers. Feline Chlamydia is less serious as it can be treated by drugs and is more of a problem to breeders with a number of breeding queens. The vaccination for this is not very effective and is not needed for most pets.
There are no effective vaccination against Feline AIDS (FIV) various forms of Herpes and a host of Coronaviruses. Feline infectious peritonitis is a type of Coronavirus and a DNA test for it is being developed. Antibody tests are available for FELV, FIV, Coronaviruses and some Herpes types, and all breeders should routinely test their cats for FELV and FIV, especially before matings. All queens visiting my studs need fresh blood tests. There are too many Herpesviruses and Coronaviruses to make testing realistic, but any breeder who has had a case of FIP should be willing to discuss it and what steps they have taken since.
Genetics is still an inexact science and has engendered many heated debates between breeders. Maine Coons are no more or less prone to problems affecting all pedigree cats, but these surface less often in Britain due to a general policy not to do much close line breeding (inbreeding).
It is a truism that the incidence of a problem is proportional to the degree of testing for it. Many Maine Coon breeders are aware of the extra loads carried by the bones of these large cats and that their body systems have to cope with supporting more that the average cat. They have taken responsible steps to make sure that the breed stays genetically healthier than smaller or more closely bred breeds.
Harmful genetic effects known to occur occasionally in Maines are Hip dysplasia, Patellar luxation, Cardiomyopathy and White linked deafness.
Unwanted benign genetic effects known include Polydactyly, Colourpoint colours (now rare) and Rex. These beign ones are more or less of a nuisance to breeders, but do not put cats which carry them at any disadvantage as pets.
Hip dysplasia is probably more common in all breeds than is realised. It may shows up more easily when present in large Maine Coons as the loads on the hip joints are much higher. If you have been winded by an eighteen pound cat launching itself from your stomach, you know what I mean. The thump from the back feet originally starts at the hip joint, where it is multiplied by the leverage effect of the leg muscles. Dysplasia is a malformation of the ball and socket jpint which can be very painful and crippling in badly affected cats. It can he diagnosed in large kittens and adults by X-ray, and any suspect breeding cats should have this test done. Look for sore hip joints, 'clicking' of joints or a 'Groucho Marx' walk.
A luxating patella, a moving kneecap, causes the knee to lock up and is more or less painful to the cat. I have one cuddly neuter who occasionally puts her right knee out and hobbles over to me, lies on her left side and asks me with a little "rrwaah" to click it back. If it was painful she is the sort of opinionated tortie to tell me all about it but it is probably just uncomfortable like my own left knee which also locks up from time to time. If luxation is severe it can be corrected by surgery, but an affected cat should not be used for breeding. (However, I have not been neutered)
Cardiomyopathy comes in two varieties, thickened heart walls and enlarged hearts. Neither can usually be detected till a kitten is nearly adult, by which time it is usually a loved pet. There are other heart disorders which should be looked for by a vet at the time of inoculations. They are rare but sometimes correctable by surgery. Kittens occasionally show a heart murmur which usually disappears as they grow, but a serious defect causes stunting of growth and an inactive kitten. My huge Max had a slight heart murmur when very young which soon disappeared and he is fit, healthy and well developed.
White linked deafness is a well known problem in a number of animals, but the cause is still to be identified. I have a theory which I am researching. It is not very common, running at about 10% in White Maines, with some lines of whites worse than others. All white cats must be tested by a Vet before they can be shown or used for breeding under CA/FIFe rules. More sensitive tests are available involving anaesthesising the cat and inserting electrodes under the head skin, but kittens over six weeks with deficient hearing can be identified at home by a number of tests.
Deaf kittens ride on the vacuum cleaner and mew at full volume. When testing for hearing deficiencies, you have to avoid giving any visual clues, What you are looking for is a kitten who can't hear as well as the others, doesn't respond to high pitched sounds or doesn't immediately turn its head towards the source of the sound. No kitten with any hearing loss has ever got past my battery of tests which start with tearing paper behind their heads and include pop music played through an earpiece.
When you buy a kitten, you should exchange written agreements to avoid any arguments over what was agreed at the time of sale. Expect to sign a promise to neuter all pets, and probably agree not to resell or rehome the kitten without reference to the breeder. Expect to receive some form of written redress in case the kitten is defective in addition to any insurance cover given.
My kittens leave having been checked twice by the vet, with a Certificate of inoculations, a signed pedigree, a two way Purchase agreement including a guarantee, a receipt, an insurance cover note, a booklet about kitten care, a toy and a hug. They are usually dual registered with the GCCF and CA/FIFe. Kittens which have a problem are rehomed at the nominal cost of immunisation.
tel: +44 (0)1760 560 392
fax: +44 (0)1769 560 541
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Copyright © 1997 David Brinicombe
Last updated Sept 04