You've got a box full of squeaking maggots squirming around a proud mum and want to know which are going to be worth showing or breeding from. How can you possibly tell at such a young age? Of course you can't, but in two weeks time you can start gathering real clues about the size they may finish up as adults. What! Two weeks? Yup.
The catch phrase with Maine Coons is "choose type over size", but I do like the biggies. A small Maine looks like another moggy, but nothing can compare with a magnificent large male. But how large is large? How do you measure a cat? Weight is easy to measure but how do you distinguish between a long skinny kitten and a small fat one? I reckon that weight is not the most fundamental way to measure size, and is not an accurate method of predicting their eventual size as adults.
I claim to be able to predict the eventual size of kittens before they are weaned, to within about an inch. This is perhaps a rather bold claim, and needs qualifying, but my system has turned up something quite remarkable about growth rates. What I do is compare the length of kittens against each other and, knowing what a similar litter did, I can make a surprisingly accurate guess at a kitten's eventual size as an adult. Measuring What?
Weighing is important, especially in the first weeks, but weight often fluctuates widely. I weigh kittens daily for the first two weeks and whenever they look off colour as part of general kitten care, but weights don't tell you how big kittens are going to grow to as cats. Frequently, some 'tinies' overtake what you thought was a confirmed 'biggie' when they wean, and the kittens with the lowest birth weights do not necessarily stay the lightest.
A Main Coon is a large cat, not a fat cat. You can get a short Tub of Lard weighing as much as a Magnificent Lean Machine. I shudder when I hear boasts of 30 pound cats of whatever breed, as that is just too much flab to carry around, even for a Maine. You should be able to feel the ribs but not the backbone for them to be in primal hunting condition. Anything over 10 kilos (22 lbs), and hips and backs can suffer.
So I decided to try measuring the lengths of my cats and kittens. But where do you measure them from, and to where? Have you ever tried measuring a kitten's body? If you hold it by the rump and shoulders, you can play it like a concertina. If you do this too much it begins to sound like a concertina. I tried laying them upside down to straighten their spines, which was quite easy to do, but was taken as a invitation to a hand fight. As I bathed the scratches with disinfectant, I was thinking of making a wooden measuring frame and then my wouldn't-hurt-a-fly Meddy gave me the solution.
Here's the "how to". Don't tug on the paws - they have to 'give' you the stretch themselves. But first beware of hip problems like hip dysplasia. A natural stretch will not hurt a kitten with normal hips, and handling kittens is important, especially with show cats, as they will be pulled, bounced and dangled on the Show Bench and need to get used to it.
You should be doing checks on hips in any case, taking any suspect sufferers to the Vet for a checkup. Kittens normally object to being held still for more than a few seconds unless very sleepy, but if gently drawing out their back legs causes pain, stop immediately. The hip joints should feel smooth and supple with no looseness, but if they are tender or swollen, they should be checked. Adult cats often react to being touched on their rumps, especially if entire, but this is different.
Kittens are usually easy to measure but you usually only get one chance. I stroke their legs out on a white board marked out with centimetre lines. It's easier when they're sleepy and you can make a game out of it. A grown cat often gets pompous and you have to make use of a spontaneous stretch, marking the points with objects other than the measuring rule you're about to use. You only need to measure the paw to paw (PTP) to the nearest centimetre, as errors average out on the chart.
If they don't oblige, you can usually persuade it to stretch in two goes, trying not to move their body while you stroke out the front then the back. Or you can check where the back legs come to on the tail and measure from there to the front stretch. It may be possible to use a different measurement, but the PTP is the only one I've found which works continuously from tiny to adult.
What does a PTP measurement tell you about a cat? Unlike its weight, the bone length is not going to change once it is an adult. If it is skinny but has thick bones and a good length, it should put on bulk and weight later and be a big cat in anybody's terms. This is the basis for predicting the eventual size of a young kitten.
A Maine should be rectangular in shape and with heavy bones, so take a good look at your kitten using a 'show stretch'. If it is not properly rectangular in shape, abandon the measurement as it it out of type. We are breeding chunky Arctic Hunters, not spiders, so the PTP length should come from the body, not the legs. Similarly, the build should be firm, with strong boning, otherwise a long PTP doesn't mean anything in terms of a big Maine Coon.
On the charts I have changed the scales twice in order to cram 6 months onto one page. This has caused some of the kinks in the dotted guide lines, the others being due to changing growth rates. The guide lines are only just a reference - remember you are comparing kitten with kitten on these charts.
I've plotted four kittens, Max, the biggest kitten I've had, his sister "Little Titch" and two males, Zarquon and Dent. The weight increases faster as they grow, but the growth in length slows up as they get bigger. This is because a centimetre of growth is easy to put on a kitten, but a centimetre on a big cat represents a lot more meat and bone. At about 18 months, they have put on all the length they will ever have, but males will continue to put on weight for another year or two.
When I'd plotted several charts, I made a startling discovery. The weight lines were all over the place, but the length lines were surprisingly regular. Even if the weight took a plunge, the length kept increasing. I don't normally do a PTP on kittens in their first two weeks as there is nothing to be learnt. Newborn kittens with different weights are all close to 20cms unless premature, and even those catch up quickly.
Surprisingly, even when the weights have been shooting up and down, the paw to paw lengths have been progressing steadily. Zarquon had a bad reaction to his vaccination at 12 weeks and lost weight, but kept on growing. What you soon see is a PTP line running alongside the dotted guide lines. Assuming this continues, you have the basis for an accurate prediction of final length.
The dotted guide lines are derived from several of my large 102 cm (40 ins) males. Large females are a bit shorter at 96 cms (38 ins) coming a little below the line. Other kittens may grow a little differently but if you compare your kittens with these guides, you have the basis for an accurate 6 month prediction.
What happens past six months? Surely it can't be that good? Well, it isn't, but it isn't that bad. Males and females start to spread apart about the 2 months mark, but the occasional huge female can follow the guide at least till 6 months, after which they get awkward. While males usually grow lengthways for 18 months, females can decide they're mature, call, and stop abruptly at any time from 8 months on. This is where knowledge of your breeding lines comes in. If your kittens come out differently, use those figures to make your prediction more accurate.
Time for estimations. Max and his sister are just over 8 months at the time of writing. At 12 months Zarquon was 99cms and at 15 months was 101cms and he will reach at least 102 cms full grown (40ins). An early prediction promised 88 cms at 6 months, (actual 89) but he kept on going and will pass his predicted adult size of 100 cms by about half an inch.
Dent at 4 weeks was on the guide line at 39cms. What did I predict for him? I estimated 89cms at 6 months from the chart and added 12cms giving 101 as a final length. (40 ins) At 6 months, he was 90cms, but at 18 months, he measured 100cms (39 1/2 ins). Was I within an inch as I said at the top?
"Little Titch" had been elbowed off the good teats by her big brothers but lost her nickname when she weaned early. She was 38cms at 4 weeks, made 69cms at 3 months, was about 86cms at six months, and will probably grace her new owners with a very respectable 95cms (37 1/2 ins) for a female, ie. a biggie. All predictable from her PTP at four weeks.
Max, meanwhile, was an astonishing 96cms at 6 months, and 104 cms at 8 months. I hope nature will slow him down a bit or I will have to diet him to avoid back trouble later on. I have a bad back and I wouldn't wish it on a cat. Max's mother is the largest female I know, and he may well beat his Dad, Batman, who is an estimated 108cms (42 1/2ins) long Magnificent Lean Machine.
I will finish with a strongly held hunch. I think that there is a genetic limit to the size of domestic cats which for Maine Coons comes out at about 108cms (42 1/2 ins). I'm sure I will hear to the contrary, but I would be very surprised if a properly rectangular Maine Coon can be found with a paw to paw stretch of 110cms. (43 1/2 ins).
What am I claiming in terms of actual Maine Coon cats? Two things - that at four weeks, you can make a good prediction of the eventual adult length; and that a cat's adult weight and size is linked to its paw to paw length as a young kitten. I predicted early on that Dent would be large but not huge and at 100cms and a lean 6 kilos (13 lbs) and still filling out, that is just what he is. Using the charts, you can look at your weaners in a new light and be a lot more confident in choosing possible show animals and advising new owners about their kittens.
For further enquiries:David Brinicombe
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