Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Kittens

I knew Cassie could have kittens any day last week, with Day 63 of gestation falling on November 24th, Thanksgiving Eve. Historically, Cassie has been my least reliable breeder so the fact that she was even pregnant was momentous for me.  She is a cat that never seemed to cycle, but managed to go into heat when I sent her out to a friend's stud just to see if anything happened.  In the beginning, I would room her with Bugger, in case she was having silent heats, figuring he would be able to detect what I couldn't see or hear from a normal cat in heat.  Not all cats howl when in heat, but an experienced eye notices behaviors like increased vocalization, affection, and the tell-tale sign of her rear in the air, tail to the side (did you notice I used three different spellings of the same word in that sentence?).  If unsure, normally stroking her near the base of the tail brings forth the posturing known as lordosis behavior in which her back becomes concave.  This is kind of like the effect that high heels have on an upright mammal trying to look sexy.  A woman wears her FMP's*, looks good, her rear sticks out, she can't walk very fast and her feet hurt, but the men come a running just like a tom cat.

But I digress.  Normally I wouldn't keep a cat like Cassie in my breeding  program, but her personality and type (meaning a good physical example of the Maine Coon standard) are something I'd like to reproduce, especially her personality.  I've blogged before about Cassie and have declared from the time I got her that she would always stay with us, if not as a breeder, then as a pet.  She has only had one viable litter and Cassie is three-years-old.  In order to keep my numbers down, all other females who retire from breeding are placed in pet homes after being spayed.  Cassie is so demonstrative with her affection that she will jump from the floor into the arms of strangers, she reaches up to be picked up like a small child, she is just....special.   Her only fault is that she gets terribly carsick so her show career got cut short after I spent an hour cleaning poop out of her fur at a show.  Her other fault is that she has had a hard time conceiving kittens. 

This Thanksgiving, the kids were at their dad's house so Jay and I had invited friends over to celebrate.  We couldn't go anywhere because of Cassie's expected delivery.  I slept little the night before Thanksgiving, waking up every couple of hours to make sure Cassie wasn't in labor.  That morning, she acted like she was content to stay pregnant forever, ate breakfast and tried to sneak out of our bedroom several times.  Jay and I got busy cleaning and cooking.  An hour or so later, I came into our room to find Cassie and her newly delivered kitten on the rug. 

I yelled out the door to Jay, "We're having kittens!" so he'd know why I suddenly disappeared.  Of course I should thank Cassie for getting me out of the bulk of the cleaning as Jay finished it.  That's right ladies, my husband finished cleaning the house, changed the litter boxes and cooked the turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes while I sat on the floor and waited for kittens. 

The first three kittens arrived quickly then labor seemed to stop.  She had looked like she was carrying five so I expected more.  I palpated Cassie's sides and felt at least one head.  After an hour, I suspected we may have a stillborn as a dead kitten doesn't release the natural oxytocin to stimulate contractions.  I gave Cassie a shot of oxytocin to help things along, something I'd never do unless a cat had already delivered a kitten so I knew her cervix was fully dilated.  Some breeders think that when it takes a kitten a long time to deliver and the result is a dead kitten that it was killed by the delay in the birth canal.  My vet explains it differently.  The birth canal is very short, shorter than the length of the kitten. The delay in birth is more likely caused by the lack of enough oxytocin necessary to produce strong contractions.  Obviously, all the kittens need to come out or the mother could develop an infection.  Sure enough, the fourth kitten was stillborn, its cause of death was gastroschism, an unfortunately occasional birth defect we see when the abdominal wall doesn't completely close up before birth. 

I still felt another hard head yet to be delivered and Cassie's contractions were sporadic and unproductive.  Fearing the worst, I gave her another shot of oxytocin after waiting 30 minutes.  Nothing.  Contractions every 5 minutes or so, but that's not frequent enough to produce a kitten.  Not wanting to push the man-made oxytocin, I decided to help Jay downstairs and revisit Cassie in another hour.  I considered calling my vet, but hesitated because I didn't want to disrupt her Thanksgiving preparation.  My guests were on their way and received regular play-by-play on the delivery.  They were hoping to watch the birth and the way things were going, they may just get that opportunity.  I should mention that my guests were also cat breeders and Cassie fans so they were naturally intrigued.  Only cat breeders and midwives can talk placentas and amniotic fluid while eating and not lose their appetites. 

After peeling the sweet potatoes and putting them into the Crockpot, I checked on Cassie.  Bingo!  She had just delivered another kitten on her own and she was a live squirmy little thing, born about 2 hours after the rest of her littermates.  Further palpatation revealed that Cassie was finished with the hard part.

Now that I knew we had four live babies, I could critique them.  Cassie is a ticked torbie, meaning she lacks the classic or mackeral stripes on her body like the traditional Maine Coon.  I'm not crazy about the ticked pattern, but it does look pretty on a silver or a red as the cats resemble a fox's coloring.  To me, most of the brown ticked tabbies look like mud.  Well, the whole litter is ticked.  With the exception of the blue ticked girl, their coloring is akin to watered down chocolate, like a Yoohoo chocolate drink.  As their coats come in, these kittens should be beautiful warm brown ticked tabbies.  See the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers site for examples of the ticked tabby Maine Coons in different colors.  My current plan is keep a female, ticked or not, so I at least have a Cassie daughter to carry on that winning personality. 

Thanksgiving Day Litter

Coming up with call names for a litter born on Thanksgiving Day, names like Pilgrim, Pocahontas, Chief Powhatan, John Smith, etc. were suggested.  However, most of them sounded masculine and I had 3 girls to name.  So I focused on the word "thanks" and my guests helped with the translation into various foreign languages; Spasibo (Russian) for the one male, Gracias (Spanish), Danke (German), and Merci (French) for the girls.  

Cassie Cleans Up Her New Kittens

*FMP - initials for F... Me Pumps


  1. A woman wears her FMP's*, looks good, her rear sticks out, she can't walk very fast and her feet hurt, but the men come a running just like a tom cat.

    It sounds very romantic. In retrospect, I am sure Jay now realizes one of the early signs that you would become a cat breeder.

  2. Great post! I have a question though. You said that you will keep one of Cassie's females because you want to carry on that winning personality. Will you be able to tell this early if the kitten will have that same personality as the mom? More importantly, as a breeder, do you see the parents' personality passed on to their kids a lot, or is it just more or less luck? I'm curious what part genetics play in the cat's personality I guess....

  3. Dear Anonymous,

    I've found (and read) that much of a kitten's personality is due to genetics. A kitten may take after one parent or the other (or even a grandparent), even down to certain behaviors like jumping up on people. However, that personality often doesn't show up until the kitten has become a cat so sometimes it is hard to predict.

  4. That's very interesting to know! Thanks for answering my question.