Monday, November 15, 2010

Cat Peeves

I've been reminded recently of those cat breeders who are less than desirable from a kitten buyer's perspective. A frequent complaint I hear from kitten seekers is outdated websites and failure to reply to kitten inquiries. However, few things get under my craw more than getting a phone call from a future or current Maine Coon owner who has had a negative encounter with a fellow breeder. While I can't name names, I often counsel prospective kitten buyers on what questions they should ask a breeder if I don't have a kitten for them. 

On the top of my cat peeve list are Maine Coon breeders who don't screen their breeding cats' hearts by ultrasound (or sonogram or echo-cardiogram, same thing). One upset person I spoke to referred to the breeder she'd gotten her kitten from as having cats that were "drop dead gorgeous", emphasis on the first two words. Maine Coon cats are certainly not the only cat to be subject to heart disease, but since we were the first breed that became part of a research project studying the heritability of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) in cats, we are often associated with the disease. Read more about HCM hereHCM affects many cats, pedigreed and not. It does seem to be hereditary, which is why responsible cat breeders (notice I didn't limit my statement to Maine Coon breeders) will have the hearts of their breeding cats echoed on a regular basis (one echo at a year of age isn't enough) to try to eliminate the disease from their lines. Copies of the echoes should be provided to the kitten buyer if requested.

A DNA test came out a few years ago which identifies one of the mutations (called cMyBP-C) responsible for HCM in the Maine Coon. A similar DNA test is also available specific to the Ragdoll breed. More such tests could become the norm if research funds were there. A cat who has been tested as homozygous negative (N/N) will not develop HCM from that particular mutation, nor will its offspring if it has been bred to a homozygous negative cat. It's a nice predictor, however, a DNA negative cat can still get HCM from other genetic mutations which don't have a reliable test yet. If you keep in mind that humans have over 1000 such mutation possibilities for heart disease, you see just how complex this can be.

Therefore, ultrasound performed by a board certified cardiologist familiar with Maine Coons is still the best screening device we have. Better yet is getting a kitten not only from recently echoed parents, but who also has several screened cats behind its pedigree. Still, it's no guarantee. Heart disease is complicated, but responsible breeders do the best they can with the information available and stand behind the kittens they sell. The worst phone call a breeder gets is the one from a buyer telling them the kitten they sold died at an early age. It's news we don't like to hear, but that we need to know for future generations. While HCM in an older cat isn't desirable, many factors play into the health of a geriatric feline so we focus on HCM in the young cats.

Excuses and claims I've heard from certain Maine Coon breeders regarding HCM:
  • Don't believe it's a valid test
  • Can't afford to test
  • It's not in my lines
  • All of our kittens have their hearts checked by our veterinarian (a vet listening to a kitten's heart does not qualify as HCM screening, it just detects heart murmurs)
  • All our cats are DNA negative, therefore they will never get HCM (see above explanations on DNA testing)
  • No matter what you've heard, none of our cats have ever died of HCM (and if you say otherwise we will sue you in court)
  • The cardiologist told me that my cats' hearts were so perfect that I shouldn't waste my money by continuing to test them. 
Other areas in which potential kitten buyers may need to beware:
  • Cats and kittens in the U.S. should be registered in one or more of the major cat associations such as CFA, TICA, CFF or ACFA. Beware of non-legit cat registries that only require photos of the cat to determine its breed.
  • Breeders who don't allow kitten buyers to visit the kittens in their home, but want to meet the buyer offsite or ship instead.
  • Breeders that seem to have a hard time selling their kittens while still actively breeding their cats. "We couldn't sell these kittens, so we just kept them." The Maine Coon is a very popular breed so there's little excuse in the United States for having a litter of four or five-month-old kittens hanging around. Exception: breeders may keep a couple of kittens to see how they develop or show in order to decide which one(s) stays with them.
  • Breeders who say negative things about other breeders and their cats. 
  • Breeders who contractually require you feed a certain diet to your kitten, sometimes to their own personal benefit (i.e. ordering a cat food online from which they will receive a cut of the profit). By the way, this kind of contractual agreement is NOT legal according to the attorney I sleep with. 
  • A breeder who doesn't know how to properly spell or pronounce the name of their cat's breed. It's Maine Coon, with an "e" on the end, as in the state of Maine, up there next to the Canadian border, not "Man Coon" or "Main Coon".
  • Breeders who can't tell the difference between male and female kittens. Sometimes it's confusing in newborns, but after two weeks of age a cat breeder should be able to determine the genders of their kittens.
  • Breeders who don't know enough about color genetics or the proper name for a certain color.  A knowledgeable breeder should know the color possibilities before a litter is born. Granted, most average cat owners don't know or care about how their cat inherited its color or pattern, but it still annoys me. Case in point, a Maine Coon pet owner once told me he'd paid $100 more for his kitten because the breeder informed him it was a rare "buff" color. Um, do you mean it was a cream tabby, the dilute expression of a red tabby? I get cream tabby kittens all the time. Pretty cats, but not pretty rare.

Bonnie and Clyde, two cream classic tabbies (not buff)


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  3. I wish I had had this information several years ago! This is a MUST READ for anyone desiring a Maine Coon. Anyway, I am thrilled with my now 7 month MCC females, bought from a reputable breeder. Thank you for your excellent advice you gave me way back in July when I was one of those annoying people emailing you after my 8 yr old died suddenly of HCM and I complained about a past breeder (a mistake I will never make again!).

  4. I had a deposit on a kitten 2 1/2 years ago. Kitten already born. So excited. Did a little research and found the breeder had a cat in MY KTTENS LINE that tested positive fir HCM. I told the breeder who said she would have my kitten tested. Amazingly, the very NEXT day she said the kitten had been echo-ed and was fine. I told my vet who said..send the report to me. I called the breeder who said quote...."I can see you're going to ge a problem. I'm refunding your deposit." imagine....I was the problem. She returned my deposit and I'm sorry there wasn't anyone to report her to. My vet said she was irresponsible to ever breed the dat who carried HCM anyway.

  5. Dear Anonymous,

    I'm so glad you knew enough to question the breeder and catch her in her lie. Even if the kitten had been echoed as the breeder claimed, it would have likely tested normal at that age. HCM often doesn't show up until after age 2 in Maine Coons.

    How did you find out about the HCM in your kitten's lines? Was the disease in a parent or further back in the pedigree?

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  7. I have a Maine Coon. He has seal points. He is beautiful and perfectly acceptable in my American Home.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      I'm sure your cat is very beautiful, but I have to ask if he is a true, registered Maine Coon or just a big, long-haired cat. The registries won't accept seal pointed for the breed. Perhaps he more closely resembles the Ragdoll breed.

  8. Again, so true what you write!

  9. I support all what you write except the fact that a good cat breeder should not have 5 month old kittens in their house. We do all the right things and screen our potential kitten buyers very good and we breed since 9 years but find it still difficult to sell our kittens. The situation you describe can be true in the US but certainly not in Belgium. It gets harder and harder to find the right owners for my kittens.

  10. Point taken. I was speaking from my own experience living on the east coast of the US. I'm sure breeders in different areas may have a harder time finding qualified homes. I wish I could send you some of my kitten inquiries.

  11. Wonderful essay, Sharon. I agree whole heartedly with everything you said. I have always instructed potential kitten buyers on this (and more) health information, and send them copies of the documents showing the parents' DNA testing on HCM, SMA and PKDef, as well as copies of the most recent ultra-sound results on each parent, when they leave with their new kitten. I tell them "Give this to your vet. He/She will be pleasantly surprised," and unfortunately, that's always the case. One addition to the list of excuses some "breeders" give is, "The test only shows the health (or the condition of the heart) at that instant in time." Though in the case of the ultra-sound this may be true, this is the best we can do, and we should always do our best. If any kitten buyer ever calls me with bad news, Gd forbid, I would want to know I had done EVERYTHING I could, every test available to me, to have prevented it. Hats off to you for putting it all out there! Judy Friedman, Coons'Kin Cat Maine Coons