When I first decided I wanted to begin my breeding program, I went through PawPed's list of recommended reading for new breeders and ordered just about every book I could find. My favorite was and still is Breeding Purebred Cats by Anne S Moore. Though sorely outdated, (published in 1981!) I just love her straightforward writing style. I will always remember reading the paragraph in which she stated that the average breeder lasts less than three years. "What!?" I thought.... "That will not be me!"
...Anne then goes on to describe in plain language just what kind of challenges one can expect to experience when starting and continuing with a breeding program, and let me tell you....these challenges are not for the faint of heart. While I can say with great gratitude that the number of challenges we've experienced thus far have been minimal and manageable, I know this is not the case for most. And I'm not complacent or foolish enough to expect that we won't come up against some of those harder challenges in the future. It just happens. What I have learned from the bumps in the road we've encountered so far, is that you can either become discouraged and throw in the towel, or take the experience and learn from it, apply the knowledge you collect, and hopefully foresee and avoid having those things happen in the future.
Take for example, feline social behaviors. For a person to go from an entire lifetime of having neutered/spayed cats only, to suddenly dealing with the hormones of intact cats and all that comes with that...that is hard. In some ways we were really fortunate to have begun our breeding program with a "proven" adult stud, a male who already knew how to successfully "get the job done." (This makes breeding seem easy! It makes you think you can just plan your litters to the day and expect the cats to cooperate...in reality that's not always the case, as we're finding out with Aspen and Remi) So on the one hand that was awesome, and our first stud was a sweet, experienced boy...who unfortunately did not get along at all well with any of our other cats except Dusty. Through absolutely no fault of his own, his hormonal nature caused him to develop extreme territorial aggression, which can be very dangerous not only to other cats but to any bystanding humans, dogs, etc. So there we learned a lesson, and I'm happy to say that he's now happily retired from breeding and, now that his hormones have dissipated, he gets on quite well with the other cats he lives with, and even likes dogs. Lots of experienced gained for us! You learn, and you grow. Or at least you should.
We've been tremendously blessed not to have had any serious health issues come up within our cattery. I have heard SO MANY horror stories from breeder friends, and with each one I try to listen very carefully to what caused the problem, so we can hopefully avoid going down the same scary road.
So when I say we hit a "rough patch" on this litter, what I mean is it's something new we've never dealt with before, don't have a super clear idea of *why* we're dealing with it, and it's taking longer than I want to get it all resolved.
So many of you were so supportive on Instagram a couple days ago when I had "a doozie of a morning" and Rory was hanging out with me trying to make it better. I'll back up a bit so you have an idea of what life can be like for a breeder....
A few weeks ago - the night we got home from the big cat show in Tucson - we immediately noticed that something was not right with Dusty and the kittens. Dusty's bag was extremely swollen and red, starting to develop a mild form of mastitis. The kittens were throwing up what looked like cottage cheese - sour milk from Dusty coming into heat and having a sudden hormonal surge that affected her milk supply. Now, I've raised and been around a lot of litters of kittens, but I have *never* seen that before. When Dusty's come into heat while nursing previous litters, this did not happen. I looked up the symptoms in my feline medical textbooks, and could find nothing definitive, so I started looking through old posts in online forums and contacting other breeders. Piece by piece it seemed to come together...the symptoms I was seeing were from a rare condition loosely termed "milk sickness" which does not seem to have ever been discussed in any veterinary journals that I could find, but is a known occurrence within the breeding community. Because I've seen the same thing happen in calves and foals, it made sense to me that this was the answer. (In livestock, we say they "scour" on mama's milk...basically it poisons them a bit and they get diarrhea, may vomit, and can dehydrate or die.) My vet agreed this had to be the case. Anyway the point is, when we got home and saw what was happening, we immediately turned around and drove 30 minutes into town and picked up some Clavamox for Dusty, which my amazing vet was sweet enough to drive over to the clinic and put out for us to grab. Her bag cleared right up and she has been perfectly fine ever since. The kittens, on the other hand......
After piecing together stories from other breeders who had experienced milk sickness in their kittens, the common thread I kept hearing was a tendency for these kittens to have very sensitive digestive systems for some time after the initial illness has passed. Even after weaning from mama and going straight to solid food, it's common for them to continue to have food sensitivities, varied appetites, diarrhea, etc until the bad bacteria or whatever it is has passed out of their systems, which can take a few weeks or months. NOT what I wanted to hear! But sadly that does seem to be the case for these guys. They'd have a few days of perfectly normal stools and no throwing up, then overnight they'd all start up again. I've had PCR and fecal floats done and found no sign of contagious elements...that combined with the fact that Dusty, Konah, and Aspen have not been sick at all even though they've been in contact with the kittens, confirms in my mind that there is a localized intestinal issue that they are experiencing. That and the fact that they all act *perfectly fine* all the time and PLAY PLAY PLAY constantly, have zero discharge in the eyes/nose....yeah...their poor little bellies are just taking their sweet time healing, but I have no reason to suspect anything other than that.
So if posts have been low over the past month, it's probably because I've been so busy cleaning litter boxes three times a day, bathing kittens, cleaning up carpet messes, and boiling turkey for these guys to eat, that pictures for Instagram are pretty low on the to-do list. On the aforementioned "doozie of a morning" we woke up to find that several little somebodies (and Remi) had apparently had a very violent reaction to their supper and decorated the majority of the living room carpet with much nastiness...... Yeah.... Meowmy kinda had a meltdown.... It wasn't so much the mess, (although yes, we did decide to immediately replace the carpet with hard flooring, thank you Cowboy for being so understanding and also very handy at house projects) but I just felt so helpless... I've been trying so hard to get them all straightened out and then that happened and I just kept saying, "I don't know how to fix it," and I hate that feeling! Finally though, after chatting with several other breeder friends and our vet, we were able to figure out a few things that will hopefully get them all feeling better soon and even more hopefully with no residual issues. Stronger probiotics, specialized food for sensitive tummies, and wormer all around. Hooray hurrah. It's been a roller coaster and these guys are supposed to start going to their new homes next week, but we'll just see how they're feeling. Poor babies :-(
Today I had a good laugh and thought how completely prepared Cowboy and I both are for the "bodily fluids" portion of parenting....we've certainly had more than enough experience and hopefully will be completely unphased by at least that one thing when Little Mister comes along :-D
If you stuck around to read this whole thing...WOW. Kudos. You get a gold star!
Thanks for the love, guys. Hope you and your fur babies are all healthy and happy starting off 2017!