We have the following articles of interest ready for you:
Maine Coon, America's Native Longhair - by Mike and Trish
Simpson, Cheeptrills Maine Coons. A presentation of our wonderful breed,
the history, appearance and personality of the Maine Coon Cat.
Cats and Queens - by Mary L. Daniels. An interesting story about
a possible connection between Marie Antoinette of France and the Maine
Coon Cats in the USA.
to Find a Maine Coon Kitten - by Cat Moody, Stormwatch Maine
Coons. Lots of advice for the aspiring kitten buyer, about health,
breeders, ethics, cost, showing and much more.
4. Care, Health,
and Safety - by Trish Simpson, Cheeptrills Maine Coons. Once you
get a kitty, here's a lot of advice on how to care properly for it.
Guidelines for Maine Coon Breeders - by Mary D. McCauley, D.V.M.
- Kenland Maine Coon Cats. Read about parasites, genetic disorders,
breeding and other points of veterinary interest.
by Mary D. McCauley, D.V.M. - Kenland Maine Coon Cats
Testing | Vaccination
Disorders | Breeding
All newly acquired kittens and cats should be
isolated from other kittens and cats for a period of four weeks to be
observed for signs of illness. Toward the end of this isolation period,
the kittens/cats should be tested for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and
feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV); this is accomplished by a simple
blood test. Kittens/cats which test positive for either or these viruses
should have follow-up testing and must be kept in strict isolation pending
the outcome of confirmatory or follow-up tests. Both of these viruses are
contagious (FeLV more so than FIV), incurable and ultimately fatal,
although cats can live with FIV for quite a long period of time with good
veterinary care (up to several years). It is imperative that these viruses
be kept out of a breeding cattery.
Ideally, both studs and queens
should be tested for FeLV and FIV before each breeding when the cats have
different owners or reside in different households. If a stud is used
frequently, then testing at least twice a year is recommended. All queens
should be tested before each outside breeding, and once a year
Blood testing for feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is
not highly specific for this viral disease; however, if an antibody test
is performed in a cat which appears healthy, then a negative result is
probably meaningful (i.e., the cat has not been exposed to feline
coronaviruses). A positive result on a blood antibody test may indicate
exposure to a related but not life-threatening virus, feline enteric
coronavirus, (FECV) or may indicate that the cat could have feline
infectious peritonitis. Research is ongoing in this very important area.
FIP can only be definitively diagnosed by histopathology (microscopic
examination of suspicious tissue) from tissue obtained by exploratory
surgery or necropsy (post-mortem examination). However, a high and rising
FIP titer along with other clinical signs of this disease does suggest
that a cat has this incurable and fatal illness.
The minimum recommended
vaccination protocol includes vaccination against feline panleukopenia
(feline distemper), feline calicivirus, and feline herpesvirus (a "3-way
vaccine") at 9 and 12 weeks of age. Vaccination beginning at 6 weeks of
age is strongly recommended. If a cattery has had an outbreak of either
calicivirus or herpesvirus, then the use of an intranasal vaccine against
these two viruses is strongly recommended at 3 weeks of age, with 3- or
4-way vaccination begining at 6 weeks. Vaccination against chlamydia,
which also causes upper respiratory disease, is recommended if needed (it
is included in "4-way" feline vaccines); however, the immunity produced
against chlamydia is shorter than for the other upper respiratory
diseases, and should be boostered at 6 month intervals for maximum
effectiveness. There are products available with contain only the
chlamydia vaccine, which could be used for this purpose if needed. At this
time, I recommend annual boosters for 3-way vaccinations in cattery
situations, although studies are underway to determine the actual
duration of immunity. For the usual neutered or spayed pet cat that
lives strictly indoors, and either individually or in small groups,
after the cat is boostered at approximately 1 year of age, boosters for
the core vaccines should be continued every 3 years under recently
published American Association of Feline Practitioner guidelines. The core
vaccines are defined as those vaccines against panleukopenia (feline
distemper), calici virus, and herpes virus. The AAFP also recommends
rabies vaccination every 3 years (using a product licensed specifically
for every three year use, not an annual rabies vaccine) where
required by law. Please note that the Canadian Veterinary Medical
Association has not adopted any changes in its vaccine protocol
recommendations, since the risk of vaccine-associated fibrosarcoma is low,
the risk of infectious disease is unknown, and the fact that feline
immunity duration statistics come from titers, not from disease challenge
studies. The CVMA warns that veterinarians are liable for off-label
vaccine use (i.e., using vaccines labeled for annual use only every three
years). This issue is probably several years away from being decided
Queens should be boostered 2-3 weeks or more before
breeding. Pregnant queens should never be vaccinated with a
modified live vaccine; however, if a pregnant queen is very overdue for
her annual booster vaccination, then an all-killed 3-way vaccine should be
given at mid-gestation (about 3-4 weeks before her due date). This will
allow her to have good antibody levels in her blood and also in her
colostrum once the kittens are born.
There are a variety of feline
leukemia vaccines available which are both safe and effective, however,
not all are equally effective. Vaccination against feline leukemia is
optional and not medically necessary in a completely closed cattery which
isolates and screens all incoming kittens and cats for FeLV (and FIV) as
described above. However, it does provide an additional measure of
protection in catteries that provide or receive outside stud service.
Vaccination against FeLV does not substitute for diligent testing,
If a cattery houses any breeding cats outdoors, or owns
any other cats which are indoor/outdoor pets, then FeLV vaccination is
recommended. These cats are at risk because they are potentially exposed
to free-roaming cats of unknown FeLV status, and FeLV could be transmitted
through repeated contact with an infected cat through a wire enclosure.
The first vaccination is at 9 weeks or older, with an initial booster 3
weeks later. Annual boosters are recommended for cats at risk. A blood
test for FeLV is strongly recommended before vaccination; it is not
harmful to vaccinate a FeLV-positive cat, but it won't help either, and
may lead to a false sense of security.
There is no vaccine
available at this time against FIV. Fortunately, this virus is the least
contagious, generally requiring either contact with infected blood (i.e.,
fighting) or from sex. Outdoor, indoor/outdoor, and breeding cats are at
greatest risk. It is related to the human AIDS virus (HIV), but is
absolutely not transmissible to humans.
There is an FDA-approved
intranasal vaccine on the market at this time against FIP (Primucell). It
is thought to be safe, although its effectiveness is widely questioned in
the veterinary medical community, and its routine use is not recommended
by most veterinarians. Another drawback to this vaccine is that its use
does create antibodies which will show up on the routinely used (but not
highly specific) blood screening test for FIP, so a positive result in a
vaccinated cat is very difficult to interpret.
There is also a
vaccine available which may help in the treatment of dermatophytosis,
commonly called ringworm (Microsporum canis, a fungus). The
organism that most commonly causes ringworm is a fungus which is highly
contagious, and is shared among cats, dogs, and humans. There are other
species of fungus which can also cause ringworm, and this vaccine would
not be helpful in such cases. Definitive diagnosis is made by culturing
hair samples from suspected cats; however, ringworm has a fairly typical
appearance and can be presumptively diagnosed by your veterinarian based
on the appearance of the skin lesions. The vaccine does not prevent
ringworm, but it appears to improve the immune response of affected cats
and allow them to recover and clear the fungus somewhat faster than
unvaccinated cats. Ringworm often requires aggressive, long-term treatment
which may include a combination of topical dips, oral medication,
disinfection and vaccination.
Rabies vaccination may be required
for kittens and cats in some states, counties and cities. It is also
required in some states even for kittens and cats being shown from out of
state. Rabies is extremely uncommon in exclusively indoor cats since they
must be bitten by another rabid animal in order to contract this disease.
Depending on what part of the country you live in, rabies may be prevalent
in raccoons, foxes, skunks, coyotes and/or bats. Indoor/outdoor cats and
cats housed outdoors should be vaccinated against rabies even if not
required by law, except in Hawaii and in some rabies-free foreign
countries in which such vaccination is not performed. Rabies is a public
health issue since humans contract this disease from domestic and wild
animals. It is invariably fatal in animals, and can be fatal in humans if
they are not treated before symptoms appear. At present, there are more
reported cases of rabies in cats than in dogs.
is very important to keep indoor kittens and cats free from internal and
external parasites. Of the internal parasites, tapeworms are the easiest
to identify (the proglottids, or egg packets, look like rice grains, and
when "fresh" are mobile) and the most common species in cats is
transmitted by fleas. Control of tapeworms involves oral medication plus
flea eradication, or the cats will become reinfected. Roundworms and
hookworms are rare in indoor catteries, but if there is a problem, it is
readily controlled with oral medication.
External parasites include
fleas, ear and body mites. Not all ear infections involve ear mites; a
simple microscopic exam of an ear swab by your veterinarian can detect ear
mites or their eggs, if present. Body or mange mites are fortunately
uncommon in cats, especially indoor cats. Ear and body mites are generally
easily treated in cats.
Fleas are widespread througout the U.S.,
and are a year-round problem in the southern states. Fleas are the most
common cause of allergic dermatitis in cats, carry one common species of
tapeworm, and severe infestations can cause anemia and even death in young
kittens. Indoor catteries, even those with no dogs in the household, are
not guaranteed to be free of fleas. Flea control involves treating the
cats, the house, and often the yard. A full discussion of the scope of
flea control products is beyond the scope of this Advisory. In general,
however, one should avoid shampoos or other products unless they are
specifically labeled for use in cats; dogs can tolerate many products
which cats cannot. Pyrethrin (a marigold extract) products are among the
safest and most effective products to use on cats to kill adult fleas.
Insect growth regulators greatly improve the effectiveness of flea
treatment, and include methoprene (Precor) and fenoxycarb, found in some
flea "bombs" and sprays, as well as lufeneron (Program); Program is
available as an oral monthly product or as an injection lasting for 6
months. Newer topical prescription products like Advantage and Frontline
are very effective at killing adult fleas, and a single dose works for
about one month. Proban, an oral product designed for use in dogs, had
been used in cats "off label" for many years; however, there are now
better and safer products which are label-approved for cats, including
Program, Advantage and Frontline. More "natural" ways to control fleas
include borax or diatomaceous earth treatments, and citrus-based shampoos.
Dips, because they are designed to leave a residual chemical on the coat,
are less safe for cats than for dogs, and must be used with caution. All
flea products should be used exactly according to label
Cats are also susceptible to heartworm disease. Cases
of feline heartworm disease have been identified in 38 states. The
immature larvae of this parasite are carried by mosquitos, and while much
more common in dogs than in cats, can infect cats with serious
consequences including sudden death. In areas where canine heartworm
disease is very prevalent, it may also be worthwhile to consider monthly
heartworm prevention for cats. Mosquitos do gain indoor access, and
heartworm disease has been diagnosed in strictly indoor cats. Treatment of
this disease in cats is not as safe or effective as in dogs.
Maine Coon cats are unfortunately subject to at
least two serious genetic (hereditary) disorders, hip dysplasia (HD) and
hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). The precise gene(s) for these disorders
have not yet been identified, but research is ongoing in the hope that
both affected cats and carriers can be identified at an early
At present, hip dysplasia is best identified by x-rays of the
hips. Hip dysplasia is a developmental abnormality of the hip joint.
Preliminary hip x-rays should be taken at approximately 8-12 months of
age, before a cat is first used for breeding. Final hip x-rays should be
taken at 24 months of age. Certification by the Orthopedic Foundation for
Animals (OFA), a panel of board-certified veterinary radiologists, is
recommended. Copies of the OFA evaluation, regardless of the result,
should also be sent to the cat's breeder. Only cats with hips graded fair
or better (good, excellent) should be used for breeding. Cats which have
been identified as having any grade of hip dysplasia must not be used for
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a disorder in which the
heart muscle becomes abnormally thick and decreases the effectiveness of
the heart, eventually resulting in heart failure and/or embolism (blood
clots). It can be diagnosed by echocardiography (cardiac ultrasound
examination) which should be performed and interpreted by a
board-certified veterinary cardiologist. Some affected cats and kittens
have an audible heart murmur, while others do not, so the absence of a
heart murmur is not definitive evidence that a kitten or cat is normal. It
is recommended that an initial echocardiogram be performed before a cat is
bred for the first time, and that another one be performed at
approximately two years of age. This disease is treatable, but can result
in sudden death in older kittens and young adult cats. Sudden death in
breeding cats or kittens should be investigated by necropsy (post-mortem
examination) performed by either your regular veterinarian or a veterinary
Deafness is a concern with solid white cats of all
breeds, including Maine Coon cats. Deafness is associated with the
dominant W gene which produces the solid white phenotype. Approximately
60% of all solid white longhaired cats are deaf. Deafness is somewhat more
likely in blue-eyed or odd-eyed whites, but on an absolute numerical basis
there are more deaf green- or gold-eyed whites than any other eye color.
The absence or presence of a colored spot on a kitten's head does not
indicate at all whether that kitten is more or less likely to be deaf.
Deaf cats should not be used for breeding. Solid white to solid white
breedings should not be done since this further increases the likelihood
of producing deaf kittens. It is also suspected that solid white to "with
white" (i.e., tabby with white, bicolor) breedings also increase the
probability of producing deaf white kittens.
There are many excellent
resources providing detailed information on kitten rearing and husbandry.
A queen should not be bred until she is at one year of age unless she has
had at least two estrus cycles (heats). Under no circumstances should a
female kitten under 8 months of age be intentionally bred. Male kittens
may be potent and physically able to breed as early as 5 months of age,
although intentional use as a stud should not begin before 8 months of
age. Queens should not be bred more often than twice a year unless one or
more of the litters are very small (1-2 kittens). Queens who have large
litters should be given proportionately more reproductive rest. Ideally,
studs should have brief periods of reproductive rest in between queens
(approximately one week).
For testing and vaccination
recommendations with respect to breeding, see the appropriate sections
The normal gestation period for cats is 63-70 days, with
63-67 being more usual. The gestation period is counted from the first day
of breeding. Pregnant queens should be fed a high quality diet, preferably
a kitten/growth formula, during gestation and lactation. Vitamin or
calcium supplementation is neither necessary nor desirable for cats eating
a commercially available feline diet, and may in fact contribute to the
problem it is hoped to prevent (eclampsia). However, supplemental feeding
of a small amount of cottage cheese or plain yogurt is safe and
acceptable. Feeding a predominantly dry diet is probably more practical
and comfortable for late-term and nursing queens, since it is much more
nutritionally dense than canned food.
A queen's body temperature
drops 1-2 degrees (often to 100 degrees or lower) in the 24 hours
immediately before parturition (birth). A queen needs to be provided with
an isolated, quiet, warm and clean environment in which to have her
kittens. It is strongly recommended that breeders isolate queens within a
week before birth, and keep them and their kittens isolated from the rest
of the household/cattery cats until 3 months of age. Ideally, each litter
should be isolated from other litters to the maximum extent
Disposable bed/chair pads designed for use in human
incontinence are ideal to line the queening box. Two or three layers of
these pads may be placed on top of each other, and removed as needed to
minimize disturbing the queen and kittens during the first hours of life.
There should be one placenta for every kitten delivered, and the queen may
eat none, a few, or all of these. The queen should break the sac which
encloses each kitten immediately after birth, begin licking the kitten
vigorously (especially the face/head), and then bite through the umbilical
Human intervention is required if the queen fails to do this
(most commonly with first-time mothers); the sac may be broken with clean
hands, and the mucus/fluid wiped from the kitten's face and body with a
clean washcloth or towel. The cord may be cut with sterilized scissors
(using ordinary rubbing/isopropyl alcohol), leaving about 1/2-3/4"
attached to the kitten. Do not tug or pull on the umbilical cord;
excessive pressure can create an umbilical hernia.
The stump of
the umbilical cord should then immediately have Betadine (tamed povidone
iodine) solution or gel placed on it; the gel remains on the stump longer.
It is safe for the queen to lick this off, although it should be reapplied
as needed until the stump dries (usually about 24 hours). Betadine should
be applied whether the queen or the breeder breaks the umbilical cord to
help prevent infection of the umbilicus.
Kittens should be kept
warm, clean and dry. They cannot regulate their body temperature like
adults until several weeks of age. However, a heating pad is generally not
necessary for kittens raised indoors at comfortable, draft-free room
temperature; the queen's body heat is generally sufficient to keep the
litter warm. If a heating pad must be used, it should be kept on its
lowest setting with a heavy layer of towels on top to help diffuse the
heat, and the queen must be able to remove the kittens if the queening box
becomes too hot. Heating pads must be checked often to ensure that they
are not overheating.
The queen's vaginal discharge (lochia) should
not persist more than 2-3 days, and should not have a foul odor. A queen
which shows any sign of illness (lethargy, poor appetite, fever,
dehydration, hot, hard and swollen mammary glands, etc.) should
immediately be seen by a veterinarian. Metritis (uterine infection) and
mastitis (mammary gland infection) can be serious.
should be weighed daily using a small kitchen or postal scale for the
first 2-3 weeks of life, then biweekly to weekly until the kittens are
weaned. There is wide variability in the rate of growth among different
kittens, but any individual's weight should steadily increase. A plateau
or decreasing weight trend in a very young kitten generally indicates
illness and/or failure to nurse, and requires prompt attention.
Recommended vaccination protocols for kittens are given above.
This information is not diagnostic or therapeutic advice,
but rather preventive care and husbandry information. A veterinarian
cannot diagnose an illness or prescribe treatment without a complete
history, a physical examination, and in some cases, other clinical
procedures. For all specific problems regarding animal health, your local
veterinarian should be consulted.
Copyright 1997 Mary D. McCauley. May not be reproduced in any form