FOUR NEW PAWS
The Maine Coon Cat Club's Guide to caring for a new kitten.
CHOOSING A KITTEN
(Photo: Alan Robinson)
Male or Female, breeding, showing or pet. These are choices to consider when buying a new kitten. The decision all depends on what your needs are.
If your Maine Coon is wanted purely as a pet or show neuter, then the sex isn't that important, since you should have him/her neutered, at the correct age to prevent unwanted kittens or a wandering tom who persistently needs visits to the vets for treatment of war wounds. This minor operation usually takes place when the cat is 5 -9 months, but your vet will be pleased to advise. Some breeders neuter young kittens prior to them leaving for their new homes. This does not have any long term negative affect on the cat. Both sexes are equally affectionate, and generally males tend to be larger in size.
Breeding can be very fulfilling, but also has disadvantages which should be taken into consideration when thinking about buying a kitten so that you can breed your own. A mature queen can 'call' every three weeks, and is not fussy about who her partner is. For this reason, she must be carefully monitored and not allowed out to become friendly with the local tom, otherwise unwanted non-pedigree kittens may result. A 'mature' stud cat will almost certainly have to live in a specially designed house outside, since the vast majority mark their territory by spraying and this is unacceptable is most households. The life of a stud cat can be rather lonely and frustrating , especially if he does not have a regular supply of amorous females.
Remember also, that most people who breed kittens usually do so to promote the breed with the hope that one day they may breed the perfect cat. Very little money, if any, is made from having a litter of kittens, once stud fees, feeding and heating bills, vet's fees, registration, advertisements, and necessary equipment are paid for!
Expect to pay a little more for a show neuter than a pet, and substantially more for breeding quality kittens.
WHEN YOU VISIT THE BREEDER
Firstly, don't be afraid to ask questions. Remember, they were also inexperienced once, and are usually only too pleased to help. If possible ask to see the whole litter so that you can watch them play and assess character. Do not choose the runt of the litter, if there is one, just because you feel sorry for it, but look for an outward, friendly kitten who is inquisitive and not too nervous.
The kitten should look clean and healthy. The backbone and hips should be well covered, but there should not be any signs of a pot belly which could denote the presence of worms. The eyes should be clear and bright with no signs of discharge, and the third eyelid (known as the haw) should not protrude at the inner corner. The ears must be spotlessly clean with no black grit-like particles, which indicate ear mites. The coat should be clean and soft, and when parted behind the ears and at the base of the tail, must be free from tiny black specks which indicate fleas. Check that the teeth and gums are healthy, and there should be no discharge from the nostrils. Finally check for any yellow staining under the tail, as this means that the kitten may be suffering from diarrhoea. If the kitten of your choice passes these tests, then it is probably safe to take home.
Before buying, ensure that you are satisfied with the conditions in which the cats and kittens are being kept.
BEFORE YOUR KITTEN ARRIVES
Just like any other baby, preparations must be made for your kitten's arrival. In advance you will need to prepare:-
A WARM BED, which can be bought from a pet shop, or adapted from a plastic storage carton or cardboard box, lined with a warm blanket or a piece of 'vetbed'. This should be placed in a warm, quiet, draught-free place.
A LITTER TRAY , which should always be available whether or not your cat goes out, and this should always be kept in the same place. Various types of litter are available, but initially try using the type that the kitten has been used to. This helps to avoid confusion which can lead to 'mistakes'. Trays should be cleaned as used, and thoroughly washed and disinfected at least once a week.
DISHES. A fresh supply of water should always be available. Each cat should have its own food bowl, which must be made from an easily cleaned material.
A CARRYING BASKET is essential for collecting your kitten and also for trips to the vets and boarding cattery if necessary. There are lots of types, but do not make the mistake of buying one too small. Remember, little kittens grow into big cats and you'll only end up buying another one in a few months. The best types are easily cleaned and draughtproof. It is not only unsafe, but also against the law to have an unrestrained cat in a moving vehicle.
COLLECTING YOUR KITTEN AND SETTLING IN
Try to arrange to collect your kitten at a weekend or when you have a few days off, as this will allow it plenty of time to settle in. Your kitten should have had a series of two inoculations against Feline Infectious Enteritis and 'Cat Flu', the last one being given at twelve weeks. Therefore, expect to collect your kitten at thirteen weeks old. Remember to take your cat to the vet's for boosters, every twelve months to ensure full protection throughout its life. You should also consider having you kitten vaccinated against Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV), particularly if it will come into contact with other cats. Discuss with this with your vet if the breeder has not already vaccinated the kitten against this potentially fatal disease.
The breeder should provide you with its vaccination record, a copy of the kitten's pedigree, transfer form and a sheet listing the diet and feeding times the kitten is used to.
If you have any questions concerning care of your new kitten, do ask the breeder as he/she should be glad to offer advice.
When you arrive home, make sure that all doors and windows are shut, and that the chimney is blocked. Confine your kitten to one room until it gains some confidence. Make sure that a litter tray and water are present before opening the basket. Handling gently, take the kitten from the basket and show it the water and litter tray, before letting it explore its new surroundings.
The kitten will be a little nervous and loud noise will frighten it, so it is important the children understand the need to keep quiet. Babies and toddlers are best in another room until the kitten has gained a little confidence.
If another animal already lives in the house, introductions are best left until the next day when the kitten will feel more secure. Allow the kitten to explore the house, prior to introductions, and also let the other animal enter rooms where the kitten has been, prior to introductions. This helps both parties to get used to each other's smell. Introductions should be closely monitored, and be prepared for resentment from both sides, especially the long-standing pet, who may feel his territory threatened. This may take a week or more to pass, and try to be understanding to the pet, whilst protecting the kitten.
Please take signs of illness seriously. A temporary loss of appetite shouldn't last more than the first day. If you are worried, then speak to the breeder and if necessary, consult a vet.
FEEDING YOUR KITTEN
Any changes to the breeder's recommendation should be made gradually to prevent a stomach upset. Cats need variety to prevent boredom, food fads ("my cat only eats fresh chicken" etc.) and to ensure good health. Restricted diets can cause many problems including blindness, poor growth and even premature death.
Because kittens have tiny stomachs they need small, regular frequent meals when young. At three months they require four meals a day, gradually increasing in size and reducing in frequency until they are eating two meals a day, at about a year old.
Food available includes:
Tinned Pet Foods.
Formulated to provide all the necessary nutrients a cat requires. Available in a variety of flavours and brand names. Judge the quality by price, but watch out for expensive speciality brands which may be delicious but a little rich for kittens and should be given as a treat.
Dried Pet Foods.
Can be useful as they do not deteriorate if left down. A copious supply of water is essential since cats drink more water when eating dried food.
Must be cooked to kill parasites and bacteria, though an occasional treat of raw minced beef shouldn't harm. A large bone to chew is good for teeth but small bones can lodge in the throat and kill, so these should be removed before feeding.
Must be cooked. White fish is especially good, but feeding too much of certain types, such as tuna, can cause a serious Vitamin E deficiency.
Milk and Eggs.
Though milk is a good source of calcium, it can cause diarrhoea in some cats and kittens, and it is probably better to feed as a treat rather than as part of the standard diet. Your vet will suggest products to supplement calcium, if necessary.
Eggs can be fed either as raw yolks (not whites) or cooked whole (scrambled or egg custard).
Unless feeding a specially nutritionally balanced cat food, such as tinned, diet supplements will be required, to prevent vitamin deficiencies. Your vet may be able to suggest a general supplement.
REMEMBER TO HAVE FRESH WATER AVAILABLE AT ALL TIMES.
HAZARDS AROUND THE HOME
Just like young children, every room is full of hazards for the new kitten. Remember things like unprotected fires, hot baths, cooker hotplates, washing machines, tumble dryers, tops of storage heaters, hot irons, open windows and doors, unprotected electric flexes and even leaving the loo seat up can lead to disaster!
Slug Pellets, gardening chemicals and antifreeze are all poisonous. Some disinfectants are also lethal. These include T.C.P., Jeyes Fluid, Iodine and Dettol. A quick test is not to use disinfectants if they turn white when mixed with water. Much safer products include Savlon, Milton and Domestos, but make sure that they are properly diluted. Specific pet disinfectants are available on the market.
Some house and garden plants are also poisonous, and all plants are best put out of reach to prevent mutilation of your prized vegetation.
The World Outside
Maine Coons enjoy exploring but do not necessarily need the outside world, and only you can decide whether or not to let your cat go out. Should you decide to let your cat out, do not do so until it has been in the house for at least a fortnight. Even then, it should be closely supervised until it is fully acquainted with its surroundings, and will respond to your calls from wherever it is. Choose a time just before a meal, so that it will come back for food.
Not all people are cat lovers, and for this reason never let your cat out at night or it may not return in the morning. Your cat should not be let out in semi-darkness or when you are away. And remember, just because your cat goes out, you should still provide a litter tray in the house. Don't let puss get 'caught short' while you're out shopping!
Maine Coons are great fun. They are amusing, affectionate, intelligent, easy going and very hardy. By following these few basic steps you should have a companion for many years to come and the Maine Coon Cat Club hopes you enjoy your new friend.
Please feel free to contact a member of the
committee if you need help or advice.
For General Enquiries: Tel 0114 2692306 (UK)
For kittens available countrywide: Tel 01484 666728 (UK) or email us using the Contact link below