Breeding Program; The Beginning
Our Maine Coons are registered with Federation Internationale Feline (FIFe), and are first shown as kittens to be judged as meeting all the requirements of breed standards. It is during the show circuit that we are able to observe his/her temperament and overall demeanor. We are looking for robust kittens having a tolerance to change and the ability to assimilate a previously unknown environment. By the time our breeding kitten(s) have attained Champion status at 8 months of age they are "The Quintessential Cat." Our kitten breeding program begins with mating pairs that share a set of healthy attributes that Okinaneko regards both as minimum requirements for our bloodline, and the criteria to act as control group for subsequent litter evaluations. Both the sire and dam have medical check-ups, blood screening, and genetic testing performed prior to being considered for our breeding program. Blood tests will indicate that we are mating correct groupings (A,AB) and must come back negative for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus. DNA testing must have a normal/normal result for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, spinal muscular atrophy, and Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency in Maine Coon Cats. Heart murmurs are not acceptable, not even an innocent or physiologic heart murmur, which is a heart murmur that has no impact on the cat's health. One type of innocent heart murmur is often found in young growing kittens, particularly kittens that are growing rapidly. The murmur may first appear at 6-8 weeks of age, and a kitten with an innocent heart murmur will us ually outgrow it by about 4-5 months of age. This type of murmur is benign. Some normal adult cats may have an intermittent heart murmur that shows up when their heart rate is increased due to stress. This type of physiologic murmur disappears when the heart rate is normal, and has no impact on the cat's health. In general, a physiologic or innocent heart murmur will have a low intensity (usually Grade I-II out of VI), and does not cause any symptoms or clinical signs.
Growth Rate & Immune System
The mating season for the Maine Coon is April and May, with a gestation period of 63-70 days. Litter size is 1 to 5 kittens. We keep our kittens for a minimum of 20 weeks for a number of reasons that the following will explain. A Maine Coon Cat has only one thing in common with other cats and that is being a member of felis silvestris catus, or genetically speaking, having 19 pairs of chromosomes. Other similarities such as growth and maturation do not follow the same course. A domestic cat reaches it's adult weight by about 8 months of age. The Maine Coon doesn't reach its adult weight until he or she is at least 28 months old. The Maine Coon does not finish maturing until she is over 5 years old. Domestic kittens for example, are born weighing 65 to 90 grams. Our babies are born weighing on average 164 grams, however, the fact still remains that the Maine Coon takes a longer period of time to grow. That being said, other maturation issues present themselves such as weaning will not occur until around the 5th or 6th week, and nursing continues forward for at least 4 weeks or more. Weaning is a critical time because the neonates do not have an intact immune system, and their immunity is transfered to them through mothers milk. As they wean they take less of mothers milk as their own immune system slowly begins to come on-line. At 12 weeks of age, a Maine Coon kittens immune system is NOT intact, and our females continue to nurse their babies just past the 14 week mark. By 15 weeks our kittens are reaching what we consider their "safe zone." There are no cages in our home. We have the option of providing five complete and separate cat- friendly environments which include a bathing and grooming facility, two nurseries and one kitten romper room, or to allow the entire house to be open for all our cats to free-roam. The number of these separate environments we employ depends upon the needs of the cattery and it's constituents at any given time. Under strict supervision, we allow breeding cats to eat, play, and groom together as a clowder, or just find a spot on the couch to watch a movie with us. We have strict rules for new in- coming kittens entering our cattery, and a period of quarantine is enforced. Mother and her neonates are confined to their nursery for about 3 to 4 weeks before the kindle is moved to the kitten romper room. By the time kittens are about ten weeks old, Mom will want to start coming out of the kitten room for short periods of time to get re-acquainted with her clowder mates.
Nutrition and Development
Breeding females are on a strict diet of Royal Canin Pro Queen kibble and Royal Canin Baby Cat Mousse. We monitor and record the mother's weight gain from conception to welping. The graph to the right is an example of a female carrying a singlet. Once the babies are born the mother is given calcium supplements twice daily. When the kittens are reaching the 6 to 7 week period, typically weaning time, the mother is fed Royal Canin Pro Baby Cat kibble along with Baby Cat Mousse. As the kittens begin to wean they eat what mom is eating. The Baby Cat Mousse is excellent for both the nutritional quality and the consistency of the food; the kittens suckle their mother for milk, and they begin weaning by suckling at the Mousse on moms plate. After a week or so the kittens are able to bite and chew at the food.
Each kitten is monitored from the moment of birth. Daily average weight gain data is collected and recorded. The graph to the left is an example, and is in fact the singlet born to the mother in the above chart. Individual program plans are implemented for the developing kittens because not all develop physically or mentally at the same rate. It is important that the shy kitten receive the same benefits as his or her litter mates. A kitten that is not quite ready to start climbing a four foot high cat-tree can gain much exercise and confidence with activities involving a few stacked pillows covered over with a blanket. Litter box training is standard, and by about 10 weeks all the kittens are on a level playing field.
The kittens are introduced to a kitty pool of warm water, where they learn to splash about and play with water toys. All kittens are bathed no less that four times before they go to their forever homes. At about 8 weeks, we begin introducing our kittens to infant tooth brushes so that by the time kittens are 20 weeks old they expect daily dental care with feline toothpaste and their very own tooth brush. During this same time, kittens become accustomed to wearing a harness so that trips involving a pet carrier has an extra safety factor; a harness and lead gives the ultimate in secure handling out of cage and home. We drive our older Coon kittens to the pet store for food, take them into the bank and go through drive- thru's etc. Kittens play with our German Shepherd Celeste, while also having supervised run of the house, and they will spend a lot of time with their grandparents as well. We have 12 generations of our bloodlines living with us, and these older cats teach the young ones about tolerance levels and how to read feline body language. All this aides to socialize our kittens before they go to their forever homes.
At 8 weeks the kittens and mom go to the vet for a litter evaluation along with their individual check- ups and first shots. It is directly after this visit that we begin a de-worming program using Panacur. At 12 weeks kittens receive their first booster shots. At 16 weeks the kittens receive their second booster shots creating an immune system that should remain intact for at least THREE years. It is during this visit that fecal samples from the kittens are provided to test for giardia, and the results are published on our kitten web page. At 19 weeks the kittens have another appointment with our vet for a general health check-up and to have blood samples taken from the kittens for antibody titre testing. These tests will prove that the core vaccinations given have indeed produced the life-long immunities against Rhino/Calici/ and Panleukemia virus. Also, the kittens are given the one and only rabies shot they will ever need. Rabies vaccinations are given for two reasons; One, it is Ontario law that an initial rabies vaccination be given and two, we show at least one kitten from every litter and it is a requirement for all show halls. Since all our kittens are to be living indoors no subsequent rabies shots should be required. We do not participate in early spay/neuter programs as this is not in the kittens best interests. We ask that females be spayed before their third heat cycle, and males be kept intact as long as possible. Hopefully, this would be at about 18 months.
Kittens that will be flying to their forever homes are kept until they reach 24 weeks of age and make a final trip to our vet for "Fit to Fly" certification. Adopting families are asked to name their kitten as soon as possible so that kittens arrive at their forever homes knowing their name. By the time kittens are ready to go to their forever homes all kittens will be registered with their correct names to FIFe, will have an activated 6-week pet insurance coverage, and are registered with Royal Canin so that the adopting families have access to the resources of the Royal Canin web site. All kittens leave with their up-to-date and current health records, and copies of their antibody titre test results.