Mentoring for Maine Coon breeding
I was just getting a mentor page worked on when I had to leave the other website. I hope to get this new one done soon and share with all who are in need of any info and "fun".
Gestation for the cats are typically 9 weeks. That is day 63 and our cats can go from day 63-day 70, but the most common days are days 64-66. Feline babies can survive if not born before day 59 or any later than day 70, so it is best to know your day of breeding and then your day of delivery. (approx.)
When a female cat goes into heat, your male will not be able to avoid her. Nature will take its course unless you have your boy in a separate facility. Once mated, the girl will scream/growl and carry on and then throw herself on the floor and flop around like a fish out of water. This is when she ovulates so if she doesn't do this rolling around, she did not get mated. I used to leave my girls with my boys for almost a week but then noticed I was getting some runt sized babies. I learned that a baby was being produced many days after the other ones and thus was at a disadvantage. So now my girls are in with my boy no more than 3 days, and usually one is enough.
When a couple weeks from delivery, you can see babies wiggling in her belly. This is when we separate our girls and cage them. This is so she gets nesty in the area I want babies born in and give her time to just lay around and relax. No other cats around and not arguing for food or anything else. This is relaxed time. I have scratching post, litter box, nesting box with towels in it and lots of food. During this time, we feed our girls anything they want (literally). I am anti-dry food but if they are not eating their raw very well, we will allow them to have dry food as well as canned food, cooked meats, raw cut up chicken etc....
When we are up to day 63, we set up our camera. We bought a blue-tooth camera that we set up next to the cage, and then download the app on the laptop. This way, once I plug camera in and it gets on the Wi-Fi, we get the app open on laptop. Now I can go to bed with laptop next to me. I sleep an hour or two and look up and see if she is doing anything. I used to have to get up every 2 hours for days and days until babies were all born and that got rather hard. My own girls normally go into labor on day 64, 65 or 66, but I have had some that wanted to stress me longer and go to day 67 or 68. Over my years I have had an early litter (day 59 which is the earliest day of gestation that babies will live) and one cat waited until day 70 (latest day kittens will survive, so we called for C-section but before we left, she went into labor)
So now, although I still have to wake up, I can stay in my nice warm soft bed while watching my cat. Can't beat that! Set out all your supplies and get ready, the fun is soon to begin.
Once you see her licking her back end, it's time to go in person to investigate. If there are fluids in nesting box or around her, the time is starting. Once she starts to push, it takes about one hour before the first baby arrives. After that, it can be really quick, and you do not want to leave for long. If she has a large litter, she will tire quickly and not clean the face of the newborn. If they suck in fluids, they will die. It's that simple. Keep a pile of washrags, paper towels and soft towels for wiping the faces. Our washrags are just old washcloths that are not so pretty and once they get stained with blood/birthing fluids; they really look "not so pretty". We use them for long time and eventually they go in the trash. We also keep older soft towels for the birthing time, as well as puppy pads (but some girls chew on them and that is not good), roll of paper towels and napkins. Keep a little camera around too as it is quite fun to show off your newborn babies. We bought a light that is rechargeable as we lost power one time during a girl's labor and a flashlight did not give me enough light. so now we keep this handy for each litter, just in case. Keep a few warm (flannel or fleece) blankets for when babies are born, and some treats for the mama (we use junk food friskies buffet canned foods). A vet in Michigan once gave me a good help idea....once your mama is delivering babies, if her body takes a little break, get some sugar water in syringe to give to her. She explained that the uterus can get tired and if the break is too long, you can loose a baby. So we keep Karo syrup or similar around and put some in plastic cup with syringe in it. We use this often and the girls do not seem to mind at all.
Now feed your mama's whatever they will like. If they ate the afterbirths from kittens, they would not want much or anything that first day but offer anyhow. Usually, we open a heavy gravy type canned cat food to put over the raw and stir a bit together. Most of my girls will gobble this up and then they can climb in with newborns and pass out to long deep sleep while babies' nurse. We buy canned goats' milk and mix the day of delivery. We fill a kitten bottle (our babies like the pointed nipples the best) and try to give each baby just a bit to keep them calm and relax next to mama. Some of them drink the milk, some of them do not want it, but we offer anyhow, we do this for first few days and then if they are nursing on mama, we stop helping with bottles unless it is a large litter. Any group over 6 is a large litter and mama will need some help.
The fun begins:
Now you have babies to watch and kiss and take a million photos of. Enjoy and watch them grow so fast. We take weekly (sometimes more) pics so we can share with the adoptive families of their precious baby.
Eyes open about 7-10 days of age and ears open about same time. When you pick them up and kiss them, they will hiss and spit which is really a lot of fun! After a couple weeks old they get used to your voice and some will meow in response to you talking, another great bit of fun!
At about 3-4 weeks the babies start to pee or poo on the blankets and mama doesn't take care of it anymore. The potty-training time is beginning. Get a real short litter box and put small amount of clay litter for them to climb into and put it near to them. Sometimes mom's use this box and make a mess so get ready to clean up a lot. But do not use clumping litters until babies are a bit older cause if they eat it or get in nose and mouth, you could have problems. We use boring messy clay litter, but you can also use pellets (paper, pine or wood).
We put our mama's and babies in a large walk-in pen, but you can use a room for this time. We like a flannel sided tablecloth on the floor with litter box and blankets etc., on top. (Vinyl side up and easy to clean). Once the litter training is working well, you can throw this away and use the floor. we set up a scratching post once they are litter trained too and they will enjoy playing on it. Lots of toys, some that make noise, are always a big hit. One favorite of all our cats are pipe cleaners, now called hobby sticks. We toss them out often and throw down a new one or wire it to a door or something.
At about 5 weeks we put our raw meat mix on end of finger and put into mouth of each baby. Usually, Mama kitty cannot keep up and so the babies start onto real food quickly. Sometimes they start even earlier than this. At 7 weeks we separate the mom from the babies and do our weaning. For a whole week or more mamas will keep milk and cannot be with babies, so we cage her so babies can talk with her and her to them, but she cannot nurse them. Then once milk is dry, we let mom loose again with babies. If we see them nursing on her however, we will cage mama again for a while. This is when we do our first vaccination. You can use either an injectable one or a nasal one. We buy from revivalanimal.com as they sell the fastest and always do a good job. The second shot is then due about 11-12 weeks before they leave for new homes. In the south, rabies vaccinations are required, so we get this done on kittens at a local veterinarian. Exam time, stool check (just one kitten in litter is enough), weight and temps taken.... then if the vet gives the okay after an exam, and they have passed the 12-week minimum age, they are ready to go to new home.
Make sure you do lots of socializing. Handling and loving are important, but it becomes vital from 6 weeks on. For some reason, 99% of kittens go through a skittish age at about 6 weeks. But once they are weaned, we then start a "training program" with them. Kittens are removed for a while from the other cats and put in "kitty tents" in our living room. Here they can see/hear TV shows, radio music and talk programs. They get used to sounds of war as well as sounds of many people. They are held and put in harness/leash for bits, or in puppy (or doll) clothes. We take lots of photos and do various different things with each one. Some respond fast and others hold out for a bit. By the time they are 10 weeks, they should be ready for the world's actions. This is when most of our babies go to the kitty playroom. Sometimes they visit the adult room, but not all times. Until a kitten has developed an immune system, they can get a kitty cold easy from other cats. Babies have immunity from mom, but it starts to leave about 5 weeks of age. Each kitten is different, so we just make it a rule to vaccinate at about 6-7 weeks and again about 11 weeks. When kittens are healthy and fed a good diet, they enjoy life. If you get one who is not really "ready" for her new home, do not let her go until you feel comfortable. Make sure she is eating good, using scratching post well and easy going about being handled and carried around by any person.
Make sure you get to know your prospective families before you approve them for a kitten. Some breeders have a questionnaire for them to fill out, but I just like to get to know them. I want to hear about them, about their family, and about what they are wanting in a kitten. If I don't feel comfortable, they do not get approved. and a couple times, I have changed my mind on people AFTER they made a deposit. Since deposits are non-refundable, we made an exception in these cases. No, we were not real well-liked, but sometimes things are said that worry me too much. Not just anyone can get one of our babies.
Get a pet contract made up. A paper that protects you and your baby. Ask other breeders to look at theirs and take bits and pieces until you have made your own. And it is ok to change it as you proceed in the years. I have added things to my own many times. Later on, you can also make up a breeder contract which needs MUCH more on it. But do not sell your kittens to breeder homes for a while. The cats you buy are other breeder's cats for a while. You need to make them your own lines. Get to know how the babies will look, how good of a mama you will have, how nice of a male you own. Make sure your babies become "your own look". People will get to know you by your Maine Coons, and this includes personality and health. This is a big job, so relax and take it slow. It really is a rewarding hobby!
Problems you may encounter:
1- if a female is left in heat too much/too long, some girls can get a pyro infection and have to be spayed. This is why we no longer keep our girls to a "certain age" for breeding. Nature gives our cats the instincts needed and so trust in them. If a girl is young and gets bred, or needs to be bred and you are worried, DON'T. Just breed them. It is better to lose a litter if she is too young to do a good job (I have never heard of it) than to lose your beloved breeding female.
2-sometimes while nursing babies you will notice a female doesn't feel well, is not eating good. You know something is not right and so exam her. It is not a common thing at all, but it can happen...a cat can get mastitis in a breast. It is not pretty and can be very stressful, but it will heal. Just take her to a vet and get her put her on meds, [and you supplement just a bit and still let kitten's nurse.] No, it's not a pretty thing but in 36 years of breeding, we have had it in a cat only twice. So, almost not worth mentioning.
3-sometimes a kitten is born dead. It will break your heart and all you can do is try to save it (wipe face and mouth, and rub/pump on chest, and pray). But some die before they get out to where we can help, so we lose them. If they are born in afterbirth, they are not alive for sure. If they are born in membranes (see photo), you clean this off fast, wipe face/mouth and rub with clean dry cloth. This kitten was born dead, or I would not have taken a moment to take a photo. I took a "potty" break and came in to find a cold dead kitten that mom did not even touch. Yes, there are tears in being a breeder. This is life. I always blame myself if I am not there to help, especially if a girl is so tired from birthing. When that happens, a birth is in your hands and so it's easy to blame oneself for not being there. But we have to dry the tears and be there for the rest. Help mama all you can and when she is done, take a break. Yes, I have lost kittens then because I could not feel any more babies. After about 5 hours, I often have to take a break and forget to watch on the camera. If the mom got a break before that surprise, the kitten most often lives. But if it comes while she is in exhausted mode, they die. Just do the best you can and do not advertise this or obsess over it.
4- when a female is pregnant, we usually allow her to run loose with other cats until she starts to get a bit grumpy. Once (and only once) we let a full pregnant cat (due in 2 weeks) with our cats. I was near and heard a cat fight (or so I thought). As I ran out to check, my young male had bred her. Why she was in heat when so close to delivery is a mystery. Well, we went to vets and did x-ray and exam. She delivered 10 days later a litter of TEN, but actually it was eleven. The mating before the delivery made an embryo kitten. Since I never saw this before, I wanted to share it. (And by the way, 8 of that large litter lived, but we did loose 2.)