Vets, Health Issues and Advice

These are snippets, opinions written from my point of view and stories I've heard or lived myself during my many years' experience with pets and since I started breeding Maine Coons in 1998.  I am not a veterinarian and no information here is intended to diagnose or instruct anyone on the health of their pet.
The Vaccine article linked is one of the best I've ever found, written by Jean Hofve, DVM; it is fairly long, but packed with current information, worth the read.


There are good vets, there are kind vets, there are vets that are good and kind, and there are vets that are good and kind and still make mistakes!  It infuriates me when one makes an appointment for spay or neuter of a kitty only to be asked automatically, "do you want your pet declawed at the same time?".  Egads, archaic thinking or just a quick money maker?  Either way, it's wrong. 


Also there's the a simple fact that some vets are anti-breeder and any purebred or pedigreed cat you bring into their office is going to be suspect. Many vets may not even realize they are looking at these cats with a pre-determined bias - they are subject to the same myths and rumors as the average person on the street.  One bothersome and potentially dangerous scenario surrounds the whole issue of Vaccinations -- I've actually heard of vets who insist on revaccinating a kitten because "breeders don't always do it correctly" -wow, that's a stretch.  Trust me, it's not a complicated process, but the vet can now pocket an additional few bucks while stressing your kittens immune system with unnecessary vaccines.  Vaccines were once considered generally harmless and "more is better" was the standard.  Modern Veterinary Science shows this thinking to be false and dangerous.  Beware the automatic "Fe-Leuk vaccine", the "yearly boosters", as well as the unnecessary costs of  "we should test for... (fill in the blank)


Here's an excellent article on Vaccinations - please read and be informed! 

I feel so lucky to have found Dr. Bill Benson at Advanced Veterinary Care in Reisterstown Maryland, who has worked with breeders all over Maryland for a number of years. I feel confident when consulting with him that he and I are working as a team for the best of my cats, kittens and dogs.


It's an exciting time as you and your new baby bond and get to know each other. Cats are by nature homebodies, and such a dramatic change may be stressful for even a young kitten and certainly an older cat if you're adopting an adult. Here are some hints to make the transition more comfortable for kitty and for you. Forgive me, but I'll use the masculine pronoun throughout to simplify things :-)


Don't give kitty full run of the house upon introduction. Keeping him confined in a smaller room with food, fresh water and litter box, along with a comfy place to snuggle and nap will be much easier on the kitten. Too much space and too many rooms to explore can be overwhelming and intimidating, not to mention he may get confused and lose his way back to the litter box! Be sure to place kitty directly in the litter box upon initial introduction so he knows where it is.


Spend plenty of time with your new kitty in the first days. Just hang out and read a book or watch TV in the room you've set aside. Talk to him or sing to him, just get him used to the sound of your voice. Don't pressure kitty to come to you or try and force him to sit on your lap. Give him time to sniff out all the corners and get under the furniture - don't worry, he'll come out soon enough! Take a teaser in with you and wave it around for play-time.


The kitties' health and habits are important to take note of during transition. Purebred kittens do seem to be more susceptible to picking up colds or developing mild diarrhea, particularly when first re-homed. This does not mean you have a sick kitty! From birth these kittens have lived in one place and been exposed to the bacteria in a single household (let's call these "good germs") - your house has different good germs and he may react to these microscopic changes while his body adjusts. Remember the warnings about drinking the local water when you visit another country? Same theory applies here. This is another reason you want to isolate your new arrival, particularly if you have other cats in the household, as you don't want them to pick up unfamiliar good germs from the newcomer. Also it is important to keep the kitten on the diet he is accustomed to eating; some of his regular food should be provided by the breeder. If you have heavy water or well water, it is best to give kitty distilled water to drink while he adjusts to your household.


Generally, kittens sleep a great deal, like human babies. They eat, play, poop and sleep - that is their day! A kitty should be playful and energetic and bright eyed while awake. If you observe lack of appetite, ongoing diarrhea, lethargy, weight loss, or dull eyes, get your kitty to a vet immediately!

Slightly loose stools or a little clear sneezing are not reasons to be greatly concerned, however, liquid diarrhea or pale or yellow stools, or very loose stools for more than a day or so will require veterinary attention. Remember a kitten's body is very small and they can become dehydrated very quickly. Also nasal discharge or weepy eyes should be attended to by a veterinarian - as in humans, a simple cold may develop secondary infections which will require antibiotics. Never give your kitten any medications unless specifically directed by a veterinarian or on advice from your breeder!

Also keep in mind that kittens are generally teething between 3-7 months; when they lose their milk teeth and their adult teeth are coming in, they may also exhibit URI symptoms and/or their gums may show inflamation - have your vet determine whether antibiotics are indicated.


Your kittens' continued good health is of primary concern to the breeder as much as to you! Please don't hesitate to call if you have any questions or concerns about health or behavior of your new kitty. Mostly, enjoy this special time with your little one - you have a wonderful companion who, with your devotion and affection, will be with you for many happy years!

No, your breeder very likely does not have a degree in veterinary medicine, but I assure you most breeders are very knowledgeable on health issues and treatments. We only have one or two breeds of a particular species to study, while vets have to know about a whole wide variety of animals. Many vets are more dog-oriented, as statistically speaking, dogs have more vet visits than cats do. Please, if you have a pedigreed cat, check with the breeder before taking any drastic actions on health issues.

ll breeders hear of kittens bounced from one antibiotic to another for "chronic URI" when the cat showed no elevated white cells in their blood panel (if blood is even checked) and by all appearances acted perfectly normal, healthy and happy - well, guess what? The kitten may have seasonal allergies - it happens :-) This one vet kept telling an owner she should return the kitten, which kept sneezing; the kitten was obviously sick, may have polyps requiring expensive surgery, yada yada - long story later, the lady had her carpets cleaned and the kitten never sneezed again.

I've also heard of vets who will test for every thing under the sun when they hear the kitten came from a breeder.

ne kitten came back with a positive ring-worm culture and the vet gave the poor owner nightmares with stories of everyone in the house being covered in lesions and having to fumigate... the kitten never had a single physical symptom, but was put on some very expensive medication with dangerous side-effects for 8 weeks and was supposed to come back for re-testing three times (at $50 each) and the owner finally called the breeder to whine about all this, the breeder explained that, yes, she had had a ringworm outbreak when the kitten was younger, all the cats in the household had been treated and cured and a ringworm culture often does not distinguish between "live" fungus and "killed" fungus - so the kitten most likely had some killed fungus on it's fur. The owner stopped all treatments, changed vets and 6 months later has had no problems whatsoever. Go figure.

had a girl who had a very odd spell one night - I called it a seizure and rushed her off to the emergency vet. By the time we got there she was perfectly normal, had no symptoms, her eyes had stopped flicking side to side and all blood levels showed normal and we went home. Two days later she had another spell - her head twisting all around like she was tracking a very small quick fly in the air, but then she fell over when she tried to walk - a friend had suggested another vet so I drove her there. The fellow I saw (the recommended vet was not on duty) was about 12 years old and proceeded to tell me my cat probably had a brain tumor. I spent two days in trauma waiting for my appointment with a neurologist, thinking my sweet girl was going to die... The neurologist did a very thorough exam and from the first look at her eyes, which were still tracking, he said he knew this was an inner ear problem. She's fine. No tumor. No death sentence. The eyes stopped tracking within a couple of days and she's back to her usual happy self.

n odd story - at 4 weeks I noticed Kermit wasn't walking like his brother; rather he would lift himself on his front legs and pull himself around using his back legs like a frog to push.  Of course I was highly concerned and went looking for answers and Found them - see his story...

ll I'm trying to say, not all vets are created equal! No, breeders don't have all the answers, but we sure appreciate being asked, and it can save you a lot of time and money and anguish, since we are more familiar with issues that may not be immediately obvious to your vet. Breeders also have an extensive network we can refer to with questions - if we haven't experienced the problem ourselves, there's often someone in our "group" who has and is more than happy to share information. There are also some "problems" that don't necessitate a lot of testing and treatment, but like all doctors, vets are trained to "do" something. Even a vet with all the best intentions can be barking up the wrong, expensive tree :-)

ust one more word - my own personal soapbox :-) Beware of antibiotic abuse - while you may feel the need to find some treatment, if a cat has a cold it won't be affected by antibiotics, since it's a viral infection. It just has to pass on it's own! Biological organisms are becoming more and more diverse and resistant due to over use and improper use of antibiotics, so please for the future health of our planet, use antibiotics only when indicated and use them as directed, finish all medication as prescribed!



Now I'd like to clarify a few facts about Maine Coons and the "potential health risks" they may inherit.


ingivitis, tomatitis, um problems - Juvenile Gingivitis is fairly common in Maine Coons. It is a good idea to get your kitty used to having it's mouth checked, and I find the pre-treated dental wipes very handy for helping keep their teeth cleaner. There are some lines of Maine Coons that have severe gum problems, but I caution you to get a second opinion if a vet tells you they need their teeth pulled, especially if the cat is under 2 years old. I had a vet once tell new owners that a kitten in for a regular health check had stomatitis and should be on antibiotics and should have a surgical cleaning and may need teeth pulled, etc - the kitten was 4 months old! On consult with my regular vet (upon which I insisted), he said, she's 4 months old, she's teething, she has a little swelling but nothing drastic. One year later her gums are perfect and she has no dental problems whatsoever! The girls owners are very glad they didn't listen to the first vet, running up a whole lot of unnecessary bills, putting a young kitten through much distress and all for no reason.

This is not to say that potential dental problems should be left un-monitored. Infections in the gum can lead to bone decay, tooth loss and deeper infections which can travel through the blood stream and infect major organs. Regular surgical cleanings are recommended for adult cats of any breed for continued health. The cat must be sedated for a thorough cleaning, but it is a mild and short-term sedation. If you have an adult cat with swollen or bleeding gums and/or bad breath, it needs to get to the vet for a good cleaning, and possibly some extractions. Cats can be quite happy and continue to eat and live normally with most or all teeth removed, though this is of course not a first option.



eart - HCM (Hypertrophic Cardio Myopathy) is one of the hot topics these days. Yes, HCM is in the Maine Coon gene pool; it is also in the gene pool of every other breed of cat, including alley cats, strays and mixed breeds along with pedigreed cats. Dogs and tigers get it too - so do humans. Maine Coon breeders are some of the most vigilant in testing their breeding cats for the inherited risk of HCM, and therefore a lot more documentation is on record as to how many of our cats are known to carry or exhibit this heart disease. I've heard more than one breeder tell of a potential kitten buyer who told them their vet said they "shouldn't get a Maine Coon because they are prone to HCM and die young" - what a bunch of hooey! We've been working on eliminating at-risk cats from the Maine Coon gene pool since the 1990's, well before any other breed even admitted the disease existed, and Maine Coons may be at this point LESS at risk than the average cat. The saying goes there are lies, damn lies and statistics - if hundreds of randomly chosen cats of every breed and hundreds of random alley cats were to be tested by echocardiogram, then we might have a true indication of how highly affected any particular breed is or is not. Since the likelihood of this testing being done is mighty low, take any such statements with a grain of salt :-) Unfortunately our breed has been labeled with this disease and many cats that die young are simply claimed to have died from HCM without any post-mort testing to prove yea or nay - mixed breed cats that "look" like Maine Coons get the same myths put on them and most pet owners are loathe to spend the money on proper necropsy, not that I blame them, but figures on cause of death are completely unreliable for this variety of reasons.

The only real test we have available at this time is the Color Doppler Echocardiogram, performed by a certified Veterinary Cardiologist. Unfortunately the cost of this screening is expensive, and getting more so all the time.  It is also not 100% accurate, as a cat may develop symptoms at any time and may not always show early clinical signs.  For a while there was excitement over the isolation of the
HCM DNA marker MyBPC 3, but this gene has now been determined to be of little diagnostic value. (see Article from the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine - Volume 24, Issue 3, pages 527-532, May/June 2010. Many Feline DNA labs don't even offer the test for this marker anymore. 

So, we continue to pay cardiologist big bucks to echo our cats' hearts and remove from our breeding programs any cats that show early indications that HCM may be forthcoming.  It's not a great solution, but in the years we have been testing we have taken many carriers out of the breed's gene pool and we have seen a significant reduction in the incidence of confirmed HCM in Maine Coons as a result.  This is no consolation if your cat happens to be one of the unlucky ones in whom the disease rears its ugly head, but it's the best we've got to work with right now.

If you have a cat diagnosed with HCM there are simple ways to help them lead a long and comfortable life with or sometimes without medication. HCM can only be detected conclusively by echocardiogram (sonogram) conducted by a board certified Feline Cardiologist. Murmurs, clicks and gallops do NOT indicate HCM, but a cat exhibiting these irregularities should be referred to a cardiologist for testing to see if medication is indicated. HCM often has no discernable symptoms, which is why many breeders opt to have the costly echocardiogram performed on our cats to detect early signs.


ips - HD (Hip Dysplasia) is another buzz-phrase. Again, there are Maine Coons that have been diagnosed with HD, along with Abbys, American Shorthairs, Birmans, lions and alley cats. Very few cats are so badly affected that their comfort and lifestyle is compromised, but it is a very sad thing when one is. There are some indications that the more quickly an animal develops the more prone it may be to HD, evidenced in the larger breeds of dogs affected with HD that one hears about so often. This theory makes sense to me, as the extra weight being put on bones and joints that are immature and incompletely formed can create anomalies in the growth structure. Some lines of Maine Coon may be more affected, but I have never had a problem, nor heard of any cats behind my lines that have been affected with HD, and I try to keep my lines on a moderate growth rate, so that their body weight does not overwhelm the developing skeletal structure. To be certain that any pet is unaffected by joint discomfort you need to have them x-rayed and evaluated by a veterinarian.  Many pets, especially cats, will not show signs of HD even if they are experiencing pain.

If you have a cat who is observed to walk with an odd gait, avoid jumping, walking up or down stairs, or exhibiting any other indications of discomfort in movement, please have the hips and knees examined by a vet orthopedic specialist to determine if they need correction.



(Feline Infectious Peritonitis) - This horrible, nasty disease claims cats of every breed and is so infuriatingly random and sudden and devastating - it is the greatest fear of any breeder or cat lover. There is no known cure and no reliable test. Please, take any information you hear about FIP with a grain of salt - there is so very little known about it and many many myths and stories that have become "general knowledge" that people become scared to death at mention of the term.

FIP is the mutation of a corona virus that brings about severe symptoms with generally sudden onset which leads quickly to death. All cats have many corona viruses living in their systems, which is why there is no clear test for FIP - the testing available can only detect the presence of the virus, not whether the virus will mutate and become deadly, so finding out a cat has a high titer can only scare the bejeeses out of the owner. A quote from the leading doctor in FIP research: "More cats die from FIP testing than will ever die from the disease itself."

Unfortunately FIP is also the fall back position many vets use when they don't know what's wrong with a cat. Since the symptoms can mimic so many other conditions it is very hard to pin point. It was once thought to be highly contagious, but this has been disproven. The current school of thought is no one knows when or why a corona virus mutates, but if a cat is genetically predisposed to be unable to mount an adequate defense to the mutated strain, it will die if/when this mutation is affected. This genetic predisposition is inherited in a way that is not understood (but it is unlikely to be  dominant or the parents would be dead).  I know many people with multi-cat households who have lost a cat to FIP and no one else in the house ever got sick.

We don't know the genetic marker for this disease. It seems to just show up intermittantly and capriciously. It is not known how the susceptibility is passed on through generations. While 80-some percent of all felines in the world carry the corona virus in their system, it is estimated that only 3% ever get sick.


For more information on FIP, go to Cornell Veterinary School - FIP, general info and for further info or if you have suffered a loss to a cat with FIP, join a support group online at




nly your breeder can give you specific answers about the ancestors of your kitten. We usually know many generations behind your kitten personally, the cats may even be living in our house :-) We also have a worldwide network of communication amongst ourselves, and if we don't know the answer to your particular question, we can ask if anyone out there has had this experience. Chances are someone will be able to at least point us in the right direction.



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