Kittening: The Joy & Heartbreak of the Persian Cat Breeder

When you hear the tiniest mewling sound of a Persian kitten that has just a few moments old, you will know that all of the hard work that you and its mother have just spent has paid off. There is nothing quite like this sound. While you are drying it off, you excitedly inspect the colors, you wonder about its sex, and you can’t help but hope that you are indeed in possession of your very next big champion! Is it the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to you? Absolutely! Is it available to all people? I’ll let you decide….

I could just state that Persian cats are unique in every way imaginable, but it is something that you already know. When I was complaining to my veterinarian (who is very tolerant) about the difficulties associated with breeding, he made a remark that has been with me ever since. It was then that he addressed me, saying, “Well, you are the one who wanted to breed Persians…” I’ve been around for a while, but I’m still rather green when it comes to veterinary medicine. When I look around my cattery and see all of the medical supplies that I keep there, I sometimes wonder if my husband thinks I’m going to open a clinic. I have a nebulizer, a warm vaporizer, a cool-air vaporizer, an air purifier, fluids, antihistamines, eye cleaners and drops, heating pads, and the list goes on and on. This, in addition to the supplies for grooming, might be too much for a little pet business to handle.

And it isn’t like the books. Remember that part in books where it tells you about the kittening box which they will deliver? Kira, one of my best breeding moms, didn’t read that part, as she had her babies on a blanket on the floor – between my legs. When she delivered the first kit, she looked back at me, almost smiling, and waited patiently while I opened the sack, suctioned its nose and mouth, cut the cord, disposed of the afterbirth, and cleaned it up. When I placed the new kit next to her, she looked at me and gave it an approving lick. This continued until we had delivered all six! I was exhausted! This charade had started at about 5 AM, and I probably didn’t mention either that I had been sleeping on the floor in my cat room for a week by then. Now, WHY would any fool do that, you are wondering?

You see, Kira’s water broke six days early – something the emergency clinics hadn’t heard of – but luckily another breeder said it could happen and not to be too alarmed unless she seemed stressed or in pain. She remained unstressed, pain-free, and very pregnant for another six days. Meanwhile, I used a week of vacation time and coaxed my mom and my friends over to sit with me! Kira relaxed, stretched out on the cool tile in the sunroom, and watched me pacing around! During that time, I made what I call my “Kira Kurtains” – a beautiful set of lace curtains for my show cage, which required quite a bit of tedious handwork.

After a week-long of this stress on me, her labor began on Friday for real. She had six kittens – one was born dead (which explained the water mystery). Unfortunately, 2 of them just didn’t want to eat. Kira had plenty of milk, and the 2 were eating well, but even supplementing those other 2 didn’t help. We lost them after 2 days. I lost the last boy when he aspirated fluid (either from being born breech – another Persian trick they seem to do a lot) and his lungs filled with fluid. Veterinary exams didn’t reveal any abnormalities or birth defects – not a clue!

When I lost the last boy, I was fortunate to be at my good friend’s (who is a wonderful breeder) home. We both sat and cried, making me very glad I wasn’t alone. She said the same thing that Persian breeders everywhere have told us. “We don’t understand it – but it happens – and it seems to happen to Persians more than any other purebred!”

I’ve learned to make my peace with this part of it. One breeder I know says she wraps her lost kittens in Christmas paper before she buries them – offering them back as tiny gifts to God – that it helps her cope. I bury my lost kittens in the rose garden memorial to my beloved Rhianna Lynne, who I know takes care of them and is looking down and smiling at my efforts.

Those two little girls from that first, very eventful litter turned out wonderfully. The runt of the litter is probably one of the best show kitties we’ve ever produced! Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! Raising kittens and having a cattery is much like raising children – you have to be flexible, creative, and determined. Just like with kids, you improvise a lot, you learn to trust your instincts, and you LISTEN to what the kitties are telling you. So when someone asks, “How did you know they were sick?” – you just know. You know their behavior, just like kids, and when something isn’t right, you know. You have to accept the fact that sometimes you will spend a night at an emergency clinic, sometimes you miss things because you are home “birthing babies” and of course, when you aren’t doing that, you are at a cat show!

It’s a wonderful hobby. And when one of our favorite judges made that same little runt “Best Kitten” at the show and told me how exquisitely beautiful she is, I cried then, too. I looked down at her in my arms (this baby who I had bottle fed to make sure she got enough – she now weighs nearly 10 pounds) and realized that this is why we go through all this!

I hope this gives the readers some insight into some of the trials and tribulations we go through to bring some of their beloved pets into the world. Trying to be a careful and conscientious breeder, coupled with a little luck and lots of help from God, the successes far outweigh the disappointments. Persians are the sweetest, gentlest cats ever. They have so much love to give, and I wouldn’t take anything for the privilege of being able to love them back.

Technical Information:

Kitten Mortality Complex and/or Fading Kitten Syndrome is a problem faced by almost all purebred breeders, however, statistically, the mortality rate among Persians is substantially higher than many other purebreds. Veterinary experts have speculated that it may in part be due to the high number of recessive genes which are dominant in the Persians, i.e., everything which is “normal” in the cat – short coat, long sleek body, long nose, high ears, etc.- is opposite in the Persian breed. The majestic head, flat face, and tiny ears that we breed for add a predisposition for respiratory difficulties, which also adds another strike against our beautiful babies. Working collectively with several other breeders in the Southern Region and veterinary clinics, we are attempting to combat this problem. Understanding the causes and potential danger signs may allow us to learn more aggressive intervention techniques.

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