I've been reminded recently of those cat breeders who are less than desirable from a kitten buyer's perspective. A frequent complaint I hear from kitten seekers is outdated websites and failure to reply to kitten inquiries. However, few things get under my craw more than getting a phone call from a future or current Maine Coon owner who has had a negative encounter with a fellow breeder. While I can't name names, I often counsel prospective kitten buyers on what questions they should ask a breeder if I don't have a kitten for them.
On the top of my cat peeve list are Maine Coon breeders who don't screen their breeding cats' hearts by ultrasound (or sonogram or echo-cardiogram, same thing). One upset person I spoke to referred to the breeder she'd gotten her kitten from as having cats that were "drop dead gorgeous", emphasis on the first two words. Maine Coon cats are certainly not the only cat to be subject to heart disease, but since we were the first breed that became part of a research project studying the heritability of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) in cats, we are often associated with the disease. Read more about HCM here. HCM affects many cats, pedigreed and not. It does seem to be hereditary, which is why responsible cat breeders (notice I didn't limit my statement to Maine Coon breeders) will have the hearts of their breeding cats echoed on a regular basis (one echo at a year of age isn't enough) to try to eliminate the disease from their lines. Copies of the echoes should be provided to the kitten buyer if requested.
A DNA test came out a few years ago which identifies one of the mutations (called cMyBP-C) responsible for HCM in the Maine Coon. A similar DNA test is also available specific to the Ragdoll breed. More such tests could become the norm if research funds were there. A cat who has been tested as homozygous negative (N/N) will not develop HCM from that particular mutation, nor will its offspring if it has been bred to a homozygous negative cat. It's a nice predictor, however, a DNA negative cat can still get HCM from other genetic mutations which don't have a reliable test yet. If you keep in mind that humans have over 1000 such mutation possibilities for heart disease, you see just how complex this can be.
Therefore, ultrasound performed by a board certified cardiologist familiar with Maine Coons is still the best screening device we have. Better yet is getting a kitten not only from recently echoed parents, but who also has several screened cats behind its pedigree. Still, it's no guarantee. Heart disease is complicated, but responsible breeders do the best they can with the information available and stand behind the kittens they sell. The worst phone call a breeder gets is the one from a buyer telling them the kitten they sold died at an early age. It's news we don't like to hear, but that we need to know for future generations. While HCM in an older cat isn't desirable, many factors play into the health of a geriatric feline so we focus on HCM in the young cats.
Excuses and claims I've heard from certain Maine Coon breeders regarding HCM:
Don't believe it's a valid test
Can't afford to test
It's not in my lines
All of our kittens have their hearts checked by our veterinarian (a vet listening to a kitten's heart does not qualify as HCM screening, it just detects heart murmurs)
All our cats are DNA negative, therefore t
hey will never get HCM (see above explanations on DNA testing)
No matter what you've heard, none of our cats have ever died of HCM (and if you say otherwise we will sue you in court)
The cardiologist told me that my cats' hearts were so perfect that I shouldn't waste my money by continuing to test them.
Other areas in which potential kitten buyers may need to beware:
Cats and kittens in the U.S. should be registered in one or more of the major cat associations such as CFA, TICA, CFF or ACFA. Beware of non-legit cat registries that only require photos of the cat to determine its breed.
Breeders who don't allow kitten buyers to visit the kittens in their home, but want to meet the buyer offsite or ship instead.
Breeders that seem to have a hard time selling their kittens while still actively breeding their cats. "We couldn't sell these
kittens, so we just kept them." The Maine Coon is a very popular breed so there's little excuse in the United States for having a litter of four or five-month-old kittens hanging around. Exception: breeders may keep a couple of kittens to see how they develop or show in order to decide which one(s) stays with them.
Breeders who say negative things about other breeders and their cats.
Breeders who contractually require you feed a certain diet to your kitten, sometimes to their own personal benefit (i.e. ordering a cat food online from which they will receive a cut of the profit). By the way, this kind of contractual agreement is NOT legal according to the attorney I sleep with.
A breeder who doesn't know how to properly spell or pronounce the name of their cat's breed. It's Maine Coon, with an "e" on the end, as in the state of Maine, up there next to the Canadian border, not "Man Coon" or "Main Coon".
Breeders who can't tell the difference between male and female kittens. Sometimes it's confusing in newborns, but after two weeks of age a cat breeder should be able to determine the genders of their kittens.
Breeders who don't know enough about color genetics or the proper name for a certain color. With today's genetic testing, a knowledgeable breeder should know the color possibilities before a litter is born. Granted, most average cat owners don't know or care about how their cat inherited its color or pattern, but it still annoys me. Case in point, a Maine Coon pet owner once told me he'd paid $100 more for his kitten because the breeder informed him it was a rare "buff" color. Um, do you mean it was a cream tabby, the dilute expression of a red tabby? I get cream tabby kittens all the time. Pretty cats, but not pretty rare.