You may have read in the section of babies born at home, that we had to face a tragedy in February 2020. Breeding is not an easy job, and in spite of the image that it can let appear from the outside, breeding is not only cuddling and pampering adorable kittens. It is true that this side is very pleasant and when everything goes well it is a pure happiness, a moment of intense joy, but unfortunately the reality is quite different and you have to be ready to be close to death, almost regularly, when you decide to start this adventure.
Focus on health
First of all, before envisaging a birth, it is necessary to think about the mating and before choosing a suitor for his little protégée, it is of course necessary to carry out the indispensable sanitary tests. All my cats are tested for the following diseases:
- PKD (polycystic kidney disease) by salivary sampling
- Fiv (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) by blood sampling
- Felv (Feline leukemia) by blood sampling
- HCM (feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) by annual ultrasound
In parallel to these tests, there is another point to know before considering a marriage, it is the blood type of both parents. This notion is as important as the above mentioned diseases because if we don't take it into account and if we marry two cats without knowing their respective blood type, we can cause the death of the whole litter in less than 48 hours after the birth, this phenomenon is called Neonatal Erythrolysis. I will tell you about the above mentioned diseases in a future article.
Once all these tests have been done and they assure that our cats are healthy, it is then time to let Mother Nature work. The gestation period for the cat lasts on average 65 days with variations of a few days possible depending on the female, the breed, the number of kittens... Personally, I make a control X-ray a little before 50 days of gestation to count the number of babies.
When the time of birth comes, you must be available and watch over the mother-to-be to ensure that everything goes well. It is absolutely necessary to be present to intervene in an emergency if something goes wrong. It is a special moment and not without risks.
What I'm going to write may shock you, but this is how I feel: we are psychologically ready to lose a baby at birth, but not the mother... Obviously, the death of a kitten is not something that leaves us indifferent, it's terribly sad to see this little being inanimate, who didn't even have the chance to live... Yes, we cry, yes, we think it's unfair and sometimes we even feel guilty. But losing our cat is the worst possible scenario, the one we don't imagine, the one we won't accept and above all, the one we can't prepare ourselves for... And yet this is the drama we lived in February 2020
Moment of joy in sight!
On February 16, 2020, after 64 days of gestation, my Nala (British shorthair) finally showed us that the big moment had arrived! We were on the road and I could see the contractions starting through our surveillance camera. What a joy, what a moment of extreme excitement... I still remember every second of it... We soon arrived home and I settled in next to her. At first she seemed calm, even though the contractions were painful, she seemed to be handling this moment calmly. Then, after half an hour, the first pouch appeared and I could already see a little tongue coming out. Nala, more agitated, could not settle down and preferred to get up and walk... It was not easy for me but I let her since that is how she wanted to do it. After three contractions baby 1 was out, phew! Nala was a bit lost, it was her very first litter. Three more babies followed. Nala had just given birth to four little wonders, my mommy heart was pounding, my baby had had babies... wow what an incredible feeling! I had to intervene to open the pouches and cut the cords because Nala had not done so. It was not a big deal and in a primiparous (first litter for the mom) it is something that can happen. She was licking her babies and they quickly found their way to her teats, it was won. A few more checks to do, the placentas were there and whole (it's very important to check the integrity of the membrane to make sure that there is nothing left in the uterus and thus avoid an infection which often degenerates very quickly), I changed the birth sheets and installed a small and clean nest. Everything was fine in the best of worlds. Before letting them rest, it is important to follow the weight of the kittens every day to make sure of their good health. Of the four kittens, two weighed more than 95 grams, one weighed 75 grams and one weighed barely 60 grams.
In spite of the very small weight of the last one, and seeing that it suckled correctly I withdrew a little and I left them quiet, to discover themselves in family. For more surveillance, the kittens are born in our room. Everything was fine when we went to bed. Nala seemed calm and happy in her role of mom, the babies were buried in the fur, warm and well attached to the nipples.
The first days went very well except for two things that worried me, Nala was not eating much and the little one was not gaining weight. After a phone call to the vet: "nothing serious for Nala, after a birth it's a phenomenon that happens and concerning her little kitten, she was going to need a lot of luck to get through it". I confess that this is not a sentence that I wanted to hear, but I was ready, the mortality of kittens before, during or just after birth is something, unfortunately, frequent.
"The results of the 8 studies, which include laboratory and breeding cattery conditions, are as follows: stillbirths between 4.4 and 11.3%, one-week mortality rates between 11.2 and 17%, and weaned kitten rates between 72.7 and 85.2%. All of these studies suggest that there is approximately 15-25% of kitten loss from birth to weaning across all breeds."NATIONAL VETERINARY SCHOOL OF ALFORT
On February 20, 2020, four days after the birth of the kittens, Nala was no longer the same, within an hour everything had changed, I was with her at 9:30 pm and everything was fine and when I sat next to her in the evening (around 10:30 pm) she was breathing hard, fast, like a cat that was too hot. Her temperature was not high, I took her out of her little nest and she stayed on the bed with us. After 30 minutes no change, I called the vet and after 25 minutes of waiting on the line, an operator informed me that it didn't seem to be too serious and that I should call back during the night if things got worse. After 10 minutes I finally called back and by insisting hard and long she finally "agreed to disturb the vet on duty"... I was delighted as you can imagine but I didn't have time to think too much, I had an appointment at midnight in a veterinary clinic that was not mine (there were three offices to manage emergencies and not lucky, that night it was not my usual clinic).
In a hurry we loaded Nala and her four babies into a carrier filled with blankets (zero degrees outside) and I headed to the clinic (about a 25 minute drive). I arrived at the parking lot at the same time as the vet who had just been assigned to me. She made me wait for almost 10 minutes outside the door while she "prepared" the office... Anyway...
Once inside, she noticed that Nala was breathing heavily and took her temperature: it had risen to 39.5. I asked for a lung x-ray, I could see and hear that something was wrong. Her answer left me almost speechless: "I am three months pregnant and cannot do the x-ray"... I retorted that I had already done x-rays, that all she had to do was explain to me how the machine worked, that I could position her and hold her while she came out for the time of the x-ray (a few seconds)... She never wanted to give in. She put Nala on cortisone and asked me to come back at the end of the morning, she had decided to keep her under observation.
I went home stressed and I assure you that the night was very short. At 8:30 I called and was asked to come in at 11:00.
When I got to the consulting room and saw Nala I felt better, just for a moment. She was still breathing the same way and still had a fever. The vet explained to me that Nala had an x-ray at 10:00 am (instead of 12:00 am) and that there were spots on her lungs, lots of little spots. At that time she added that it was nothing serious according to her but just Worms. Worms??? Nala was dewormed every 3 months and her last deworming was on February 6, 10 days before giving birth. I didn't believe this version for a moment... not for a second!
As a precaution she asked me to give an antibiotic and a cortisone tablet in the morning and in the evening (the first one was to be given the same evening, so we had to wait another 8 hours) and she also gave me a deworming tablet... She was very encouraging and not at all worried about Nala, a little more for the babies because she had asked me to give them a bottle during Nala's treatment. For her, in less than a week everything would be fine...
When the dream turns into a nightmare
I picked up the family and stopped by my mother's house (who lived only 5 minutes away from the clinic). Nala had moved to a quiet room with her babies but her breathing was not improving. We had to wait and leave her alone and avoid any stress. We were anxious for the week to pass and we were looking forward to having our little Nala back to her old self so she could fully enjoy her babies.
But not everything happened like that... Nala didn't survive the night... I won't dwell on it too much, it's still complicated to talk about it today.
Nala passed away quietly, leaving behind her four little kittens and a human family in misfortune. She was our Chachat for 3 years, an infinite sweetness, a glue pot cat, adorable, cuddly, she was our Nala. I can't tell you what we felt when we took her in our arms: sadness, guilt, disgust, hatred, pain... It's a moment I won't forget, but I would like to forget.
We wanted to scream at everyone, life had just taken a member of our family away from us, just like that, for free. Nala didn't deserve this, her kittens didn't either... How was it possible to turn a moment of intense joy like a birth into a nightmare as horrible as the one we were recently immersed in?
When we regained "consciousness" I called the veterinary clinic that had reassured me less than 24 hours ago... The only thing they said to me was "we are sorry". I was so angry at them. After consultation, we decided to ask for an autopsy at our usual clinic, we had to know what had happened to our sweet Nala.
In parallel to this tragedy, four little kittens had just lost their mother. How were we going to manage these little beings so dependent and fragile? We pulled up our sleeves and had to feed these little balls of hair every two hours, day and night. We owed it to Nala, we had to try everything to save them.
Unfortunately, the little guy had been losing weight day after day since he was born and the inevitable happened... He breathed his last on Monday, February 24, the day we got Nala's body back from the autopsy.
That day was very special, failure, defeat, sadness, guilt were the words that smashed our heads. At that moment, the only desire I had was to drop everything, we should not be ashamed to say it, that day we almost dropped everything. The only thing that kept us going was the promise we had made to Nala, we still had three little people to save at all costs.
The autopsy results came back two days later. Nala died from a germ rise, an unlikely thing, the vets at my clinic had never seen this before. This is comparable to staphylococcus aureus, the germ was naturally present but it took advantage of the birth, and therefore of a drop in Nala's body immune defenses, to get in and attack her organs.
The spots that the veterinarian on duty had thought were worms were actually abscesses. The lungs had been affected, as had the heart. The infection had spread with lightning speed and left Nala with no chance. She died of a pulmonary hemorrhage that led to cardiac arrest...
A lot of questions came to my mind, how was this possible? Here all the cloths, plaids, comforters, blankets which are used for our cats are washed with Sanytol. I tried to find out for hours and hours, but the only explanation the vet had was "bad luck".
Fighting for survival
Afterwards, luck smiled on us a little more, our three remaining kittens fought as best they could to survive and bottle after bottle, they finally regained normal weights and an incredible will to live. The smallest of the three had a urinary tract infection and we went through a rough time with her as she was condemned by the vets. I went to the clinic every other day or so but no treatment was possible for her because of her small weight. We had to stimulate her, love her and hope very hard. She was feeding well but while the first two were getting bigger, she was stagnating and some days she was losing weight. For more than ten days, we thought we were losing her every day. When I think back, it was a really bad time.
When the babies were three weeks old, we had a bit of a breather, it was always tiring to play the role of the mother, we always had this immense sorrow but finally, we were reassured about their chances of survival, even for the little shrimp, her weight was finally coming back, slowly of course, but it was coming back.
We received a lot of help, Pearl who was only 7 months old at the time developed an incredible maternal instinct and in a few days she decided to become their mother, offering them the love and affection they needed. What a joyful moment, she seemed to be blossoming and my babies finally had the sweetness and love of a mommy cat. She was fantastic and we can never thank her enough. A beautiful lesson in life and empathy.
To end on a positive note, our three kittens came through this ordeal in the best way possible. They were lively kittens, playful, cuddly, and fused with the human. Two of them found extraordinary families and live today surrounded by love, Rivage and Rupert are exceptional cats and their departures were a trial for us. When I think of them even today, tears come easily. We had created a special bond with these babies.
The third one, the one who was condemned, also won her fight for life and became a beautiful lady, it is R'mione. Given what we had been through, it was obvious to us that we had to keep a little piece of our Nala, so it was only natural that she stayed with us.
This ordeal will have hurt us and brought us down, but it will also have taught us that even when all seems lost, we must never give up and that as long as there is life there is hope. Nala was not able to stand up to the infection, but her cubs, for whom the future was bleak, fought and won the right to live.
Mother Nature, the great winner
It is very hard to realize that finally, we can do everything as well as we can, complete health tests, an adapted food, a regular veterinary follow-up, an important hygiene... nothing is ever simple and nothing happens as expected. When I see the number of births that take place in the middle of the street, in cardboard boxes, in the middle of garbage, by abandoned cats, badly fed and without any care, I tell myself that indeed it is the luck that was lacking this time.
Breeding, fortunately, is also full of wonderful moments but we must not forget that in the end, no matter how much we put in place, Mother Nature will always have the last word. I hope, selfishly, that we will never be faced with such a drama again, we got up this time but I'm not sure we'll get there a second time.
Perhaps one should not love in order not to suffer, but without love this job would not have been possible. Working with animals is something impossible in my opinion if you don't love them sincerely and deeply. It takes a lot of love to go through trials like this one, it is this strength that lifts us up and allows us to surpass ourselves.