Some tips and explanations and why you should choose to test inside a Health program!
Now I will write a very important text, it will most likely be a real marathon text, but this is important to reveal. There is so much wrong knowledge, so much wrong "belief" about tests and the health programs.
This text is just as important for breeders as for the pet buyer, having healthy cats is what we all wish for, whether we just wish to have a cuddly little friend at home, which we may exhibit or if we intend to breed on the cat. The latter, of course, requires an enormously much greater commitment and much more knowledge than if you are just looking for a cat just to keep you company.
But we all wish for a healthy cat!
Those who have not seen a cat with HD can have a look below and then ask your self one question. How do you think this may feel for the cat in question? Below the cat on the left is one of mine who had degree 2-3 on his hips. The hip on the left is degree 3, you can clearly see how the hip bowl does not grasp the bullet and that it will move around in the hip joint and it will in time create more problems like arthritis and even more pain.
The cat on the right is also one of mine, but with perfectly normal hips.
Ask your self is this a test you believe we should ignore? I hope you will come to the same conclusion I did in 2005, absolutely not!
In Maine coon, we mainly have two diseases to test for, it’s HD (Hip Dysplasia) and HCM (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy). HD is relatively easy to do, just an X-ray at a regular veterinarian who is then sending the x-ray and form to a specialist for assessment. We do this only once! HCM is a little bit harder, they have only managed to map one mutation that causes HCM and according to studies, there must be more this means that the DNA test we actually have for HCM is far from enough since we only see that the cat is free from ONE of the mutations. In the link you can read more about the studies made on HCM, the veterinarian is one of Sweden's primary researchers on HCM in cats and has a very good explanation as to why only DNA tests are not enough. Unfourtnantly this is in Swedish but it might be possible to runt it through google translate. I will look for a similar study or translated material in English to add here.
Therefore, we need to use Ultrasound and this must be done with adequate equipment and a specialist cardiologist (you should not go to your general practitioner with your own heart failure and ask them to check it out a bit quick with substandard equipment)? There is a reason why we by general doctors often are being referred to specialists when we are sick.
The same goes for our cats they also deserve a specialist. The health program created a list of veterinarians both in Sweden and in other countries all over the world of veterinarians who got those skills and who have the equipment needed. These can be found in a list on Pawpeds.
The link below shows what the requirements are to become a listed veterinarian:
You can read about how to do the tests on www.pawpeds.com , so I will not talk about that anymore, however, I will talk about health programs, what IS a health program, what does it mean? When can you call something a health program?
Below I will list some aspects of what is required for a successful health program, but I will also add the link to the PawPed explanation here:
A health program does not mean that any researcher should sit there and solve the problems for us, neither to sit in your little cottage, test your own cats, and inform those who you feel might be concerned and maybe those who make themselves ask for the results.
So what is actually a health program and why design one?
Well, first of all, we start a health program when we discover a health issue within our breed, and we are testing our cats first and foremost for their sake not our own. Not for good looks, not because we should, but to actually help the breed if possible be free of the disease or at least lower the amount affected cats.
Pawped's health program was first started by the Maine Coon-club (Maine coon-katten in Sweden) and received inspiration from the dog side and SKK (Svenska Kennelklubben), where they have worked for a long time with successful health programs on dogs and also studied other types of health programs and what type of programs were more successful than others.
It's been found out, that there are some things that are extra important for a health program to be successful (and we want that for our cats, won't we?).
- Open registers are the most important thing, this means that all results are submitted, whether they are good or bad, no results are withheld registration and all results are public to anyone to see. The genetics discovered that there are several reasons why this is so important. If the registers were not public, breeders often would have to rely solely on trusting the words of others, it would also be extremely time-consuming and difficult to get the health information for grandmothers, grandfathers, etc. You might even be attacked by some breeders when you start to ask them for the results of the cats behind your cat, and the result of this might be that you rather not ask anyone again. So, therefore, the results are submitted directly by the veterinarian. If you test within the health programs it is therefore not possible to submit your results by yourself. You will use the special form, sign it before the test is done, and the vet will then send the information to the specialist who after the assessment sends it to the health program registrar who will then give you your results.
Below is an example:
Let's say you want to buy a kitten for breeding purpose, you want to know there is no severe HD behind in the lines. The breeder of the grandparents, states that the tests are done (I write states since we do not have any actual proof these are done, even if we, of course, do not want to distrust the breeder). If you for some reason does not get along with this breeder, it will be very unpleasant to contact the breeder and ask for the ”proof”. That that the tests are actually done and that the cat is ok! If you are getting along with the breeder it will still be hard, by asking for ”proof” it will feel like you mistrust the breeder, that you do not believe them when they say its done and ok, right?! Of course, we do hope that no one will lie about tests and be saying that the cat is ok if it’s not or stat they are testing when they are not. But how can we know for sure? We can’t, not without asking for copies of the papers. This might be very time-consuming, but also very unpleasant! In an open register, you will see right away and you will know that all results been id-secured so that the cat tested actually are the right one. This means you can trust the results in the register.
- One should build a health program on information and education rather than requirements! This might sound wrong, but it’s rarely a good way if breeders are testing just because they have to. And without understanding why they should do it, it’s rarely successful. To inform and teach breeders (like the purpose of this document) is much better. This is mainly for new breeders or those who have not yet started testing. Maybe you just did not know about all this at the start. It is never too late to change direction and to start testing inside the health program.
- To secure the identity of the cat who is about to be tested is also a very important part of a health program. The cat needs to have a microchip and this number will be checked and noted on the test form. This is hardly any problem since all of our cats are chipped before they leave the breeder (at least in Sweden and most of Europe). Why we need to secure the id of the cat, I guess is nothing I need to explain? Of course to prevent cheating, to be able to trust that the results are correct. So the veterinarian will check the id-chip and make sure the same is on the health form so that we know we do have the right cat in front of us.
In our health program, it works a bit differently on HD or HCM. When doing an HCM ultrasound, the vet completes the form and then takes a copy of it that will be sent to the health program for registration, while you will keep the original form. When doing an HD test, the form will be sent together with the X-ray to a specialist in Sweden who reads the X-ray and writes down the result on the form, which will then be sent to the registrar who will send the result to you. This makes you have to wait a bit on for your HD-result.
Testing means in no way, we have any guarantees that our offsprings will not get HD or HCM, but by testing, we have done everything we can. Getting a cat that actually has HD or HCM is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, there's nothing that points you out as a bad breeder, this can happen to anyone, anytime. The ones who have been doing those tests for a while will probably have the experience of their cats or offsprings being affected at least once or twice. It was however, much more common before, then it is now and this is something to thank the health program for.
Another important aspect of the health program is that the guides and guidelines are developed by researchers and veterinarians as well as those who are knowledgeable about population genetics. It's really important that we do not select too hard, never remove more than 30% of the breed of the same generation. This is one of the main reasons that we do not immediately eliminate all relatives of those who have received Equivocal or HCM from breeding, but instead wait and test the cat a little later before making a decision. These guidelines can be read on pawpeds.com. The same goes for HD, where we use cats that have degree 1, on one or both hips for breeding, but we will mate this cat only to a cat that is completely normal on both hips. Here is one of the things that makes an open register so nice, if we have a cat with degree 1/1 on their hips, of course, we will mate this with one with a cat who is normal/normal... but what happens if mom or dad to the cat who is normal/normal would have degree 2 or 3 on their hip? This wouldn't be very good? Probably not, but how do we know the results of the parents if they are not tested in the health program?
And last but not least, cooperation between breeders is extremely important!
So much more important than many might think, I often see breeders with males used exclusively on their own females, breeders with completely unrealistic restriction contracts that nothing, absolutely nothing can be sold to breeding, etc, etc, etc ... there are a lot of different ones. Restrictions if they are "reasonable" is not wrong at all, but it’s when we end up being unreasonable, we are out on thin ice.
As a final, I will explain what is required to have a long-term breeding program.
100 cats are what is required as an absolute minimum unless the cats will suffer problems with inbreeding, preferably the number should be about 200 to be on the safe side. So if you personally can’t have 100-200 cats, you have no choice but to cooperate with other breeders, let other breeders use your males, borrow males from other breeders, sell females and males from your litters and buy a new kitten from other breeders. This breed is OUR BREED, ours together, we have it in common and need to work together to preserve it!
If you want to read more about this with effective populations, I will post a few links below:
So to finish we take all that's incredibly important in short teams!
- Open register, not voluntary based!
- Id-security of the cats who are tested!
- Inform and educate!
- Cooperate (also over borders)
This information may, of course, be spread and used for information on the importance of the health program and the importance of transparency as well as the importance of cooperation between all of us. Not allowed to be copied, use it with my name on it if someone would have questions.
By: Malin Sundqvist