Updated: Nov 27, 2021
This blog is going to be pretty blunt. It may contain language or other really real and raw content so fair warning.
The blog has been a little lacking lately as I've needed to write this for a while but frankly I’ve been avoiding it. I have experienced a lot of trauma in my life, as I’m sure many people have but this one involved my cattery and it has DEEPLY affected me. I've debated even sharing it knowing my experience could be the same, most likely different than others and I may be judged and criticized. It's hard to describe and really put the emotion you need to into a piece that really drives the point home to others. Often you can sympathize with others' experiences but you don’t often feel the full force of a situation unless you have yourself experienced it and often times those feelings and wounds slowly fade over time making it harder to relate to others in the same manner as when you experienced it and that can be hard. Sometimes you feel very alone in what you are doing.
I have been a Breeder since 2017 (registered and mentored since 2016), just four years (aside from a lifetime, 23 years of education and hands-on experience) I can tell you breeding isn’t rainbows and butterflies (see So You Want to Breed Bengals The Confessions of a Bengal Breeder, Another Year in Review, Update on Confessions of a Bengal Breeder and Ethical Breeding is not a Hobby)
Its been 9 months since the trauma happened, 2 months since the active trauma ended and there is no current end date to when I can say I have come to terms with what happened. In the fall of 2020, I was co-parenting a bonded pair of girls. Their litters were 2 weeks apart. They cared for each other, they soothed each other, they loved each other. I was a little nervous to co-parent (note only co-parent girls that you know extremely well, it's not for every cat and can be extremely dangerous to the moms and babies) but they did amazing. They supported each other through pregnancy and through delivery. They cared for each others’ babies and co-nursed no problem. In that respect, the co-parenting was a dream.
A week or two before Mom 1 gave birth (she was the first) she got a small respiratory thing but it cleared before the babies were born. We treated them by boosting her immune system. Mom 2 never got sick. We assumed we got something from the vet. We were still in the thick of COVID and my husband and I basically went food shopping once every 1-2 months and went to the vet which was still full service (thankfully), but that was it. We had been there a few times for spay and neuters and a constipated cat. So we weren’t at pet stores, other breeders' catteries, shows, no breeders or pet owners came to our cattery and we didn’t bring any new cats in so logically speaking we had gotten something from the vet.
We thought we were fine. Mom 1’s respiratory stuff cleared up and Mom 2 was not (and never actually got) sick. Unfortunately, she must have been shedding something because about 1-2 weeks after Mom 1’s babies, a litter of six were born they got sick as well. Snotty noses, sneezing, swollen eyes, lethargy, and losing weight. So we started giving fluids by needle (they were too small for a bag) kitten glop and formula to supplement, vitamins and appetite stimulants, immune boosters to fight this, and then conventional antibiotics. Unfortunately, I had to push for a different antibiotic for my babies as the first two that were prescribed after 3-5 days were not doing anything. I do feel this caused a huge setback in their recovery.
But they started to recover except for one. She was small, she looked almost stunted in growth at this point, but she was a fighter. She ate, she snuggled she was strong despite how pitiful she looked and how small she was. Things were going really well and I thought she would make a turn. Sadly she went downhill after that and passed away in our arms around 6 weeks of age.
This whole time I was debating separating the moms. But unfortunately 1. If anyone was to get sick, they were already exposed 2. While still pregnant anytime, I took one mom from the other for something like nail trims, the other would desperately cry and try to find her 3. Mom 1 was a poor eater when she is by herself. Finally, at this same time, we took in a mother and daughter (human) escaping an abusive relationship, I was sick AND our contractors were building our boys' deluxe condos so we had cats occupying all areas of the house including our quarantine suites and people now in our guest bedroom and bathroom. So in the end I felt I would just be stressing my moms out causing more problems. Looking back I am not sure if separating them would have changed the situation.
Meanwhile, Mom 2 had her babies, also a litter of six. One kitten of the six was a runt and needed some extra help supplementation wise but this isn’t super uncommon for large litters. But he was a failure to thrive. No matter how much heat, attention, and food we gave he just wasn’t growing and eventually passed away in our hands.
Soon after when the babies were 7-11 days old we started hearing sneezing and they were beginning to lose weight. We immediately started antibiotics, supplementing every 2 hours around the clock, administering sub Q and oral fluids, appetite stimulants, and running a diffuser 24/7. Mom 1 and 2 continued to care for the babies but soon we were losing 1-2 kittens per day. Some seemed fine and then just would take a turn. Some mornings we woke up to find 1-2 had passed away. I hate letting a baby die alone. There were siblings and moms, but still, moms know when something is wrong and focuses energy and attention on the thriving babies.
Over the next week despite medical attention, and around the clock care (and around the clock doesn’t mean during the day and we get to sleep through the night, no, it means getting up every 2 hours no matter how tired you are to feed, give fluids, make sure they are warm, help them go to the bathroom, weigh them no matter how tired and exhausted you are) we lost 5 of the 6 kittens in this litter. Mom 2 never got sick and neither did her little survivor.
At this point, it was time to know what the fuck was going on. Why were my kittens dying one by one? What was I doing wrong? We took a kitten each from these two litters and a third from a much older litter for some testing. We also took the last kitten who passed away that day for an autopsy. That in itself was an adventure as due to COVID no one was doing non-emergent autopsies and the facility that did them was requiring mandatory cremation after, but no one was performing cremations. Eventually, we found the University of Illinois and were able to rush ship the poor baby to their lab for testing. The other three kittens had an exam and each received a PCR respiratory panel.
Almost two (excruciating) weeks later the results came back. The current kittens had mycoplasma and herpes virus, while the ones that died were further complicated with pneumonia. It was nice to finally have answers so I could move forward and improve my practices and how I cared for my babies.
In some ways, it was a relief after the babies passed away. They were no longer suffering and I felt like I didn’t have to worry anymore about who was going to get sick next. I could focus on keeping the others healthy and moving forward but at the same time, I felt I had reached rock bottom. I did everything in my power, my knowledge, and with the guidance of my vet to help my babies and despite all that 6 of my 12 kittens died. They just fucking died, one by one. I felt a new sense of helplessness and hopelessness. I was emotionally, physically, and mentally drained.
Sadly the story continues from here. When the babies were about 6 and 8 weeks old and completely potty trained, we moved them from the nursing and delivery suite into the main kitten room for their remaining time with us (another 8-10 weeks).
A few days after letting them out, a few had the sniffles which we immediately again started treating. While most of them recovered within the week, one little boy just got worse. He was snotty, lethargic, dehydrated, and started losing weight after not eating despite supplements, appetite stimulants, regular subcutaneous fluids, and antibiotics. We did finally see a turning point when we tried a new antibiotic.
In mid-December, around day five of that antibiotic, I came down to feed everyone and he was absolutely just petrified. He was frozen in the scared cat position, eyes wide, foaming at the mouth. We had no idea what was going on. We tried to console him but nothing seemed to calm him. A day or two later I noticed some rapid eye movement and had a feeling he was having seizures. Sadly I was right, he was having focal seizures that resulted in rapid eye movement, ear, and facial twitching.
We immediately contacted a close friend to get the seizures under control. For the next 4 months, our little boy was on intense medical regiment protocol that not only was around the clock but also required us to adjust our schedule to accommodate him. At times he was extremely stable but then something would drastically change and we would have to search high and low to figure out why things now were a problem.
One day I took my husband to the dentist 15 minutes into town for a procedure. After we were going to see an art show he was in and go out for dinner for a nice date. I got dressed up, did my hair and nails but part of the way through I checked my cameras and he was having a massive seizure so we had to rush home to care for him. His seizure lasted a while and he had a second that day as well.
His seizures did change into Grand Mal seizures. He would spring off the walls then have full-body seizures on the floor. We had to wrap him in blankets so he wouldn’t hurt himself. They then turned into grand mal and focal seizures which also now included oral behavior where several times he bit through his tongue leaving holes and a bloody mess.
All during this, he was a trooper. He asked for his medication, loved to eat, he was affectionate and quirky, he loved the attention, and while exhausted after seizures seemed to have a fight left in him.
A lot of paranoia came with this though. Constantly I checked my cameras, waking up out of sound sleeps to check just hoping and anxious that he wasn’t having a seizure I had to stop. That anxiety was terrible. If he did have a seizure sometimes I could stop them in 10-20 minutes other times it took hours. I got little sleep, I was exhausted constantly, and leaving my house was not really an option.
I constantly had to be on my feet because he quickly became intolerant to the medications, new symptoms would occur, new schedules and protocols needed to be created. Sometimes it was a complete guessing game.
Because he was also always under a lot of physiological stress his respiratory systems could come and go and it could be assumed he could shed the herpes or mycoplasma so he did live in quarantine and our cleaning protocols ended up making me feel borderline germaphobic.
I bought over 20 sets of scrubs, pants, shirts, and jackets and I was gifted shoe covers. We were doing over four loads of laundry a week (we are a family of two) with the amount of clothing I was going through. I would go in with him six times a day, twice to feed him, four times to give him medications, then any additional time for cleaning messes, and times when he had seizures I had to stop. We went through tons of sanitizer. I couldn’t shower each and every time I was in with him so I would sanitize my hands, legs, and face, take off my scrubs, completely change my clothing, wash my arms and hands with soap and water, change into new clothing then sanitizer again. See why I felt like a germaphobe?
Of course, we had to take further steps which is where our 5 Degrees of Separation: Preventing the Spread of Illness and Disease blog came from. We devised a way to walk around our cattery, bought shoes for each room, and started using a cleaner that killed pretty much anything you could think of. We also were much more careful at the vet including having specific clothing and shoes for our visits, quarantining kittens and cats after they come back, spraying them with colloidal silver since most were being spayed and neutered and can’t be bathed after the vet.
Furthermore, we started an immunostimulant for all our kittens beginning 3 days after birth. Our two litters got sick far before they even could have been vaccinated and this new stimulant provides an early protocol to stimulate the immune system. In addition, they are now given herbal immune, respiratory, and DNA boosters at critical times such as weaning, going into the kitten room, and before going home.
So far with the kittens, we have produced since including another litter from Mom 1 and 2 things have gone well health-wise *knock on wood*
Back to little boy though. Around March we decided it was best he is placed in a forever home that could provide much more than we could. We found an amazing woman who had experience and access to new therapies for him. We spent a few months getting to know her, facetiming when he had seizures, keeping her updated with every little quirk. She immediately fell in love and was ready to take on all his special needs. It was a hard decision for us to make. We wanted the ultimate best for him, we didn’t want to feel like we were “dumping” him on someone else, we didn’t want to burden someone. A million scenarios went through our heads while making this decision.
Finally, in May his new family came to pick him up, a 12-hour drive (one-way trip). He left with basically a welcome pack and instructions that look like we were leaving our child with a grandparent.
For days life was strange. I felt the need to keep checking my cameras, I had to delete all my alarms but I still found myself checking the time, it was weird to sleep in and not cater my days around him.
The new family kept in constant contact. Lots of updates, pictures, videos, I was constantly in the loop and the tables turned when she requested facetime when he had a seizure.
One night things got worse. He had a massive seizure, for hours she tried to get it to stop, but it wouldn’t so at 2:30 am she took him to the ER hoping they could get them to stop and we could move forward with alternative therapies and medications. Unfortunately after two IVs of valium with no change, we made the joint decision that it was best he be put to sleep. It was nothing we anticipated but it was the best thing for him to no longer be in any kind of suffering or pain. It didn’t make it any easier on either of us. I cried for a while.
It's now two months after his passing and I'm not sure if it has gotten any easier. I still feel bad for him. I worry I just let him suffer, I worry about the pain I caused for his new family, I question if he should have been let go sooner, I question if the medications and protocols were right. I don’t go into his room, neither does his other family at their house. I cry when I see his pictures or videos (as well as his sister and his co-litter). I still feel guilty, I still am sad, and a million other feelings I can’t really even describe.
While if this ever were to happen again (I pray to every god, deity, etc it doesn't), I would do everything in my power to take care of my cats and kittens, but I don’t know if I could actually handle it. This experience took so much from me. I was broken by the end of October and again in May. I was mentally, physically, and emotionally tired and I continue trying to figure out how to do even better, to prevent something like this again, and to somehow figure out how to move on.
It changed more in me. How I clean, walk around my cattery. I’m paranoid. Every twitch, sniffle, sneeze, itch calls for even more detailed notes and analysis. I question myself a lot. If I should still breed, if I'm doing the right thing, made the right decision, am I cleaning enough, do I have enough balance. I constantly am calculating the right treatments, the right vet. The list goes on and on. It’s gotten better but I do feel a little crazy in all this. But I guess that’s anything. You get in a car accident and you drive more hyperaware and more carefully. A family member passes and you vow to live life to the fullest, get your emergency info and Will in order. A companion animal passes and you swear you will never have another pet and go through that pain again. It's only natural.
This isn’t something just unique to me. It doesn’t mean I am a backyard breeder or a bad breeder. It doesn’t mean my cattery is dirty and unsanitary (all things frankly I've had to reconvince myself of because it's true and I can’t keep beating myself up). Most breeders don’t talk about this stuff which is a detriment as people have a harder time being educated and we are treated as if we are not human and have no feelings. It is painful and there are some people that will judge you (I was open with some people and it was used against me). It's unfortunate for all parties. This sometimes is the reality of breeding and it fucking sucks. All you can do is re-evaluate, move forward and be better or quit. I’m certainly not done yet but it’ll take some time to heal.