As a follow up to my last post Should I Breed my cat? I wanted to interview an experienced respectable breeder. I’m very grateful to be able to share Molly’s honest experience of over 10 years of breeding Persian cats as well as feeding a raw diet.
Bio: Molly Barr from Mythicbells Persians, has been owned by Persians since 1992 and started breeding them in 2004. Her 10 cats are part of her family and live under her feet in a beautiful cat-friendly home. She shares their adorable daily antics on her Youtube channel Mythicbells. The dedication that Molly gives to the health and well-being of her cats is admirable.
Can you explain your experience feeding raw and how it has affected your breeding program?
Molly: I began feeding raw in March of 2004. I had 3 aging Persians at the time ages: 9, 12 and 12. The two older Persians were Himalayans, the younger Persian was a torie … all females. All three had health issues. The Tortie was diagnosed with heart disease the year before.
One of the Himalayans was recovering from surgery for intestinal lymphomic cancer. A section of her intestines had been removed and she surprised everyone by making a full recovery and living another 6 years. The other Himalayan was diagnosed via a biopsy with inflammatory bowel disease at about age 2 (1994). We tried various prescription diets … all dry and also prednisone. She suffered from it basically for the rest of her life, dying at age 15, however in 2004 I switched her to the raw diet and saw significant improvement for a while which was enough to sell me on the raw diet. Needless to say, cleaning up raging diarrhea for a decade was not fun, but worse was seeing my poor kitty suffer. I gave up on veterinary intervention for her after trying the medications and array of prescription diets and I began my own research into feline nutrition. I found numerous anecdotal write ups on the benefits or the raw diet over all and specifically for IBD. I also discovered that many articles linked intestinal lymphomic cancer to IBD and both to a species inappropriate diet. Up until this time, I had fed 100% dry food without giving it any thought at all. It’s just what one did. The dye was cast when after a full transition to the raw diet, the IBD kitty had her first week completely free of diarrhea. She was not cured, but did have a good year free of symptoms before they began to come back along with other issues. She ultimately lived to 15.
By now I’m sure you are wondering what raw feeding has to do with breeding…. Ultimately deciding to breed was the culmination of A. a long time dream, B. being retired so I could devote my time to this endeavor, c. having 3 aging kitties I adored, but knew would not be with me much longer and I wanted a younger generation coming in, and d. I ached to start young cats out on the raw diet. I’m not sure that I was actually thinking of the over all benefits of pregnant queens, nursing queens, tiny weaning kittens, etc on the raw diet, but ultimately that is what ensued. My first litter was born in October of 2005. Initially, after reading all of the books on how to wean kittens off of mother’s milk, I attempted to follow the advice. This lasted perhaps a day or two before I caved. It calls for mixing what they call “GLOP” — a kind of mixture of milk and other nutrients. Many breeders have their own recipes. What a mess. The kittens struggle and aren’t interested, then finally, I assume, they will eventually start eating/drinking the stuff, then you mix it with canned and/or sodden dry food and eventually they are eating a nice dry kibble just like mom. I threw this all out and started over within a day or two. I placed the raw diet in mom’s dish where the kittens could wade through it, making sure that it had plenty of juice and finely ground meat. Occasionally I’d get them started by letting them lick it off my fingers, many of them just dived in when ready. Weaning is so easy.
In any case that’s my story with the raw diet and breeding, but I also found that I simply never had some of the issues I’d heard of such as a queen without enough milk. Bearing in mind that my “operation” has always been quite small. Two litters on the ground at once is the most I’ve ever had and that only 2 or 3 times. The raw diet is appropriate for all breeding cats in all stages as well as all the kittens and all of the spay/neutered cats. I never needed to supplement the queen’s diet, nor the kittens with vitamins or anything else. A queen will simply eats more if she needs it. I just made sure that it was always available.
One concern that many breeders have who feed the raw diet is what about when they go to their new homes? This was also a concern of mine. It’s something that has to at least be considered. I ultimately decided that I would simply have to inform the kitten buyers that their new kitten was on an ALL wet diet and recommend that they keep it that way. I did, for the early years, feed canned as well in order to better prepare the kittens for their new life. In later years, with all of the new commercially available raw diets on the market I stopped the canned as well except for an occasional treat or as a back up. I also had kitten buyers if local, bring a cooler and I sent them home with a sample of the raw food to get the kitten started. No dry food has been in the house since 2004 and it’s my belief that trying to feed both raw and dry is not good idea. Still, I assume it can be done under some circumstances. But I don’t. I know that many of my kittens have ended up on less than ideal diets in their new homes, but that’s ultimately not my call. On the plus side, many people come to me because of the raw diet and others adopt it as a result of my recommendation.
What do you hope for the future of the Persian cat breed? Why?
Molly: I have no lofty goals for the breed as a whole. I’ve never been much of an activist. I simply follow my heart. However, having said that, I most definitely want the breed to continue. In other words, outlawing breeding is not an answer to any problem in my mind.
On the flip-side, I abhor anyone who chooses to breed these wonderful creatures without full thought to their health and well being.
What has been the biggest challenge in breeding cats?
Molly: A GOOD breeder … a REAL breeder will re-home their breeding cats when they are retired. I’ve failed miserably at this. Obviously I’m just a “dabbler.” It’s extremely easy to let this situation get out of control. The more cats you have the more logistical problems you will have. Cats are not like dogs in this respect. When breeders say they don’t cage and/or they raise their kittens under foot, etc. You need to take this with a grain of salt. A breeder with a lot of cats is probably going to have to use cages and the kittens are not going to be allowed “under foot” due to safety and health considerations. Queens with kittens often to NOT get a long. If this is the case you are restricted in how many litters you can have at one time, or they will have to be caged. If you have more than one stud, or one stud who sprays … some cats may have to live in isolation (large cage or a separate room or, yes, the garage). This is often very true of studs and is their lot in life as part of a breeding program. I have avoided this and have refused to give in, but this has been the most difficult thing for me. Dealing with these logistics. As the numbers increased one room had to be set aside for the queen and kittens which decreases the over all territory for all of the other cats. A stud or queen who sprays is another challenge. I’ve been lucky to manage this at all and it has been instrumental in me making my breeding career much shorter than I would like or any of the people who want my kittens would like.
One other thing that I might add as far as what has been hard for me. The anxiety and stress. With a litter of kittens in house, I live and breath based on their every need and hurdle. Losing one is always on my mind and it’s not uncommon to have this happen. The birth is horrendously anxiety ridden for me… and has ultimately ended in three “C” sections. Thankfully I have never lost a queen, but that is also possible..
And how are your cats doing now?
Molly: My current kitties are amazingly healthy … but still young. The oldest two just turned 11 the others are 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 6, and 2. Two of my current kitties were born here and therefore weaned onto the raw diet (some canned) the rest came in as kittens and were immediately put on the raw/canned diet. All came from breeders who fed dry and have not had dry since then. I don’t feel this is old enough to make a valid comparison, nor is my small pride an adequate case study, but regardless these are my experiences.
Hairballs, Vomiting, Skin – When I made the switch to raw vomiting and hairballs became almost a thing of the past. I still see it, of course, but it’s not a daily occurrence which it nearly was with cats on kibble. The other thing was that the two older Persians had small scabby lesions on their skin. Minor, but noticeable when you petted them. I took them to the vet for evaluation and he more or less shrugged his shoulders that it might be some kind of an allergy but wasn’t anything to be concerned about. They had this condition and I just didn’t think much about it until I happened to notice a year or so into the raw diet that those lesions were no longer there.
However, to my dismay, two of my kitties began to have chronic colitis (I’m calling it that … but it was never formally diagnosed — symptoms: diarrhea, often with blood, several times a month). I was horrified… after all my work with feline nutrition that I should have this issue. Simba Kahn, my stud, suffered from it from about the ages of 5 to 7. The other kitty is my 11 year old queen. Her symptoms were (are?) the same and continued until recently — perhaps 4 years? I made the decision to go with 100% raw and see what happened. My stud’s symptoms disappeared and never returned (so far … 2 years). The queen’s episodes lessened by 50 – 75% but did not stop. Earlier this year, I’d been reading about the use of Tylosin for chronic diarrhea. It’s an anti-biotic, but thought useful for it’s anti-inflammatory benefits. In all my years of dealing with diarrhea in cats, this had never been suggested to me. I requested that she be put on this for a period of time and she hasn’t had an episode since then…. but it was only this year. Time will tell. I still strongly believe in the raw diet, but it’s not a panacea for all ills.
What has your vet’s reaction been to feeding raw?
Awwwwh reading Molly’s words just fills my heart with her dedication and love for her cats. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience, I am so grateful to hear her story. I agree that raw feeding is not a magic cure all. But it is the best we can do. Click here to read more about my experiences feeding a raw diet.
Photo Credits: Molly Barr from Mythicbells Persians.