CATS AND CAT CARE - 1950s - 1960s: BREEDING AND EXHIBITING
This article is part of a series looking about cats and cat care in Britain from the late 1800s through to the 1970s.
Soderbergh, P M; "Your Cat" (1951) (using 3rd edition; 1959)
Soderbergh, P M; "Pedigree Cats, Their Varieties, Breeding and Exhibition" (1958)
Tenent, Rose; "Pedigree Cats" (1955)
Jude, Albert Charles; "Cat Genetics" (1955) (reprinted 1967, 1977)
Mery, Fernand; "Just Cats" (1957) (originally published in French)
Mery, Fernand; "The Life, History and Magic of the Cat" (1966) (originally published in French)
Vesey-Fitzgerald, Brian "Cats" (1958)
Cats Protection League (various leaflets from 1960s & 1970s)
Other sources are as credited in the text with additional personal information and commentary.
Much has been written about cats over the years and it is interesting to consider past views in the light of modern developments. For instance, in "Origin of Species" (1859), Charles Darwin wrote "...cats from their nocturnal habits, cannot be so easily matched [bred] and although so much valued by women and children, we rarely see a distinct breed long kept up." By the 1940s, things were very different - there were a numbr of distinct breeds and the science of genetics was soon to play a part in the scientific breeding of cats.
According to Katharine L Simms in "They Walked Beside Me" (1954): "Mankind has done bizarre things with his experiments in cross-breeding [meaning seelctive breeding] to the original dog of the wilds. He has tried to do the same to the cat, but has failed completely to alter his first original loveliness. A few breeders have succeeded in producing one generation of pug-nosed, watery-eyed cats, but the kittens of these induced freaks have always returned triumphantly to just cat." Ms Simms was evidently not well acquainted with Persian cats. She also wrote "Only in Mexico is there a cat at all different from all other cats, and even he is the same in size and boen formation. But he is completely furless except for a ridge of hair down his spine. In that country also is the chino, or hairless dog, with blue-grey skin matching the Mexican cat. Maybe it is too hot in Mexico for fur or hair to be bearable, though our furry Indian and South African cats thrived in 100F in the shade." At the time Simms wrote that comment, the Mexican Hairless was already long extinct.
MERY ON PUREBRED CATS IN FRANCE (1957)
In his book “Just Cats” (1957), Fernand Mery evidently saw pedigree cats as the possible salvation of cats in their relationship with humans. The chapter “Felinotechnics” said: “The dog went on, in various guises (as fighters or hunters, watchdogs, show dogs, pets, etc.), to win a worldly place for himself that every successive generation has confirmed. Why has the cat not profited by the same circumstances? There is no need to decide here on the question of whether the alley cat is handsomer, more intelligent, engaging and useful than the pedigree cat; but one thing is clear: no one has ever seen a show champion, whether Burmese or cream-coloured Persian, die of hunger, cold or misery. If then in the not-so-distant future only pure-bred cats are to be protected, cared for, happy, then let us say frankly: it would be best for the old alley cat to disappear quietly, and let the pedigree cat survive thereafter.”
Mery went on to describe the principal breeds of his time: “It was only in 1926 in France that the present author, as founder and secretary-general of the Central Feline Society, organized at the Wagram Hall in Paris, under the presidency of Dr. Lépinay and Mme. Marcelle Adam and with the collaboration of some Parisian veterinary surgeons, the first public showing of specially bred cats. The success of this initial attempt surpassed all hopes. Speedily the example was followed with the founding of the Cat Club of Paris (Mile. Tzaut) and the Cat Club of Champagne (Mme. de Tassigny and M. Charles Fournier). So the movement was launched. Thanks to the efforts of enlightened amateurs, such points as the eye-colour of Angora cats or the length of tail in a Siamese became matters of absorbing interest. As a matter of fact, of the other breeds apart from these two only the grey Chartreux and the white-gloved Burmese [now known as the Birman] were known, and just barely, at that time. This was very inadequate. Moreover, there were too few examples of these known breeds to ensure enough participants in the subsequent shows. So the common cat was given his patent of nobility. As well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb: he became the “European cat “.
Since then we ‘have never looked back. Today the French Feline Federation, founded by M. Guingand, includes some fifteen special clubs. The International Feline Federation, which owes a debt to the example of France, musters the best breeders and fanciers of pedigree cats in Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Austria, Germany, etc. […] Out of this friendly competition are born breeds that are more and more closely defined, more and more characterized according to body structure, appearance and aptitudes: breeds to please every taste. In less than a quarter of a century fanciers have agreed and acknowledged officially that there are long-haired and short-haired cats.
Among the former are Persians, which can be: blue, white (with either blue or orange eyes), black, cream-coloured, russet, bluish-cream, smoke-grey, tortoise-shell and white, red-brown tabby, brown tabby, silver tabby or chinchilla. Apart from Persians, this category includes Burmans and Kmers. The second group, short-haired cats, comprises: Chartreux (blue-grey), Russian blues, Abyssinians, Manx cats, Burmese, Siamese, and the ever-increasing range of Europeans: white, cream-coloured, tortoise-shell and white, mottled, striped and ringed. In fifty years’ time, what will remain of this eclectic register? Will breeds like the Kmer, bred from Siameses and Persians, revert to one or other original breed? And will the pseudo-Burmese cat, which comes of a Siamese father and an unknown mother, succeed in establishing itself? Not that it is of much consequence. These two breeds are bound to have stirred up a number of controversies all the same, and the most important result - to arouse interest on behalf of all cats -will have been achieved.
SODERBERG ON DOMESTICATION AND THE EVOLUTION OF PUREBRED CATS (1958)
As the centuries passed, tame cats became established as common household animals, and the further domestication proceeded, the greater the tendency was for the wild cats of the world gradually to disappear, particularly in those areas where the virtues of the domesticated species were fully appreciated. The fact that domestic and wild cats will breed together quite naturally was a fact likely to slow down the process of complete domestication, for the ferocity of the wild cat was a characteristic which it would have been most undesirable to retain. Thus, it has happened in various parts of the world that the wild cat has been destroyed as a matter of policy, with the result that in many areas it has now become almost extinct. This same process of destruction has also followed from the domestication of animals other than cats, although the reason for the disappearance of the wild type has been different in almost every case.
The most important result of domestication is that the cat to-day is an animal which can be handled without fear except when one is dealing with the few extraordinary specimens, but it should be noted that this tameness is probably the greatest change that has taken place in the cat’s behaviour over many centuries. The skeleton of a wild cat and that of its domestic counterpart are so similar in structure that, apart from the loss of size which generally follows domestication, there are no really essential differences until the period covering the last eighty years is reached. During these eighty years many cats have been bred for the sole purpose of exhibition, and for this purpose a particular type has been considered desirable. Thus, animals of this new form have been produced by selective breeding. The short face which is considered the ideal in long-haired cats has been gradually produced over the last thirty or forty years, and as a consequence of this breeding practice, the skeletal changes are more marked now than they were over the first three thousand years of domestication.
The wild cat was very similar to the tabby of to-day, but it was blotched with patches of colour rather than striated [Soderbergh was wrong; the wild-type pattern is mackerel tabby]. These wild animals, however, failed to show the stripes that are looked for in show cats of certain breeds which have now become recognized. In many of the modern breeds the markings have been bred out completely, so that the particular breeds without markings are now called Selfs because the coat shows only one colour, and should also show only one shade of that colour all over the coat.
Originally all cats had short, thick coats, but during the last century a longer-coated cat seemed more desirable in this country, and with this object in view careful selection was made, and a race of long-coated cats was eventually produced. It has been stated on many occasions, and with good authority, that in Persia long-coated cats existed several centuries ago, and it seems more than probable that a few of these unusual cats were introduced into France, and at a later date some of their offspring were exported to England to improve length of coat in English cats. It seems almost certain that it was because of this episode in cat history, and also perhaps because of some slight confusion as to the exact area from which these long-haired cats, which were essentially of foreign origin, came, that they were first called Angoras in this country. It was at a later date that the name was changed to Persian. To-day it is much more usual, however, to refer to short-hairs and long-hairs, and then to add some other word to distinguish the breed or precise colour.
Several breeds have geographical names attached to them, but it would be unwise to regard such names as a true indication of the country of origin; more will be said on this subject when such breeds as the Abyssinian, Burmese, Manx, Russian and Siamese are dealt with as distinct varieties. The term British Short-hair is the name applied to the short-haired cats which are the common household pets of this country, and which are undoubtedly descended from those first few animals which were introduced into these islands by the Romans. The cat proved to be such a valuable domesticated animal that, as early as A.D. 936, Howell the Good of Wales introduced a law which put an actual monetary or equivalent value on both cats and kittens. Most ordinary British cats have no known pedigree, but during the last forty years colour patterns have appeared which have attracted cat breeders, with the result that there has been selective breeding with some of these attractive short-haired patterns. As a consequence of this policy, there are to-day British Short-hairs which fall within the group of pedigree cats, and for them there are special classes at the shows. It is a matter of interest that the popularity of the British Short-hair has increased very considerably over the past few years.
PRACTICAL CAT BREEDING IN THE 1950s
Soderberg's book was published only a couple of years after France's work and the car had not yet taken over from rail as the main form of travel. Soderberg also notes that rail has the advantage of resulting in fewer journeys for the owner! The journey could be anything up to 12 hours and the owner had to be most observant to ensure that the queen was still calling (on heat) when she arrived at her destination. Nevertheless, the system evidently did work as many went on to have litters. This is comparable to sending cats long distances by aeroplane in the USA today.
"If the queen can be taken to the stud by car, so much the better, but two journeys will be necessary as she will not be ready for return for several days. When she arrives she and the male must become good friends at a distance before they are allowed in together. This usually means that the first attempt to mate the queen will not be made until the evening of the day after that on which she arrives. It is thus more usual to send queens by rail, particularly as the chosen stud may be as much as a hundred miles away. Many queens are put out a little by this journey, but to few of them is it a serious ordeal. Nevertheless, it is essential that the journey should be arranged with great care and every attempt made to ensure that the female is comfortable. The stud owner must be informed that the queen is to be sent and must also be given both the time of departure and the expected time of arrival. A few minutes with a time-table may save hours on the journey when changes of route are necessary. Long waits on junction platforms are not to be recommended.
The animal should be sent in a suitable box or basket. Suitable certainly means that it should be large enough to allow the cat to stand up and also turn round. Baskets have the advantage of being light to carry, but in cold weather they are not as warm as boxes. Whenever a cat is sent away in a basket, draught must be excluded by covering the four sides with strong brown paper fixed securely with string. The top must not be covered as adequate ventilation is essential. Several thicknesses of blanket on the bottom of the box or basket will make a comfortable bed. Animals usually travel better after only a light meal, and no food should be placed in the basket. It would be most unusual for a cat to be on a journey for more than twelve hours, and food and drink can safely be withheld for that length of time. Journeys longer than this are not to be recommended for a queen who is "calling ", as when she arrives her "calling" may have ceased and the journey will then have been wasted."
In 1955, Albert C Jude wrote "Cat Genetics", although much of the content referred to the better studied genetics of mice and rabbits. Genetics-based breeding, called "Mendelism", was a revolution in livestock breeding and Jude was careful in introducing the topic so as not to alienate older breeders whose "rule of thumb" methods were based on a mix of belief and observation (for example on the theory of "blending" which stated that a grey cat mated to a white cat would result in lighter grey kittens). He wrote:
"The rule of thumb methods of breeding is fast drawing to a close, for Mendelism has revolutionized the outlook, and brought new aids for successful breeding to all branches of livestock fanciers. The science deals not only with the production of various required types, but also with the production of new colour breeds by the crossing of those already established. Some colour breeds are at present neglected and require cultivation; others are, as yet, not perfect. In fact there is not a single variety which cannot be improved in one direction or another. [...] Of late years especially, the cat fancy has gone forward with leaps and bounds, [due in part to] the dissemination of the newer knowledge now more readily available. Some of the older generation of fanciers tend to view with some distrust the modern outlook on genetics. In the cat fancy, however, it has been noticed in recent times that young and old alike seem eager and anxious to learn more of inheritance. The newer outlook does not mean the scrapping of older methods, but sometimes their modification. [...] In the past, unfortunately, there has been much pointless and purposeless experimenting. This has been done in a creditable spirit, but backed with insufficient knowledge, often resulting in waste of time and material."
Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald, in his book "Cats" (1958), tackles two of the beliefs that still hung over breeders in spite of Jude's "modern outlook on genetics".
Telegony. Contrary to popular belief, should a pedigree queen mis-mate, this will not in any way spoil future litters. The belief in the influence of a previous sire - or "infection of the germ" as it is sometimes called - is very widespread among all classes of breeders of all types of animals. I have heard the short length of coat of a pedigree Persian put to the fact that his dam had in the previous year borne a litter to a mongrel tom. Telegony is a superstition. There is not a word of truth in it. Should a pedigree queen mis-mate (and this does happen even in the best regulated households from time to time) the effect is for that one litter only. If, on the next occasion, that queen is mated true, then she will produce a pedigree litter and her previous adventure will have no effect whatsoever on the pedigree kittens.
Dual Mating. Another popular misconception is the belief among breeders that if a queen is mated to several males she will conceive from only one mating. This is simply not true. A queen can produce young in one litter which have been fathered by several different males. Since the queen produces a number of eggs, it is quite possible for one egg to be fertilized by one male and another egg to be fertilized by a second male, and so on. This happens, of course, with every free mating, when a number of males serve one female in rotation. But, since all these animals are likely to be mongrels, it is quite impossible to tell which male sired which kitten. Dual mating does not, of course, affect the pedigree breeder since he takes steps to prevent it happening. Dual mating was common in the late 1800s and early 1900s and both sires' names were entered on the pedigree.
Another topic covered by Vesey-Fitzgerald was humane destruction of kittens: The best, and kindest, way to destroy unwanted kittens is the quickest. Do not try to drown them. This is barbarously cruel. If you must do it yourself, then I recommend the gas oven [note: this was before the switchover to natural gas and referred to carbon monoxide gas]. This is very quick - it takes only a minute or two - and is absolutely painless. Put the new-born kittens in a cardboard box with some holes punched in the side. Put the box in the oven, turn the gas full on (but do not, of course, light it), and shut the door. Remember to turn the gas off afterwards. But better than doing it yourself, ask the RSPCA to do it for you. They know much more about it than you or I, and I have always found their inspectors to be most helpful in this, as in every other, way.
ROSE TENENT ON BREEDING IN THE 1950s
Tenent advised her readers to purchase a young queen rather than a kitten, possibly a female already proven in the show pen. The prospective brood queen must be able to bear kittens easily and unaided. Although Tenent explained the need to confine a calling queen in order to avoid a mongrel litter, she stressed that a mismating was an inconvenience: "Should by any chance this happen, inconvenient as it may be, it will not make the slightest difference towards your queen bearing pedigree babies in the future. In fact, where a queen is difficult to get ‘into kitten’, the solution is often found in allowing her to choose her own mate. As already stated, the resultant litter will be hybrids; nevertheless, on the next occasion you will probably find that the queen is only too happy to accept a husband of your choosing." This contrasted with earlier beliefs that a mismated queen was ruined for life. At around this time, the first book on cat genetics had also been printed ("Cat Genetics" by Albert C Jude) and cat breeding was entering a more scientific, and less superstitious, age.
The choice of sire was very important: "Never choose a stud merely because there happens to be one in your immediate neighbourhood, or just because you know the owner. Always look for a sire which excels in points where your own queen fails." Again, this was different from previous decades where travel limitations and the rarity of car ownership often meant looking for a local sire even if he was of lesser quality. She advised looking not for a prize-winning champion, since he might not pass on his prize-winning traits, but for a stud cat that had sired champions as he had proven himself to pass on superior qualities. A novice breeder, inexperienced in reading pedigrees, was advised to send the queen to one of the larger catteries where there were several cats at stud and let the owner of the cattery decide which stud best suited the queen's pedigree. Names and addresses of stud owners could be found in the feline press: Fur and Feather, Cats and Kittens, Our Cats, The Cat Fancy or from the GCCF. The services of good stud cats were always in demand and responsible owners would not overwork their stud cats, so a queen should never be sent for mating except by prior agreement with the stud cat's owner well before the queen came into oestrus. The queen's owner then needed only to phone or wire the stud owner when the queen was ready to travel to stud.
Tenent advised the owner to take the cat to the stud (car ownership was increasing), but if this was impossible the owner was to do everything possible to ensure the queen had a comfortable journey in a strong draught-proofed, blanket-lined and properly secured basket. If the cat was travelling by railway, the stud owner had to be notified of its departure and arrival times and the basket clearly labelled with the names, addresses and phone numbers (where possible) of all parties. The cat should be insured and the basket labelled "LIVE CAT, WITH CARE" and "TO BE CALLED FOR" indicating that it would be collected from its destination. Stud fees were 2 - 3 guineas. The queen would probably stay at stud for a couple of days to allow her to settle down and, at the discretion of the stud owner, have 2 matings. Afterwards, the stud owner would advise that the queen was ready to be collected or to be returned by rail. Notification of her safe arrival home was appreciated as stud owners were very conscientious about visiting queens.
It was normal for the queen to continue calling after being mated so she needed to be confined other wise she would continue to mate (unless the owner wanted her to find another suitor). After about a week she sould settle down and hopefully show signs of pregnancy though Tenent noted "Maiden queens are often extremely difficult to get ‘into kitten’, but nearly every stud owner will give an additional mating free of charge. Again, however, this is a courtesy and there is no obligation for them to do so."
"Keep a watchful eye on your pet during pregnancy but do not make an invalid of her. [...]. What you want to prevent are frights such as may be caused by the chasing of dogs, for if anything like this should happen in advanced pregnancy the result could easily be a miscarriage or perhaps a litter of open-eyed kittens. When kittens are born with their eyes open they seldom live, or if they do are weaklings. [...] Never worm a pregnant queen. Neither should strong aperients [laxatives] be given, although many breeders do advise an occasional dose of medicinal paraffin oil. Yeast tablets are also very beneficial."
Tenent noted that queens were apt to choose their own nests, even if one was provided by the owner. "Should this be the coal cupboard and your cat is a white Persian it may not be very convenient! [...] A good bed can be made from a wooden box about 24 inches wide and 16 inches deep. This should be left partly open in the front, and also raised slightly off the floor to be out of draughts. For lining, the best material is folded newspaper. If you like you can put a piece of blanket underneath the newspaper, but this is not really necessary because the queen likes a very smooth surface on such occasions. Also the newspaper is easily replaced when soiled. A small curtain should be strung across the front of the box, which will not only provide privacy for the queen but also protect the newly-born kittens’ eyes."
If the nursing mother was restless, or the kittens cried continually, then she could be short of milk. One remedy was to gently massage the teats with a drop of olive oil. Another was a little milk of magnesia in the drinking-milk often helps. If the problem persisted, it was advisable to call the vet. The nursing mother was to be given all the milky food she cares to take, but no meat for a few days after kittening (presumably because she had eaten the placentas). On the second day a meal of steamed or boiled fish was to be offered. Sometimes a foster-cat became necessary, for example with a very large litter, a shortage of milk or if the queen was exhausted by the birth. This might entail borrowing a cat from a friend, neighbour or animal shelter or even advertising in a national or local newspaper. "Be sure to act quickly, otherwise the kittens will die. Do not worry about the cat not being a pedigree; the ordinary cat often has a greater supply of milk. What is important is that the cat should be perfectly healthy and free of parasites or skin trouble."
The foster kittens should have her own kittens replaced gradually with the orphans. One suggestion was to smear butter on the pedigree kittens to encourage the foster-cat to lick them. Meanwhile the unwanted kittens - meaning the foster cat's own kittens - should be humanely put to sleep by a vet. "Never be tempted to drown kittens even while they are very young, for drowning is a prolonged death and causes great suffering." If a foster cat was unavailable, hand-rearing was necessary and Tenent provided instructions for this: "For food you will need goat’s milk. Next to cat’s milk this is the very best form of nourishment for young kittens. If it is absolutely impossible to obtain goat’s milk, then use unsweetened evaporated milk or Sherley’s Lactol. Do not use cow’s milk, for it is not nearly concentrated enough and may cause indigestion. Always warm the food to a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and feed it to the kittens a drop at a time, allowing roughly half a spoonful (a special spoon with teat attached is obtainable) of food per meal for each kitten. Only feed one kitten at a time, and begin by smearing a very little of the food on its lips. Next squeeze a drop of milk on to the tip of the rubber teat and place this to the kitten’s mouth. Take great care, however, not to allow too much food in the mouth at once, or the kitten may choke in the attempt to swallow it. As the kittens grow increase the amount of food accordingly. After each meal you should give the kittens’ tummies a little gentle finger-massage using downward strokes. This will aid digestion and elimination."
When the kittens are about a week or ten days old their eyes will begin to open. Sticky eyelids should be gently bathe with cotton wool dipped into weak boracic lotion. The queen needed building up at this time: "If her coat is dull and harsh, looking (as it so often is after nursing kittens), then she may need a tonic. Keep her on three meals a day and give her yeast tablets regularly. These are especially beneficial when broken over the food. An occasional raw egg, or egg and milk, would do her good, and once or twice a week you might also give a teaspoonful of olive oil."
At three to four weeks weaning should be encouraged, starting with liquid milk food, preferably goat’s milk or alternatively one of the dried milk foods suitable for babies, but not cow’s milk, unless it was very creamy. After about a fortnight, the milk meals could be varied with well-cooked foods such as arrowroot, barley flour or slightly sweetened oat flour. When the kittens were five weeks old they could be given a little well-boiled bread and milk, breakfast cereal with the top of the milk (cream) on it, egg and milk, rabbit broth, fish liquid poured over breakfast cereal and so on. At six or seven weeks old they could be given a little solid food such as steamed fish, boiled tripe, or minced rabbit. From eight weeks onwards they could have a little scraped raw meat and be fed four meals a day, alternating milk meals and meat meals. This all sounds very odd to the modern reader with access to canned kitten food (which at most might be mashed with Cimicat or lactose-free milk) and in the wild kittens would be weaned onto meat by their mother.
When the kittens were about 7 weeks old, they were to be separated from the mother during the daytime to encourage them to fend for themselves. From about 8 weeks they were to be wormed using homeopathic cina-anth drops at the dosage of 2 drops daily before breakfast for several days in succession; this to be repeated after a week’s interval and then given fortnightly if still required: "No starving is necessary with homeopathic remedies, and they are perfectly harmless." At this point, the owner also had to decide which kittens to keep for showing or breeding. The decision could be made either on overall balance of good points or because the kitten was outstanding in just a few points e.g. exceptionally good colour.
Those with considerable breeder would probably consider keeping a stud cat, but Tenent warned that this required careful thought as well as suitable accommodation (sited so as not to disturb the neighbours) and hence a very large garden. "The next point to consider is whether you are temperamentally suited to stud work. Of course a genuine. love of cats is essential, but this in itself is not enough. From the time you meet a visiting queen at the railway station (or she is admitted to your cattery) until the time for her to be returned, she is your responsibility. In addition to seeing that she is mated (not always as easy as it may appear), you must do your best to make her comfortable while she is in your care. Neither can you say that you will not cater for visiting queens, for it is extremely doubtful whether your own females will be anywhere near sufficient for a virile male. Unless you give a stud cat sufficient work he becomes restless and unhappy."
She advised on acquiring a suitable stud unrelated to the owner's own queens as inbreeding was rarely desirable, especially for novice breeders. This would usually be a cat of around 6 months old who had been successful in the show pen. If he sired quality progeny his services would always be in demand: "A.stud cat should only be used very sparingly during its first season, after which you can gradually increase the number of matings. Never allow him more than three queens a week, however, or he may become sterile or sire weak progeny. Overwork has even been known to shorten a stud cat’s life." To keep him in perfect condition he needed three meals a day during the breeding season and much of that should be raw meat. Yeast tablets, cooked rabbit, cooked fish and an occasional raw egg were all good for a working stud cat; the raw egg being especially appreciated as a pick-me-up after he had exerted himself with a queen!
It was no longer a case of putting the cats together for a few days and letting them get on with it. The importance of hygiene and supervised matings (to ensure that the stud did his job and that the queen did not attack and injure him) were stressed. The queen needed a day or two to settle down, preferably in a pen adjacent to the stud house "Once you hear them crooning to each other, however, it is usually a sign that the female can be let [in with the stud], although even then maiden queens can often be difficult and need coaxing. Nailed to the floor of the stud house should be a piece of carpet, Here the animals are placed for mating. If the male knows his business he will do this very quickly and then jump on to a stool or small chair to protect himself from the queen. [...] One mating is sufficient, but many breeders like to give a second the following day, feeling that this is fairer to the owner of the queen and may well save the animal an extra journey."
"Finally, never forget that a stud cat needs companionship. Visit him as much as possible. Talk to him and pet him. Keep him well groomed and give him regular exercise; if necessary this can be done by walking him round the garden on a lead. When your stud cat has no female visitors he can be allowed the companionship of big kittens, say of four or five months old. Most stud cats enjoy a romp with kittens and can usually be trusted with them, although two males should never be allowed to live together after they are about ten months old."
ROSE TENENT ON EXHIBITING CATS IN THE 1950s
As an illustrative example, Tenent listed the classes as set down for the GCCF's Coronation Championship Cat Show, held in 1953. The following classes were defined. These can be compared with the classes listed in "Retrospective" articles covering the 1890s - 1900s. Notably the "litter" class for kittens aged 8-12 weeks still existed (luckily vaccination had become available against feline Infectious Enteritis) and the "brace" classes had been extended to "Brace" and "Pair". Brace exhibits were judged on individual merit; pairs on their similarity to each other.
Litters: For 3 or more kittens of same litter over 2 months and under 3 months.
Kittens: For kittens not exceeding 9 months old on first day of show.
Limited Classes: For cats or kittens which have not won more than four 1st prizes under the GCCF Rules.
Novice Classes: For cats or kittens which have not won a 1st prize at shows under the rules of the GCCF.
Senior: For cats over 2 years old on day of show.
Junior: For cats under 2 years old on day of show.
Brace: For 2 cats belonging to the same exhibitor, each of which must be entered in at least one other class.
Pair: For 2 kittens belonging to the same exhibitor, each of which must be entered in at least one other class.
Siamese Brace: For 2 cats or 2 kittens of either sex belonging to the same exhibitor, each of which must be entered in at least one other class, i.e. two males or two females.
Siamese Pair: For 2 cats or kittens (one male, one female) belonging to the same exhibitor, each of which must be entered in at least one other class.
Novice Exhibitors’ Class: For cats or kittens whose owners have never won a prize.
Selling Class: For cats or kittens (price not to exceed £10).
Neuters: Can only compete in their own classes, and must be registered with the GCCF. before competing in Premier classes.
Stud Cats: To be judged on own merit and that of his progeny in the show. Both must be present.
Breeders: For cats or kittens bred by exhibitor.
Special Limit: For cats or kittens that have not won more than two 1st prizes at shows under the rules of the GCCF
All cats and kittens to be shown had to be registered with the GCCF. "If the age, pedigree, or breeder’s name is not known, then the cat or kitten is registered as ‘age, breeder, or pedigree unknown’, any or all as the case may be. By this time undoubtedly you will have joined at least one cat club."
Tenent described the regional clubs which were all-breed clubs and the specialist breed clubs and advised serious breeders to register a prefix with the GCCF: "Prefixes are not accepted that bear a close resemblance to any in existence, or to names of towns, counties, or districts comprising a wide area. Names of colours and names of recognized titles also are forbidden. In registering your cats you should remember that only three words are allowed and these include the prefix; also a hyphenated word counts as two words. Names of living people are not eligible for registration; and any name once registered cannot be repeated for twenty years. Finally, no cat or kitten can have its registered name changed in any way." US readers will note that the rule on "names of living people" differs in the USA where it is apparently an honour to have a cat named after you.
Tenent advised individuality when choosing a prefix: "Mrs. Ellis-Jones, a breeder of Siamese cats, chose the word Chionodoxa, meaning Glory of the Snow, because her queen’s first litter was born in February while this lovely little flower was in bloom. The best-known type of Chionodoxa is, of course, blue - the same colour as a Siamese cat’s eyes. Another very interesting example is the prefix of Mrs. Henry Bode, the well-known American fancier. Mrs. Bode, who was once an opera-singer, chose the word Cherubino from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, and names all her cats after characters from the opera."
Show preparation included bathing, especially for light-coloured longhairs and Tenent wrote "It takes two people to bath a cat successfully, one to hold the animal and the other to wash it." Dusting with powder, all of which had to be removed from the coat before the show to avoid disqualification, also showed off the cat's coat to good advantage. Shorthairs were much easier to prepare, needing a warm bran bath and a final polish with chamois leather! Cats also had to become accustomed to being handled by strangers and admired by the general public: "Just as some people are shy of strangers, so are certain cats, and for them. the excitement of the journey and bustle of the show hall are terrifying. If you have a cat of this type, even if it excels in show points, do please leave it to enjoy the quiet of its own home. This is not only fair to the cat, but also to the handlers."
The days of sending cats to shows unaccompanied and expecting show stewards to unpack them, cage them and then despatch them home again were a thing of the past by 1955 and Tenent told her readers: "If you are unable to take a cat to the show yourself, then you must find someone to do so, for show managers rightly refuse to accept cats which are unaccompanied. Do not feed your pets within two hours of departure, and if possible the last meal before the journey should be meat. To give milky food before travelling may mean a soiled hamper, and this is unpleasant for yourself and the cat." The practice of vetting in ensured that animals were not taken out of their carriers until a vet was ready to examine them and those with any signs of infection were removed immediately from the show hall; this (along with vaccination) greatly reduced the transmission of "show fever" (cat flu and/or enteritis) which had killed off so many excellent cats (and sometimes whole catteries) in previous decades.
Owners were then advised to "swab each cat’s mouth out with a piece of cotton wool soaked in diluted TCP, using one part TCP to six parts water." Then, as now, GCCF shows required cages to be undecorated and furnished with a white blanket, white sanitary tray (peat-moss litter was provided by the management) and water bowl. Exhibitors were not allowed in the show hall during judging, but could watch from the balcony (if there was one) on payment of a small fee. There they remained until public admission time in the afternoon. Awards in the early 1950s included silver trophies (cups, spoons, and medals), smaller prizes (books, cat baskets, cat blankets, hampers of cat food) and money prizes ranging from £1 down to a few shillings. "To become a full champion, a cat must win three of these challenge [championship] certificates under different judges at different shows. Once this happens the owner has a right to place the word’ Champion ‘in front of its name." Neutered cats competed for "Premier" rather than champion. At the time, the three show categories were Longhairs, Shorthairs and Siamese. If previously prize-winning cat failed to get an award, the exhibitor should wait until the judge had a quiet moment and ask him where the cat failed and for suggestions for its improvement. Cats were judged against a standard of points and there may simply have been better cats in the class on this occasion.
Before returning home, owners were to swab out their cats' mouths again with TCP. On arriving home: "If you can spare a few drops of whisky or brandy, this will help to keep out chills." In the past, show fever had been a great problem for owners. Many excellent cats and kittens had returned home carrying infection; even if the exhibited cat survived, whole catteries were often infected. Simple lack of quarantine for returning cats meant breeding stock was lost. By the 1950s, sensible advice was given to prevent infecting other cats in the cattery "If you keep other cats, be very careful not to go anywhere near them until you have bathed and changed your clothes. Such precautions may seem foolish, but if you are to avoid risk of infection you cannot be too careful. Also, if possible, you should keep the show cats away from the others for about a week."
CAT BREEDING IN THE 1950s
According to Soderberg in "Pedigree Cats", the breeding of the ordinary domestic cat rarely presented any real problem from the point of view of the actual mechanics of mating and this could be left entirely to Nature (i.e. there was no need for artificial insemination, an increasingly common trend in cattle at that time). Free-ranging household cats found the task of breeding neither difficult nor a serious strain on their stamina and the 1940s owner was normally only concerned with the breeding of female cats and the homing or disposal of kittens. Soderberg wrote "the entire male of nondescript ancestry is rarely a household pet at all. In fact, it is almost a practical impossibility for him to become one as his habits frequently leave much to be desired, and quite apart from this, by instinct he is almost certain to become a wanderer."
For the pedigree cat owner, breeding was a matter of great interest: "apart from the obvious attraction of a queen with a family […] there is also the added interest that in this field of cat breeding the affairs of the male as well as the female are regulated by the owners." Hence it was most important to carefully match prospective parents to produce high quality kittens that met the official breed Standard. "Not the least important of these [considerations] is that the successful breeding of pedigree cats is more difficult to achieve because these animals of known ancestry cannot live lives which are unrestricted. For a number of generations this breeding has been arranged within certain limited groups and it must be obvious, therefore, that over a long period this policy of selection has had a definite effect upon qualities such as stamina and fertility, both of which must be regarded as of the utmost importance."
Soderberg dealt with the topic comprehensively (and without euphemisms) and warned that a casual glance at the sub-titles might give the false impression that pedigree breeding was fraught with so many dangers and mischances that it was almost impossible for the cat fancier to achieve success! In spite of this, the breeding of pedigree cats was an attractive hobby and offered great rewards in terms of rearing kittens and, hopefully, seeing their later success on the show bench. However, "what pedigree breeding rarely offers is rewards which are financial, although the careful and intelligent breeding of pedigree cats may mean that this most interesting hobby need not become one beyond the purse of any animal lover of moderate means."
THE STUD CAT
Soderberg warned that no one could be certain how good a sire a particular male would be. The proof of his true quality for stud work had to be judged from his progeny, and the stud might be nearly three years old before his influence on the breed could be accurately assessed. The quality of the queens served by the stud also exerted a powerful influence on the results he achieved. Scientific breeding (genetics) was a new discipline and Soderberg alluded to recessive genes: "It is most important that his physical qualities should be considered with great care, for it is unlikely, although by no means impossible, that a male will be able to pass on to his offspring good qualities which he does not show in himself. Scientifically there can be no hard and fast rule about this statement, for each individual has a long inheritance of good and bad qualities which are derived from his ancestors, and it is thus possible for some particular quality to be passed on from even a great-grandparent, although this quality may not be apparent to the eye when the great-grandchild is examined. This fact must be accepted as being scientifically true, but in cat breeding it has little practical application because in any individual there are too many factors involved."
The stud cat must be typical of his breed and preferably above the average standard. Lesser quality males became neutered pets. Since neutering was irreversible, this meant selecting a young male that was successful on the show bench as his show successes would attract the interest of owners of queens (female cats). Full Champions were most popular as studs, but since this took time to achieve (more so in the 1940s than the modern day), his popularity might ultimately depend on the quality of kittens he sired in the meantime. However, a Champion was not guaranteed to sire other Champions, while his own qualities may be above average, "the females he receives can help on or hinder his fame." Soderberg warned "No male cat should ever be placed at public service unless he is really outstanding for quality, as there can be no grading-up of the stock of any particular breed unless this policy is adopted quite rigorously."
In addition to meeting the breed standard, "the stud cat should have no physical deformities or even abnormalities apart, of course, from those which may have resulted from accident and cannot affect in any way his value as a stud." The main abnormalities mentioned by Soderberg were cryptorchidism (undescended testicles) and monorchidism (one testicle undescended). Though they acted like normal males, cryptorchid males were generally sterile and should be neutered "although this is a somewhat more complicated operation than simple neutering". Monorchid males were fertile but "it is doubtful whether he should be used for pedigree breeding, as there seems already to exist ample evidence to show that this type of deformity may be passed on to the next generation, although occasionally it may not appear except in the males of the second generation."
Other deformities included a damaged, deformed or kinked tail as these could be signs of excessive inbreeding. Even accidental tail damage counted against a stud on the show bench and he would not attract interest from owners of queens. "In Siamese cats, however, a small kink right at the tip of the tail is not regarded as a bar or a disqualification, for the original importations of this breed all had kinked tails. Nevertheless, even with Siamese, a badly-kinked tail should be regarded as a reason for unsuitability for stud work. Siamese studs which have the kinked tail are likely to pass on this characteristic to some of their offspring of either sex." Torn ears and scars, common in frequently bred stud cats, could be completely ignored, even though they might ultimately ruin the show prospects of the male which has them.
Soderberg noted "Theoretically it must always be very difficult to select males which will later become useful studs, as usually a decision on this matter has to be made before the male has had a satisfactory opportunity of achieving any really noteworthy successes on the show bench. In actual practice, however, this selection is not too difficult, for to-day there are so many knowledgeable fanciers of great experience who have acquired this skill of selection, with a high degree of accuracy, from young stock which to their eyes show more than a hint of growing into adults which will be of high quality. It is important that the decision whether a male should become a stud or not should be made as soon as possible, so that before a young male is really adult he can gradually become accustomed to the type of life he will have to lead of necessity when he is a fully-matured male."
Soderberg also commented on the psychology of the stud cat. "Despite what some cat owners may think, a stud cat is not a wild animal, although he is compelled to spend a good deal of his life apart from other cats, and is also deprived of a good deal of human companionship. In fact, he is more often than not a most affectionate creature who enjoys human companionship, and if it were possible, would certainly like to share the house of his owner and thus become a household pet. Unfortunately, this is not possible in practice, for his natural instinct leads him into behaviour which makes it impossible to keep him in the house due to the unpleasant smell he so often produces. When an entire male is excited, he has a habit of spraying a few drops of an evil-smelling fluid on curtains and furniture, and it is thus that he produces the ‘tom-cat’ smell for which he is notorious, and which is admittedly so unpleasant to most people. It is for this reason that he can rarely be allowed indoors, but this banishment to a cat house should not mean that he does not need human companionship, for, in fact, the stud owner should make it his business to give any stud daily personal attention, and he ought to make the animal feel that he is appreciated for his qualities of character apart from any other uses he may have. Some males can safely be allowed in the house from the end of October until January, but it is doubtful whether this is kind even when it is possible. Males that are not highly sexed may perhaps not spray during several of the winter months, but once they have learned to live largely on their own in a stud house, it is wiser not to break this habit, for no one can really understand how a cat feels when again he has to be kept outside."
"Although the stud cat is thus usually condemned to live in a wooden shed with a run attached outdoors in the garden, he must receive the same care and attention as any other cats which, because they have no unpleasant habits, enjoy the freedom of the dwelling house." This meant daily grooming and also keeping his quarters thoroughly hygienic; both activities provided companionship for the stud. Regarding adequate exercise "it is most unlikely that he will be allowed full freedom without supervision at any time, for two entire males can be extremely fierce should they meet, and it must be accepted as a fact that on the whole a pedigree male is not as well able to look after himself as the stray tom of mixed ancestry, although there are exceptions to this general statement. There is no reason why a stud cat should not be allowed out in a garden for a short time each day, provided that he is under control and within sight of his owner all the time that he is free." Most of his exercise, though, would be in a run attached to his living quarters. A 20 ft run was preferable; the absolute minimum size was 10 ft and "those who cannot provide this space should not keep stud cats under any circumstances whatever."
The siting of the stud house was important for a variety of reasons including the peace and tranquillity of the owner and his neighbours. Studs tended to be noisy when they had not received a visiting queen for some time "it must also be admitted that some of them are never really quiet". The presence of unneutered pet cats, both male and female, would have contributed greatly to the 1950s stud's vocal efforts. Long-haired males were rarely a noise nuisance, but "there are Siamese studs which have to be heard to be believed, and these vocal studs show no respect for the peace of humans either by day or night." A secluded stud house was also necessary so that he did not become excited, frustrated, and sometimes bad-tempered, at the sight and sound of other cats, for example "calling" queens in the household. "On the other hand, the occasional sight of a prowling stray tom may excite other emotions of a more bellicose nature which will have the effect of causing the confined male to take more exercise than he would otherwise do, and this excitement may be to his advantage."
"A stud house should be so carefully planned that it will be easy to clean, and if this object is to be achieved, painted wood is better than that which has merely been treated with creosote or solignum. A hard, gloss paint may be more expensive in initial cost, but it provides a surface which can be kept in more hygienic condition, and will stand a good deal of washing without needing renewal. The wooden floor of the house should be covered with linoleum of the very durable ‘battleship’ type which is not easily damaged by claws, and which can easily be scrubbed at frequent intervals. Good soap and hot water is a safe and efficient cleanser at all times. A concrete floor to the run will be found to be more satisfactory from the point of view of hygiene than one which consists of earth or grass. Earth and grass will both be used by an adult male for the purposes of Nature, but he rarely regards concrete as a suitable place to perform his natural functions. Concrete has one great advantage in that it is easy to clean, and also it rarely has to be renewed." Windows for light and shelves to rest on were other requisites for the stud's comfort. "In the house itself a wide shelf some eighteen inches from the ground will also be found useful, but the purpose of this will be explained more fully in a later chapter."
As well as keeping the stud cat fit, contented and not allowing him to become overweight or obese (although a little overweight outside of the breeding season was considered permissible), Soderberg wrote "No stud cat can remain in full breeding condition throughout the year, and the sensible stud owner will see that there are several months during the winter when he is not allowed to mate, however pressing may be the requests of the owners of ‘calling’ queens. It is during this period of rest that the stud may be allowed to put on some surplus flesh, and if later his diet is carefully regulated, early in the year he will soon regain both his shape and his natural vigour."
The correct feeding was greatly important in maintaining his breeding condition, both underfeeding and overfeeding would reduce his virility. A working stud would be expending energy and needed more energy-making foods than a household pet. The rule of thumb was that the stud must not lose flesh during the breeding season nor be allowed to build up his weight through storing fat. The actual quantity which should be fed largely depended on the individual and his weight should be periodically checked using scales. "The first essential in correct feeding is an adequate proportion of the flesh foods, and perhaps the best of these is horsemeat of the finest quality. A minimum of six ounces of meat a day divided between the two meals should be provided for each stud which is being actively used for stud work. Meat alone, however, must be regarded as inadequate, for it has been proved scientifically on many occasions that too much flesh eating leads to nutritional deficiencies which in time become apparent. Thus, the stud cat must have a ‘balanced diet’, an expression which means that proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals must all be present in the diet. The proteins or the flesh foods must be mixed with carbohydrates and fats to produce a diet which is complete in the sense that all nutritional needs are satisfied. Such a diet can be thought out if a little care is taken, and many of the items of diet can be provided from the foods which are usually found in the ordinary house. In addition to foods which are mixed at the time, tinned foods prepared by firms of repute should also be used, for these have been blended after careful scientific inquiry into the nutritional needs of cats in general."
Soderberg noted that it was never possible to state the precise age at which a male cat became sexually mature in the sense that he was able to mate queens satisfactorily, since the rate of sexual development varied with individuals. He noted that Siamese became sexually active and potent earlier than the long-haired breeds. However, sexual precocity was not regarded as desirable. Soderberg stressed that sexual maturity and physical maturity were quite different things; a stud might be used satisfactorily with females several months before he achieved full size and physical maturity. Breeders should not try to hasten sexual development, unless a particular cat's development was unnaturally delayed beyond the normal limit for the breed. "Most young long-haired males start to show an interest in females when they are about a year old, but this interest of itself does not necessarily mean that they are capable of mating a queen satisfactorily. Certainly twelve months is quite young enough for any long-haired male to be encouraged in any way to take a practical interest in a ‘calling’ queen, and many breeders would consider twelve months far too young."
Once a stud was over 12 months and if he seemed anxious to breed, Soderberg warned that he should be given the opportunity, but that his initial efforts must be controlled with the greatest care. To begin with, the interest might merely be immature interest ('ephemeral'), something the breeder could test by placing a 'calling' queen in an adjacent pen. If he showed serious interest, an experienced, well-tempered queen should be used since she would be helpful to the male in the act of mating. A bad-tempered or inexperienced female might terrify or frustrate the inexperienced stud. Human intervention would put off all but a few studs and spoil their concentration. Few males were successful on the first attempt and "because of the emotional strain, after ten minutes the young stud who has not achieved success should be shut up, and the queen must be removed." If after two or three more attempts over a few days the stud was still unsuccessful "the only sensible conclusion to be reached is that the male is not yet ready for this work" and he should be tried again 6 to 8 weeks later. "Early sexual maturity is never an unmixed blessing, and some of the most successful studs have not, in fact, mated their first queen much before they were two years old, although this rarely applies to Siamese."
Although there was no definite answer to how many queens a stud should mate in a breeding season ("a number which would be too many for one male may be quite insufficient to satisfy another in the sense that it keeps him both fit and contented") the young stud should have very few queens in his first season and no more than one per month for the first few months of his work. "If at the end of this time the male is still anxious for queens, and shows this fact by tension and restlessness, then the number can be stepped up until he achieves the normal calmness associated with his breed." Older studs, used more frequently, should be limited in the number of queens they mate to ensure their own welfare. An overworked stud would not produce sound stock and this would reduce his popularity. An in-condition stud receiving the right number of queens would always shows great keenness when presented with a new queen. An overworked or out-of-condition stud would probably lose interest and result in failed matings and queens being returned to him for a second mating because they were not in kitten after the first. This was unsatisfactory for the owners of the stud and the queen. As a safeguard against return, two matings were normal.
Soderberg warned that cat owners should think carefully before keeping a stud cat because of the special requirements and responsibilities involved. Keeping a "home stud" to serve the owners own queens might save time and effort, but the stud might not be suited to all the queens of a particular cattery and most owners would, at some point, want to outcross to studs of different ancestry. If the owner only had 2 or 3 queens, a virile stud would be under-utilised and would become restless and unhappy. "Even when regarded solely from the point of view of practical economics, it is far too expensive to keep a stud for the use of a small number of queens." Hence a stud should only be kept if he was to be placed at public service with the risk that visiting queens might bring infection into a cattery.
Stud work was often the most profitable side of cat keeping, but to ensure this the male had to be one which a number of breeders wanted to use for their queens. A male's show successes were a good guideline as to his likely popularity at stud. Stud work also required considerable skill and Soderberg recommended that it was not for a novice unwilling to learn from the experiences and wisdom of other stud owners. There was the responsibility of meeting queens and sending them home later as well as supervising the matings; this all required the stud owner to have a great deal of leisure time available (in the 1950s, most women became housewives, hence cat-breeding was often considered a woman's hobby). "There can be no doubt that those fanciers who own studs of quality are doing something really worth while for the Fancy, and the guineas they earn are not easily earned, for they call for considerable patience and not infrequently blood and sweat in addition."
Many stud owners felt that the stud fees (about 3 guineas for two matings) were scarcely adequate for the time, labour and expense of stud work. Soderberg wrote that there were some queens which were almost impossible to mate even by the most experienced males, and in the case of failures of this sort, the stud owner usually returned the fee. However, the stud owner should be reimbursed by the owner of the queen for any expenses which may have been incurred as a result of this visit e.g. feeding costs. If, in spite of 2 matings, the queen failed to conceive, it was common practice for the stud owner to receive her again when she is next in season. This was entirely an act of courtesy and not an obligation on the part of the stud owner.
THE BREEDING QUEEN
Soderberg regarded the breeding queen as the more important half of the partnership, since she bore and nurtured the kittens while the male took no further part in the breeding cycle after the mating: "Unlike many other groups of animals, the domesticated male cat does not even perform the function of protecting his mate and her offspring from outside attack, but it is obvious that most stud cats do not have this opportunity even if the instinct existed. It is even possible that were the breeding pair to be kept together, the male might even molest the kittens because he has no mental appreciation of parenthood, but there are exceptions to this general statement. There have, however, been many instances reported where stray males have destroyed a litter of young kittens, undoubtedly because they regarded them as a possible hindrance to a further mating of the queen."
Soderberg lamented that far too little attention was paid to the quality of queens used for breeding; many females used as breeders would be considered, by those who know the breed, as substandard and not worthy of contributing to the development of their particular breed. A fundamental problem was that queen owners often consider their cats as suitable mates for almost any stud. This was due to the uninformed acceptance of "prepotency" - the prevalent belief that an outstanding stud would produce high-quality kittens from every queen he impregnated. This belief had survived from the earliest days of the cat fancy when genetics was unknown. Soderberg cautioned that the desirable physical characteristics sought on the show bench were inherited from both parents. "It is virtually impossible for the stud to stamp all his good qualities on his kittens, and thus mask the bad qualities of the female he has mated. The above statements may not be pleasing to the owners of poor-quality queens, but they should be accepted as being generally true."
Many owners of queens used their cats for producing pets and not show cats; it did not really matter that their queens were not top notch. However, Soderberg insisted that the male and female kittens should all be neutered so that they could not later be used for breeding, and thus lower the general quality of the breed. To produce good quality kittens, rather than pets, the good and bad qualities of both parents had to be assessed: "good qualities in one parent are chosen to compensate for failings in the other half of the partnership". He added that sentiment played a big part in the breeding of unsuitable queens with owners breeding their favourite cats, rather than their best cats.
It was usually possible to decide with reasonable certainty whether a 5 - 6 month old female kitten was of sufficient quality to breed though she would not be ready to breed for another 4 - 6 months. During those 4 - 6 months which she was maturing, she should be allowed to develop under natural conditions: "there is no such thing as special preparation for what is, after all, a perfectly normal function for a healthy female cat which has reached sexual maturity." Emphasis was placed on freedom and abundant exercise. Young queens which were kept closely confined, and often overfed with respect to their activity level, were unlikely to attain sound breeding condition at the right time and would be unsatisfactory breeders compared to those "which have been treated with sound common sense". Good breeding condition meant complete physical fitness and not too much surplus fat. Such cats would be more active and keen as breeding stock. Diet, grooming and general hygiene (generally referred to as sound management) were also important.
Soderberg noted that queens were physically ready to breed at an earlier age than males, and often reached sexual maturity more quickly. "In this respect again there is a noticeable difference between Siamese and the long-hairs, or Persians, as they are sometimes called, and that difference may be as much as three months in favour of the Siamese. It may be regarded as normal for a female Siamese to come into season when she is seven months old, but the majority of the longhaired breeds often do not ‘call’ for the first time until they are nine or even ten months, while some are even older, but a young queen who is late should be regarded with some suspicion. Thus, no hard and fast rule can ever be given to fix the age at which the first family should arrive, but experience has tended to show that it is wise to prevent a Siamese from having a family until she is ten months old, and a long-hair may have her first babies quite safely when she has reached a year or a little less. To this general rule there will be, of course, some exceptions, for cats are not machines, and will always possess individual characteristics."
The breeding life of a queen depended on her natural physical constitution and the number of litters she was allowed to bear and rear. The strain of frequent litters would shorten her effective breeding life. Many would continue to breed satisfactorily until 8 or 9 years old after which they might fail to conceive at all matings and some years they would produce no kittens at all. "It is quite possible to ruin any queen, however robust she may be at first, by over-use."
"How long a queen will remain useful, in the strictest sense, as a breeder of pedigree stock is quite another matter, for the mere production of kittens is not the sole point to consider. For a queen to be regarded as a satisfactory breeder, she must produce kittens which will not only live but which will also show real stamina, and when regarded from the point of view of quality, be useful for the development of the breed. Thus, the older a queen becomes, the less likely is she to produce kittens full of stamina unless she is mated to a stud whose virility makes up for her slowly-waning sexual vitality. Experience seems to show that studs are likely to remain useful for breeding somewhat longer than queens, and it is not unusual to find a male who has remained a useful breeding force until he is as old as eleven. Obviously the older the cat, whether male or female, the less frequently should it be used for breeding, and the greater care should be taken to find a really suitable mate. This may not apply to all animal groups, but when dealing with cats, it has to be remembered that other physical qualities are of supreme importance when allied to stamina."
The owners of queens and studs sometimes had different points of view on the breeding season. Some studs seemed to require queens at a time of year when females were prepared to settle down without family cares for 4 or more months. Few disputed that the best months for the birth of kittens were approximately April until August, which meant 2 litters were possible in a year. Spring and summer litters were better as the kittens could spend time outdoors in the healthy sunshine. Sometimes winter kittens were a necessity if a queen would not settle down and became a constant nuisance by her frequent ‘calling’. "Such refractory queens are usually Siamese which, it must be remembered, are always a law unto themselves." Apart from these unusual circumstances, autumn and winter kittens should be avoided even though they could be reared successfully. "The sensible owner of either a stud or a queen will deliberately put a limit to the extent of the breeding season."
Before a queen was likely to ‘call’, her owner made arrangements with the stud owner so that he could book a visit for the queen. Advance planning was particularly important in the case of the most popular studs otherwise it was impossible for the stud owner to accept a 'calling' queen when no booking had been made. Since the probably date of 'calling' could be estimated, this was communicated to the stud owner so that the stud was not fully booked on that date. The queen was not sent to the male at the first signs of’ calling’ as the nervous strain of the journey could stop her 'calling', resulting in a wasted journey. Few stud owners could accommodate such a queen until her next 'call'. At the first signs of calling the stud owner was warned by phone or by telegram (not everyone had phones in the 1950s) and a day agreed for the queen's visit to the stud, usually the second or third day of her season. "As a generalization it is safe to say that it is far wiser to wait until the queen has started to roll before sending her off, for when this characteristic action is performed, it is an indication that the first signs of being in season were not a false alarm, and that, in fact, the queen is now in full ‘ call’. It is unusual for a ‘ calling’ queen not to roll, but such deviations from the normal do occur with some queens."
A short car journey to a nearby stud was the ideal as it was less likely to cause fatigue and emotional stress than a long train journey. In practice, breeders often found that the chosen stud lived so far away that the journey is impossible except by rail. This was especially the case in the provinces where studs at public service were more widely scattered. For an unavoidable rail journey, the queen was dispatched in a suitable box or basket. Soderberg emphasised the need to plan the journey so that it was as short a time as possible. Once the queen was in transit, a telegram was sent to the stud owner stating the expected time of arrival. Careful attention to detail ensured that queens arrived little disturbed by the time they have had to spend cooped up in a travelling basket. "Cats are very sensitive to sounds, and some are very disturbed by noises which are unusual, while others show not the slightest sign of being perturbed."
Soderberg wrote that early recognition of oestrus meant prompt confinement and less likelihood of the queen finding her own mate. Early signs were fussiness, more affectionate, restlessness and going from window to window as though to see if other cats were around.
"The act of 'calling‘ is, in fact, an invitation to males to visit her, and amongst long-hairs this unusual use of the voice is often rather a plaintive but not too loud and strident tone which can, therefore, be endured by the owner without much disturbance. Siamese, on the other hand, are usually very noisy, and their love songs may be so loud and continuous that they shatter the peace of owner and neighbour alike, and even a distance of at least a hundred yards is barely sufficient to make life endurable for the nearby humans. Many long-haired queens, when in season, settle down at night and are peaceful, but not so the Siamese, who is practically certain to continue to ‘call’ violently and almost incessantly until after a few days voice is lost through sheer over-use. The remarkable thing is that this noisy ‘calling’ is quite unnecessary to attract males for, by some remarkable instinct, they seem to know what is about to happen several days before the actual phenomenon occurs. One of the surest signs that a queen is soon to come into season is the unexpected presence of a stray tom in the garden, and once there he often starts to serenade his lady friend long before she has started to ‘call’ in earnest."
As well as vocalising, a ‘calling’ queen rubbing her head against furniture and against any human legs nearby. Next came rolling: "She lies down on her side and rubs her head backwards and forwards on the floor, while at the same time she generally utters low, crooning noises, unless she is a Siamese." At that point a journey to the stud was possible as little would put her off! Soderberg added that a slight vaginal discharge might, occur though this was rarely noticed as cats cleaned themselves so often. After 7 days most queens came off call though a few unusual queens came off call after only 4 days; these were often very difficult to get into kitten unless there was a stud on the premises. Others called for 10 days, while "the exceptional Siamese will keep on’ calling ‘ for weeks on end." A queen that was not to be mated had to be kept closely confined throughout her calling period and preferably for a whole fortnight to be on the safe side. Knowing the frequency of a queen's call, which also depended on her physical state, time of year and climatic conditions, was very important in an age when transport was slower.
Soderberg had much to say about calling, with special attention being paid to Siamese cats which were generally considered to be over-sexed or even prone to sexual hysteria:
"It is never possible to say precisely when a queen will ‘call’ for the first time, and there seems to be no obvious link in this matter between the behaviour of the mother and her daughters. The explanation for this lack of family pattern is simple, for the male will most definitely have some effect on the sex behaviour of his progeny. There are always Siamese queens which will ‘call’ for the first time when they are only five months old, while even a long-hair that is slightly precocious will ‘call’ when it is seven months old. For ’calling’ to start at such an early age is certainly no advantage, and it sometimes happens that precocious queens at a later date present problems in their sex life which are difficult to solve, and may result in their having to be made sterile.
For a Siamese queen to ‘call’ at seven months is quite satisfactory, and one would expect a long-hair to ‘call’ about two months later, but from this first ‘call’, the individual ‘calling’ cycle of a particular female will not immediately become apparent, and the breeder usually has to wait until the queen is fully mature physically before the pattern of her ‘calling’ can be relied upon with any degree of certainty. There are a few unusual queens which will ‘call’ once only during the breeding season, which normally runs from the end of January until the end of October, but such cats as these are not frequently encountered. Strangely enough it often happens that these females produce as many kittens during their breeding life as other females which ‘ call’ at more frequent intervals, for they often have larger litters and breed to a greater age. On the other hand, highly-sexed queens may ‘call’ regularly every three weeks, or even more frequently, and the Siamese perhaps ‘call’ more persistently than any other breed. Long-hairs as a group rarely show the same virility, if such it is.
It is worthy of special mention here that the occasional Siamese queen will ‘call’ for several weeks on end, although usually during that time of oestrum there may be short periods of a day or two when the owner suspects that the period of’ calling’ has passed. After a really long period of’ calling’ such as this, it is not unusual for the interval before the next ‘call’ to be much longer than the normal. A remarkable observation at this time, when ‘calling’ is long continued, is that appetite often remains good, and more often than not there is no loss of flesh, although some queens do lose condition quickly if they continue to’ call’. Perhaps in one way this unusual behaviour must be considered as a form of sexual hysteria, but if this suspicion arises, the queen should be examined by a veterinarian. In most cases, however, the queen will revert to her normal ‘calling’ cycle later, and this mild form of hysteria does not generally become the normal pattern of her sexual life … Some queens actually ‘call’ several days after their kittens are born, and may repeat the process before the family is weaned. It is possible that this comparatively unusual behaviour may be a sign of a neurosis which at a later date may prove unwelcome."
Most 1950s queens had a close season for breeding and did not produce kittens during the winter months when climatic conditions, with a lack of sunshine, were less suitable for rearing a family. The advent of central heating and more artificial lighting (including outdoor lighting and street-lights) has disrupted this close season in modern cats.
MEETING AND MATING IN THE 1950S
The GCCF dictated that cats were adult (for show purposes) at 9 months old. In breeding terms, adulthood was less easily defined and females matured faster than males. As with humans, female cats were often sexually mature before they were physically mature. The 'first call' was therefore an important and worrying time for a breeder. "As with most mammals, this sudden expression of sexual desire must give rise to a considerable amount of nervous tension in any young female cat, although its effects will differ from one individual to another. This is an experience which the queen has not had before, and it must be one which is temporarily disturbing because it must be something which is quite inexplicable to the cat itself, apart from the fact that there is a definite urge to seek the companionship of a cat of the opposite sex. From the point of view of the owner, this first’ calling’, although a perfectly natural phenomenon, is something which should be handled with care. Perhaps the best policy for the owner of the female to adopt is one which allows the young queen to finish her ‘call’ without coming into contact with any external sexual excitement. The novice must realize that forethought and care at this time may make all the difference between helping the queen to become a bad breeder or a good one. As a matter of general policy it is probably better not to send a queen away to stud the first time she ‘calls’. This nervous tension, when experienced for the first time, is more considerately dealt with if it is not heightened by a host of other experiences which would inevitably follow on the sending of the queen by rail to a chosen male, and then allowing her the further excitement of an actual mating."
In addition, maiden queens were often put off call by the journey to the stud, resulting in frustration for all parties concerned. If they were mated, the often did not produce kittens. Some queens successfully produced and reared healthy kittens from their first call, but these tended to be the later-maturing queens that first called at 11 months old. "It frequently happens that a maiden queen, even if she is mated satisfactorily from a mechanical point of view, does not later produce kittens. The nervous upheaval which results from such a sequence of excitements may lead to the production of acid secretions in the reproductive Organs which may render the spermatozoa ineffective because they become immobile and die, and thus are incapable of reaching the ova to fertilize them. There are also a number of other possible explanations why a maiden queen should not be in kitten, but these are too scientific to be dealt with in a book of this nature."
"When a queen ‘calls’ for the second time, she should be mated even if the owner considers that she is still on the young side, for it has been suspected quite often that future breeding queens have been ruined as breeders by being held back too long against their natural instinct. There have been many instances in the past when an owner has held a queen back merely on account of age, only to find at a later date that she is a bad or at best an indifferent breeder. […] There are so many long-haired females to-day which develop at maturity into bad breeders, or even become non-breeders, that too much interference with the course of Nature is only likely to make matters worse, and one must stress the point always that the natural inclination of the cat must be fully considered."
A queen that was still physically immature on her second call should only be allowed to rear 2 kittens, regardless of how many she actually produced. Some queens called very early and had their second call only a few weeks later while still considered far too young to breed, Though owners had to face the possibility that she may never become a satisfactory breeder, there was less risk if she was held back until the third ‘call’. "Precocious queens whose ‘calling’ cycle falls into a pattern of ten days to a fortnight are usually just the ones which are likely to show some form of hysteria at a later date, and as breeding stock they should be regarded as suspect. No matter how unpleasant the decision is to make, abnormal animals should be spayed after due consultation with a veterinarian, who may find the real reason for the abnormality."
Soderberg's "Pedigree Cats" was arguably the most detailed study of cat breeds and breeding since Frances Simpson's "Book of the Cat" in 1903. In Simpson's time, a discussion of the reproductive organs (and particularly the genitalia) was unthinkable. By Soderberg's time it was permissible to discuss such matters in scientific terms. Soderberg described the "organs of reproduction" including the male cat's barbed penis and its role in mating: "A peculiarity about the penis of a cat is that it has rough protuberances on its surface which are erectile and come into use when the penis is withdrawn from the vagina. The surface of these protuberances is rough so that in the act of withdrawal this rough surface clings closely to the vaginal wall. It is this action which causes pain to the female, which responds by uttering the characteristic shriek when the act of copulation has been completed. Experienced breeders usually suspect the efficacy of a mating if the queen does not give vocal expression to her temporary discomfort at this time. It has been stated with authority on several occasions and must, therefore, be accepted by the layman as truth, that it is, in fact, this painful act of withdrawal which causes the ova to be shed so that they can be fertilized by the sperms which are already present in the vagina as well as in the uterus." Ovulation, sperm production and fertilization were also described - in fact, cat breeders probably had better sex education than the general public!
On their first meeting, the stud and queen should be accommodated in adjacent pens to get used to each other without making physical contact "On this first meeting many males are anxious to investigate the queen more closely, although very rarely with any spiteful intent, but many queens at first appear to be really bad-tempered, and physical damage would be the inevitable result if the two were allowed to run loose together until such time as they had really become acquainted. Once the pair have been placed within sight and sound, and perhaps what is more important, are able to smell each other’s presence, they should be left and allowed to make what progress they feel inclined to do by their own particular methods of wooing."
"A queen who is in season is definitely prepared to mate, but at the right moment from her point of view, and she rarely seems to mind which male eventually performs this service for her. In fact, if she were to be granted full freedom when she was in season, it is almost certain that she would allow herself to be mated by several males over a period of several days. It must be realized, however, that it is she who decides when the actual mating shall take place, for without her co-operation the act is nearly always impossible even for the most experienced stud, although even in this respect there are some exceptional males who can manage the most difficult queens." A vigilant stud owner would know when the pair were ready to make actual physical contact and prepare the stud house accordingly. "A part of the floor of the stud house should be covered with an old but clean piece of carpet into which either cat is able to stick its claws and thus gain a foothold. If there is no low shelf in the house […] there must be a low chair or stool on to which the stud can jump as soon as the act of copulation is completed, for at this particular moment the queen may be so fierce that she will turn on the male and may do him damage with her claws unless he is not only intelligent in getting out of the way but also has a safe spot to which he can retreat. Undoubtedly it is the pain of the completion of the act of mating which makes some females at this time such ferocious creatures, and woe betide the stud owner who tries to handle any queen if she gets into this state immediately after she has received service."
If the queen turns on the stud before mating, the stud owner "who should be wearing soft but really thick gloves, must return the queen at once to her cage" and at no time should the pair be left together unsupervised in case of fighting. After mating, the stud should be removed from the house in case he tries to mate her before she is ready for a second service. After mating, the queen would roll violently on the floor, thrash her tail and might growl though Soderberg admitted that the purpose of the rolling had not been satisfactorily explained. The stud owner was not to try to handle the queen until she was fully calm. "Eventually the queen will be returned to her pen, and then the stud may also be allowed to return to his house. When this separation has been effected, the pair can be left together, although they will be unable to come into close contact, but may develop the right frame of mind for a second mating later." Since the first mating might not result in kittens, a second mating was common practice. "As a general rule more than three matings should not be permitted, for, although a queen may be prepared to accept a stud on a considerable number of occasions over a period of a few days, three matings in a short time, even for a virile stud, are strain enough, particularly if he has other queens waiting for him."
Some queens, especially maiden queens, were nervous of the stud and proved difficult to mate. Sometimes the nervousness was due to a previous bad experience of mating. The queen's owner was often unaware of her nervousness. This meant a greater degree of patience and supervision was needed to allow the queen to overcome her terror and to allow herself to be mated. "There are always a few queens which have to be sent to stud time after time before they will receive the male. Whether a queen of this nervous temperament should be used for breeding at all is a debatable point because the owner cannot know how much of her temperament will be passed on to her offspring."
Other queens were not at all nervous, but were difficult to mate on their first, or even their subsequent visits, to a stud. Often this was due to physical clumsiness which prevented them from assuming the correct position for mating. Instead of moving their tails aside, such queens might clamp their tails to their body, preventing intromission. Others did not raise their hindquarters, but almost squatted on the ground. Yet others would lie fiat on their stomachs, or even roll over on their sides, leaving the stud unable to effect entry. As an aside, captive male leopards have successfully mated much larger lionesses if the lioness assumed a lying position; while such a position was unconventional, it did not make mating impossible as Soderberg wrote. It was possible for the stud owner to hold the queen in the correct position, but some studs took no interest in a queen that was being held. In this case, the only hope for the owner of the queen was to find a particular stud which was not put off when the queen was held "otherwise she will never be mated, unless she is allowed to run wild and find a mate of her own".
Soderberg noted that the obvious solution for difficult queens, and a few difficult studs, was artificial insemination (increasingly used on farm livestock) "but as far as one can ascertain at the moment, artificial insemination is not a practical possibility, for no one has found a method whereby the sperms can be collected from the male and stored under satisfactory conditions. Were this method possible as a means of fertilization, the few outstanding studs in each breed could be used much more widely than is at present possible. As this part of the book, however, has as its purpose the description of practical cat breeding, there is no need to say more on a matter which at the present time is purely theoretical and has no practical application." As it currently stands, most cat registries are opposed to artificial insemination for several reasons: proof of paternity, problems of inbreeding and necessity of anaesthetising the stud in order to collect semen.
Sometimes, in spite of the breeders' best efforts, their cats failed to produce kittens. Soderberg dealt with the topics of impotence and sterility. Overworked studs could become impotent - either losing interest in females or being incapable of mating, perhaps due to "a lack of physical co-ordination" or what is now widely called erectile dysfunction. Some males were capable of copulation, but produced insufficient live sperm to impregnate a female. Cryptorchids were infertile and monorchids had poorer fertility than normal studs. Disease and convalescence, and anything which reduced natural vigour, could result in temporary sterility. Certain drugs also caused temporary sterility, but Soderberg felt this topic to be too specialized and scientific for further discussion.
Females might also be infertile. In some cases "the excitement of being in season changes the chemical reactions of the body, and if this means that the secretions of the uterus and the vagina are strongly acid, their effect upon the sperm may be disastrous. Acids will slow down the movement of the sperms and eventually destroy them, with the result that they will never be able to reach the ova which have recently been shed from the ovaries." Diseased ovaries and ovarian cysts might be tackled by surgery, but such queens should be retired from breeding. Deformities of the reproductive organs would make fertilization very difficult, or even impossible. "There are always some queens which never seem to mature sexually, although they may ‘call’ very occasionally. Why this should be is largely a matter of guesswork, but it may mean that their sexual organs have never developed to full maturity. Often with queens of this type all sorts of injections and additions to diet are used in the hope that they will become successful breeders eventually." The benefit of hindsight suggests that some of these were XO (Turner's Syndrome) females - physically female, but sterile. Soderberg warned that sentiment often meant that owners sometimes tried to get attractive, but underdeveloped queens, into breeding condition when it would be far wiser to regard her as abnormal and unsuitable for of carrying on her species.
On her return from the stud, the queen was confined until she stopped 'calling' otherwise she might also be mated and impregnated by a stray tomcat. "If the pedigree stud had not succeeded in producing fertilization of the ova in both horns of the uterus, the stray might be more successful, and in due time there would be a mongrel litter, or in exceptional circumstances a mixed litter."
THE MIS-MATED QUEEN IN THE 1950s
One concern of pedigree breeders was what to do with a mis-mated queen. "The misalliance of a pedigree female with a stray male is from time to time a source of considerable annoyance, and the question has often to be considered very carefully whether any attempt should be made to prevent the development of a possible mongrel litter." The queen might have given no signs of oestrus, or she might have escaped while 'calling'. "Stray toms appear sometimes in the most remarkable numbers, and may have come from a considerable distance. For a variety of reasons these stray and inconvenient males are usually extremely virile, and if mating takes place, there is a very great risk that kittens will be the result of the encounter."
Soderberg wrote that there were arguments both for and against aborting kittens resulting from a mis-mating, but that in cats, the considerations were entirely practical and not in the least moral. "There is certainly something to be said for avoiding the consequences of a mismating, but there is also a considerable mass of evidence to show that some queens who are dealt with at this time to prevent the birth of kittens may, at a later stage in their life, prove unsatisfactory breeders. It is never possible to say, however, that this state of affairs is a direct consequence of interference with the normal course of things, and all that the breeder can have are his suspicions."
Only a vet with wide experience of cats could abort a cat - any attempt by the owner was likely to harm the cat. If administered promptly, injections of either stilboestrol or oestrin would (hopefully) prevent the fertilized ova from implanting though success was not guaranteed. The usual abortifacient was stilboestrol, and though it should not affect future oestrus, many breeders claimed that queens did not 'take' if mated on their next 'call'. Abortion of developing foetuses was more emotive. Some said that kittens should not be aborted simply because they were unwanted. Sometimes, abortion was necessary to preserve the health of the queen. Soderberg stated that the cat owner did not have the right to make this decision for himself and that he must rely on the vet's advice.
The subject of dual mating aroused a great deal of interest in the 1950s. Soderberg considered it of little practical importance as it occurred so rarely. In the early 1900s, it was quite common for a queen to be mated to two different studs and both were listed on registration papers. The first mating might not fertilize all of the available ova, in which case matings with another stud might fertilize the remaining ova and result in a mixed litter. In non-pedigree cats this was common and unimportant. "If a Siamese queen is satisfactorily mated by a Siamese stud, all the kittens from this mating will show the Siamese pattern. On the other hand, if it happens that on the next day the queen is again mated by a male which is not Siamese (and, it ought to be added here, has not been produced from a Siamese cross), the kittens from this mating would generally all be black. It must be accepted as a fact that it is not only possible, but has actually happened, that a litter of kittens has been sired by two different males. In one particular case the Siamese queen gave birth to four Siamese kittens, three black ones and one black kitten with white markings on the throat."
Soderberg noted that a slightly different situation occurred if the queen was mated twice to the same stud since there could be as much as 48 hours between the birth of the first and the last kittens of her litter (in practice, a cat's whole litter is usually born at one time though some kittens might be 48 hours younger than others). It was generally considered that 48 hours after the first mating, no further ova would be fertilized provided both horns of her Y-shaped uterus contained foetuses.. "There seems no adequate reason why the breeder of pedigree cats should wish to try this experiment with the mere object of proof, but its explanation does show that dual matings can produce remarkable results, even if they do happen to be unusual in their occurrence, and are thus regarded as phenomenal."
For many years, telegony was accepted as fact by animal breeders. By the 1950s, inheritance was known to be due to genetics, hence Soderberg took pains to dispel this old myth. Telegony stated that the result of one particular mating would have a permanent effect on the female, and would influence her future litters. As a result, many breeders of pedigree animals believed that a female that had mismated (e.g. with a male of the wrong breed or with a stray tom of mixed ancestry) would be ruined as a breeder of pedigree stock for the rest of her life. Such females were needlessly destroyed and their genes lost because they were believed to be ruined for life. On the other hand, if the first mating was with an outstanding stud cat, it was believed that he would influence future litters even if they were sired by inferior males. Breeders claimed to discern the influence, whether desirable or not, of the first sire on later litters sired by other males - demonstrating the power of belief! Telegony probably held back the development of breeds.
Soderberg wrote "Unfortunately, in the now distant past a large number of queens were destroyed because telegony was accepted as a fact instead of being, as is actually the case, sheer nonsense. Despite the stupidity of the belief, even now from time to time the same old story is brought out for the acceptance of the ignorant. Fortunately, the vast majority of breeders, however, now know that there is no truth in this myth. When a queen has been mated and kittens have resulted, the very act of giving birth removes from the body of the female all trace of her association with the particular male which by choice of selection happened, or even by accident happened, to be the father of her progeny.
The male can only influence kittens resulting from the sperms which he emits, and those which are not actually used for the fertilization of the ova very quickly die. It has been stated on more than one occasion that sperms can remain alive for as long as seventeen days in the body of the female, but even if this is the case, it means that there will be none left even three weeks after the last mating has taken place. Thus, as the period of gestation is nearly three times as long as this, there can be no possibility that any sperms will be alive to affect any future litter of kittens. The absorption of seminal fluid may have certain other physical effects on the female, but this is entirely another matter. Telegony must be regarded as just one of those old wives’ tales which seem to continue their existence just because they are so ridiculous and lacking in any scientific basis."
FELINE PREGNANCY IN THE 1950s
Soderberg advised the owner on care of the pregnant female and on the signs of pregnancy, most of which is familiar today. She would show little sign of pregnancy for the first three weeks though "In all probability it would be possible to find out whether fertilized ova had been implanted in the uterine wall within a period of a week after a mating, but this would necessitate a blood test which might or might not be conclusive. In this particular field little experimental work has been done with cats, and even if it had been, it is unlikely that cat breeders would go to the expense and trouble of having such tests made, for even if the queen were not in kitten, she could not be mated again until she came into season. Whether she is in kitten or not, she will show in various ways in due time, and for this time the breeder has to wait."
On the subject of gestation, Soderberg wrote that a considerable amount of nonsense had been written by those who try to be too precise and quite definite in their statements : "It is unusual for a litter of kittens to be produced before the sixty-third day. For a queen to produce her family several days earlier is an infrequent occurrence, but it does happen from time to time without either accident or mischance being the cause of this early delivery. In the past a number of kittens have been successfully reared when the birth has occurred on the sixty-first day, but far more kittens born at this earlier time have died than have survived. When dealing with animals it is always unwise to be too dogmatic, but it can be stated without much fear of contradiction that kittens born before the sixty-first day stand no more than one chance in a thousand of surviving to be reared to maturity. Judging from the considerable volume of evidence which is now available, far more kittens are born after the sixty-third day than on or before it, and the sixty-fifth day seems to be the one which fits into the pattern for the vast majority of litters.
[...] In addition to those queens which conform to the average pattern, there are many which exceed this period of gestation, and particularly is this the case with young queens which are, as their name implies, producing their first litter. For them the sixty-seventh day is by no means rare, and there may even be a delay until the sixty-ninth day, although this must be regarded as unusual. There are also many queens which seem to work so closely to a set pattern that unless there are unusual circumstances around the time of the expected birth, they can be expected to retain their young for the same length of time at each pregnancy. [...] If the queen shows no signs of distress and eats well, there is never any need for the owner to panic, and there is certainly no reason for him to consult a veterinary surgeon even if the sixty-ninth day is reached and no kittens have appeared. The seventieth day is really late, but the chances are that very shortly after this time the really late queen will come into labour and produce a normal litter without any trouble at all. She may even have a feeling of pleasure that she has been the cause of a good deal of anxiety."
For the first three weeks, there was no need to treat the queen any differently, but from about the fifth week she needed more food: "With the elongation and expansion of the horns of the uterus due to the growth of the kittens, there is a very strong argument against filling the stomach too full at any one time so that it becomes distended. If this is allowed to happen, it may cause discomfort to the cat. The safest and most sensible method of feeding to adopt is to increase the number of meals and to see that each is smaller rather than larger than normal." By six weeks she would spend more time resting, but must not be allowed to get fat or lose muscle tone or she would have difficulty at kittening.
"Some owners seem fearful towards the end of this period of gestation that if a queen is allowed full freedom she will of necessity incur some injury which will harm her unborn family. Of course, a mischance of this sort is always a possibility, but it is most unlikely. The queens which suffer some misadventure during the later stages of their pregnancy are so few in number that the risk of such a misfortune is one that can be reasonably ignored by even the novice breeder. What many owners fail to do at this time is to rely on the sound common sense of the cat herself. There are many wise words uttered on this subject, but few, when joined together, make any sense.
Some say that a queen can jump down from a shelf or windowsill without harm to herself or her kittens, but that it is definitely bad for her to jump up to a height. There may be some sort of mechanical sense in such a belief, but the point to be remembered is that a queen is most unlikely to do anything which may be bad either for her or her family. Her actions at this time are the result of pure instinct, and if left to themselves in such matters, animals rarely make a mistake, and it is much more likely to be the blundering of the owner which will cause trouble. After all, it must be admitted by all owners that it is the cat which is going to have the kittens and not the owner, yet one might be forgiven at times for supposing that the opposite was, in fact, the case."
Pregnant queens were prone to "one minor disorder", particularly in the later stages of pregnancy: constipation. This might be due to the size of the kittens putting pressure on certain organs or the queen becoming less active. "A remedy is not difficult to find, and correct feeding is a great help in this respect, so that drastic measures are rarely necessary. It is sound practice, however, to give a half to one whole teaspoonful of liquid paraffin (mineral oil) twice a week if sluggish bowel action is noticed at such times."
A term not so much in use in the 21st century, but familiar in the 1950s, is "quickening". This means the unborn young start to move in the womb. "Sometimes during the sixth week of pregnancy a queen will be seen to lie on the ground and to roll several times from side to side." The novice might mistake it for 'calling', but when a hand was run along the queen's back she would not raise her hindquarters and she would not cry out while rolling. Soderberg noted "It is probable that the queen acts in this manner because for the first time she feels her kittens moving within her body" and added that that only a minority of queens acted in this way.
During the last fortnight of pregnancy, the queen would become restless and the owner should provide her with a suitable bed because "if she is allowed to get into a cupboard or drawer, it is amazing the amount of quite unnecessary havoc that she can cause with the contents that happen to come under her feet." Soderberg recommended indoors as preferable to an outdoor cat house because most queens kittened during the night and a night in a garden shed might not be very pleasant for the owner. In addition, indoors would be warmer and more suitable for the newly-born kittens except at the height of summer.
With regard to the type of bed, "even the most difficult queens can be persuaded to use what is provided for them if some effort is made, but a deal of persuasion may be necessary with queens which have decided views of their own." The bed or box should be "sufficiently deep from back to front so that the rear of the box is in a subdued light. On the whole, queens prefer half light themselves, and the kittens, when their eyes first open, seem much more comfortable if they can go from dimness to full light at will, for their eyes are very sensitive when they first open." Soderberg recommended a grocery box be adapted for this purpose and lined with plenty of newspaper: "She will enjoy herself immensely tearing this paper to shreds with her claws, and the paper may have to be renewed on a number of occasions before the kittens are actually due to arrive. This tearing action on the part of the queen is undoubtedly a relic of the history of her race when the wild female cat actually did make for herself a nest in which to have a family. Generally speaking, this habit of the modern cat serves no useful purpose, for she will visit the bed and deal with the paper long before she is willing to use it even as a place in which to sleep. It is when she does condescend to sleep in this box that other preparations [provision of blankets] should be made to make it more comfortable for her and her family.
[...] There will be many queens which will decide to turn these carefully-prepared beds upside down on several occasions, but they will finally condescend to have their families in these beds that have been prepared if they are watched at this time with some care. There are always some queens which regard a human bed as a much more suitable place in which to have a family, and often little can be done to hinder them."
On the basis that "forewarned is forearmed", Soderberg detailed the common misfortunes that might befall the breeder both before and after a litter of kittens was born. However, he first cautioned "The reader will probably know from experience how dangerous it is for some people to read any book which gives in detail the symptoms of disease, for there is a type of mind which looks for and generally finds in its own body all the symptoms which imply the possession of some dire disease. There are also cat owners who adopt the same attitude when they read of the ills which may befall their cats" and adds that a breeder would have to keep a great many cats for a very long period of years before encountering any of the misfortunes first hand.
One misfortune was false pregnancy (pseudo-pregnancy) which might arise from having no ova fertilised or having fertilised ova that do not implant into the womb. The queen might show all the signs of pregnancy including "pinking up" of the nipples and distended flanks. However palpation would indicate the lack of embryos. At around the seventh week, the signs of pregnancy would fade, including the queen resuming her normal shape, leaving the novice owner at a loss to understand what has happened. "Occasionally it happens that there is a slight vaginal discharge from the queen at this time, and it has been reported upon several occasions that a membrane filled with water has also been produced. In such cases it happens that the queen thinks that this is a kitten in its sac which she will, in the course of Nature, rupture to allow the suspected kitten to emerge, and she may then eat the sac. When this happens, there will in all probability be no actual visual evidence to show what has, in fact, happened." The queen would soon 'call' again and "Whether the queen should be sent to the same stud is a matter of opinion, although it must be obvious that he may or may not be the prime cause of the misfortune. It is possible that he may have been sterile at the time of mating, which is unlikely, but it is much more likely that the queen was at fault, and that this experience was just a temporary breakdown in the actual mechanics of conception."
Another misfortune was reabsorbed embryos when "the embryo generally develops to the stage where it can be felt without any doubt at all, and then, instead of increasing in size, gradually diminishes until there is nothing left, for the simple reason that the foetus has been reabsorbed by the queen through the blood-vessels which supply the wall of the uterus." Though considered uncommon, it was mostly associated with queens that were too old for breeding. Modern readers will know of both physical and genetic causes for this (faulty embryos may be reabsorbed), but the 1950s cat breeder would not be aware of this, hence Soderberg's explanation "the simple fact is that the reproductive mechanism breaks down, probably because the queen is having to provide nutrients for the embryo kittens from the food which she takes in, which are in her case essential to the maintenance of the balance of her own health. By some strange twist of natural function, the process of normal development of the kittens is reversed, and she takes back into her own blood-stream what is necessary to maintain this physical balance of her health, and thus the developing kitten disappears. The veterinary surgeon would probably regard this as a question of hormone balance."
On rare occasions the foetuses might die at a certain stage in their development and not be reabsorbed, but would be expelled from the body. Though called a miscarriage, it was regarded as different from the normal type of miscarriage. True miscarriage was associated with queens that were incapable of carrying kittens to full term and generally occurred between 6 and 7 weeks. A queen that suffered miscarriages, except through accident or illness, was regarded as suspect from the point of view of being a breeder and Soderberg suggested that the trouble might also be inherited by her daughters. Soderberg noted that some queens seemed incapable of carrying their kittens to full term. These required veterinary treatment as, having aborted once, they were likely to do so in the future, unless there was a specific reason which explained it as an unusual occurrence. Often the queen consumed the partly-formed kittens and the only sign of miscarriage would be bleeding. There was better understanding of the causes of miscarriage at this time and Soderberg described it as an imbalance between the activity of the ovaries and the hormone influence of the luteal bodies (corpora lutea) along with the interaction of other glands. A vet would diagnose the fundamental cause and suggest treatment when the queen was next found to be in kitten. Injections of suitable preparations, such as progestin, were used to "prevent any further trouble" if the vet deemed this desirable.
Soderberg also noted the use of prescribed sulpha drugs for uterine infection, noting that a queen that miscarried due to infection or hormonal problems might not breed successfully for a considerable time and that the hormonal problem might be inherited by her daughters: "How close this relationship is scientifically probable no one would be prepared even to conjecture at the present stage of feline research." Unsatisfactory nutrition might be a possible contributory cause, not through improper feeding, but because the queen was unable to extract sufficient vitamins and minerals to sustain her pregnancy. Finally, a simple unforeseeable accident could cause miscarriage. A heavy fall, when the queen was unprepared, could induce premature labour, hence the importance of confining here during the last week of pregnancy. Some heavily pregnant queens, though cumbersome, did not realise that they were less agile. Most were less venturesome in their final week, though there were a few exceptions who had to be restrained by the breeder. Nervous queens might be so easily upset by loud and unexpected noises, that even a sudden thunderstorm could induce potentially disastrous premature labour. Though impossible to prevent such noises, the owners presence could often give the queen confidence in such circumstances and prevent misfortune.
Though kittens born before 63 days were defined as premature, Soderberg wrote that the important point was how many days ahead of the due date they were born. Anything more than a day premature presented grave problems as the kittens were too poorly developed. "Even those kittens which are born on the sixty-first day more often die than live to be reared to maturity, and the difficulty of keeping them alive or even getting them to feed from their mother becomes progressively more difficult the more premature they are." There had been one or two reports of kittens born at 58 days which survived, but Soderberg was dubious because checking the date of conception was often extremely difficult - not all owners of queens noted the actual date of mating. If live kittens were born prematurely, every attempt should be made to save them, but the effort was usually in vain if the kittens were more than two days early. Occasionally, premature kittens were born with open eyes and usually faded and died very quickly. In some instances, they survived and had no apparent eye abnormality or lack of vigour, but it was more common for open-eyed kittens to have abnormal eyelids that were partially paralysed so that the eye never fully opened.
Having advised that kittening was a perfectly normal act, Sosderberg added that there was more to it than simply providing a box. A towel that could be removed when blood-soiled would aid comfort and cleanliness. A basket and hot-water bottle was useful for keeping early kittens warm while the mother gave birth to others. "If then these first kittens are taken away and placed on a warm hot-water bottle covered with a blanket, they will come to no harm and will, in fact, settle down very comfortably. It must be emphasized here, however, that not all queens like the removal of any of their kittens from the box."
Sometimes, the breeder had to attend to the queen's nipples before the birth. Queens which had previously borne kittens developed tough skin covering the nipples. Most queens licked their nipples frequently during the days before the birth and this removed the tough covering skin, but the breeder should inspect the nipples and if any still had skin over them, the nipple and surrounding area should be gently rubbed with olive oil to soften the skin and then with warm water and soap, and finally with warm water to remove the soap. This also served to remove parasite eggs that may have adhered there. After weaning, the nipple remained enlarged and the milk channel remained open. Though the queen should keep herself clean, the owner was advised to clean the nipples to prevent dirt entering the milk channel.
"In long-haired cats it may be found that there is a profuse growth of hair around the nipples, and that this may hinder the kittens from reaching them easily, although the persistence of a hungry kitten is truly remarkable. In such cases this hair around the nipples should be carefully cut away so that they can be easily seen. There is also another advantage in removing this surplus hair, for the queen, if she is normal, will produce a large quantity of milk, and some may come away from the nipples even when the kittens are not feeding. Should this happen, the hair will become matted and hard, and may in time make the faces of the kittens sore because it is inevitable that they will rub against it in the course of their feeding."
Most queens needed no human assistance and in the natural state of affairs, cats went off to a dark, undisturbed pace to give birth unaided. Soderberg wrote that some pets and purebreds were so emotionally attached to the owner that they insisted on kittening in close proximity: "From time to time one encounters the unusual queen who positively refuses to have her kittens alone, and will follow her owner wherever he happens to go, and if necessary will be prepared to have her kittens on the floor in front of him." The owner should remain nearby and talk to her to provide reassurance, especially if she was a maiden queen. The presence of the owner also allowed early intervention in case of problems, but "unfortunately there are far too many breeders who are inclined literally to put a hand in the proceedings before interference is really necessary." If the queen was not distressed, then Soderberg's advice was to leave her alone to get on with the task.
Soderberg also described the mechanics of kittening and the stages of labour and especially the signs that owner intervention was required. "Many queens can produce a family of four kittens in two to three hours, while others may rest so long between each birth that even twelve hours may elapse before the whole family has arrived safely. Exceptional queens which show this definite uterine inertia [...] have been known to take as long as seventy-two hours in which to produce a family of six. This does not mean that the queen is in labour throughout the whole of this period, but it usually happens that when such a queen has produced one or two kittens, she may rest for several hours before labour again starts."
Prolonged labour was no real reason for alarm unless actual labour (straining) continued so long that the queen showed signs of exhaustion. Veterinary help should be sought to remove a dead or stuck kitten which might be blocking the passage of other kittens. Some queens are "particularly foolish at kittening time" or had little time between kittens and they failed to open a kitten's birth sac, in which case the owner should do this. The applied to severing the umbilical cord and cleaning the kitten. "It is ... untrue to state as a generalization that queens will not allow their kittens to feed until all the family has been born, for experience frequently proves this statement to be wrong." Sometimes a placenta and birth sac was retained inside the mother. If it was not expelled after 24 hours, the vet's help was needed since it could lead to a womb infection or peritonitis and the queen might refuse to feed her kittens. Oestradiol or pituitrin were the usual methods of expelling a retained placenta.
Some queens who had difficulty in producing their kittens found the task easier if they were put into a small wooden basket or box as soon as labour began. She should have become accustomed to this box well before the kittens are due. "It may be considered a surprising fact, but many cat owners must have noticed how often a cat likes to get into some receptacle which looks really too small to be comfortable even when there is no question of having a family. Why they should enjoy being in such a confined space is beyond explanation." However Soderberg added that a few queens kittened more easily they could exert pressure with their feet against some hard surface during labour. This helped add to the muscular pressure needed to expel the kitten. A drawback of the small box was that each kitten had to be temporarily removed after birth as it risked being crushed while later kittens are being born. Since usually only the first kitten caused any trouble, a queen might have her first kitten in a small basket and then be encouraged to move to a larger box where the rest of the family will be born.
While most births went smoothly and needed no outside assistance, Soderberg wrote "it has to be admitted that from time to time, particularly with pedigree cats, things do go wrong, perhaps because they have been treated differently over the last sixty to seventy years." Most owners sought help long before it was really necessary. Soderberg advised that some queens had a leisurely labour and, for them, a delay or even a short sleep between kittens was normal. The time to worry was when she failed to produce a kitten after 2 hours of unsuccessful or violent straining. In those days, most vets attended the queen in the home (these days, it is more common to take the cat to the surgery as it is better equipped to deal with emergencies) and the usual cure was an injection of pituitrin to increase uterine contraction.
Dead kittens, whether they died before labour started or during a prolonged labour, presented a more difficult problem. The owner must trust the vet to make a decision that would save the mother's life and thus that of kittens already born, but which might cost the life of the stuck kitten and possibly of any unborn kittens. The 1950s breeder dreaded the prospect of an emergency Caesarian section as they risked losing the kittens and possibly the breeding queen as well.
Some stuck kittens were breech presentations i.e. tail first instead of head first. "As the rear end is not as suitable a surface on which to exert muscular pressure as is the head, it may happen that a considerable time will elapse before the kitten actually arrives" in the birth canal, By then, the sac had most likely ruptured and the kitten might become stuck. Unable to progress the birth, the mother might wander around the room or even head for the litter tray. If the kitten dropped to the floor, the tail was often damaged by the impact and the end of the tail could shrivel and fall off, ruining any show prospects. Breech presentations might require the owner or vet to assist.
Another problem presentation was termed "butt-ended kittens" by Soderberg. American readers must note that "butt" is not used in the UK to mean rump; Soderberg used the term in a carpentry sense. A butt-ended kitten could not be delivered by the queen unaided. It occurred when the kitten's head turned downwards before passing through the cervix into the birth canal, producing a "butt-end". "The passage is blocked by the top of the head and the shoulders. From this it generally follows that the greater the pressure the queen exerts, the more she is inclined to turn the kitten, but in a direction which makes it all the more impossible for it ever to find its way into the vaginal tract."
A queen in this predicament became exhausted and needed veterinary help. Vets did not relish the task of turning the kitten as the cat's birth canal was so narrow, making the use of forceps difficult. It usually took several attempts to grasp the kitten firmly with the forceps and extract it in one piece. "Occasionally the task is so difficult, and the kitten so tightly wedged and dry because of the length of time that it has been lodged, that the body may have to be taken out in several portions. Butt-ended kittens are usually dead when they are delivered, but if the condition is recognized early enough, it is possible to produce the kitten alive, and also not seriously injured even if it is temporarily bruised." On other occasions, a Caesarian section was unavoidable; in the 1950s this was a major operation of last resort.
Of the gravity of the Caesarian section, Soderberg wrote, "As a generalization it can be said that if it is at all possible, the delivery of kittens by Caesarean section should be avoided, for the simple reason that it frequently follows that as a result of this operation future litters are even more difficult to produce. Expert opinion is that almost invariably this operation is followed by some adhesions which may well change the shape of the horns of the uterus, and this can make more complicated the passage of any kittens in them towards the vagina. Therefore, it must be considered wise that a decision on this matter should always be deferred as long as is reasonably safe, and the condition of the queen during the period of indecision has to be observed with great care. Should the operation have to be performed, the main object will be to save the life of the queen, and the kittens will be a lesser, though still naturally an important, consideration."
He supported this statement by adding that just because a kitten could not be moved from a position in which it could be felt by the veterinarian, it was no indication that the kitten was dead or the mother was in serious trouble unless she was exhausted from continuous labour. He cited cases where the time between the birth of the first and last kittens was nearly three days, but all kittens thrived. Soderberg added "If a queen has to be subjected to a Caesarean section on a second occasion, the best advice that can be given is that the ovaries should be removed, for no queen should be expected to endure too much discomfort and pain in the cause of producing families of kittens."
Anaesthesia was a major concern and cats were not very good subjects for anaesthesia by inhalation, though a really skilled operator could safely manage even ether such that the mother and the unborn kittens (if they were still alive at the time of the operation) would all be saved. If the kittens were delivered alive, the queen would probably be able to feed them within a period of three days of the operation. From the queen’s point of view, nembutal, or a similar barbiturate, was less risky, but the kittens almost inevitably died before the vet could remove them from the womb. Kittens born alive by Caesarian had to be hand-reared until the queen recovered enough to feed them. Soderberg advised that hand-rearing entailed a great deal of trouble, but might be worthwhile for valuable kittens.
Having left the topic of the actual birth, Soderberg's notes on "Abnormal Kittens" described the various reasons kittens might fail to thrive: "It also sometimes happens that a kitten is doomed from the very moment of its birth. At times there may be an easily-found explanation for this unfortunate happening, but at others there is no apparent reason why the kitten should die at all." Some apparently normal kittens might show signs of hunger after 24 hours and move from one nipple to another in search of food. They would become unusually restless and noisy and if observed more closely milk would be seen running from their noses, and a slight whistling sound heard as they breathe. This was Soderberg's description of kittens with cleft palates. A complete cleft made it impossible for the kitten to produce enough suction to draw milk from the mother’s nipple, while a partial cleft allowed it to obtain some milk, but would probably leave it unsatisfied. Whether the latter type of kitten was reared or not depended upon how much food it did receive. Soderberg wrote that there was no satisfactory solution, and that the kindest thing to do in most cases was to humanely dispose of the affected kitten as soon as the problem was noticed.
In the 1950s, humane destruction of kittens was a task which the owner could "undertake for himself if he has the heart to do it, but it must be done quickly and humanely. Should there be any squeamishness felt about destroying these deformed kittens, then the help of the veterinary surgeon must be obtained. There are many ways in which cats and kittens can be destroyed, but this subject is dealt with fully in [Soderberg's] book 'The Care of Your Cat'. The most important point to bear in mind is that the earlier a decision is taken with regard to deformed kittens, and then acted upon, the better for all concerned."
There were a variety of explanations for cleft palate. It was known that a queen might produce kittens with cleft palates when mated to one particular stud, but that the stud did not father afflicted kittens when mated to any other queen. The queen herself may not have kittens with cleft palates when mated to a different stud. "Which animal is the fundamental cause of the trouble in any particular case it is often absolutely impossible to ascertain. It may be just that two individuals are so unsuited physically that they cannot produce normal kittens, and cleft palates are the result of this physical incompatibility." What Soderberg was describing was the action of recessive genes, though his description suggests that he had not read A C Jude's genetics chapter contributed to the same book! He did write that a kitten with a slight cleft should not be bred from as there was a risk of passing on the abnormality. Even when reared satisfactorily, the kitten should be neutered.
Other kittens were born with obvious physical deformities, such as a misshapen leg. Soderberg wrote "No attempt should be made to rear kittens with any deformity, for they can never be other than freaks, and cannot possibly produce pleasure for anyone. Painless death at once is the only sane and humane course to adopt when this situation has to be faced." This sounds ruthless by modern standards, but in the 1950s, vets and owners often lacked the knowledge and resources to manage disabilities. Fading kittens that died after two or three days in spite of plenty of mother's milk were mystifying to the 1950s owner/breeder. Soderberg decided that as no-one had been able to solve the problem, it "would be of little value to discuss the matter any further here, although some breeders have found ‘fading kittens’ a problem during some seasons." With no explanation, it was something an owner had to accept.
Sometimes, one kitten in a litter was considerably smaller than the rest. Soderberg noted that it was a mistake to assume that all undersized kittens were weaklings since many small kittens had caught up with their larger siblings by 8 to 10 weeks old. However, some kittens which were small at birth were also weaklings and it was "a matter of doubt as to whether it is worth trying to save its life". It might be too weak to find the nipple or latch on to the nipple without help. Even if placed on the nipple, stronger kittens might push it aside. The queen herself might push it aside and make no attempt to rear it. "A kitten that is constantly rejected by the mother in this way should be humanely destroyed. Naturally there is sentiment in cat breeding, but the breeder has to bear in mind the fact that the survival of the fittest may often be in the best interests of the breed in the long run."
It was still common in the 1950s to allow a pedigree cat to rear only a few of her kittens. The breeder rarely had to make any hard choices in Persian cats as they tended to have small litters. "There is rarely any problem of deciding whether the queen has too many kittens to rear or not, for any queen who is normal can rear three, and most of them can rear four satisfactorily without any undue strain." Some breeders were anxious to show young kittens as early as possible, and they believed "probably quite rightly" according to Soderberg, that three kittens was the maximum that should be reared in any one litter. Whether it was a sound policy to adopt purely on physical grounds was a matter of opinion according to the author, since kittens did a good deal of feeding for themselves before 8 weeks old and only relied on mother's milk alone for a few weeks.
Siamese cats, presented more of a problem, averaging 5 kittens per litter and often producing 6, 7 or 8 kittens at a time. Soderberg advised that a Siamese queen should be allowed to rear no more than 5 kittens, though even this would be a real strain and likely to leave her weak and debilitated by the time the kittens were weaning. If so, the queen should not be bred until the following year. In general, 10 kittens over 2 litters was as much as a queen could be expected to rear without undue strain.
If an owner was convinced that a litter was too large, this posed a problem regarding the surplus kittens. At that early age it was impossible to accurately judge their quality though a few breeders claimed to be able to do this (possibly a carryover from the days and advice of Frances Simpson in 1903). Destroying apparently poor quality kittens risked losing those which might have become the best quality adults. The alternative was to find a foster mother and enquiries had to be made when the queen looked as though she was carrying a large litter and before the kittens were born .
A foster mother was also required if the queen failed to produce sufficient milk for her kittens: "If this situation has to be faced, a foster-mother must be obtained or the very arduous business of hand rearing kittens has to be attempted as an alternative to destroying the family [...] A few queens are incapable of producing any milk from the blood-stream at all, and it is for the kittens of such mothers that a foster has to be found as the alternatives are either laborious or disastrous." A poor producer would be given Lactagol, or some similar stimulant to lactation. Soderberg commented that the success was sometimes amazing even with the most difficult queens and was well worth a trial. If that failed, the vet would give a hormone injection, however some queens might be too ill to produce milk.
Soderberg explained that in any neighbourhood at any particular moment there would be ordinary cats with litters, but whether the breeder could find one, let alone one that was suitable, depended on several factors. One was possible introduction of disease into the cattery. Unlike the outdoor-roaming cat, a sheltered pedigree cat might not have developed natural immunity to common illnesses, hence the potential foster mother had to be checked for signs of ill-health. If possible, it should be isolated in the cattery for at least 10 days prior to having its own kittens so that its health could be monitored. Since it was often not known that a foster-mother would be needed until after the birth of the pedigree kittens, this was rarely possible. A foster-mother whose own kittens were already a week old could still undertake the task, though it was preferable that the pedigree kittens got the first milk of their own mother. Soderberg wrote that the first milk was very rich in calcium, but that if this was impossible "and the early development of the kittens is slightly retarded, the lack of calcium at this stage need not be regarded too seriously, for, if necessary, remedial measures can be applied a little later if there should be any signs of a deficiency." The presence and importance of protective maternal antibodies in colostrum was not realised.
The mother's ability to recognise her own offspring and introduced foster-kittens was underestimated by Soderberg and his contemporaries. Cats were believed to be able to distinguish between dark and light in colour, but not have any colour perception. "Thus, a queen with white kittens might be extremely difficult to persuade to foster kittens that were black, unless the mothering instinct was very strong in her." Though rarely a problem in longhairs, it apparently posed a problem in fostering Siamese as the kittens are born off-white. However, the queen was much more aware of her kittens by taste and smell, hence the importance of making the foster kittens smell like her own kittens. First the kittens were washed and dried and then the owner must rub her hands gently over the underside of the foster queen, including under the tai. The kitten to be fostered must be rubbed with the hands. Any milk expressed by the mother should also be rubbed over the kitten. It should be mixed in with her litter while she was away from her bed.
It was considered unwise to transfer one kitten at a time, as a single odd-looking kitten in a litter of four might immediately be recognized and dealt with as an intruder unless the original litter was very mixed in appearance. Preferably two, or sometimes three, kittens, should be substituted for two of the foster-mother's own kittens. Her own kittens, being of little value, would be destroyed. If Soderberg's method sounds heartless, remember that spaying was still not widespread and the foster-mother's kittens might well have been destroyed by her owner and probably in a less humane way that that employed by the pedigree breeder. The foster-mother should be watched until it is certain that she has accepted the substitute kittens and allowed them to feed.
According to Soderberg, no more than 3 kittens should be fostered onto a strange queen, particularly if she was an ordinary house cat. Although housecats produced profuse milk , they were generally smaller than the pedigree breeds. However, many breeders had successfully had 4 pedigree kittens reared by a foster queen. A really large litter would require several foster mothers and this was not an easy matter to arrange at short notice. A more satisfactory arrangement was to arrange that several queens in the same cattery had their litters at the same time as they would often share maternal duties of their own accord, and indeed the breeder sometimes had to prevent them from doing so.
The question of how long after her own kittens had been born a foster-mother would accept foster kittens had no precise answer. It depended on the queen's maternal instincts and the breeder's skill at subterfuge. There had been cases of queens with kittens of 3 weeks old accepting and rearing newborns. Soderberg was doubtful of the desirability of this and stated that it was inhumane to destroy kittens of 3 weeks old purely to foster a newborn; the newborn, with little awareness of its own existence should be left to take what chances it can. He wrote that it would not experience any distress in any case, but attempts may be made to help it to feed from the queen and not be pushed aside by the larger older kittens.
Soderberg explained "It is sometimes suggested that it is cruel to take away the kittens which a female cat has produced herself, and then to replace these with others which have been borne by some other queen, but this moral stand presupposes an attitude of mind in the female cat which may not even exist. The sane view seems to be that the maternal instinct of cats is such that what really gives them pleasure is the rearing of a family of kittens, and if it is the case - and it is a supposition that is also reasonable - that for the first few days at least kittens can only be recognized by their mother by a sense of smell, then surely no cruelty is involved in such a practice. That it is the desire to mother something small that is most important from the cat’s point of view seems to be a fact which is often recorded in the Press, for some female cats will attempt to rear the most unusual and impossible creatures. An example of this sort of thing is the queen that will ‘mother’ a bird which by instinct she ought to destroy."
Should the queen die or her milk supply cease before the kittens were 4 weeks old (and starting to eat for themselves) and no foster mother be available, the owner was faced with the task of hand-rearing. "The question is simple and the alternatives straightforward. Either the kittens must be destroyed or the very burdensome business of rearing them by hand must be undertaken by the owner." Soderberg cautioned that no-one should start to hand-rear kittens unless he realised the difficulty of the task and was prepared to continue the task. He outlined the two-hourly (three-hourly at night) frequency of feeds and consequent broken nights for the owner, especially in the first week. "A week of frequent interruptions to normal routine such as this is a very real strain, but there are breeders whose enthusiasm and humanity are more than equal to this task." He warned against feeding too much in a single feed as the kitten would suffer digestive upsets and lose the meal and hence be more hungry than it was before.
Getting the milk into an orphaned kitten was a problem in the 1950s. There were no specialised kitten feed bottles and most syringe bodies were glass, not disposable plastic, and therefore not available to most owners. Some owners had success with a doll's feeding bottle although care was needed that the hole in the teat was neither too small (causing the kitten to suck to no avail) nor too large (risking choking and pneumonia). Soderberg wrote that many kittens made no attempt to suck a rubber teat and the breeder had to find an alternative: "In most cases this will consist of a dropper of some sort, or even a fountain-pen filler, which unfortunately is much less easy to obtain now than used to be the case." These were less controllable than a bottle. "It does not matter what method the breeder decides to adopt, it will always be a sensible prelude to the business of feeding to rub a small quantity of the milk food round the kitten’s mouth so that it can first taste what is about to be given to it. More often than not the taste will be found pleasant, and the kitten will be eager for more, and if the tiny animal really wants to feed, then it will make the task much less difficult for the person trying to help it." A major drawback with dropper-feeding was having to count how many drops equated to a teaspoonful (the standard measurement used for kitten meal size).
Finding a suitable substitute for queen's milk was harder in the 1950s than it is today. Soderberg explained that cat's milk had 50% more solids compared to cow's milk and a higher fat content. Since a kitten had a tiny stomach, feeding "milk" that was 80% water would not nourish it properly. Soderberg detailed available substitutes that provided a "satisfactory compromise" under normal circumstances. Ordinary milk could be allowed to stand for a couple hours to let more cream collect at the top, but not so long that all the cream separated as this would be too rich for the kitten. Goat’s milk was also popular and easily digestible (it was also popular with adult cats) and milk for human babies was considered useful. There was at least one milk food for cats and dogs - Sherley's "Lactol" - and if obtainable, it was an excellent food for kittens right from the start. It was also useful as a supplementary food for weaning kittens in order to relieve the demands on the mother.
Soderberg also emphasised the proper temperature of milk feeds and on the importance of sterilization. General hygiene of the kittens was also important i.e. keeping the kittens clean. Curiously there was no mention here of stimulating defecation and urination in kittens. Soderberg wrote "To rear a litter of kittens by hand successfully is an achievement of which any breeder can feel justly proud, but it is a very difficult task, and one which will call for an infinity of patience, and any breeder must consider very seriously whether the attempt is worth while."
Soderberg then turned to natural rearing. Luckily most queens managed to raise their kittens with no need for owner intervention. Straight after kittening she should be left alone with her family apart from provision of drink. "Some breeders are always anxious to find out the sex of the kittens at the moment of birth, but this is quite unnecessary, and is much better postponed until a later date. The knowledge of sex may be interesting, but it is not important, for nothing can be done about it." In respect of sanitary arrangement, "[New mothers] rarely even come out of the box to use their sanitary tray for some hours, and many of them restrain themselves longer. Twelve hours is a very usual time before a queen will start to move, and this is not because she is exhausted by labour, but is rather an indication of her feeling of contentment. Food is definitely not required at first, and no attempt should be made to tempt the queen’s appetite. In most cases the placentas will have been eaten, and as a result there should be no feeling of hunger for a considerable time."
Food should be offered when the queen showed that she was hungry. Soderberg advised that the first meal after kittening be light, for example fish and cornflakes mixed with a little milk. Meat was best avoided for the first 24 hours because she should have eaten the placentas. Quiet and settled kittens meant they were adequately fed. Restless kittens meant a problem with lack of milk or with acid milk, for which corrective measures had to be taken. Some queens were naturally clumsy, particularly with their first litter. The owner needed to check that the kittens were in a heap and that none had strayed out of the kitten heap and that the mother was not lying on any kittens.
If the queen was used to using the garden for toileting, she should be allowed to do so since she would not stay away from her kittens longer than absolutely necessary for her own comfort and would be most anxious to return. However, while she was away from her family, the door of the room was to be shut in case a stray tom tried to get in and destroy the whole litter. "Where stray toms are comparatively frequent visitors to a garden, the queen and her family must always be guarded against such possible attacks. The majority of pedigree males are completely safe with a litter of kittens because they usually know the queen, but when a family is being reared, it is safer on the whole to keep all males out of the way until the kittens are well grown and running around. At this stage of their development a stud is often prepared to play quite happily with kittens for a long period, and there are some males, strangely enough, which seem to have an almost maternal instinct in them. It is only the stray tom which has but one idea which is the real danger. Why a male cat should act in this fashion is open to conjecture, but the probability is that he senses that a queen is much less likely to come into season again while she is nursing a family, although as a matter of fact he is sometimes wrong. There is, nevertheless, a basis of fact in this attitude in another way, for it not infrequently happens that a queen who loses her litter prematurely ‘calls’ very shortly afterwards."
After the first few days, the queen would often want to spend an hour or so away from the litter. Soderberg stated that exercise in the fresh air was beneficial to her and that the kittens would come to no harm if they were well fed and were kept warm in the queen's short absence.
Sometimes a queen produced milk that was too acid and which, depending on how acid it was, caused either a mild or serious digestive disorder in the kittens. It fermented uncomfortably in the kittens' stomachs. If the disorder continued and the kittens became restless, corrective action was needed as "many litters have been lost because of the unsuitable quality of their mother’s milk". Unfortunately, the problem might not show itself in its most serious form while the kittens were tiny; the effect seemed to be cumulative and if not detected early, it often proved fatal when the kittens were more than 3 weeks old. Acid milk was due to the queen's own digestive problems. According to Soderberg, constipation was a common disorder in cats and the excessive fermentation in the bowels upset the pH of the milk. Looseness (mild diarrhoea) could have the same effect.
"Breeders are sometimes to blame in that they unwittingly help to produce this unsatisfactory state of affairs. They argue that as the mother has to produce a large quantity of milk for her kittens, and also a progressively larger quantity as the kittens grow older, it must follow that a nursing queen should be given large quantities of milk to drink. There is a fallacy here, for it is not necessarily milk as such which helps to produce a more copious supply of milk in the queen." Quality of diet and a larger liquid intake were the important factors. "Milk may be a perfect food, but its feeding quality for kittens depends upon the creature which supplies it." Breeders made the mistake of assuming that because milk was perfect for kittens, milk was also good for the mother. Soderberg wrote that cat's milk was perfect for kittens, but many adult cats could not tolerate cow's milk. Whether or not the queen could tolerate cow's milk had to be established before she had a family. For most queens, a good diet and plenty of water was safer.
On the basis that prevention was better than cure, the queen's milk could be prevented from becoming too acid by giving her a two-grain tablet of sodium citrate with each main meal of the day. Some queens would drink this dissolved in water. Sometimes it had to be dissolved and mixed with the gravy or meat juices which usually accompanied solid meals. The tablet could also be crushed and mixed directly with the meat meal. In cases of acute acidity, veterinary help was needed.
Sometimes a mammary gland remained full, but kittens did not suckle from it because the nipple was "blind" i.e. blocked. If not cleared, the gland might cease to produce milk and in some cases, an abscess might form. The blockage would have developed during or after the previous litter was weaned, perhaps due to an obstruction such as dirt. The owner could attempt to unblock the nipple by bathing the nipple and gland with hot water and then massage it from the base, in a motion outwards from the body towards the tip. Olive oil would make the nipple more supple and easier to massage. If repeated several times, this treatment was usually effective. If the gland became hard and inflame, veterinary help was necessary or the queen might become really ill. Once cleared, the affected nipple should be observed in case of a recurrence. Some queens had one nipple that did not function at all during their breeding life i.e. did not form milk at all. As long as only one or two nipples were non-functional and the litter was not too large, this was not serious.
Kittens began to open their eyes during their second week, but sometimes their eyes seemed stuck. Usually, a slightly stuck lid was freed by the mother's licking. Sometimes, though the eyes and lids seemed perfectly healthy, one eye might be stuck at the corner, usually the outside corner, and bathing it with warm water was recommended. It might take several days of bathing the eye to unstick it. Soderberg did not see this to be significant unless accompanied by inflammation or discharge. If there was discharge or a yellowish crust, this should be addressed before the eye became damaged. If the inflammation was only slight, bathing the area where the lids join and carefully smearing it with halibut oil might help. Soderberg noted that the Vitamin A in halibut oil was greatly useful in some eye conditions as well as the oil softening the lids and encouraging the mother to lick. Should this fail, Albucid eye ointment could be used, but Soderberg warned that it was never safe to try to treat discharging eyes for more than a day or two unaided.
If simple remedies did not resolve the matter, penicillin and the sulpha drugs in ointment form could be prescribed following veterinary consultation. Infectious conjuntivitis required veterinary help and could take a long time to resolve. Sulphacetamide was recommended. Some queens were prone to having kittens with conjunctivitis, in which case the queen should receive a careful medical examination as she was almost certainly the source of the infection. Some breeding seasons were worse for infectious eye troubles than others, with whole catteries becoming infected. Careful disinfection would then be necessary. Soderberg stressed the importance of veterinary advice: "In all ‘fancies’ there are some breeders who are inclined to pat themselves on the back because they can obtain some of these ‘on prescription’ drugs and antibiotics by back-door methods so that they can carry out various treatments themselves on their cats without incurring the expense of veterinary advice, but it is more than doubtful whether the saving of a few shillings in this way is ever worth while because pseudo-knowledge on the part of an owner is always a danger to small animals."
A kitten's weight was a guide to whether it was thriving or not. Birth-weight depended on litter size. Some queens naturally produced larger kittens than others and the kittens of different breeds were also different in size and weight. Soderberg's guide to healthy weights was 4 ozs for a Blue Persian kitten (assuming a litter size of 4) and 3.5 ozs for a Siamese kitten (assuming a litter size of 4). At 3 weeks, the Blue Persian kitten would typically weigh 16 ozs compared to 14 ozs or less for the Siamese. To ensure the kittens thrived, the mother should be fed more often, 4 meals instead of 2.
A nursing mother should have a breakfast and late-night meal in addition to her 2 daytime meals. She needed more meat, but was unlikely to overeat unless careless feeding made her ravenous. A queen that gorged, often regurgitated her meal. As meat took a long time to digest, Soderberg recommended it be given at intervals of not less than 5 hours. If the mid-day and late-night meals should be meat meals and the other 2 meals should be lighter meals based on fish. Cereals such as cornflakes, and vegetables such as carrot or green food, could be mixed with each meal to provide balance and variety. If the queen could tolerate milk, fish boiled in milk and then dried off with cornflakes was considered an excellent meal from every point of view. In modern times, most owners simply open a can or packet of food tha has been nutritionally balanced by the manufacturer! After 4 weeks, most kittens began weaning. The mother should still be fed sufficiently well to prevent her from arriving at the end of her period of nursing kittens (at around 8 weeks) thin and in poor condition. If this happened, Soderberg admonished that it was generally a reflection on the owner.
Soderberg advocated introducing the kittens to solids about halfway through their 4th week. He stated that persuasion, not force, was required otherwise the kittens would become scared and weaning might be delayed. "To persuade a kitten to lick from a spoon requires a great deal of patience, but it is also a most amusing operation. Young kittens have no idea what is expected of them, and they have to be taught step by step, which in practice means sip by sip." In modern times, most breeders leave it up to the kittens to work it out for themselves! Soderberg advised that the first attempt should be made when the kittens had been away from their mother for more than an hour and were therefore hungry. They might be prepared to make at least a feeble attempt to lick a little milk from a teaspoon.
Sherley's Lactol, or a human baby food were recommended. If baby food was used, a pinch of glucose should be added to each tablespoonful of the prepared mixture. Some breeders added lime water when making up the feeds (the standard advice for over 50 years), but Soderberg questioned the value of this as it seemed likely that the calcium from lime water was not absorbed. Lime water might be beneficial for the queen, but Soderberg considered an unsatisfactory method in general.
The warm milk feed should be offered to the kitten in a teaspoon, but the kitten had to learn how to lap when its instinct was to suck. It was encouraged to take the food by rubbing a little along the lips and, if possible, on the tongue. The pleasant taste should encourage the kitten to try to take more from the spoon. The first attempts were likely to be unsuccessful. In case breeders became impatient, Soderberg warned "It is an act of absolute foolishness to push a kitten’s nose into the food on the false assumption that this method will ensure that the small animal will feed immediately; such crude methods will only frighten the kitten, and cause it to regard the spoon with a good deal of suspicion, if not actual fear, on the next occasion." Kittens were offered food from a teaspoon 3 or 4 times each day and soon learnt to take the food. Soderberg noted that females tended to learn more quickly, but that this was not a sensible way of sexing kittens! This statement led him on to instructions on how to sex kittens from the rear end, advice which is familiar today.
Sexing young kittens can be tricky. It was even trickier in the 1950s when sex was less openly discussed than today, something that Soderberg acknowledged: "Some time between the end of the third and the sixth month, the testicles of a male will descend; and there is then no possible doubt about sex except for the person who has not the slightest knowledge of cat anatomy, and such people, although few, still do exist."
Some novice breeders believed kittens to be hot-house plants which had to be coddled and protected from any change of temperature. This was probably due to advice given in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Soderberg warned that keeping kittens too warm did not prepare them well for an adult life "which is not lived in a constant temperature which in many cases is far too high". Most kittens were born indoors and protection from the elements was beneficial. "Warmth is definitely good for all kittens, and particularly so for Siamese, but this fact does not mean that they should be kept in the same temperature all the time with the windows of the room constantly closed." Plenty of fresh air and "a variation of temperature without extremes" produced more robust kittens and the sort of kitten that, in Soderbergs opinion, breeders should try to produce. In summer, some kittens were born out of doors (in the cattery), but for most kittens, the introduction to sunshine and fresh air was to be considered when they reached a few weeks old.
Unless artificial heat was available, the outdoors experience depended on the time of year and the weather, but in general kittens over 1 month old (and their mother) could spend the daytime in an outdoor run and be brought indoors in the early evening. In summer, the family could safely be spend the night in an outside shed (by which he meant a cattery shed). The run must provide shade as well as access to sunshine. Other breeders allowed the mother to take her offspring outdoors: "It may be considered that a four-weeks-old kitten is a little too young to be granted complete freedom, and thus be allowed to roam at will about a large garden. If this complete freedom is allowed, the kittens often get separated from each other, and become so unhappy that they have to be caught up and put together again, but many owners are prepared to do this. When kittens are six to seven weeks old, they have much more sense, and if they become temporarily lost, as they inevitably will do, they soon find their brothers and sisters again, and are not distressed in the least."
Strong, direct sunshine had a serious disadvantage for long-haired Blue or Cream kittens as it caused to coat to become faded and shaded, which was a fault on the show bench. To prevent this, and for aesthetic grounds, Soderberg advised using climbing plants (he suggested climbing roses as they did not become too heavy) over part of the outside of an outdoor run.
Litter training was another important consideration. While tiny, the mother dealt with the kittens' "sanitary arrangements" (though Soderberg did not describe how), but once they were mobile other arrangements were needed. "In a state of Nature a kitten would attend to its natural functions by making use of the earth, and usually in some semi-secluded spot. It is because of this natural behaviour that some keen gardeners find stray cats a great trial to them."
Indoor cats were, as a matter of course, provided with a sanitary tray, "but this is clearly an unnatural method from the cat’s point of view, and one that has to be taught to young kittens by their mother." Generally, the kittens learnt the use of the litter tray from their mother, either by imitation or by active training: "It must always be a cause of great interest to the owner of a queen with a family to watch her actually nudging her kittens into the tray when she feels that they should perform this natural function. If they should have an accident in the room, some queens are very distressed, but kittens will have accidents from time to time, and it is only after several weeks that they learn to go to the right place at the right time."
Soderberg did not consider the type of litter to be very important as kittens were usually so adaptable that they would learn to use whatever the owner considered suitable. Earth or peat moss was popular, but torn-up newspaper was simple to dispose of and since most households got daily newspapers (TV had not yet supplanted radio and newspapers), it was practically free! Cleanliness was essential. "There will always be the odd kitten or cat which is dirty in its habits, but in most cases the blame for this state of affairs can be placed firmly on the owner. It is most unusual for an adult cat to be persistently dirty about the house, but even remarkable creatures of this sort do exist."
Soderberg noted that there were many satisfactory ways of feeding kittens and just as many way that were unsatisfactory. He added that breeders had their own favoured methods which they often argued were the only right ones. What was important was that the method was right for that breeder's kittens.
Firstly, all new foods were to be introduced in very small quantities and at least 6 hours must elapse before that type of food is offered again (to ensure that there was no adverse digestive reaction to it). If the new food did not cause vomiting or diarrhoea, it could be considered safe and given again. Solids could be increased gradually from the fifth weeks onwards with the caution that kittens on solids were inclined to overeat and might have upsets. From that point, kittens were given 4 meals daily - two milk meals and 2 solid meals - in shallow dishes. "Young kittens are so clumsy that they not only put their tongues in, but if the milk is at all deep, their noses as well, and then there is often a fine spluttering display as a consequence. This slight misadventure is not harmful, but most kittens which experience an accident of this sort, in which they temporarily block their noses, are inclined to regard the dish with some suspicion on the next occasion, and sometimes for several days." If the dish was too large "the kitten is likely to put its feet in its food as well as that part of its anatomy normally used for eating."
Ideally, the first solids introduced were fine-grained fish, such as plaice rather than haddock or cod. It was steamed, skinned and mashed with a fork, fed "dry" (i.e. flaked, but not mixed with milk). The portion size was a teaspoon for each kitten. Soderberg wrote that cats and kittens tended to be clumsy eaters and in spite of long domestication they instinctively tore their food and found it difficult to pick up small pieces from a flat surface. Novices were often surprised at how a kitten could transform a small, tidy heap of fish into a hard, fiat lump using its nose and sometimes its feet. Hence the owner had to stand by, and heap up uneaten fish to make it easier for the kitten. Eventually, it would lean to used its tongue and teeth to pick up food. Later, fish mashed with milk could be introduced. Soderberg suggested that kittens unable to tolerate cow's milk often tolerated it better when it had been mixed with fish during cooking. By the end of the fifth week, it should be eating dessertspoonful portions of fish and milk.
Meat was introduced in the 6th week, but advice from the Frances Simpson era (1903) still held sway with many older breeders. "To some breeders of great experience this suggestion will be considered as revolutionary, and some may go so far as to say that it is even foolish, for they believe that a kitten is best kept off meat until it is nearly three months old. In all probability they are right for their own kittens, but generally it is more likely that they have heard of all sorts of terrible consequences as the result of feeding meat, and are, therefore, not prepared to run the risk because on the one occasion when they did do this, the consequences were unfortunate." The benefit of hindsight suggests that the consequences of feeding meat that was diseased or past its best had probably led to the "fish only" regine.
Soderberg therefore advised caution, but added "there can be few observant people who have not seen an ordinary household kitten eating food, including meat, from its mother’s dish, and coming to no harm as a result of its enterprise." He added that pedigree cats might be more easily upset because of generations of different treatment, but that any upsets might simply be the fault of those who rear them. There was no need to be foolhardy, but "every attempt should be made to see that pedigree cats can be as easily reared as any others which are less aristocratic." Finely shredded beef steak or horsemeat could be safely offered to quite young kittens and was generally appreciated though requests for more must not be granted until 6 hours had elapsed in order to check for any adverse effects (Soderberg phrased it "the result of his bolder method of kitten feeding"). If no digestive upset resulted, one small meat meal could be introduced into the daily diet.
During the 6th week, meal size increased though Soderberg advocated doing this by adding a cereal such as cornflakes, and also Farex, which he said had great nutritional value for young animals. By the end of the 7th week, strict weaning was in progress so that the kitten was ready to go to a new home after its 8th week. Since the kitten would be away from its mother, it was important that it was no longer dependent on mother's milk. Soderberg gave a suggested diet plan for an 8 week old weaned kitten; it comprised 4 daily meals spaced at intervals of 4-5 hours. He wrote that it was successful in the form given and was therefore sound in idea and in practice, but it could also be varied in several ways. The initial portion size was a tablespoonful; this was gradually increased. His diet was simple to prepare and considered unlikely to cause digestive upset. After 8 weeks old, a more varied diet could be given, but radical changes were inadvisable and likely to cause trouble.
Breakfast & Late Afternoon: Fine-grained, filleted fish, e.g. plaice, steamed in milk and well mixed with some cornflakes and a half teaspoonful of Farex. Midday & Late Evening: Raw horsemeat or beef warmed by being washed in hot water, though another lean meat could be used. Served finely chopped and cornflakes and mashed carrot could be added, however, that some kittens could not tolerate carrot in their diet. Really fresh meat could be served raw, but meat purchased more than 3 days previously should be cooked, even if it had been stored in a refrigerator. Little fat should ever be given. The quantity should again be a tablespoonful, gradually increasing to a larger amount over the weeks.
To encourage weaning, the queen should be separated from her family for up to 4 hours at a time during their 7th week, but stay with them at night. This, he wrote, was similar to the natural state as the queen would naturally leave her kittens for periods of time. The kittens should be fed before she was allowed back in with them as this discouraged suckling (Soderberg did not account for comfort suckling) and encouraged the queen's milk to dry up. During the 8th week, the queen should only be allowed in with her kittens for short periods of time. Soderberg recommended putting the kittens in a run where the queen could see and talk to them, but not actually reach them, though she could stay with them at night. Early in the ninth week, if the kittens were fit and eating on their own, the mother could be taken away entirely at confined for a few days to settle down (and because she might start to call again).
When at last the queen was finally banished, she would probably be unhappy and will cry for her lost family, but would get over her distress if she could no longer see or hear (or even smell). The kittens would miss her for a day or two, but would soon content themselves with their littermates. Kittens could be rehomed or sold once they were eating for themselves for a whole week. He regarded 8 weeks as being too early for them to be sent too a new home and suggested 9 weeks as more suitable (3 months old for a kitten exported by air or boat). However this varied depending on the kittens themselves. Generally the queen's milk dried up as the kittens weaned, but some queens continued to produce more milk that necessary for a family that was well onto solids. Her liquid intake, apart from plenty of water, could be reduced once milk supply began to dry up. Very rarely, it was necessary for a vet to take the drastic step of giving an injection of hexoestrol dipropionate to dry up the milk supply.
Soderberg also detailed what he called "Quaint Queens" i.e. queens that had behavioural quirks! "This part of the book must end with a reference to three very remarkable types of queen which are occasionally encountered, and whose behaviour cannot be explained by ordinary standards." He stated that it was a short list of odd and inconvenient, though not usually harmful, behaivour in queens. Pet behavioural studies had not then started.
Fur Lickers were mothers that constantly licked their kittens, and did this over such a long period of weeks that their coat colours were ruined. The habit seemed instinctive and generally remained with her throughout her breeding life. It was also a learned or conditioned behaviour as the kittens tended to copy their mother and licked themselves and their littermates, making the effects on their coat colour and appearance cumulative. The majority of kittens grew out of the habit, but it was a nuisance while it lasted, as the appearance of the coat was spoiled and the constant friction by a rough tongue on the skin could produce sore patches which had to be dealt with by the owner. In modern times this would be termed compulsive grooming.
Fur Pluckers seemed to be manifesting an ancestral behaviour. A fur plucking queen plucked herself before giving birth in the same manner as a mother rabbit. In rabbits, and perhaps in some primitive ancestor of cats, the fur may have been used to line the nest for the babies. Soderberg believed that the abnormality was a survival of primitive behaviuor not eradicated by thousands of years association with humans. Such a queen was a great nuisance if she was also a show cat since her coat would be ruined for many months after the plucking and long after the kittens had gone to new homes and she might otherwise have resumed her show career.
Whisker Eaters seemed unable to tolerate their kittens’ whiskers, and gnawed the whiskers until they are almost down level with the skin. Fortunately, few queens developed the habit, which, Soderberg noted, was also encountered in mice and other animals. Loss of whiskers temporarily detracted from the kittens' appearance, but grew back quite quickly when they were separated from their mother - although at first, the new whiskers might be curly rather than straight. Whisker eating did not seem to be hereditary, though there had been insufficient research into the habit. (More recent authors suggested that the mother did this to stop the kittens from wandering since they relied so much on their whiskers).
VACCINATION AND SALE OF KITTENS
Vaccination was become more commonplace, especially in pedigree cats. Before a kitten was sold (and definitely before it was exhibited), it was to be vaccinated against Feline Infectious Enteritis (the dreaded feline distemper) for which the mortality rate exceeded 80% (higher in kittens). The injection cost around 30 shillings "but this should be regarded as a small sum to pay for the life of a kitten". There was no guarantee that vaccination would be effective for all kittens, but it had a good degree of success. A few kittens died as a result of vaccination, but the number was so small that, although distressing for the breeder, the risk was worthwhile. The first 1 cc injection should be at 6 weeks and the 2nd (booster) at 8 weeks; together, this halved the risk of contracting FIE. The vet needed at least 1 weeks notice in order to obtain sufficient vaccine. Vaccination did not offer 100% protection. The vaccinated cat could still contract FIE at any time, but the attack was likely to be milder and the cat more likely to recover.
Soderberg described the several vaccines available at that time: "Burroughs Wellcome prepare a vaccine from the tissues of infected cats, and the results which have been reported after the use of this preventative have been more than encouraging, for deaths from feline infectious enteritis among pedigree cats which have been inoculated are rare. Similar products are produced by the American firms of Lederle and Pitman-Moore, but with a dollar shortage these are not easily obtainable." There was another reason to ask for the British-produce vaccine. It would have been produced from a strain of virus common in Britain and likely to offer better protection. Soderberg did not comment on whether the vaccines came from cats deliberately infected; little thought was given at the time to laboratory animals.
Soderberg reassured the novice owner that vaccination and the possible milder form of the disease was not dissimilar to the natural immunity built up by a cat which had come into contact with small doses of the disease from time to time. Contact with other cats need not be prevented, though it would be foolish putting an immunized cat in with cats seriously ill with FIE. The vaccination protected the cat during its normal life when it was bound to meet strays from time to time (the predominant lifestyle was then, as it still is, indoor/outdoor). "Now that veterinary science has produced a vaccine which can give very real protection against this terrible disease, it would be wrong for owners not to take the opportunity that is offered to them. In dogs the dreaded distemper and hard pad have been controlled, and now the time seems to have arrived when the only really killing infectious disease which can attack cats can be controlled a; a comparatively small cost, which should be willingly paid by all breeders."
Breeders and owners were allowed to give injections to their own cats, but only those who had been trained in the use of a hypodermic syringe should do attempt this. Using a hypodermic was simple which was why "Many cats have been killed by the overconfidence of an experienced breeder who has, in fact, possessed sufficient theoretical knowledge to be really dangerous." It was far preferable to have a vet perform this task.
Soderberg outlined the procedure for registering kittens with the GCCF prior to sale and also its importance. "This method of recording, therefore, does much to ensure that there is little possibility of fraud in cat dealings unless there happens to exist a mind which is capable of substituting a living cat for one that has already died. Even to do that would almost certainly lead to eventual discovery of the fraud unless the dead cat was almost unknown as a show cat, and then the reason for any attempt at fraud would be unlikely to exist." The completed registration form was sent to the GCCF Secretary, except for Siamese cats which were registered by the Assistant Secretary due to the breed's popularity and the high numbers involved. The method of transferring a cat to a new owner was also outlined. These are much the same as today so I have only included a few points of interest (or of quaintness).
Up until 1932, both prefixes and affixes were used to denote who had bred the cat. In 1932, the clerical work involved in dealing with long affixes resulted in a decree (on February 7th, 1932) that only prefixes would be allowed. Thus in the 1950s, the presence of an affix indicated that the breeder had been breeding cats for nearly a quarter of a century at least. Soderberg mentioned ‘Of Allington’ and ‘Of Pensford’ as being well-known affixes, though several other affixes had not lapsed following the death of the breeder who had the right to use them, and some of those other affixes were immediately recognized by the 1950s breeder.
A prefix allowed many cats to use a name which had previously been used (Soderberg cited 'Satan' as being a popular name for black cats) without confusion. In the past, breeders had often renamed and reregistered cats and many were simply known as "Miss so-and-so's Blue Boy"! Soderberg wrote "A recent rule has been introduced to ensure that a kitten may only be registered with the prefix of the person who has actually bred it, but until this rule was agreed upon, it was possible for a person to buy an unregistered kitten, and then to register it with his own prefix. Now the prefix not only singles out the cat, but also its breeder as well, with little chance of misunderstanding. This is as it should be, for it hardly seems equitable that an owner should receive credit for the quality of a cat which he has not bred. It is still true, however, that a purchaser, by his general care and skilled show preparation, may cause a cat to be more successful on the bench than it would have been in other hands." Soderberg also outlined the other rules for choosing a prefix and advised novice breeders to register a prefix right from the star since kittens from a particular cattery would then be easily recognised.
Pedigree kittens were often sold through the pages of a cat fancy publication or sometimes advertised in local or national newspapers. Exporting kittens was a specialized task as different countries had different rules and regulations, though few had strict quarantine laws compared to the British Isles. As a result, kittens from Britain were held in high regard abroad, but still required a vet's certificate of good health
Air companies and shipping lines also had different regulations regarding cats as passengers. Failure to investigate these beforehand could result in tedious delays which could harm the kittens. Currency regulations may also be involved, necessitating the involvement of the Bank of England. Exporting cats and kittens involved a good deal of formality which was time-consuming for the ordinary breeder. Specialist firms such as Lep or Spratts, or the few cat lovers involved in export of cats as a sideline, should be asked to tackle the problems involved in exporting cats and kittens. Fanciers who undertook export work frequently advertised in the cat fancy press, and were all well known and regarded as reliable.
In the 1950s, pedigree kittens cost between 4 and 12 guineas; the lower price representing a sound, but unexceptional pet quality kitten. Higher priced kittens had greater show promise, but with no guarantee that it would become a winner. Many promising kittens matured into average adults. "It is not surprising that many kittens are sold outside this price range, and some prices which are accepted are as ridiculously low as others are unreasonably high, yet if both the buyer and seller are satisfied with the transaction, that is always the point which really matters." In the early 1900s, Frances Simpson had written a book called "Breeding Cats for Pleasure and Profit". In the 1950s, Soderberg cautioned against the expectation of profit: "The breeders who make money out of cat breeding are indeed very few and far between, and the majority find that the balance is on the wrong side at the end of the year, but this is what most; people should expect from what is essentially a hobby." Even today, the huge prices that a very few cats command may not result in much real profit once the costs are taken into account.
Breeders were advised to have prospective purchasers visit them and to assess the prospective purchaser, not to simply dispatch kittens on receipt of a letter and payment as had been the common practice in the 1930s. "There is always a definite moral obligation for the breeders of kittens to see that they stand every chance of being well cared for, and also treated with complete understanding." Soderberg wrote "If a kitten merely arrives by rail after arrangements made by post or ‘phone, he may be disappointed, and in that case there may be the unnecessary labour of returning the kitten, even if there is no acrimonious dispute over the deal that has been made without due care." In the 1930s, unsatisfactory kittens could be sent back by the purchaser - a very stressful business for the kitten and sometimes deadly to the kitten (through hazards of travelling unaccompanied) or even to the breeder's whole cattery (as the kitten could have picked up distemper while away from the cattery).
The novice owner must be convinced, before even buying the kitten, of the importance of continuing its familiar routine as far as possible. The breeder should write down the kitten's usual routine and, if possible, discuss this with the new owner. The new owner needed to know such things as the sanitary arrangements and the type of bed the kitten was used to (and whether a hot water bottle and blanket should be provided for the first few nights). "Many novices, from sheer lack of understanding, fail to realize that a small kitten can feel disconsolate and lonely, but the breeder will know this fact from his past experience of young kittens. A little thought at the time of the change-over makes the new life so much easier for the kitten, and no one would deny that this consideration is essential."
Soderberg summarised his coveraged of breeding thus: "Much more could have been written on the subject of the breeding of cats, but what has been set down here provides adequate information for most novices who decide to take up cat breeding as a hobby. To overload any book with meticulous detail only tends to make it less interesting to the ordinary but interested person who may wish to read it."
Soderberg also provided advice to those who intended exhibiting their cats. Of cat shows, he said they were "undoubtedly the means whereby the general public can find a satisfactory opportunity of seeing the various breeds of cats, and if there were no shows, few people would have any knowledge about any breeds except the few that are common and generally popular. At the present time, the two most commonly-owned breeds are the long-haired Blue and the short-haired Siamese. Thus, shows serve a very useful purpose in the publicity which they provide for the lesser-known breeds which might almost run the risk of disappearing unless the breeders who keep them had this opportunity, which is a sort of shop window to interest others in their particular breeds, and thus gradually, by this publicity, adding to the number of fanciers." He noted also that cat shows were educational for novice breeders and were social functions for cat owners and breeders wanting to meet other breeders and compare notes on favourite breeds though Soderberg warned that they would often disagree with each other, but that the discussion would still be valuable and usually friendly.
He added that some fanciers opposed the showing of cats for perfectly logical reasons which deserved respect: the risk of illness (although show fever had been conquered by immunization); the stress of the journey and the stress of hours spent in a show pen. However, a cattery would not become well-known if it did not exhibit cats. He also emphasised that cat breeding was a hobby, not a profitable business: "perhaps it should be regarded as a good thing that cats cannot be exploited with the certainty of profit." He advocated the inclusion of more household pet classes as a way of encouraging owners to keep their cats in good condition.
Cats that should not be shown, even if the entry was paid for, included cats out of condition or sick on the show date and also fit cats from a cattery or household where other cats were sick (unless a vet had diagnosed the illness as presenting no risk). Timid and nervous cats should not be shown even if they are outstanding examples of their breed. A nervous cat would never show itself to best advantage and could be difficult to handle, or even become vicious. A distressed, trembling cat was not a good show specimen (Note: having seen some exhibited cats defecate on themselves through fear, I wish more exhibitors would take this into account). "An owner may in all honesty show a cat which at home seems placid and not easily disturbed, and yet when it is taken to a show, he finds that it becomes difficult. It must be obvious that such a cat should not be shown again, for to do so would be unfair to the animal, which is, after all, the most important consideration for any owner to bear in mind. There are just a few exhibitors who give their cats a sedative before a show in ease they should become nervous. Although such a sedative will be most unlikely to do any harm, there is no excuse for such a practice, and the sooner the few decide that it is not a reasonable solution, the better for the cats concerned." The showing of young kittens ceased before Soderberg's advice was written. The minimum age became 8 weeks, but even then there were kittens that were too immature to be exhibited.
He detailed the procedure of GCCF cat shows (Championship and Sanction shows) and the types of certificate awarded and noted that there were so many shows that fitting them into the show season (September through February) was becoming a problem. Attempts to introduced two day shows, for example a separate kitten day, met with opposition from breeders and exhibitors "really honest opinion that one day at a show is enough for any cat to endure, to say nothing of its owner." Multi-day shows were impracticable in terms of arrangement, travel and accommodation. In favour of multi-day shows, they would attract more of the general public and raise more gate-money. Two-day shows had previously occurred in Britain and still occurred successfully in Continental Europe where shows were "run on very different lines", the latter having "few unfortunate consequences to the cats which are shown, even when they have had to travel hundreds of miles". However British views on animal welfare (the "collective conscience") was generally against two-day cat shows.
"Show condition" was a state very different from a cat's everyday appearance. Soderberg described the grooming and preparations to achieve show condition - bathing, grooming, powdering. This included making sure a Siamese was not too fat and a Longhair was not too thin and making sure a Longhair had completed its summer moult (and grooming out dead fur). Full sunlight was to be avoided as this bleached the coat, especially that of Blacks and Blues. Exercise not only kept a cat fit, it apparently helped the "wide open eyes" look required in some breeds. A cat which got little exercise and took little interest in its surroundings ("spends most of its days as a mere mass of immobility") would get the habit of drooping its eyelids.
"There was a time when cats could be sent to shows by rail without being accompanied by their owners or even their representatives, but the rules of the Governing Council have now prohibited this practice, and all exhibits must actually be taken to any show held under Governing Council rules. Afterwards the exhibit must be taken away from the show hall either by the owner or someone who has come to represent him, This makes certain that there is someone in the show hall who has actual responsibility for the cat, and can look after it if it is rejected by the veterinary surgeon, and it also lessens the strain of long journeys." Most cats were exhibited by the owner, but a few were sent into the care of a cat fancier friend closer to the show and were housed there before and after the show, being exhibited by the friend. This was permissible and less strain than long journeys on the day of the show.
Show cats were no longer transported by train as livestock or live cargo, they travelled with the owner. "Normally a cat is taken to a show in either a box or a basket, and then goes into the railway carriage with its owner, where it will at least have the satisfaction of realizing the presence of someone it knows, even if it is not allowed out of its basket. Usually the amount of freedom that can be given to a cat under these circumstances depends upon how many people there are in the compartment, and also how they feel about cats, In these days, many cats are taken to shows by car. A point to be remembered is that it is most unusual for a cat to be allowed in a sleeping car on the railways."
Soderberg's information regarding showing is familiar to exhibitors today: vetting in, penning, tallies, "white decor" for the cages, order of judging, awards boards, early removal of exhibits etc. The white sanitary tray generally contained peat moss in the 1950s and many owners wiped the cages with methylated spirits and checked for sharp edges before penning their cats. Many halls, if they had a gallery, permitted exhibitors to view the judging on payment of a small fee, but Soderberg wrote that many exhibitors preferred to settle their nerves at the buffet or with a cup of tea!
He advised exhibitors to buy a copy of the breed standards against which their cats would be judged; at the time this cost 2 shillings plus postage and was obtainable from the Secretary of the GCCF. The booklet was indispensable for serious breeders and fanciers ... and of course to the judges who generally knew the contents by heart. At Championship Shows, the judges were those appointed by the clubs. They were specialists with particular breeds and must have 7 years experience with a particular breed. There were very few all-round judges and their number was still decreasing in the 1950s. Most judges judged no more than 3 breeds. Soderberg wrote that in some countries, judges qualified through practical and theoretical exams, but in the GCCF they served an apprenticeship as a Steward and, if they had the aptitude for it, might then be invited to become a judge. To accommodate the growing number of Championship shows, more judges were needed as a particular judge should only judge the adults of the same breed twice during any show season (on one occasion for adult males, on the other for adult females) or once only if the breed was in small numbers and the males and females were judged together. Soderberg wrote "there may be better methods than those which now obtain, and at some time in the future new methods of selection may be adopted here if they are really considered to be more efficient."
As well as assisting the judge, stewards attended to hygiene to prevent the spread of infections that had killed so many show cats in earlier times. The portable judging table was disinfected between exhibits and the judge also disinfected his hands. Stewards were allowed to exhibit cats at shows where they were stewarding (but must not handle their own cats during judging), but judges were not permitted to exhibit. "This is not a question of honesty, but merely sensible practice. In practice it may sometimes happen that a steward handles his own cats, but it is most unusual, and it is much more likely that another steward will take over for this particular class. A point to be remembered here is that it is the duty of a steward to remain with his judge all the time, and not to run off from time to time to see how his own cats have fared in the classes for which he has entered them."
As well as Champion and Premier (neutered "Champion") certificates and any Special awards, most shows had a "Best in Show" special award. According to Soderberg this practice was declining "It is now generally, although not universally, felt that it is really impossible to make such an award, for it is almost beyond the ability of any panel of judges to compare short-hair and long-hair breeds by any suitable standards. The highest awards now in use at most shows are Best Long-hair and Best Short-hair. To decide these awards there are two different panels of judges." (At the current time, many shows give awards for Best Male and Best Female or, if there is an overall Best in Show, for "Best Opposite Sex"). Although cups were awarded and supposedly held for 12 months, in practice these generally remained with the cat club awarding the prize. The winning cat would be photographed with the award and the owner would get a token, such as a rosette or a spoon, to commemorate the cup win.
Prize money was paid out 3 weeks after the show in case there were any objections which would lead to the disqualification of a prize winner. Objections might be improper registration of the winning cat or incorrect details on the entry form.
"That there should always be a correct relationship between exhibitors and judges is a matter of supreme importance, and apart from a very few exceptional instances, this satisfactory respect and understanding does exist between the two sides of exhibiting. It must be obvious that there are bound to be many exhibitors who will be disappointed by the awards made in a large class where it is by no means unusual for a really good cat to have to go cardless, but the fact that there is disappointment does not mean that there is ill feeling. After all, there are only seven awards cards to be given even in the largest class. No judge is infallible, but he does his job in the light of the appearance of the cats to him on the day of the show, and no exhibitor has the right to question his decision. If he does so, this is merely a sign either of bad manners or of bad sportsmanship, or perhaps both. What any exhibitor can do, and what the novice ought to do, is to ask the judge for a critical opinion on his exhibit, but he must remember that no such approach should be made until the judging has been completed. It should also be borne in mind that at the end of a show all judges are tired, and there is a limit even to their physical capacity. In practice judges are most helpful, but if their decisions are attacked, they have every right to feel aggrieved. There is no place for bad sportsmanship in the Cat Fancy, and it is fortunate that little exists."
Visitors made a show profitable and most were well-behaved and sensible. "It may be said that as a general rule few visitors to shows make a nuisance of themselves, but there are always the few who show a lack of common sense by going from pen to pen poking their fingers through the bars in an attempt to touch the cats. This action is not ill-intentioned but is obviously unfair, for it is possible in this way to transfer infection from one cat to another. It is as well for all to remember that show cats also get tired towards the end of the day, and should not be prodded or poked by a too-enthusiastic but unintelligent ailurophile who would be better employed looking in a dictionary to see what that word means. There are exhibitors who cover the front of their pens with one of the now common transparent plastic materials to prevent their cats from being touched in this manner, and there is a good deal to be said for the practice."
After the show, the cat should be taken home and given a meal as soon as possible as many would not eat while penned. They should be wiped down with a cloth moistened with disinfectant and, from the late 1950s, that was the only health precaution considered necessary. Likewise, the owner should change clothes and bathe to prevent carrying any infection into the home or cattery. "There is not the slightest justifiable reason to sit down afterwards and wonder what possible infection can have been picked up at the show, for the risks are so small to-day that they can be safely forgotten."