Updated: Jan 28
Years ago, a fellow breeder was dealing with the issue of Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) in her cattery, and had asked advice on what others were doing to prevent the incidence of FIP in their catteries.
In addition, far too often I read sad stories online of pet kittens sold to loving families, only to die shortly after from FIP. This should not be happening in a healthy breed like the Bengal.
If breeders understood proper feline husbandry practices, this would be a rare occurrence.
Unfortunately, I see too many breeder websites proudly claiming they raise their kittens "underfoot" free to mingle with all the rest of the other cats in the household, along with other litters of kittens. This is one of the biggest issues, but not the only issue.
This is how we've prevented FIP in our cattery for twenty years:
1. HOUSING. We strongly recommend housing breeding adults in groups no larger than three (Unless you have VERY large runs (20 ft x 20 ft). If you are forced to keep more than three breeding adults together, your numbers may be too large for the space you are living in. Groups of three should be in runs absolutely no smaller than 10 feet wide, by 10 feet long, by 6 feet tall. and this is still a bit cramped -- bigger is definitely better. :o)
2. WEANING. Despite recommendations from veterinarians years ago - I recommend NOT removing kittens from their mother at five weeks. Why? Because mom is passing on all the good antibodies to her kittens still. She could actually be protecting them from some of the corona viruses and other viruses they will come into contact with as kittens. Early weaning used to be considered a viable means of preventing viral shedding from mom to babies -- but this line of thinking is now being strongly questioned.
3. STRESSORS. We've been breeding for over twenty years -- and have had two cases of FIP. One in a kitten our first year of breeding, the other one in a young adult cat— about twenty years ago - the cat was shipped overseas at about six months of age and developed it several months later. This kitten had traveled internationally, began attending cat shows almost as soon as it arrived, and was shared between two catteries in different cities. Too many stressors are nearly always the reason for FIP development in an otherwise healthy kitten or older adolescent.
I did spay the mother of the first FIP kitten -- not knowing any better. The young adult cat comes from a line we've been working with for generations, so we know that FIP is absolutely not genetic in that line. It is the only isolated case to date.
We are pretty conservative in how we rear our kittens, and we do make a strong effort to reduce stress on our breeding cats and their kittens. Maybe more conservative than some or even most? But it works for us.
Here are a few reasons we've probably had such good success:
1. We put each queen in her own private room two weeks before delivering kittens. The queen and her kittens remain in this private room together for at least ten to twelve weeks. This could be as simple as a bedroom or large laundry room. We use bedrooms and we also have a "kitten house" that has four private rooms. They remain completely isolated from ALL other cats during this time.
2. The queen is removed (kittens weaned) from her litter at around 9 to 12 weeks of age, and her kittens are NOT exposed to other adults or unrelated kittens in the household. The kittens remain in their private room, or may be moved to another private area that has been deeply sanitized (floors, walls, bedding, trees, toys, bowls, litter boxes, etc...)
3. Kittens are vaccinated at 8 or 9 weeks. We use a modified live vaccine, preferably without an adjuvent. They may NOT mix with other kittens or cats until they have had their second set of vaccinations and are at least four months of age.
We do NOT give the FeLV vaccination -- we believe it can weaken the immune system and cause a kitten to break with an illness, thereby weakening the immune system and potentially encouraging a corona virus to mutate into FIP.
4. We do not early spay/neuter our kittens -- again -- it is our belief that it stresses the immune system at a critical time for babies. They are weaning, building up their immune systems, getting vaccinated and wormed, getting ready to leave for a new home, teething, etc... Too much stress increases the odds for the development of FIP and other common feline diseases. Our opinion—there are various theories and beliefs on this one.
5. Change kitten litter boxes at least once, and preferably twice a day. Do not scoop -- dump. Do not cross-contaminate adult litter boxes by using the same litter scoop. Again - with kittens -- do not scoop, dump! Sanitize litter boxes at least once a week. More frequently is better if you have an issue in the cattery you are currently dealing with.
6. Do not allow guests to handle kittens IF they have been to other catteries, recently adopted a cat or kitten, or visited an animal shelter. Do not allow fellow breeder friends to handle your kittens (unless they shower and change immediately before coming to see you) until the kittens have been vaccinated twice (around 12 -16 weeks of age). Make sure everyone washes their hands before handing. This still poses some risk. If you are dealing with a health issue -- don't do it.
7. Make sure the kittens are in a clean, airy, sunlit environment. It should be large enough that the food and water bowls are well away from the litter boxes. Babies should have ample room to run, play, and climb, without contaminating their food bowls.
Kitten rearing "cages" are okay while babies are in the nest box. They are absolutely not roomy enough for mobile kittens and mom.
8. Feed a Species Appropriate Diet - NO DRY FOOD! The best diet for babies (and cats) is two or three main meals of quality canned food. Raw is also good, but a quality canned food is one hundred times better than a dry food diet.
9. Wash your hands between handling litters of kittens. Wash your hands before handling kittens if you've been handling any cats.
10. Keep all kitten bedding, toys, blankets and other personal items clean and freshly laundered. Babies are dirty - they run through litter boxes, tip over their water, climb and play in their food, and their areas get dirty very quickly. Daily sweeping and cleaning is important. Keep cat trees clean, floors swept and mopped as needed, and only use rugs and bedding that may be laundered in hot water.
Keep in mind the above steps are fairly conservative, and some may even find them difficult to do on a daily basis, but they will go a long way in preventing FIP and other common health issues with breeding cats.
Raising Bengals is truly a labor of love, dedication and hard work, and I have no doubt most Bengal breeders work hard to insure each of their kittens receives ample love, attention and care.
It is no stroke of luck that we have not had a single pet kitten die of FIP in over twenty years.