Aslan: a small kitten with a big personality
A new kitten has arrived in our household. He's been named Aslan, after the lion in C S Lewis's books about Narnia. The kitten is a pedigree Maine Coon cat, one of the largest feline breeds. An adult Maine Coon male weighs up to 8kg, which is twice the size of a typical cross bred cat. So little Aslan is likely to grow into a lion-like adult, which is why his name seems so suitable.
We had been looking for a kitten for some time: our favourite cat, Spin, died last year, leaving us with just two other cats. I'm sure most people are thinking that two is plenty, but I need to explain. Spin was a people-loving cat, never happier than when engaging with humans: he played, he sat in laps, and he just liked being close to us. Spin was a cross-bred Maine Coon, so we knew both his parents, and they were gentle, good-natured cats. Spin inherited these sociable characteristics, but there was a big problem: he also inherited a heart condition which meant that he died prematurely at just seven years of age.
Our other two cats - Couscous and Sushi - were rescued as kittens. Their parents were unknown, and as they grew up, they both developed strong personalities, probably taking after their mothers and fathers. Couscous is a nervous cat, never comfortable close up with people. She is happiest when she's two or three metres away from us, sitting securely in her own space. And if there are visitors, she runs away, hiding until they leave. She has never been a lap cat, and she never will be. Meanwhile Sushi is confident and relaxed, but she has a random aggressive streak: she'll be sleeping comfortably on a cushion, and if someone walks close by, she'll wake up and lash out with her claws for no obvious reason. Or if you are petting her, she'll be purring away happily, then all of a sudden she will change, aggressively biting your hand. We are very fond of Couscous and Sushi, but we missed the relaxed friendliness of Spin, and that's why we wanted a new kitten.
After our experience with our two rescue kittens, we had decided that we wanted to get a kitten whose parents were both known, so that we could be sure that the new arrival would have a sociable, gentle genetic background. While many rescue kittens turn out to be lovely adult cats, the fact remains that their father is often unknown and so there is an element of unpredictability. It isn't easy to find a kitten whose parents are both known, which is why we ended up talking to a pedigree cat breeder.
There's one problem with pedigree cats: by definition, they are in-bred to some extent, which means that some inherited diseases are more common. Our former cat, Spin, died prematurely of an inherited disease, even though he was a cross bred pedigree cat. He had a type of heart disease that's common in Maine Coons, so he had picked up those genes from his mother.
We wanted to do everything possible to avoid this happening to our new cat. For a few months, we kept an open mind, talking to people from the rescue cat and pedigree cat world, waiting to see if the right kitten would appear. Last week, an interesting possibility turned up: a Maine Coon breeder had a kitten that needed a special home.
This breeder does everything possible to ensure that her cats are healthy: before using them to produce kittens, she has their hearts scanned, so that she can be as sure as possible that they do not pass on the common heart disease that caused Spin's problem. She also does a range of other health checks, with close involvement of her local vet. It was refreshing to hear about such attention to detail by a breeder, but I was still not convinced that a pedigree kitten was the one that we were looking for.
Then she told me about Aslan. He had almost been still born: after a difficult, breech delivery, he hadn't breathed at first, and then when he did start to breathe, he spluttered and struggled to catch his breath. She hadn't thought he'd survive, but his will to live was strong, and somehow, he kept going. As he grew up, he continued to have some breathing difficulties, getting a little out of breath after playing, and coughing from time to time. The vet had taken x-rays of his chest, and there was nothing dramatic wrong. It seemed that his problems were still caused by his difficult birth, and he was gradually getting over this. He was growing at the same rate as his litter mates, eating well and playing actively. His rapid breathing and occasional cough were the only problems, and even these issues seemed to be getting better over time. The breeder was looking for a special home for him: somewhere he could be cherished and where he could get any extra medical care that he might need if his condition deteriorated.
After hearing this story, it wasn't a difficult decision. We had been waiting for the right kitten to come our way, and I had always felt that we would know when this happened. This sense was confirmed when we met Aslan in person: he's such a friendly, engaging little character.
He has been with us for a week now, and he's already an important part of our household. I'm watching his breathing carefully, but so far, so good. Aslan is a special kitten in many senses of the word.