Friday, 12 August 2011

So you want to become a cat breeder?

There are a huge number of people breeding pedigree cats in the UK, so there must be something enjoyable about it! There are also some people who breed (usually unintentionally) non-pedigree cats. Although “moggies” can be every bit as beautiful and loving as the pedigree breeds, they are of course unpredictable in their development, health and temperament, due to their unknown roots. It is also true to say that some pedigree cats are of undesirable type, health and temperament, but this is more unusual and can be researched. If you do want to breed cats, then think of it as helping to preserve your favourite breed or breeds and become one of the army of responsible breeders – it’s worth it and you’ll make lots of amazing friends along the way. Don’t casually breed non-peds, as there are too many of these already which often leads to tragedy.

A lot of people think there is money to be made in producing and selling kittens. In my opinion, once you start thinking about profit then cat welfare goes out of the window. To give an example: in my own breed, Norwegian Forest kittens usually sell for £400. Hence you might think that an average litter of four would produce a profit of £1500 after deduction of a few expenses. In my case (as per recommendations), each kitten gets full inoculations, microchip, registration, worming and de-flea treatments totalling over £100 per kitten. If I use an outside stud cat the fee might be £200. I test my cats for HCM – a hereditary disease – which costs at least £300 per cat every two years. This is just one of the checks made to ensure that only healthy cats are used for breeding. I blood test my queens before mating so as to ensure they are in a good state of health before having kittens. I also blood test my stud cat regularly. If there is any illness then costs soar, but fortunately that doesn’t happen very often! I have never had to take a queen to the vet for a caesarian section during the birth of a litter, but if that happens it will cost several hundred pounds also.

All of the cats in my household are given full inoculations and the best possible diet – a combination of premium dry cat foods, raw chicks and bottled water. (I don’t inoculate cats that are over ten years old though as I am told that may do more harm than good.) Cat litter alone costs tens of pounds per week. I once worked out that I “lose” over a thousand pounds per year on my cats. (I don’t mind as they pay me back in purrs!) That’s not taking into account “extras” –which includes showing (I think this is essential for all breeders so as to both check on the quality of the cats they are producing, and also to support the cat fancy without which there would be no pedigree cats). Another expense in my case is travel abroad, as I like to ensure I am in touch with Norwegian Forest Cats in Scandinavia(there is a tendency for us to have a bit of an insular attitude in Britain which doesn’t help the breed). It is important to advertise kittens so that you get a good choice of purchaser (only the best new home is good enough!) There are also hidden costs such as having the heating turned up higher for young kittens, replacing damaged household items, extra phone calls and so on.

Don't cut corners!
Some breeders are more geared towards, if not making money, then at least not losing so much. They might re-home cats after a few years, hence saving the cost of caring for a retired cat that doesn’t produce any kittens, and will inevitably incur higher vet bills as he or she gets older (but is that nicer for the cats?) Some don’t bother to go to cat shows – they are happy to produce kittens without checking that they are correct according to the breed standard. Another way of saving money would be to use cheap cat food and litter, and perhaps not changing the litter as often as the cats would like. Yes, there are all sorts of corners to be cut, but believe me, it doesn’t pay in the end. I have known a breeder who tried to save money by not inoculating her cats – the result was illness running through the cattery, very expensive vet bills and ultimate tragedy.

The price of kittens varies greatly between different breeds. Some of the more fashionable, or rarer, breeds are very costly indeed, and I do believe that individuals can very occasionally make a good profit with certain breeds. But this is the exception rather than the norm. In any case, it’s best to choose a breed that you love to live with, and just accept the fact that you won’t make money. What you WILL make is a wide circle of friends, and you will meet all sorts of people you otherwise wouldn’t. In addition you will have the pleasure of living with adorable cats and have a steady supply of charming, funny and beautiful kittens.

Six golden rules
If, after having read this, you still want to give it a go – then here’s some advice:

1 – Think long and hard about which breed you would like to live with. Visit as many breeders as possible and talk to people to find out what the cats are like. Use your eyes and ears on these visits to see if you like the behaviour, looks and sounds of the cats. ALL kittens are gorgeous, so don’t be tempted to make a hasty decision!
2- Having decided on your breed (and I do suggest having just one breed, at least to start with) research any possible health problems. For example, quite a few breeds are prone to PKD (polycystic kidney disease) which is tragic. However it can easily be tested for, so if you are choosing a vulnerable breed, only buy a kitten from tested stock. The same applies to other diseases. Only then should you choose your first kitten.
3 – The best way to get to know a breed, and also learn about the good and bad points of different lines, is to buy a show neuter and attend some shows. After that you can choose your first breeding queen with more confidence.
4- Having found an available, healthy potential kitten, do ensure that you are happy with her breeder – will you get plenty of support after purchase?  Does the breeder look after their cats in a way of which you approve? Do all the cats in their household seem healthy and happy? Does the breeder have sufficient contacts to help you to find a good stud cat that compliments your queen?  Above all, do you get on with the breeder on a human level (a good relationship can really help you to progress whereas a bad one can finish you before you’ve begun)?
5 – Having chosen your breeder, make it clear that you plan to start breeding, and if they are responsible they will sell you a kitten of suitable quality. You should be able to meet the mother and siblings, and hopefully the father too, so as to get an idea of how the kitten will develop as she becomes an adult cat.
6- Go slowly, so that you can buy or keep future kittens from a position of knowledge. Don’t buy several females and a male all at once – stud cats are much more difficult to live with and you do need experience as a breeder before obtaining one. However you can start researching which stud you are going to use many months before your kitten is old enough to become a mother, and contact the owners who should be helpful and supportive.

With these steps in place, you will have mounted the first rung on the ladder of cat-breeding. You should be prepared for possible setbacks – for example, not all cats become pregnant easily; feline illness can appear unexpectedly and undeservedly; the best laid plans sometimes go astray. At these times, remember that your reward will come when you eventually produce a fine litter of kittens. In the meanwhile, what a delight it is simply to enjoy the company of your chosen breed of cat (especially if you choose Norwegian Forest Cats)!

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