The Responsible Breeder

If you're interested in breeding cats - or are in the market for a purebred kitten - here's what you should consider first.

If you think its just a matter of introducing two cats, letting nature take its course and then playing with their cute kittens, cat breeding isnt for you. So says Alice Ferris, a 15-year veteran breeder of Persian and Himalayan cats and owner of Lilac Farms Custom Cattery in Hartford, Connecticut. “Being a responsible breeder has many facets,” says Ferris. “It takes a lot of dedication, research, time and money to raise healthy kittens. A breeder must desire to learn the medical side of felines, because 80 percent of breeding cats involves feline health care.”

Your Silent Partner

Ferris says she spends hours researching a whole range of feline diseases and conditions, from simple upper respiratory infections (colds) to serious urinary and eye disorders. She also studies the behavioral patterns of the cats she breeds to produce well-adjusted animals. “Every animal has a behavioral pattern particular to its species, as well as its own specific personality,” says Ferris.

She then discusses her findings with her veterinarian. “I have learned that great breeders require the assistance of great veterinarians,” says Ferris. “Without a veterinarian who is willing to answer many questions, a breeder wont be updated and educated on the latest feline medical findings.”

Therefore, as a cat breeder, your veterinarian becomes your closest ally, says Ferrris. “But in order to have the best veterinary care, a breeder has to pay a high price. Proper veterinary expenditures consume 35 to 40 percent of a catterys yearly income,” says Ferris. This includes routine care – such as vaccinations and tests for common feline diseases – plus a battery of tests to ensure that the cats you want to breed are healthy enough to carry a litter and that theyre not going to pass hereditary diseases to their offspring.

No Time Off for Breeders

If youre a breeder, youll spend most of your waking hours caring for and cleaning up after felines, says Ferris. You must prepare for how this could affect your family and social life.  

“Persian cats must be assisted during birth, and so breeders spend many sleepless nights waiting for deliveries,” says Ferris. “Even so, there is a 20 percent fatality rate during birth.”

A kitten is fragile during the first five weeks of life, says Ferris. “To make sure each gets enough nutrition to survive, I assist our mother cats by bottle-feeding their kittens for the first weeks if the kittens require it.”

Consider, too, the impact that breeding will have on your living space. Ferris doesnt believe in caging her cats, so she has arranged her home to allow her cats to roam around. While other breeders may find it necessary to cage their cats, Ferris feels its best for cats to live as naturally as possible among humans before being adopted. “I believe by accommodating the physical and mental needs of our cats, they are less stressed,” says Ferris. “And stress is a leading cause of illness in animals.” This means, however, including the cats and kittens in everyday household activities.

“Theres a mountain of housework that felines forever create,” says Ferris, “including household damage that occurs by allowing the cats to roam free. Therefore, expect about ten percent of a cageless catterys income to go towards home and furniture repair or replacement.”

Deliver What You Promise

Ferris stresses that the most important part of breeding cats is producing a healthy kitten. While a lofty aim is, of course, to produce a top show cat or breeder, most adopters would rather have a pet they know is free from illness and stands a good chance of living a long, happy life.

Not only is it important for breeders to raise healthy felines, its their responsibility to find the most suitable homes to place them in, says Ferris. Therefore, she carefully screens her clients. Before coming to see any cats, prospective adopters must fill out a detailed questionnaire about the people and other pets residing within their household, and their experience with the Persian breed.

The contract between breeder and buyer is a promise that the kitten is free from disease when adopted.  The contract should clearly specify under what conditions the kitten can or cannot be returned – and this should be spelled out to the client and not be hidden in the small print.

“The contract should also protect the kitten,” says Ferris. In her contract, Ferris specifies the duties of the adopting clients, requiring in particular that they provide adequate living conditions and proper veterinary care for their new pet and not breed the cat (without prior permission) or relinquish it to a shelter.

Ferris points out that her contract differs from those of many other catteries in that she guarantees that the newly adopted kitten is free from congenital defects for three years; other cattery contracts typically offer only a one- year guarantee.

Finally, theres an aspect of responsible breeding thats crucial, says Ferris: Educating clients on how to properly care for their felines health and grooming needs. Upon arranging an adoption, Ferris spends about three hours with the client, demonstrating grooming and handling techniques as well as going over feline health care. She also addresses common behavioral questions. Says Ferris, “By educating our clients, I feel secure in the future lives of our kittens.”