Archive for the ‘So you want to be a cat breeder’ Category

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Part 13 – So you want to be a Cat Breeder – The Birth

15 May, 2011

It’s the Big Day!

For the past few days your queen has been checking out the kitten box and pulling out all the newspaper and towels that you lovingly-prepared for her. 

If all goes well, then you’ll hopefully have a boxful of kittens nursing and a purring mum. 

However, if there are complications then you may need a visit to the vet.

(I’m sorry if I keep making it sound like a horror story, but I want you to go into cat breeding with your eyes open.)

If a queen is showing distress and can’t kitten … and it’s 3am on a Sunday morning (and it will always be in the middle of the night because that’s cats for you) … and you’ve had to rush her to the vet … and the out-of-hours vet examines her … and decides she needs a caesarian … which means general anaesthesia … then be prepared to hand him your credit card.

An out-of-hours caesarian can cost up to £2,000.  (Bye-bye holiday and new clothes for the whole family.)

And don’t forget that you may have to hand-rear the kittens if your queen is too weak from the surgery to nurse the kittens.  That means feeding every two hours on-the-hour night-and-day.  That’s why as a precaution I always took two weeks off work around the time of the birth.  Fortunately I had bosses who thought I was a mad cat lady, so that’s all right then.  Fortunately I never had to hand feed.

You’ll also have to watch your queen because she may decide to take out the stitches herself.  It happened to the mother of my Bengal cat.  Twice.  Each time she had to be rushed to the vet.  She and her husband enjoyed two sleepless weeks feeding the kittens. 

But if all goes well … a box full of warm bundles of … what looks like little blind mice, but are actually kittens.  And the promise of loads of funny moments in the weeks to come.

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Part 12 – So you want to be a Cat Breeder – The Kitten Birth Kit

25 March, 2011

OK, your queen has managed to get through her pregnancy without any problems and she’s about to go pop.  

So here’s what could help you get prepared so that if a suprise does happen during the delivery, then you’re prepared.

By now you’ll have put together a Kitten Birth Kit, if not, please read my earlier post about what you might like to have in the kit.

A very quick summary:  your Kitten Birth Kit can be as expensive or as back-to-basics as you want to make it.  If this is your first litter, and you’re not sure you want to carry on breeding, then I would advise you not to invest in expensive kitten pens or expensive kit. 

Estimated cost of Kitten Birth Kit:  £50 to £250.

BASIC KIT

THE KITTENING BOX

Good excuse to buy a new TV ...

1. Box for mum to have kittens in.  My first kitten box was a large TV box.  So make friends with Currys or Comet.  All you have to do is cut a hole in one half for mum cat to go in and out.  I use another box about the same size and cut that down to make a cover for the main box. This allows you to lift the cover off to do general housekeeping for the cat.  Cost of box:  Free. 

(oops – I’ve just realised one problem:  most TV boxes nowadays are quite flat because TVs are flat-screen.  So unless you’re breeding Singapuras, a better substitute would be a PC box, or read on …)

Snowsilk uPVC kitten box

The alternative would be a beautiful uPVC purpose-built kitten pen (like the one above, from Snowsilk) with add-on modules or clear perspex sides so you can keep an eye on the kittens.  The advantage is that uPVC is easy to clean, and you can use this pen again for the next litter.  The disadvantage:  costs about £200 upwards.

 A compromise is to buy a disposable kitten box.  I use these and find them a good size for Maine Coons.  I also prefer boxes that aren’t see through (i.e. plastic sides) because queens like it dark and cosy.  Cost:  about £20.

Disposable Kitten Box (the box NOT the kitten!!!)

If you buy a cage with mesh, please make sure that the mesh is quite small because kittens will climb and paws can get stuck in them.

Temporary housing for kittens

Remember, after about the first 4 weeks, the kittens are going to be out and about, so you’ll have to think of another way to confine them if you need to.

(box and cage available from Purrsonal Touch)

2. A smaller cardboard box to put kittens in if you need to dry them while mum is busy having kittens and you don’t want her to roll on them

3. Newspaper to line box – you may need to change this often if it gets soaked during the birth process.  Cost:  free.  Or £.150 if you read The Sunday Times.

4.  Small face towels (cotton) to dry the kittens, and also to clean mum up after everything’s done (she will probably clean herself up though).  A good substitute is soft kitchen towels.  These have the advantage of being disposable.

5.  Larger towels (bath size) for mum to sleep on after she has kittened – you will need to change these everyday – mum will appreciate this as cats are clean creatures.  I made friends with the housekeeper at the gym I go to and she gave me a batch of towels that were worn out and going to be thrown away.   Cost:  free-ish.

6.  Kitchen towels – for general cleaning up

7.  Torch in case it’s dark (many births occur in the evening/early morning)

8.  Bin bag(s) to get rid of the waste stuff

9.  Weighing machine (preferably digital) in 5g increments to weigh kittens – this is a very valuable piece of equipment.  It will enable you to track the weights of the kittens and know which ones are not getting enough milk or not feeding properly.  So don’t skimp on the weighing machine.  Cheap ones can be inaccurate. 

Very accurate digital postal weighing scales

Try out the machine before you buy it.  I used to go to the baking department and “borrow” a bag of sugar and then weigh it on different machines – the discrepancies in weights on the different machines was an eye-opener.  A 1.5kg of sugar wasn’t always 1.5 kg on another machine.

When trying out weighing machines, a bag of sugar is a good substitute if you forget to bring your kitten along ...

You can afford to be inaccurate in baking, but not when your kittens’ lives depend on you!

OPTIONAL

10. Small pair of blunt scissors and surgical spirit to sterlise it, for cutting the umbilical cords if you are squeamish about doing it with your fingers.  I have never had to use scissors so far.

11. Dental floss to tie ends of umbilical cord if necessary.  Again, I have not had to use this.

12. Bulb syringe to suction fluids out of kitten’s airway.

13.  Homeopathic remedies: carbo veg (to resuscitate kittens or kittens that are having breathing problems), arnica (good for post-natal swelling and bruising for mum cat).  If you are seriously into homeopathy: caullophyllum and cimicifuga. Do not use any of these remedies as a preventative – they are to be used only if there is a presenting problem or an emergency.  Helios does a childbirth kit for about £20 (depending on which web store you buy it from).

14.  Nappy changing pads – these are large, absorbable pads which I use to line the box, under the towels – they save the cardboard base from being soaked in case kittens pee etc.

KMR kitten milk replacement

15. KMR kitten replacement milk – only necessary if mum cat isn’t producing enough milk or there are too many kittens and she can’t feed them all.  It’s not something that’s stocked by the local pet store so I order it in advance.  It’s not cheap though – about £20 for a tin.  But I still think it’s worth it for the just-in-case.  It’s a small investment and you can always still feed it to mum as a supplement.  An alternative would be Royal Canin kitten milk and feeding kit.

16. Kitten feeding kit – this is usually a bottle with a variety of teats.  One brand is Catac’s Foster Feeder.  I only use this if a kitten falls behind in its weight and needs topping-up.  Some breeders don’t believe in topping up, preferring to let nature take its course.  I haven’t got the nerves of steel for that.  Cost of kit:  approx. £12.

Catac foster kitten feeding bottle

17. Nail polish to paint claws of kittens if there are more than 2-3 kittens of the same colour, so you can distinguish between them. Or you can use food dye in the ears.  Or small coloured pony tail bands over their paws.

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Part 11 “So you want to be a cat breeder” – While waiting for the stork to arrive …

5 March, 2011

OK, now that you’ve forked out for the stud fees surely it’s plain sailing until Kitten Day?

FOOD

A pregnant cat will eat a lot of food.  Loads more.  So count on at least double the usual food bills for your queen, especially in last few weeks of the nine-week gestation period.

VET BILLS

All going well, there shouldn’t be a need to visit the vet for any reason.  However, this being cat breeding, you have to be prepared for every eventuality.  And vet eventualities, in my experience, cost money.

So what can go wrong? 

Your queen could develop an infection of the womb called pyometra.  This is one of the greatest fears of cat breeders.  If you catch it early then it’s curable, by using drugs.  If it isn’t treated, it can be fatal.

The problem is that pyometra can be hard to detect.  With an open pyo there may be a discharge.  But with a closed pyo there may not be any obvious signs.  A cat breeder I know only realised her queen had a pyo when she stopped eating.  Treatment for pyometra can be expensive.  And she may yet lose the kittens.

Your queen could also develop other infections that will involve veterinary intervention.  Sometimes, these infections can cause her to miscarry. 

Or your queen could absorb the kittens – this tends to happen early on during the gestation, but it is still a sad event and a disappointment.

I can’t place a figure on how much these bills are.  These are just expenses that cat breeders are prepared to accept.  So every time someone thinks that cat breeders are minting it, it’s good to bear in mind the fact that the money is there … for a rainy day.

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Part 10 of “So you want to be a cat breeder” – the mating

11 January, 2011

When it all works …

 

So your queen has got the green light from the vet and she’s now in her basket, about to be introduced to Mr Stud Cat.

Depending on the temperament of the stud cat and the queen, the owner may introduce the queen into the stud cat’s quarters immediately. 

However, if the queen is nervous or has a reputation for being difficult, some stud cat owners prefer a softly-softly approach.  They may have enclosures in which the queen and stud can make their acquaintance separated by netting, just in case it isn’t a case of lust at first sight.

My queen, Ananda’s, first encounter was with an experienced stud cat, Mullycoonz Romulas.  A beautiful red silver tabby with rippling muscles straight out of a bodybuilding magazine.  His owners assured me he was a gentleman and wouldn’t take advantage of her inexperience, and so chose to release her into his cage.  She dashed into the enclosed part of his quarters and hid there.  He sat outside patiently, letting his potent pheremones and studliness do their work for him. 

His owners told me that they had a previous stud cat who wasn’t so gentlemanly – this chap wasn’t used to waiting and used to reach into the quarters and get the queen out.

Please note that all this is usually done under supervision because:

(1) Stud cat owners are well aware of the risks of putting two strange cats together. 

(2) In the case of an inexperienced queen, she is likely to beat up the stud.  Or in the case of a feisty and inexperienced queen, it may be necessary to hold her down gently [with gardening gloves] in order for the stud to sidle up and have his way with her without losing an eye in the act.

(3) The end of the mating act is actually quite painful for the queen and she oftens turns on the stud with copious use of claws and fangs.  An experienced stud will anticipate this and know how to levitate 3 feet vertically in the air onto a platform in the enclosure.  Think of it as Matrix for Cats.

(4) It is important to record the date of the first mating in order to work out when the kittens are due.  What if the mating takes place in the dead of the night?  Well, canny stud cat owners have baby alarms hooked up to their bedrooms.  And you thought that cat breeding was easy … .

At the end of the stay, a mating certificate is issued by the stud cat owner.  This is an important piece of paper because it must be sent to the cat registry  as proof of pedigree.  It contains the following information:

(1) details and cat association registration numbers of the stud cat

(2) the approximate days of mating (and due date of kittens)

(3) any restrictions on the kittens born from the mating.  For e.g. “one female may be kept for your own breeding.  All other kittens to be registered on the non-active register.  No kittens can be sold/given away on the active register.”

(3)  What the stud cat owner will do in case the mating is unsuccessful, e.g. “a free mating will be offered if one or less kittens result from the mating”.

Romulas’ owners told me how they opened the door to his enclosure one morning during Ananda’s visit and everything was topsy-turvy – his basket, her basket, the litter trays etc.  But they were curled together on the bench.  Romulas and Ananda went on to have six kittens together.

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Part 9 of “So you want to be a cat breeder” – breeding the queen

3 January, 2011

This post assumes that as a first-time breeder, you only have one queen.  It could be that you have more than one queen. 

However, chances are you won’t have a stud cat because breeders do not sell stud cats to first-time breeders.  They know that owning breeding queens is complicated enough without having to cope with the added headache and expense of having a stud cat.

So this post also assumes that you will need to use the services of a stud cat.

I have written elsewhere about the breeding cycle of a queen. 

When she calls, a queen will spray to attract a male cat.  “Spray” sounds very delicate and fragrant.  It is not.  It should really be called “Hose” for its volume and ability to reach long distances.   The smell is not for the faint-hearted.

The point of mentioning this is that even before you breed her, unless you want your house smelling like a zoo, you will probably have to spend a lot of money either (1) buying specialist cat urine enzyme cleaners or (2) house your queen in an outdoor purpose-built cat house.  I chose option (1) and wish I’d chosen (2) instead but that would have set me back by anything from £500 upwards.

Next you will need to find a stud cat.  If the breeder of your queen has a suitable stud cat then that’s very useful.  If not, you will have to phone around for a stud cat.  If you’ve been showing your cat then you may already have met some suitable owners who are impressed by your willingness to show and therefore more ready to let you use their stud cat.

Some stud cats are advertised as at closed or private  stud.  This means that their services are used exclusively by the breeder for her queens.  Not for outside queens. 

There are a number of reasons for this, usually to do with wanting to maintain the quality of the kittens and the bloodline.  Remember – the reputation of the stud and the breeder is at stake so they have every right to be fussy.

It could be that the stud cat is new and the breeder wants to see what sort of kittens he produces before allowing outside queens to breed with him.  Or maybe the breeder wants to keep that particular bloodline to her cattery. 

Also, the more outside queens a stud breeds with, the chances of introducing outside germs is high.  So an owner of a stud cat has to balance out this risk with the need to ensure that the stud gets plenty of action to satisfy him.

In order to minimise the chances of the queen passing on any diseases,  all stud cat owners wil insist that queens are tested for FIV and FeLV, 24 hours before mating.  The vet will issue a certificate for the blood test which must be presented to the stud cat’s owner as proof of health. I paid approximately £40 for a blood test in 2009.

It goes without saying that the queen should also be in good health, and have a clean coat and no fleas.

Stud fees range from £300 upwards (2009 prices).  You will also have to provide food and litter for your queen for her Club 18-30 holiday.  A nice bunch of flowers or bottle of wine is a nice gesture when you pick up your queen.  Not for the stud cat – for the stud cat’s owner.

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Part 8 of “So you want to be a cat breeder” – buying the queen

27 December, 2010

I hope I haven’t scared you off cat breeding with my series of articles about how expensive and taxing cat breeding can be.  What I want to show is reputable cat breeding, warts and all, not just the happy moments playing with cute kittens.  If you’re still reading this series, then thank you for listening and good luck!

This post deals with buying your breeding queen.

A Maine Coon queen or intact female cat can cost anything from £550 upwards (2010 prices).

Most queens are purchased when they are still kittens so that they get use to your home and set-up.

Things to look out for when buying a queen include:

– the conformation of the kitten.  Kittens change as they grow but as a whole, look for good boning, a nice square muzzle, good ears.  If the parents of the kitten have good conformation, then chances are, so will the kitten, but there are no guarantees.

– has the mother and father of the queen been tested for HCM (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) and if so, what were the results?  It goes without saying that if both test positive then you shouldn’t breed from the queen.  And if even one tests positive, then you’ve got to be sure that the stud you use doesn’t test postive for HCM, otherwise the kittens will be born with a high chance of having HCM.

For other breeds, familiarise yourself with the diseases that that breed may be prone to, e.g. Polycystic kidney disease (PKD).

And remember the refrain:  always breed for health.  There is nothing more distressing than getting a phone call from an owner to say that the cat they bought from you has keeled over from heart failure or other chronic disease that is genetic in nature.  There is no justifcation in bringing in kittens that are prone to illness.

– look at the history of the parents and grandparents of the queen.  Don’t be wowed by their champion status.  How old were they when they died?  Did they suffer from any chronic illnesses?

– look at the history of the queen’s mother.  Did she kitten easily?  Was she a good mother?  Good mothers pass on their nurturing skills to their daughters.  Did her mother require a caesaerian or multiple caesaerians?  Did the mother neglect her kittens?  If so, avoid a queen from such a mother.

– the sale contract for the queen is different for a non-breeding cat.  There may be conditions attached to the sale, e.g. no male kittens from the queen to be sold as stud cats, or only one female kitten from each litter to be sold as a breeding cat.  Another contingency covers the possibility that the kitten might be infertile – the breeder will usually offer a refund or another queen.  Some breeders may demand a kitten from the queen’s first litter.  A reputable breeder will not try to make the contract onerous.

– after-sales support, i.e. mentoring.  If this is your first queen and first attempt at cat breeding, then you will definitely need mentoring from the breeder of the queen.  So you want to make sure that you get on with the breeder of the queen.  And that’s when all those visits to the cat shows pay off.  Mentoring could include being able to use the breeder’s stud cat, or if breeder lives nearby, that important hand-holding during the birth.

Remember, you are not just buying a breeding cat, you are buying into a guarantee of health and fertility, and a support structure.  And if you buy from a reputable breeder who has made a name for him/herself, then you also get the prestige of the breeder – this will open doors when it comes to getting a good stud cat to mate with your queen.

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Part 7 of “So you want to be a cat breeder” – the cost of pre-breeding

15 August, 2010

When I started cat breeding I didn’t realise how much it would cost.  A search on the internet revealed a UK breeder who had listed some of the costs on a website, and there are also some US breeders who have done the same.  Costs will vary according to scale, i.e. how big your operation is, how many cats you have and how many litters you have.  

So what I’ve written is just a guide – you may have to spend more or less depending on how you lavishly or tightly you run things.  And the prices depend on where you live – you may pay less for vet bills in the North of the country.  The costs only reflect my experience, so please take them as a rough guide based on average 2010 prices.  

I’ve separated the costs into :  pre-breeding (when you start establishing a reputation and network), breeding, bringing up the kittens and selling the kittens.  

BEFORE YOU EVEN START  – YEAR MINUS ONE 

You should ideally plan a year (if not several years) ahead before you start cat breeding. 

Buying a cat:  approximately £400 for a Maine Coon (less in the North of the country).   Contrary to what people believe, there should be no extra price charged for a Maine Coon show cat.  At the same time, breeders can’t offer a guarantee that the cat you are buying will be a show winner.  It’s all about the taking part and learning.   Entering a catshow will allow you to learn all about breed standards, and also to network with the other breeders.  

Buying a show pen (this is very useful at TICA shows but is optional):  approx. £100 plus depending on the model.  

Cost of taking part in GCCF cat show (prices vary if you are a member of the cat club hosting the show):  approx. £30 for entrance fees + £14 for double pen + 5 for show catalogue.  Say, £40 per cat.  

 Cost of taking part in TICA cat show (TICA shows run over 2 days but you can choose to show your cat for just a single day):  £44-£84 for the first cat (depending on whether 1 or 2 day) .  

 Total cost of showing (say 4 shows) = £40 to £85 per show = £160 to £340 a year.  This does not include the cost of travel to the show (petrol), food and incidentals like buying cat toys etc. 

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Cost of joining cat club and cat association.  

Joining a cat club allows you to network with like-minded breeders.  Joining a cat association is necessary in order to register your breeding prefix.  This breeding prefix is what is on the pedigree certificate of the cats you breed.  The cost depends on whether the registration is with the GCCF (UK) or TICA (US HQ) or any other cat registry.  You cannot register your cattery’s prefix with the GCCF unless the application form has been signed by a cat breeder’s club.    Cost of joining cat club:  Ordinary membership (circa. £5 to £10), Breeder membership (£15 to £20).   

Cost of registering cattery prefix with GCCF = £75 (UK members)  Cost of registering cattery prefix with TICA = US$50.

Some clubs insist that members have been with them for a year before they will sign the application form to register a cattery prefix.  This is to get rid of time wasters, but it does mean that you must plan more than a year ahead if you want to want to register your prefix with the GCCF.  And please note that the GCCF registration process may take three to six months.  

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CAT BREEDERS FORUM

This is optional but is a good way of increasing your knowledge about cat breeding.  The Novice Breeders Advice Cat Club runs a workshop filled with experts on cat health and breeding.  Cost of NBA membership = £6.  Cost of workshop = £29 (member)

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WEBSITE

 Cost of setting up your cattery website – if you know web design and programming then you’re in luck.  If you have a friend who knows web-design and programing, then you’re in luck.  Otherwise expect to pay about £200 for a website and another £20-£30 per year for hosting services with a web server.   Also don’t forget – you will have to register your domain name, and that could cost anything from £50 upwards.

You may not need a cattery website, but it helps in this modern day and age.  Most cat breeders clubs offer free advertising for their breeders.  You could also try writing a blog with a link to an online photo album, or have a Facebook page.  But all this takes time to capture your audience and build your market.  You must think ahead and plan ahead.  

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TOTAL PRE-BREEDING COSTS: approximately £1000.