So you want to become a cat breeder… now what?
by Carissa Altschul
Disclaimer: Any medical advice given in this article should be referenced with your vet before beginning treatment. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect any official policy or position of the Cat Fanciers' Association or the Persian Breed Council.
Housing Your Cats
Cats can’t all simply run the house together – that is a recipe for disaster. Often times, I see in emails, websites, or posts, people bragging about their “cageless” catteries. And, rather than being impressed, I usually automatically think “Wow, irresponsible breeder.” To be sure, none of us really want for our cats to live their lives in a cage. However, responsible breeders realize that there are times and/or circumstances where caging is not only necessary, but critical to the health of the cat. Cages come in all sizes and shapes. Here are things that I believe are important in a cage:
- “Clean-ability” – All surfaces should be sealed and scrub-able, preferably with no cracks or groves that food, litter, or other detritus can get stuck in.
- Floor space – Cats really need more room horizontally than vertically. The “tokyo” style cages really do not have enough floor space, they are usually 2 x 3 feet. Cages 5-6 feet in length or width are much better.
- Wire spacing – Wires should be close enough that a baby kitten cannot fit through or get stuck.
- Shelves – Cats do like to jump, so there should be at least one shelf which can run the length of the cage. The shelf should be made of a non-porous material and scrub-able.
There are other things to consider with cages, of course, but those are the main things to keep in mind.
Whole males (or intact, un-neutered males) need to kept separate from other whole males and young kittens, as well as whole females that are not intended to be bred to them. Many times people will keep whole males together and insist there is “no problem.” However, it only takes a moment when one of the males, or both, suddenly decides to become territorial/hormonal and attacks the other male. It can happen at any time and at any age.
A fight between two males is usually very violent, leading to death or severe injury, not just of the cat but of the owner too. Should you be unfortunate enough to have two of your males get in a fight, do not attempt to separate two fighting whole males with your hands, you will probably end up in the ER. Use towels or blankets to cover them and carefully separate - giving each cat time to “cool off” before you attempt to determine the damage that has been done.
Some people find it “very cute” to let whole males run with kittens. They often proclaim the males are “so gentle” with the kittens. Yes, they often are. But then sometimes, the males decide they have to breed that nine week old kitten - and they pounce on it. If the kitten isn’t instantly killed, it is likely the spine will be broken in the process, and then you have a kitten you must put to sleep from an accident that a responsible breeder would have avoided. (This hasn’t happened to me, but I have heard the horror stories from those it has happened to.) Additionally, in the case of a female that cycles young (5-6 months), a responsible breeder does not want that cat getting bred, so they cannot be kept around a whole male. If you don’t want to know when kittens are due or who the sire of the litters are, by all means, allow the males to run the house all the time with your breeding girls. You’ll end up with all kinds of surprises, including females getting re-bred just a few weeks after they birth a litter if they are one of those that cycles often. On the other hand, if you want to be a responsible breeder, males and breeding females should be kept/housed separately.
Whole males can be prone to bladder stones which can in turn block the urethra. The best way to catch this before it becomes serious or lethal is to know exactly how much urine a male is putting out each day. Males that run with other males - you never know how many of the pee spots in the pan are from each male. If they are with females, you won’t know if any of the spots are even from a male. Males should urinate at least once a day, and not in small quantities. You can only monitor this if you separate your males. Since males really cannot run with other cats, the best situation for them is either a large “Walk-in” style cage with shelves and cat trees, or a room for them alone. If such things are not possible, then make time each day for the other cats in the house to be confined to allow the male to have “run time.”
Pregnant & Nursing Females
Pregnant and nursing females need to be confined for both safety and health reasons. Usually pregnant females do not need to be confined until about the last 2 weeks of pregnancy, unless the female has a history of miscarriage. Pregnant females often do not consider their increased bulk and weight - which increase the most during the last 2 weeks - when jumping from one place to the next. As a result, sometimes they will try a jump and miss, which can result in severe injury and/or miscarriage. For the safety of the pregnant female, she should be confined in a cage - preferably without shelving - the last two weeks. This will allow you to monitor her closely as her time approaches.
I should note that often a “room” isn’t sufficient confinement, especially for a female with a “high risk” pregnancy - one that has miscarried before, or one that is older (5 years plus), or one that appears to be carrying a large number of kittens and is huge. Humans with high risk pregnancies are put on bed rest, cats don’t get that, so the next best thing is a smaller cage without shelving. Smaller doesn’t mean that the female cannot move - at a minimum, she should still have 4-5 feet of horizontal space to walk.
Nursing females can often get “nervous” and start moving their babies around. Babies can get lost under furniture or mom-cats might move a few of the babies and leave the rest. It is best to keep the moms confined with the babies until weaning, at which point, the mom can start taking turns out of the cage. But be very cautious at this stage and never leave the mom outside the cage from the kittens or vice versa unsupervised. If the mom is in the cage and the kittens are out, the kittens will try to climb to her to nurse. If the kittens are in the cage and the mom is out, it is not unheard of for the mom to try to reach through the cage with her mouth, grab a kitten and try to pull it through the wiring. Queens and kittens can be severely injured or killed if separated by just the wire of a cage. You must carefully supervise and control the weaning stage.
There are many practical reasons for caging litters of kittens. Keeping the babies caged ensures they learn good litter box habits, as well as making for easier cleaning during this learning process. Cages with a hole in the floor for a sub-surface litter pan accelerate the kittens’ learning by as much as a week. It’s easier to fall into the pan than climb into it! If you need to medicate the kittens for sticky eye or a runny nose, you can more easily catch them in the cage. If they are in a room, they will quickly learn what you are trying to do and run, leading you on a chase that just makes them avoid you all the time as they become more and more frightened of you. If the kittens are confined, you have the upper-hand and can easily catch them when you need to, and they are less frightened when you handle them.
Additionally, litters of kittens should not be allowed to mix until they are much older, I would say minimum 12 weeks, but really, should be closer to six months! While it is really cute to see them run and play, kittens can pass around/swap germs as bad as a daycare. Even worse, their immune systems can get overstimulated/hyperactive, leading to FIP. For the safety and health of kittens, they should not be allowed to run together or with other adults until their immune systems are more mature. The exception to this is if you must take infant kittens from one queen to nurse on another. As I’ve already mentioned, kittens should never be allowed to roam with whole males, even when they are older. A male might “catch” an early-cycling female at 6 months and you’ll end up with a kitten pregnant - something I’m sure nobody really wants. Worse, a male could harm any small kitten trying to breed it.
There are a number of reasons why caging show cats is advisable, including for the mental health of the cat. Yup, that’s right, mental health. A cat that is allowed to run the house or a room is used to that freedom - and comfortable with it. If a cat is caged part of the time at home and allowed to roam part of the time, it will come to regard the caging time as either nap time, or worse, punishment. Should that cat then be taken to a show where it is in a cage, it will probably sleep or be generally unhappy the entire show. The owner will be unhappy. The cat will sense the owner’s unhappiness and multiply it. It’s a nasty little cycle.
Alternatively, if a cat that is to be shown is caged - all the time - that cat comes to regard the cage as “safe” and “normal.” All things can be done in the cage - sleeping, playing, eating, etc. When that cat is taken to a show, it’s in a cage - but that’s not traumatizing to the cat. Rather - the cat feels “safe” in the cage and far more open to checking out the “new stuff” outside the cage. Mentally, the owner has prepared the cat for the show experience and lessened the stress and anxiety a cat might face at a show significantly. Almost always, when I talk to someone about their cat not liking the show, or sleeping during the show, their cat is one that is not caged or rarely caged at home.
When a show cat is no longer being shown, of course, caging all the time is no long necessary and certainly not expected. At most, show cats are only shown for 4-8 months, though some are campaigned longer. It’s a relatively short portion of a show cat’s life to remain caged - especially considering how much you lessen that cat’s stress level by preparing it mentally for the show.
Another reason for caging show cats – grooming, especially Persians. Show Persians tend to be very groom- intensive. Running the house is a good way to break off coat, and lose that precious weight we want on our cats. Additionally, you will want to monitor carefully the food and water intake, as well as the stools, of a show cat, because they are more prone to illness due to traveling and exposure at shows. Exposure at shows is another reason why caging show cats is wise. At any given show, your cat is exposed to a number of fungal spores (there are different kinds), fleas, and airborne illnesses. Ideally, all cats at the show are in perfect health, but that’s rarely the case! To be absolutely responsible to your home feline population, show cats should be isolated (their cages in another room) from the rest of the cats until their show career is completed and they have finished a quarantine time from their last show. Since many people keep their show room Persians in a cooler and darker environment than the rest of the cats (for promotion/retention of coats), it works out well as a quarantine room as well.
Anyone who is raising cats will at one time experience an animal (or more than one) becoming ill. These animals need to be separated from the other cats in order to limit exposure to the contagion as well as to monitor food/water intake and stool/urine output and catch easily to treat. You might be able to catch your cat easily normally, but cats intuitively know when you have a bottle of some medicine nearby and they run. If a serious illness should sweep through your home, you will need to cage every cat individually in order to successfully treat and hopefully cure each animal.
Again, almost every breeder will at one time have a cat that simply decides that litter boxes are “optional.” For the sake of keeping your house clean and not having the floors ruined, these cats must be caged for “retraining.” Sometimes, these cats never will use the litter boxes faithfully - and caging until such time that a very difficult decision must be made is about the only thing you can do with them. You can use diapers and stud-pants to allow such a cat outside of the cage when you are home to supervise.
For those of you that say you are a “cageless” cattery but you do have cages and use them for any or all of the above reason - you are not a “cageless” cattery. While you do not cage your cats all the time, you cannot in all honesty call yourself “cageless” if you do in fact have cages and use them for certain circumstances. To advertise as such is to buy into the animal rights wacko’s propaganda that confining a cat is bad.
I don’t think we need to try to appease the animal rights wackos. Neither do we need to post on our websites “YES WE DO CAGE!” If a buyer inquires about caging in your cattery, you can honestly answer “My cats do not live in cages, but there are times when, as a responsible breeder, I do have to cage them for their health and that of the other cats in my home.” And you can explain to that person what those times are. I believe we can help educate the public about cages and stop feeding animal rights propaganda machines with the “cageless” claims.