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.
Raising The Kittens
Getting your new mom and her kittens through the birthing process might seem like the biggest hurdle, but raising the kittens brings its own set of challenges and obstacles. Of course, sometimes absolutely nothing goes wrong and everything proceeds smoothly, but that isn’t always the case.
The first challenge begins as soon as the kittens are born. It’s always a worry until their mother calms down and lays with them without constantly shifting and potentially dislodging the kittens who are trying to nurse. The other part is – will the kittens nurse? We’ve had many anxious hours waiting for kittens to actually find a nipple and latch on. You’d think it was natural behavior, and for our shorthairs, it generally is, but for the Persians.. not so much. Some breeders will immediately offer their kittens a bottle (with newborn formula such as KMR), others will tube feed, and still others will refuse to supplemental feed at all. There are pros and cons to each. Bottle feeding before they nurse sometimes can lead to kittens totally dependent on the bottle. Tube feeding can easily be done incorrectly and that leads to a dead kitten (the tube can go down the trachea instead of the esophagus). Sometimes kittens just need a little extra help to get some weight on them and then they can nurse only. It’s not something that can easily be explained or even written, but best learned by experience. This is again where a mentor breeder becomes an invaluable source to rely on.
As the kittens go through the first few weeks, it’s important to change the bedding daily (sometimes twice daily) depending on how well the mother keeps them clean. Some moms will keep their babies spotless; others won’t do a thing and it’s up to you to potty the babies and sometimes wash their bottoms to remove fecal material. Also watch their eyes for signs of infection – new babies are very prone to eye infections, so watch for a yellow or brown crust around the eyes, or eyes that are “stuck” closed after the babies have opened their eyes naturally (which can take 5-10 days after birth.) Kittens with eye infections will need treatment – your vet can prescribe an antibiotic ointment.
When the kittens are about 4 weeks or age (or older, for Persians), they will begin to explore their surroundings, which includes getting out of the laying pan and not being able to get back in. It’s important to keep a towel on the floor so the kittens have something to keep them off the cooler floor until you can get them back in the pan. It’s important to keep the kittens and mother caged during this time as kittens can get “lost” under pieces of furniture – and a nervous mother might move her kittens multiple times, sometimes only taking a kitten and leaving the rest behind.
It’s also time for them to start litterbox training. You will want a litterbox with shorter edges than what the mother usually uses so the kittens can get it in easily. If they can’t get in, they’ll start using a corner of the cage, and it becomes quite a chore to retrain them. Be patient for the first week or two of training – expect to need to vacuum the cage at least once a day and expect that the kittens will probably eat some of the litter (and play in it.) “Poop hockey” becomes a very good game for them.
Kittens will also start trying out the food and water that their mother eats. We’ve found if the mother has a wide, low food bowl, the babies will sometimes use that as a litterbox; so try a small foodbowl for the time while they are litterbox training (but one heavy enough they can’t tip it over.) You can soak the dry kibble food in hot water for 15-30 minutes to make the food softer for the babies. Don’t soak much – they won’t usually eat a lot, and what they don’t eat in the first hour or two should be discarded. If you feed raw foods, you can begin introducing them to that as well at this stage. Watch the size of the chunks of meat; too big and the kittens can easily choke to death.
Weaning generally begins around the age of 8 weeks but can take until 12-14 weeks, depending on the litter of kittens. Don’t try to rush weaning, because if you try to early, it can severely distress the kittens and lead to them dying. It’s more important to wean on their schedule than it is to wean on yours so you can sell them early.
Vaccination and worming protocols are outlined in many places; we strongly recommend following the AAHA protocols.