So you’ve taken the plunge and decided to start breeding cats.
I bet you’re excited and a little bit scared if you are honest?
It’s a huge responsibility and a lot can (and will) go wrong.
There are plenty of pitfalls to avoid and there are also some common mistakes that many new cat breeders often make.
Okay so this is me trying my best to not sound like a grumpy old man when I say . . .
Most newbie cat breeders will repeat the same old common mistakes. If only they would listen to the breeders that have already travelled down this path (and slipped on a few banana skins in the process). There would be a lot less unhappy ex cat breeders and a lot less unhappy ex breeding cats.
So are you serious about giving cat breeding your best shot? Do you want to avoid some of the most common mistakes that newbie cat breeders make? Are you happy to listen to someone that despite his best efforts still sounds like a grumpy old man?
I hope the answer is yes, if it is please read on.
Newbie Mistake #1 – Blissfully Ignorant & Doomed to Failure
Many new breeders are completely unaware of the pitfalls of cat breeding. They have no clue what’s involved and just have not done any research on what to expect as a cat breeder. I have talked about the things you should consider before becoming a cat breeder before so won’t go into huge detail here . . .
But what I would like to say is this.
If you fail to do any research and have no idea what to expect as a breeder then you have no chance of avoiding the pitfalls. Additionally there are problems that are going to happen no matter how much research you do in advance. If you are not aware of these problems then you don’t know if you are happy to try and cope with them or not. After all you may decide to not put yourself through them in the first place by deciding not to breed cats.
At some point as a breeder you are going to experience damage to your home, expensive vet bills, no social life and cats and kittens that die. These are just a few of the inevitable hardships you will face. You may not be happy (or able) to live with these crappy parts of cat breeding. If you can’t it will mean you’re destined to fail as a breeder as you will end up throwing in the towel.
If you don’t go into breeding with your eyes wide open then you are setting both yourself and also your cats up for disaster.
Don’t make the mistake of failing to do some research. In the long run it will save you time, money and heartache.
Newbie Mistake #2 – Poor Choice of Foundation Cat
If you don’t choose your foundation cat with care than you are on a road to failure. Jump in and buy the first one offered and pay the price down the road. To be honest anyone prepared to sell you a breeding cat without getting to know you first is not the type of person you should buy a kitten from. My advice is find a breeder not a kitten.
Breeders that remind you of Arthur Daley that will happily sell kittens for breeding to anyone who has the cash should be avoided at all costs.
Instead find a knowledgeable and trustworthy breeder that can let you have a foundation girl with the following qualities:
- From proven healthy lines.
- Mum, Grandma, Great Grandma etc. all good breeding girls that have reared litters of healthy kittens in the past.
- Your kitten should be healthy and of good temperament.
- Meet the breed standard and free from any serious ‘show faults’. A good breeder tries to remove faults from the breed and the best way to do this is to not breed with cats that have faults.
- Additionally your kitten should be registered for breeding and you should have a five generation pedigree. You should also be able to rely on the breeder to give you help, support and advice.
One extra tip . . . start showing your kitten. This is the best place to meet other breeders, judges and cats and is the place you will learn the most.
Newbie Mistake #3 – Incorrect Paperwork
To be fair if you have never bought a cat for breeding before you might not be aware of the paperwork that you need to have in place. It’s pretty simple, let me explain what you need.
- Registration document for the kitten stating the kitten is on the active register which means the kitten is registered as a breeding cat.
- Five generation pedigree. You need to know the ancestry or how can you plan future matings?
- For a male kitten you also need a certificate of entirety.
Without these documents you can’t use your kitten for breeding.
Additionally once you start breeding you will need to be able to supply new owners with registration documents and pedigrees. Registrations are supplied by bona fide registry of your choice. In the U.K the largest is the GCCF with some breeders registering with TICA and FB.
Pedigrees can be made at home using special pedigree software or you can even use the free pedigree template found here.
Remember that when buying or selling cats or kittens make sure the paperwork is in order. Do things correctly or fail.
Newbie Mistake #4 – Not Providing a Quality Diet
A good diet is essential for all cats to keep them healthy. Even more so for a breeding cat. Trying to save money on food or not doing the research to make sure your cat is getting a quality diet is a huge mistake.
Pro Tip: Do not confuse a quality cat food with well marketed brand name cat food. Just my opinion but some of the more well-known brands that we often see advertised on TV are what I refer to as ‘McDonalds for cats’. Might make a nice treat now and again but not the healthiest if it’s the only thing on the menu.
Feed your cat on a quality complete diet cat food. I feed mine a mixture of wet and dry food plus tit bits such as chicken, turkey, fish and any other source of protein hanging around my kitchen.
Let me pass on a piece of advice I learned early on in my breeding career that has served me well:
[pullquote align=”normal”]Spend more on your food and you will spend less at the vets. [/pullquote]
Newbie Mistake #5 – Treating Cats Like Breeding Stock
Some breeders treat their cats like nothing more than breeding stock and to be honest it drives me crazy. Please don’t make this mistake and always remember that above all your cats are your pets first.
Keeping your cats in cages or keeping them in pens at the bottom of the garden is not the way to keep a pet and it is not the way to keep your breeding cats either. The exception to this is a when you keep a stud cat in which case it is not unusual to keep them in outdoor stud quarters. Read more about keeping a stud cat happy here.
If you treat your cats like breeding stock you will find that their temperaments will suffer. Make no mistake if this happens they will pass their temperaments on to their offspring. Nobody wants to buy an kitten that is not friendly.
Keep you breeding cats as pets and you stand a far greater chance of breeding happy, well socialised kittens.
Newbie Mistake #6 – Failing to Read, Listen, Watch & Learn
Another mistake that some novice breeder seem to make is they stop trying to learn once they think they know enough to get started. Just with everything else in life you will never know everything there is to know about breeding cats and you should never stop trying to learn.
The best places to learn are:
- Reading books, websites, blogs and newsletters
- Reading cat critiques
- Going to cat shows
- Talking to judges
- Going to seminars
- Joining and being an active member of a cat club
- Stewarding at cat shows
- Finding, listening and following the advice of an experienced breeder that is happy to become your mentor.
If I had to choose just one place to learn from it would be from a mentor and from your own experience. Learning by doing with guidance is always the best way.
Newbie Mistake #7 – Buying in too Many Cats
When you first start breeding chances are you will spend some time/a great deal of time drooling with envy over the cats of other breeders.
You have a burning desire to breed stunning cats.
If only one of these breeders would give you a chance and let you have a start with a nice show breeding girl. You could be the next big thing to hit the show circuit and start breeding show stoppers yourself.
You ask yourself how on earth a complete newbie like yourself could ever ask one of the ‘big breeders’ for a kitten for breeding.
You sigh and think to yourself maybe one day . . .
You breed a few litters, learning along the way from you mentor, you start to win the occasional Best of Breed at shows and then one day you even win a Best of Variety!
You are on cloud nine, you’ve hit the big time and then the most amazing thing happens.
One of the ‘big breeders’ congratulates you and you strike up a conversation. It turns out this big breeder is just like you and is someone you hit it off with.
So much so that they offer you a kitten for breeding!
The doors have finally opened and you are now accepted by the other breeders. You are no longer an outsider.
Offers and opportunities come in thick and fast and before you know it you now have bought three new kittens all from the biggest breeders in the country.
Or so you thought . . .
Not so amazing when you decide you want to keep something back that you bred yourself and you realise there is no room at the inn. You have too many cats.
Don’t fall into this trap. Always be aware that there is a limit to the amount of cats that you can keep.
Remember that every cat you buy could mean a cat you breed yourself that you can’t keep.
Alternatively be prepared to re-home your own kids to make extra room.
Newbie Mistake #8 – Refusing to Listen to Good Advice
Sometimes the truth hurts. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring good advice just because it’s not what you what to hear.
You don’t want to hear from your partner that your plans for a new import stud boy needs to go on hold due to the massive expense involved. The fact the bank would like the occasional mortgage repayment and the kids need feeding at least once every other day are an inconvenience your would prefer to ignore.
You no doubt don’t want to hear from your mentor that keeping back a male kitten from your first litter is not a good idea. The fact he is pet quality, only has one testicle and is a bit on the small side does not deter from the fact your bred him . . . at least in your eyes.
You also don’t want to hear from the judge at the cat show that the kitten you bred has a tail fault, fixed squint, protruding sternum and tried to take his fingers off. In fact he advises that the kitten would be better off sat in front of the fire in their new home rather than staying with you as a show breeding cat. I mean what would he know anyway?
Sometimes it’s hard to accept advice we would rather not hear. A smart person would listen to the people that have their best interests and the best interests of their cats at heart when offering advice.
Eve when the truth hurts.
Newbie Mistake #9 – Refusal to Even Consider Rehoming
If you want to breed for any significant amount of time then at some point you will have to consider re-homing retired breeding cats.
If you keep every single cat that you have ever kept or bought for breeding then within just a few years you will be overrun with ex breeding cats.
Some people would say that these cats have earned their place in your home until the day they die. A nice idea but not realistic . . . and not fair to your cats.
Imagine for one minute that you are an ex breeding cat . . .
You retire from breeding and live in the home with the other retirees, the new breeding cats and all the new kittens that come along. You have to readjust yourself to your new place in the pecking order. Your new place of course is the bottom with the other retirees. If you are lucky you might be just above the dog but don’t bank on it.
There is always a lot of squabbling due to hormones flying around, jealousy over kittens and the competition for the attention of the humans . . . but with the ever increasing numbers . . .
(Because of course we all have a place in the home for life . . .)
Sometimes . . . just sometimes you wonder if you would be better off elsewhere.
I mean is it a home for life or is it a life sentence?
You long for pastures new. Away from all the ill-behaved kittens. Away from the stresses of hormonal cats and away from the constant fight for the attention of the humans.
I mean, imagine what it would be like to live with a new family of humans and just you and perhaps one or two other cats to snuggle up with and best of all . . . no ill-behaved kittens . . .
Sound more like the retirement you had in mind? The retirement you deserve?
Newbie Mistake #10 – Breeding too Many Kittens
Some new breeders make the mistake of breeding too many kittens. Some of the disadvantages of breeding too many kittens include:
- Can’t find homes for the kittens
- Your girls become run down because they don’t get a long enough rest between litters
- Run down queens equal sick kittens
- You start spending far too much money on food, litter and at the vets
- You stop enjoying breeding
Rest your cats and give the girls a break.
Rest yourself and take the time to enjoy every single litter.
Rest your house, if you churn kittens out then sooner or later you will pick up bugs. Without giving your house a break every litter born in the future will come down with the same bugs.
Newbie Mistake #11 – Keeping Back From Every Litter
It’s an easy mistake to make and one that I have seen many new breeders make. The temptation and also the desire to keep back kittens from every mating you do is strong. But as a breeder you also need to be strong. If you keep back too many cats you are heading for disaster.
If you want to avoid squabbling, increased chance of illness, spraying and increased food and cat litter bills then be sensible and keep your numbers down.
My advice is to ask yourself this question –
[pullquote align=”normal”]Will keeping back this kitten move me further towards my breeding goals without having a detrimental effect on my existing cattery, family and my own wellbeing? [/pullquote]
If the answer is not a big firm yes then I do not keep back preferring instead to keep space for ‘the one’ ultimate cat that I hope one day to breed.
Newbie Mistake #12 – Every Kitten is a Show Kitten
Much like keeping back from every litter many new breeders are under the illusion that every kitten or at least one kitten from every litter they breed needs to be shown. This is just not the case, let me explain why.
To start with the majority of cat owners/slaves have no desire to show their cats and kittens. If you hang fire for a show home for every kitten you want shown then you will soon be disappointed in addition to having a shed load of ‘show kittens’ running around the house.
Additionally as a new breeder you won’t have the experience to judge for yourself how good your kittens actually are. In fact it’s safe to say you will have your rose tinted glasses firmly glued on. You will most likely see the entire litter as show stoppers when chances are they are more likely in the category of ‘also-rans’.
In any event if you are lucky enough to breed a show stopper early on as a new breeder then face the fact that the only person that will show your kitten the way you want them shown is . . . you.
Waiting for a show home is foolish and it is far better to let kittens go to a pet home than hang fire waiting for a show home. I have bred far more show cats that have gone as pets than show cats that graced the show bench and I have no problem with this at all.
Newbie Mistake #13 – Selling Active Kittens
Another one that drives me crazy. How can a newbie breeder claim to have the knowledge or experience to determine if a kitten should be bred from or not. It is not likely they can spot a kitten that shows potential as opposed to a pet quality kitten.
It’s also not likely they have much knowledge of the lines they are using. They have limited knowledge of the health of the lines or how capable the kitten is likely to go on as a breeding cat in the future.
So with that said how on earth can they sell kittens for breeding?
Don’t get me started on selling every kitten ‘on the active’ (registered as eligible for breeding) because they can command a better price or make it easier to find a home for the. Shame on any so called breeder that partakes in this practice.
Newbie Mistake #14 – Unable or Unwilling to Sell Kittens
Nobody sets out to breed litters of kittens with the intention of keeping the entire litter.
But sometimes this is exactly what ends up happening. This usually happens because of one of the two following reasons.
Some people, when it comes to the crunch, just can’t face parting with any of the kittens. If you are going to be a cat breeder, you must not suffer from this problem. If you do then you will have a short breeding career and an overcrowded home.
The other reason that people sometimes end up keeping most if not all the litter is because of their failure to find homes for the kittens. There is a definite knack to finding good homes for your kittens and without it you will suffer the same fate as the people that can’t part with their kittens. Check out this article on finding homes for your kittens.
Start keeping kittens that you shouldn’t and resign yourself to a short breeding career.
Newbie Mistake #15 – Agreeing to Crazy Contracts
This is a mistake that many new and also experienced breeders make. Agreeing to any type of restriction when buying a kitten for breeding or indeed when going into stud.
I am not saying that you should refuse to accept any restrictions at all as this would be unrealistic. Just don’t be so desperate to agree to crazy restrictions that are going to come back and bite you in the backside in the future.
I have seen scenarios where people have bought a kitten for breeding and agreed to the following . . .
- They must run all future matings past the breeder first
- They can only have one or two litters before spaying the girl
- They can never sell any kittens for breeding
- They can’t even keep a kitten back for breeding themselves
- They have to give a kitten back (free of charge) or free matings if the kitten is male (all while having to pay full price for the kitten you are buying!)
No matter how tempted you might be, do not agree to ridiculous restrictions when you buy a cat for breeding. You will end up regretting it. Having said that if you do agree to some minor restrictions you must stick to them even if they are not binding. Break your word as a cat breeder and trust me you’re finished as the word will spread like wildfire and nobody in the cat fancy will ever trust you again.
Your Responsibility as a Breeder . . .
No doubt I have missed a few common mistakes out. There will be others that I hope other experienced breeders will be able to help out with.
(I would love to hear about them in the comments)
What I want you to take away from this article is that cat breeding is a tough and demanding hobby.
You have a responsibility to the breed in general.
You have a responsibility to your cats and kittens.
You have a responsibility to every person that has a cat or kitten from you.
There are good times and there are bad times.
Some of the bad you can’t avoid.
Some you can.
There is already enough pain and hardship involved with cat breeding.
Do your best to limit the bad times.
Enjoy the good times.
Breed beautiful, healthy cats and kittens.