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Establishing a Cattery

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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If you dream of having a houseful of cats and kittens or have fallen in love with one special breed of cat, you may be thinking about setting up a cattery. "Cattery" is a term that refers to a special situation in which emphasis is placed on a well planned and intensively managed system of housing, husbandry and breeding of selected animals. Running a cattery is more than just keeping a few cats as house pets. It is a full time commitment of time, space, finances and veterinary care.

Housing Considerations

A cattery requires space in your home that you can dedicate to housing your cats. Because of special requirements for cleaning, airflow and odor control, a separate building is often constructed. In this manner, environmental conditions can be controlled, surfaces can be sanitized and disease management and isolation procedures made easier. The number of cats you can keep will be limited by the size of your available space. Cats can stress easily if overcrowded and may develop medical and behavioral problems. A general guideline would be to limit the population of a room that is 14 feet by 14 feet to eight to 10 kenneled cats or four to six in open social space.

Each cat should have an individual kennel large enough to allow your pet to move with comfort and assume any posture without feeling cramped. There will need to be enough room for food and water bowls and a litter pan. Open areas for socialization and play, equipped with toys, perches and a window for outside viewing, help with mental and emotional stimulation. Cats are housed in groups largely based on temperament. Individuals that have a tendency to fight or have territorial disputes need to be separated to avoid injury and anxiety. Cats are usually left to socialize during the day and are kenneled at feeding times and at night. The advantage of this system is that all cats can be monitored for appetite, amount of food consumed, and whether or not there are any obvious medical problems such as vomiting, diarrhea or urinary tract disease. If cats are left out at all times, determining which cat had the diarrhea you found in a communal litter pan will be much harder.

Surfaces in the cattery should be solid and easily sanitized, washed or economical to replace. All kennels, litter pans, food bowls, floors etc. should be cleaned every day with a proper disinfecting solution. Dry cat food should be kept in tightly sealed containers to preserve freshness and discourage insects and rodents.

The air handling system in your cattery is a primary consideration in managing disease problems and odor control. Ideally, your cattery should have a laminar airflow, where air flows out of the room under positive pressure and does not re-circulate. This will help to diminish the odors and keep disease-causing viruses from collecting in the environment. Central air handling systems are not set up for laminar flow. You should speak to an air conditioning and heating specialist to discuss any modifications necessary.

Isolation

Every cattery should have a space to keep pets that become sick isolated from the general population. Cats are particularly susceptible to viral diseases that can be easily spread through the entire cattery. The isolation unit should have a separate air handling system to avoid contaminating the main room, and a separate kennel; bowls, equipment etc. should be available for use in isolation only. All newly purchased cats should spend 10 to 14 days in this room to observe for disease and medical problems. Healthy looking animals often come down with respiratory disease, diarrhea, etc. shortly after being introduced to a new home, and it is best to avoid introducing any illness to the other cats.

Record Keeping

Record keeping is an important part of running your cattery. Good record keeping will include information about each individual cat, dates of introduction or birth, any pertinent medical information and breeding records. Each cat should have a separate file or section of the record book and daily notations should be made with indications of behavior, appetite and activity. Keeping a daily log may reveal trends in behavior or health issues, making it easier to identify a problem. Don't rely on your memory to recall things like breeding dates or medication schedules. Write everything down so you can refer to it when needed.

All cats should be permanently identified with collars, tattoos, or microchips to avoid confusion and provide the proper information for their safe return in the event of an accident or escape.

Breeding Program

If you've never seen or heard cats mate before, it's best if you could find a supportive friend or fellow breeder to guide you before beginning your own program. Cat mating rituals can be fractious and nerve-wracking to listen to. There is often a lot of hissing, fighting, and, and high-pitched yowling that can make you think your cats need to be separated. Females are brought to the male cats and placed in breeding cages or a separate open space. The cats may bred several times in an hour and you will need to observe a successful pairing to know that the job has been accomplished. Note the breeding dates in the log. Your veterinarian can help confirm pregnancy and number of kittens in a litter with ultrasound or x-rays and tell you how to care for the queen and her litter.

Veterinary Care

Your veterinarian is a partner in caring for your cats. They will need yearly vaccinations and health screenings. All cats should be tested for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus. Discuss these feline viral diseases with your doctor, as signs of the virus can be difficult to recognize. Pets that become ill should be immediately evaluated. Your veterinarian can help you set up a system of health management that works best for you and your cats. Be prepared with proper and safe travel kennels for trips to the veterinary clinic and take your record log so you can provide the doctor with any needed information.

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