Finding and Choosing a Purebred Cat Breeder
J. Anne Helgren
Active, playful and well-socialized; kitten should not appear fearful Bright eyes, with no discharge of any sort
Visiting the Cattery
If your conversation with the breeder goes well and you feel you've found the right one for you, schedule a visit to the cattery if possible, because then you can see how the kittens are raised. When you visit, let your eyes and nose be your guides. Does the place smell clean, or does it reek of urine and feces? A cattery should be clean and tidy, but it also should look comfortably lived in. If it's antiseptic and spotless the cats are likely kept in cages and allowed little human contact. Handling is just as important to a kitten's upbringing as quality food and medical care.
Do the breeding cats have a spacious environment in which to live rather than tiny cages? While it's often necessary to keep some cats penned to ensure controlled breeding, particularly the stud males, the pens should be clean and spacious (with at least 27 cubic feet per cat), and the cats should not be kept constantly in these environments. Are the cats comfortable around people, or do they seem unused to human contact? Are toys, scratching posts, and other cat items in evidence, or do you get the impression the breeder views cats as just a moneymaking venture? If the breeder is not willing to let you visit the cattery, be wary. Ask yourself what it is that the breeder doesn't want you to see.
Whether you're buying a pet, breeder or show quality kitten, ask the breeder to explain the kitten's traits. If the kitten is not suitable for show, ask why. If the breeder is truly familiar with the breed standard, he or she can give you a rundown of a kitten's strong points and shortcomings. It is essential to be familiar with the standard yourself before this point, since you'll have a better understanding of what constitutes an ideal specimen of the breed. Keep in mind, however, that a pet quality kitten should be just as healthy and well-socialized as a show quality kitten. Pet quality cats merely have some cosmetic flaws of coat, color or conformation that makes them unsuitable for the show ring.
Likely at this point you're eager to take home your tiny tiger, but usually you'll have to wait. Responsible breeders do not release their kittens until they are at least twelve weeks old, and some hold onto their kittens for sixteen weeks or longer. Sure, kittens are cute at eight weeks, but it's vital to their health, development, and socialization that they spend the first weeks of life with their mother, so don't begrudge them the extra time.
Also, their immune systems are not fully developed and they are more susceptible to disease between eight and twelve weeks, and this can be aggravated by the stress of going to a new home. It's better to wait and get a healthy kitten with a strong immune system and a full course of vaccinations against dangerous diseases. Kittenhood is the shortest period of a cat's life and will soon be over anyway. The cat's long-term health is more important than enjoying a few short weeks of playful kitten antics.
If a breeder is willing to let the kitten go at six or eight weeks, do yourself a favor and don't buy from him or her – that breeder does not have the kitten's best interests at heart. In fact, in many breeds it's difficult to judge a cat's potential accurately until four or five months of age. If a breeder wants to sell you a six-week-old show kitten, be extra wary.
The Sales Contract
Most reputable breeders have written sales contracts you'll be expected to sign to purchase one of their cats. In fact, a written sales agreement is a sign of a caring, responsible breeder. You want your agreement in writing so you have resource if the kitten isn't as represented.
Breeder contracts vary. Common issues addressed include declawing, breeding, altering, and the cat's care, housing, diet and medical treatment. Some contracts require you to keep the cat indoors, and to give the breeder an opportunity to buy the cat back if you can no longer keep it. Most contracts prohibit the cat from being sold or given to pet shops, shelters or research laboratories.
It's also a common practice for the breeder to withhold the papers of pet quality cats until you provide proof of spaying or neutering. This is reasonable and responsible, given the overpopulation problem. Some breeders do not release their kittens until the altering has been done. They also want to keep the quality of their breed high, and that means preventing pet quality cats from being bred by people who may know nothing about breeding and may have little concern about finding good homes for the kittens they produce.
Read the contract carefully. If you have questions or concerns about the conditions, ask the breeder for clarification. If you think the conditions are unreasonable or too restrictive, buy from another breeder. Once you sign the contract, you are legally and morally obligated to honor it.
Choosing a Healthy Kitten
When choosing your kitten, try to make sure he is healthy and well cared for. Make sure the kitten has had appropriate vaccinations and dewormers for his age. Also, look for the following traits:
No nasal discharge
Clean ears and skin
Pink gums and correctly aligned teeth
Good eyesight and hearing-check this by jingling your keys and seeing if the kitten responds.
Always have your new pet examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible. If there is a medical problem, you should be able to return the kitten to the breeder.
A Final Word
If this all seems like a lot of work, that's because it is. In the long run, however, you'll have a better experience if you take the time. Many a cat lover has sworn off purebreds forever because their first, bought on impulse from a disreputable source, caused them so much heartache. It doesn't have to be that way. Your efforts and patience will be rewarded with many happy years with a healthy, sociable feline companion.