Finding and Choosing a Purebred Cat Breeder
As with all important decisions, buying a purebred cat requires thought and planning. You are about to embark upon a relationship that may span fifteen to twenty years – longer than many marriages. So make sure you spend some time finding the right breeder.
You can save yourself veterinary expense and grief by finding a responsible, caring breeder whose goal is to produce healthy, genetically sound, well socialized kittens; a breeder who truly cares about your chosen breed and wants good homes for his or her special kids. Resist the urge to buy on impulse, and know your source before plucking down your hard-earned cash. A bit of patience can make the difference between years of happiness with your feline friend and years of heartache.
Why buy from a breeder rather than a pet store, private party, or newspaper ad? While buying from a breeder does not insure you a healthy, well socialized cat, buying from pet stores or newspaper ads is often risky business, and may cause you considerable grief and expense in the long run.
Reputable breeders do not sell their kittens to pet shops, so pet shops often obtain their kittens from less than pristine sources, such as the so-called backyard breeders or kitten mills. Such kitten producers breed only for profit and care little about the health, happiness, and long lives of their animals. Their cats often live in deplorable overcrowded conditions, have infrequent handling and no socialization, and little veterinary care. No effort is made to ensure genetic health by carefully planning the breeding and choosing the most genetically compatible mates.
Don't assume that any breeder who maintains a cattery in his or her residence is a backyard breeder, however. Most reputable breeders operate their catteries out of their homes, so they can give their cats the attention and care they need. The emotionally loaded term "backyard breeder" can be misleading; it actually refers to the quality of care and concern and the slipshod, assembly-line method of breeding, not the location where the breeding is done.
Newspaper ads can be placed by reputable breeders, but are more often placed by kitten mills and people who have bred their pet-quality purebreds, violating their purchase agreements since pet-quality purebreds are almost never sold with breeding rights. In fact, most breeders withhold the papers of their pet-quality purebreds until the owners have provided proof of alteration to prevent these matings.
While these kittens may be less expensive than a breeder-bred kitten, you generally get what you pay for. Such people generally know little or nothing about breeding cats. Too, these cats usually cannot be registered or shown since the owners cannot provide pedigrees or registration papers, and without papers you can't tell if the cat you're buying is a true purebred at all. If you buy from a newspaper ad, be even more scrupulous about investigating the seller.
First Things First
Before you begin shopping for your dream cat, you'll need to do your homework. First, you'll want to decide which breed is best for you. See Finding the Right Purebred Cat.
Once you've chosen the breed, it's very important to learn as much as you can about it before you begin looking for a breeder. That means becoming familiar with the breed's standard, characteristics, personality, strengths and weaknesses, potential genetic and health problems, and grooming requirements and other special needs. You need this information if you are to be an informed consumer.
Fortunately, the Internet is a wonderful resource for breed information. Begin by reading the PetPlace Breed Profiles. The Cat Fanciers Web Site at www.fanciers.com is also an excellent online resource. Also, visit the cat associations online, since many offer standards and other information on each breed they recognize:
- American Association of Cat Enthusiasts (AACE) www.aaceinc.org
- American Cat Fancier's Association (ACFA) www.acfacat.com
- Canadian Cat Association (CCA) www.cca-afc.com
- Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) www.cfainc.org
- Cat Fanciers' Federation (CFF) www.cffinc.org
- National Cat Fanciers' Association (NCFA) www.nationalcatfanciers.com
- The International Cat Association (TICA) www.tica.org
- The Traditional Cat Association, Inc. (TCA) www.traditionalcats.com
Finding a Breeder
After you've chosen and learned all you can about your breed, check out the breeder listings in cat magazines such as Cats and Kittens (www.catsandkittens.com) or Cat Fancy (www.animalnetwork.com/cats). Their websites also have breeder listings.
In addition, extensive lists of breeders can be found at the Fanciers Breeder Referral List, www.breedlist.com, as well as a wealth of information and links to breeder sites. Breed-specific clubs or societies also exist and can provide lists of breeder members. These groups usually have a written code of ethics their members agree to uphold. Many of the cat associations also can provide breeder lists.
The cat association websites also have listings of their upcoming shows. Attending a cat show is a great way to meet reputable breeders and see their cats. Breeders who show strive to produce cats that meet the breed standard – the physical ideal for that particular breed. At shows breeders and their cats are subject to scrutiny by experienced judges and exhibitors who can quickly spot a bad apple in their bunch. Therefore, cat shows are usually good places to meet reputable breeders. Kitten producers care nothing about the breed standard or showing their cats, since they are breeding for profit rather than to improve the breed.
Depending upon the breed you've chosen, you may or may not be able to find a breeder with available kittens. The less common breeds and the breeds in high demand generally are sold through waiting lists. If you find a breeder you like but he or she has no kittens available, you may want to ask to be put on the breeder's waiting list (you'll have to put down a deposit), or the breeder may recommend other breeders who have available kittens. Responsible breeders associate with one another and help each other meet the demand for kittens. If you're flexible on color, pattern and gender you'll have an easier time obtaining a kitten. Or you can ask the breeder to inform you when kittens become available. Be patient. It's better to wait and get a quality kitten from a reputable breeder than buy on impulse.
If possible, find a breeder in your area, so you can visit the cattery and see the kitten before you buy. However, this is not always possible, particularly with the less common breeds, and you may have to go outside your area to find a good breeder. In that case, you'll need a breeder who is willing to ship the kitten to you. If the breeder lives out of your area, at least see a photo of your kitten (the entire litter if you can) and photos of the parents before buying. Many breeders have websites where photos of their cats can be seen; be sure to ask.
Questions You Should Ask
Once you narrow down your search to several breeders (it's best to find several possibilities in case one doesn't work out), talk to each one. A caring breeder will be willing to answer all your questions. If the breeder's answers are not satisfactory, or if you get the impression that the breeder is not being forthright, move onto the next one on your list. Ask the following questions:
- How are the kittens raised? You want a kitten who has been raised "underfoot" in a loving home environment, rather than in an isolated cattery with little human contact.
- Can I see both parents, or only the mother? By seeing both parents, you'll have a better idea of the adult appearance and temperament of the offspring. If the father is not available – which is often the case, since not every breeder keeps a male for stud service – ask to see a photo of the father, and be sure to see the mother.
- How many litters do you raise each year? A breeder who raises many litters is less likely to be able to socialize each kitten. Early loving contact with humans is vital if the kitten is to grow up to be a well-socialized, friendly, trusting adult cat.
- Can you provide names and phone numbers of people who have purchased your cats? If the breeder provides these references, follow through and check them out. Ask these owners about their experiences with the breeder. Of course, keep in mind that a breeder is likely to provide only the numbers of people who have had positive experiences.
- Has a veterinarian examined the kittens? What vaccinations will be given before the kittens are sent home? Have the cattery cats been tested for Feline Leukemia (FeLV) and Feline AIDS (FIV)? Depending upon the breed, other health questions should be asked as well, and that's why it's a good idea to become familiar with the breed. Maine coons, for example, are prone to hip dysplasia and a heart disease called cardiomyopathy. When buying a Maine coon, you'll want to ask if the breeder's cats have been screened for these conditions.
- Do you provide a written health guarantee for genetic and health problems? You want to choose a breeder who stands behind the quality and health of his or her cats.
- In what cat association(s) are your cats registered? This is important if you decide to show the cat, because each cat association has different show standards and rules regarding each breed. Also, this tells you if you're dealing with a breeder who is working to improve the breed rather than just producing sellable kittens. Call the cat association(s) to which the breeder belongs to check his or her credentials before committing.
- Do you provide a pedigree and registration papers for your kittens? Even if you want pet quality and do not intend to show your cat, be sure you are buying a kitten that comes with these documents, also called "papers." While papers don't guarantee you a healthy, well-socialized cat, it increases the chances that the breeder is reputable and the cat is what the breeder claims. A cat without papers lacks them for a reason, usually because one or both parents were without papers or because the parents were not sold with breeding rights. A kitten without papers may not be a purebred at all. While part-purebred cats can still make fine companions, you shouldn't have to pay purebred prices for a non-pedigreed cat.
- Will you ship your cats? Not all breeders will, although many do. This is important if you're dealing with a breeder who's out of your area.
- How much do you charge? Breeders are generally more responsive if you save this question for last. While price is certainly an important factor, breeders tend to be more impressed with prospective owners who don't begin the conversation by giving the impression that getting a bargain basement cat is their most important consideration.
Questions Your Breeder May Ask
A responsible breeder will also ask you questions before agreeing to sell you a kitten. Some of these questions may seem very personal, but don't take offense. Caring breeders are attached to their cats, and want to make sure their special kids go to loving, responsible homes. In fact, a breeder who seems eager to sell to just anybody may be a bad bet. If the breeder isn't concerned about finding good homes for the kittens, how much care do you think he or she put into breeding the kittens in the first place?
Expect the breeder to ask questions about your lifestyle. For example, he or she may ask whether you will be away from home a great deal, whether you have young children, your housing situation, whether you own or rent, and if you're willing to keep the cat indoors (many breeders require this as a condition of sale). The breeder may ask what you will feed the kitten, and your views on declawing and spaying and neutering. The breeder may want to know what you would do if you couldn't keep the cat any longer. He or she may ask how much you know about the breed, and whether you're aware of the grooming and care commitment the breed requires. The breeder may ask if you've owned cats before, and what happened to them.
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:
- Active, playful and well-socialized; kitten should not appear fearful
- Bright eyes, with no discharge of any sort
- No nasal discharge
- Clean ears and skin
- Pink gums and correctly aligned teeth
- Well-proportioned body
- Shiny coat
- 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.