Breeding Healthy Cats

Here at Practicalcats, the health and wellbeing of our cats is just as important as the temperament and socialization. We know that most of our kittens are going to go off to become people’s beloved pets (or breeders’ beloved pets) and creating the healthiest kittens possible is extremely important to us.

What do we do to keep our cattery as healthy as possible?

Quarantine

All new cats in the household are quarantined until they have been given a full physical examination by a veterinarian. This examination includes a fecal exam for any parasites, including a Giardia snap test. All cats are free from parasites (including Giardia) before they’re introduced to anyone else in the household.

All cats who have close contact with other cats (for example, breeding cats) are also quarantined and tested.

All new cats that do not come from FeLV/FIV free catteries are tested.

Health Testing

All of the cats in the household are in the process of being tested for Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA). PRA is a disease that causes vision loss and eventually blindness at a young age, and is a simple recessive that is easy to avoid if you know the status of your cats. Most breeders in Europe are testing for this currently.

Diet

The most important thing you can do for any pet is feed them correctly. All of our cats eat high quality food. We highly recommend Fromm and feed that to our breeding cats, as well as wean our kittens onto their diets. All kittens will be provided with a free bag of food and a coupon towards their next bag.

Should you not be able to afford or not be able to find Fromm, we’re happy to discuss good diets for cats. At minimum, a healthy diet for an obligate carnivore should be meat heavy and grain light, and should not include wheat, corn, or soy, all of which are usually used to raise the tested protein levels of the food while not providing much actual protein to the cats.

If your cat needs a veterinary diet for whatever reason (allergies, urinary tract health/crystals, kidney issues), try to find Rayne Clinical Nutrition Diets or ask your veterinarian to order them for you.

Healthy Weight

We keep all of the cats in our household at as close to ideal weight as possible. Pregnant queens are allowed and encouraged to put on a little bit more to give them some resources to get through the strain of delivery and lactation. This is often a challenge, as intact males burn through calories very quickly, and altered cats tend to become overweight very quickly.

Meal Feeding

Every single cat in our household is fed either separately or in groups of no more than three, and food is not available 24/7 save for young kittens and late stage pregnant or lactating queens. Meal feeding the cats means that we know each and every day how the appetites of each of the cats in the household is, and we can catch things like a cat going off their food even a little very, very quickly. By doing that, we can fix little problems before they become big ones, including things like a cat beginning to gain weight or lose weight.

Exercise

You know how your doctor says that diet and exercise are important? Turns out it’s true for our cats too. Orientals are naturally very energetic cats, and mostly, we just get out of the way and let them run. Some things we do to encourage even more of that are letting as many cats as possible free range in our large house (stairs are great for running), encouraging interactive play with people, and making sure those who have to be separated for whatever reason still have large, enriched enclosures with things to jump on and play with and move around, and if at all possible, also a friend to entertain them and keep them company.

Hygiene

Cleanliness and general good hygiene is vitally important to cats in general, and even more so for breeding cats. We use easily disposable litter (wood pellets) and sanitize and clean litter boxes regularly, as well as having a household with minimal carpeting to keep things cleaner.

For general disinfection, we use either a steam cleaner or Pet Focus disinfectant to keep things clean.

Training and Basic Care

We try to keep the numbers of cats in our household down as low as possible while still having the right mix for breeding (and our beloved pets). One of the reasons for this is to prevent stress between cats, which can contribute to illness.

The other reason for this is so that we can keep up on the training and basic care of the cats, which includes regular nail trimming (usually every week to two weeks depending on the cat) and regular teeth brushing and overall inspections.

Frequent and Short Breeding Lives

Before the days of spay and neuter, female cats bred on every heat. Their bodies are biologically set up to have frequent pregnancies, and not breeding them will cause changes in the uterus (such as cysts) and increase the risk of life threatening uterine infections (pyometra).

Also, every time you breed a female cat, you are risking her life. It’s not a huge risk, but it is a risk, and it’s not one we take lightly.

Male cats don’t have the same physical risks as females, but being an intact male is a very stressful life, with a phenomenal number of urges that living in a household don’t truly allow.

For these reasons, we try very hard to let our females have litters as frequently as they can do so safely (every four to six months, assuming the queen is in good shape and recovered from her previous litters), and that she is spayed as early as is possible. Preferably, we’d like all our girls to be retired breeders by the age of three or four, and absolutely no later than five.

Boys will usually be altered by no later than three years old, often younger.

And because we don’t want to overcrowd the house, and because our busy, cat-filled household isn’t the ideal retirement home for a lot of cats, most of our breeding cats will be retired into pet homes (or show homes — show alters are the best!) to live out their lives as beloved pets.

What do we do to produce the healthiest kittens we can?

Other than breed from healthy parents (which matters immensely), we also keep a close eye on our kittens.

We strongly encourage new owners to keep us up to date on anything that may happen to the kittens so that we can learn and grow as breeders.

All kittens are examined and vaccinated by a veterinarian before going to their new homes. Many breeders will give vaccines themselves, which does save quite a bit of money, but we like to have someone else look over our kittens, check their hearts and lungs and general body condition, and verify for us that we’re seeing the same things.

And last but not least, we highly recommend that pet kittens are not altered until at least 7 or 8 months old. Our agreement with our new pet owners are that kittens must be altered by 1 year of age. There’s a lot of research coming out these days that says that the early-age altering can cause issues, including delayed growth plate closure, and even more importantly, smaller than normal genitalia in cats. Why is that important? Because male cats already have a very small, very narrow urethra that can be easily blocked by any sort of crystals in the urine, which is a life threatening emergency.

Unscientifically, we’ve also found that it’s easier to keep altered cats at a healthy weight if they’re spayed or neutered later rather than earlier.

Why do we not suggest waiting until later even? Because like most things in life, this isn’t cut or dried.

Male cats generally begin a serious interest in the opposite sex around 10 or 11 months, at which point they can start spraying to mark their territory, showing aggression towards other (particularly male) cats in the household, and showing off the manly baritone that they’re known for. None of these are pleasant things to deal with, nor are they something we’d want our pet owners to deal with. Frankly, it’s not even something we particularly love to deal with. 🙂

Female cats can start going into heat as early as four months (though six to eight is more common) and a female cat in heat is also challenging to deal with. In addition to that, a female cat who goes into heat frequently and is not mated risks a uterine infection called pyometra, which is also a life threatening emergency.

To be perfectly frank, altering all the kittens before they go home would be better for us and better for our cattery… but it wouldn’t be better for the kittens, and that’s what matters the most to us.

All of this is hugely time consuming and all of it is quite expensive. The prices of our kittens are set by common market value, not by what we’d need to make a profit. I try very hard not to calculate how much I’d have to charge to make a profit on kittens (it’s likely in the five digit per kitten range if you calculate in our time). That isn’t why we’re doing this.

We’re doing this to keep our cats healthy and to keep your future cats healthy. We’re doing it because it is what we believe is best for our cats and our cattery.