At a glance
A reputable cat breeder will be:
Every day there is a new story in the news about the purchase of a cat or dog going wrong, due to sickness or the death of an animal or being ripped off. Purebred cats and dogs can cost several thousand dollars, which can be an attractive prospect to the ill-informed or the unethical, but when a breeder does tick all of the boxes and breed ethically, it is far from a money-making scheme, but it is rewarding, which is why they do it.
What is the difference between a registered breeder, a backyard breeder and a kitten (or puppy) mill?
- A registered cat breeder is registered with a cat association (also known as a cat council) such as the Cat Fanciers Association, The International Cat Association and must abide by their code of ethics. They only breed with registered purebred cats and breed to the breed standard. A registered cat breeder has a prefix, which is the registered name of their cattery, for example, Julan Burmese. The pedigree of kittens produced will carry the breeder prefix, such as Julan Blue Surprise, Julan Chocolate Dream, Julan Brown Delight, most cats are only known by those names for breeding/showing purposes, and have a ‘pet’ name when they’re sold, or at home with the breeder. Our Burmese kitten from many years ago had the pedigree name Bajimbi Blu Jacklyn, but her pet name was Misha, which is what we called her.
- A backyard breeder is not registered with a cat council, and may or may not use purebred cats. They do not breed to the breed standard. As they are not registered, they cannot provide pedigree papers for kittens produced. Kittens are typically (but not always) produced on a small scale.
- A kitten or puppy mill produces animals en-mass in cramped conditions. Animals are not pets, they are kept to produce litter after little with very little quality of life.
What to look for in an ethical cat breeder
Registered with a cat association:
Find out if the breeder is registered, who they are registered with and what their prefix is. Most cat associations list breeders on their website, if you cannot find a listing, contact the association to check the breeder is registered with them.
Once you have their name and prefix, use a search engine (Google, Bing etc) and search for them. For example Julia Wilson, Julan Burmese (NB: I am not a cat breeder, this is a made-up prefix using a combination of mine and my husband’s names). See what information there is and if they have any reviews (always read the reviews to see what people are saying). Check to see if they have a Facebook page and what people are saying on their page.
Raises litters underfoot:
Most registered breeders produce litters on a small scale, which means each litter gets plenty of human interaction. As a rule, I prefer to buy from kittens who are raised underfoot, which means they grow up inside the home of the breeder instead of in an outside cattery. Breeders who have large numbers of cats may have to raise kittens in a cattery to keep cats separate and to maintain adequate hygiene, however, if the breeder only produces a small number of kittens, it should not be an issue to raise kittens underfoot.
Follows the breed standard:
Every cat breed has a standard of points (also known as a breed standard), to ensure that animals produced conform to the specifics of the breed. Not all kittens produced will conform to the exact standard, they may have a slight ‘fault’, such as a kink at the end of their tail, or a white locket on a solid cat, which have no impact on the cat’s health. These kittens are sold as ‘pet quality’, while most (not necessarily all) show/breeding quality kittens are retained or sold to onto other breeding programmes.
If you do want to show or breed your kitten, let the breeder know ahead of time. Most breeders will not sell kittens for breeding unless you are a registered breeder, but many are happy to sell a kitten to show.
Screens for genetic diseases:
Some breeds have a higher risk of inherited diseases than others, but thankfully there are tests to evaluate cats for genetic disease and remove them from the breeding programme. Once you have decided what breed of cat you are interested in, do your homework to find out if they have an increased risk of any diseases? A reputable breeder will screen cats to ensure only healthy cats are used.
A reputable cat breeder will often have a waiting list until a kitten is available, this will require a deposit and patience.
How a cat breeder will screen you
Be wary of a breeder who tries to rush you into a purchase and doesn’t ask any questions. Most breeders will want to know about you, your family and your set-up before they allow you to take one of their kittens or cats home.
- Have you ever had a cat before? What happened to it?
- Do you currently have any pets? What kind of animal and how many?
- Do you work? How many hours a day are you out of the house?
- Do you have any children? How many and what are their ages?
- Does anybody in your house have allergies to cats?
- What made you choose this breed and have you had one before?
- Will the cat be indoors only or allowed outside?
Sometimes it can feel intrusive, but they are doing it to ensure that kittens they breed go to good homes.
Questions to ask the breeder
- What is your prefix and which cat association are you registered with?
- How long have you been breeding?
- How many breeds do you produce each year?
- Do you perform screening tests for genetic disease?
- Does the kitten come with a health guarantee and how long for?
- Will I receive the kitten’s pedigree papers?
- How many vaccinations will the kitten have had?
- Will the kitten be desexed? Most breeders desex kittens before them leaving for their new home
- Can they provide any references from previous buyers?
- Will they be happy to answer questions once you have adopted the kitten?
Always leave a paper trail so that you have a record of everything that has been said and promised.
Visit the breeder
I understand this is hard during the COVID crisis, but if possible, visit the breeder and meet their cats. It’s a good way to see their set up, is the place clean, how many cats they have, do they appear to be in good health and assess the parents and kittens.
Sometimes it may not be possible to visit the breeder if they are in another state or country. In this case, the breeder should use a reputable pet transport company. If they want to meet you in a petrol station or side of the road, or a cafe, this should ring major alarm bells.
All breeders should guarantee the health of the kitten, the timeframe can range from 2 days to 30 days or more. This doesn’t cover accidents in your home but should cover undetected genetic diseases and preventable infectious disease (which the kitten should have been vaccinated for) in the first few days.
Beware of cat breeder scams
Cat breeder scams are frequent. Here is how a woman in Richmond, VA was scammed: she was excited to adopt ragdoll kittens to raise with her family. After some brief research, she found a breeder online who claimed to have kittens available right away. Their website seemed legit and she agreed to send him a deposit via a money transfer app.
Two weeks later, she still had no kittens. Instead, the “cat breeder” offered to ship the kittens to her for an extra fee. After more investigation, it became obvious that the breeder was a scam. When asked, he could never produce any photos of the kittens together, and the photos on his website were stolen from another breeder. He had also given her the address of a house that was currently up for sale.
This situation happens often, unfortunately, with excited to-be pet parents who don’t perform the necessary research beforehand. To avoid devastating scams like this one, always make sure you work with a reputable breeder. A reputable cat breeder will let you meet the parents and kittens, and they will have their own screener questions for you to make sure you’re a good fit for their kitten. Because these breeders produce litters on a small scale, they will likely have a waiting list.
Even though it’s tempting to go with the cheapest available breeder or one that promises to give you kittens immediately, a good breeder is worth waiting for.
Reverse image search photos
If the breeder has photos of their cats on a website, run a reverse image search to make sure the images are unique and not stock photos. The easiest way to do this is to hover the mouse over the image, and right-click, select ‘save image as’. Save to your desktop. Visit tineye.com and upload the photo, this will show you if the image is elsewhere on the Internet.
Where to find a cat breeder
The best places to find a registered cat breeder are through a cat association or by visiting shows. I recommend anybody who is considering adopting a purebred cat visit shows to meet the breed up close and chat to breeders. This is potentially a 20-year commitment, and homework is vital.
Do not be swayed by a pretty website, anybody with the skills or the money to pay a designer can throw together a website with pretty images. Research, research, and research.
Scammers are everywhere, some don’t have a kitten to sell but will try to reel you in and take your money. Others will sell you a kitten, but it is in poor health, or worse. Vet bills pile up quickly, but because you are emotionally invested (and why wouldn’t you be?), you pay them because you have bonded with the kitten and want to do the right thing. Meanwhile, the breeder has stopped responding to you. If they are registered, and you have everything in writing, you at least have some comeback. Avoiding these issues is always preferable.
My own story
A few years ago I purchased a beautiful Oriental kitten, I had met his breeder at the show and she was lovely. Two weeks after we adopted him he died suddenly. The vet said it was hemolytic anemia and I suspected he’d eaten something he shouldn’t have, he was very obsessed with food and had once jumped into a bin after our scraps. I didn’t contact the breeder, as she had done nothing wrong.
Because some people in the local cat fancy know me through Cat-World, the breeder heard we had lost Shadow and asked me to contact her. She wanted to give me another kitten, I said that was not necessary, as it was not anything she had or hadn’t done, but she insisted. Two weeks later I picked up Monty our chocolate Oriental who is still with us now. I have never forgotten her kindness, and Monty’s arrival could never replace Shadow, but it helped to heal our broken hearts. I still believe she went above and beyond, but deeply appreciate that she did.
What Do Cat Breeders Do?
Cat breeders do more than simply mate their cats. They work to improve their chosen breed by ethically mating purebred cats, providing all the necessary health care and genetic tests, and screening for the best potential homes for all of their kittens. Cat breeders are registered with one of the cat councils. These governing bodies regulate the standards of specific breeds, and they provide a code of ethics that everyone who’s a registered part of their organization has to adhere to.
What Else Should You Know Before Buying a Kitten from a Breeder?
Getting a kitten from a breeder is a long-term commitment for the life of the cat, so you need to consider the decision carefully before you decide if it’s right for you. Before you buy a kitten, do these things:
- Decide if getting a cat is right for you and if you can afford it. According to the ASPCA, you can plan to spend around $634 annually on your cat. DailyPaws estimate it could cost as much as $31,000 over the lifetime of the cat. Do you have the time, budget, and love to dedicate to your cat for the entirety of their life?
- Talk to several breeders or owners about the breed you want to get. Some cat breeds will require extra care to maintain their health and happiness, such as long-haired breeds that will require frequent grooming.
- Research how to care for your cat breed. Make sure you understand all of their grooming, dietary, and healthcare needs to give them the longest, happiest life possible.
- Research potential cat breeders. Not every cat breeder is created equally, and you need to do your homework to find a reputable, registered breeder that works with your desired breed.
How Old is a New Kitten When Adopted from the Cat Breeder?
Kittens should never be separated from the mothers before 10 weeks of age, and some breeders even prefer to wait until 14-16 weeks to make sure the kitten is properly socialized and ready to be adopted.
If you contact a breeder that wants to sell you a kitten before 10 weeks, they are not a reputable breeder, and you should not work with them.