Before you decide to breed your cat, ask yourself several questions.
The first is are you sure you will find good homes for the kittens? Except for the most sought-after purebred cats, permanent good homes are difficult to find. There is an extraordinary excess of cats (and dogs) in this country.
More than twenty-seven million cats and dogs are impounded annually and more than seventeen million are killed every year. Most animals entering animal shelters and pounds are killed. These are not just cats who have strayed from home; many are pets that have been taken to the pound by owners who know that they will almost certainly be destroyed. They include cats given as unwanted gifts, cute Christmas kittens who have grown into adults and have lost their cuddly charm, cats bought on impluse from pet shop windows, and whole litters intentionally and unintentionally produced for which homes could not be found. Statistics don’t include those hundreds of animals who die following abandonment or straying before reaching a shelter or pound, or those killed by humans maliciously or when homes for them could not be found.
If you are not sure that your kittens won’t end up in a pound or pet shop, and if you are not willing to provide a good home for kittens you can’t place in other homes, do not allow your cat to reproduce.
DECIDING TO BREED
Do you have a good place to keep kittens and are you willing to care for them if the mother can’t? Even the smallest apartment is usually suitable for raising a litter of kittens since a mother and kittens take up little space, and the mother usually cares for them, at least until around four weeks of age when the kittens begin to consume solid food. But what if the female refuses to care for the kittens or is unable to care for them? Are you ready to assume the responsibility and devote many hours of your time? And what if the mother has difficulty at the time of delivery? You must be willing and able to pay veterinary expenses—perhaps for a cesarean delivery—if real difficulties occur.
Why do you want to breed your cat? Almost everyone is awed by birth and hardly anyone can resist the charm of a kitten, but the cat population cannot afford another litter bred solely so that your children or you can watch the birth. If this is the only reason for breeding, it might be best to make arrangements with a dairy, horse farm, or established cattery to watch a birth, or to take advantage of films and books available on animal reproduction. If you are breeding for profit, you will find that it can be a full- time business to produce quality purebred cats, care for them properly, and still make a profit. Many purebred breeders raise cats as a hobby because they know they are likely to break even at best or even take a financial loss.
If you are breeding so the female can “have the experience of being a mother” or so she will “calm down” you are being too anthropomorphic and possibly falling prey to old wives’ tales. Cats can’t anticipate the experience of having kittens; a few will even neglect their litters to be with their owners. The fact that breeding has no permanent effect on personality has already been discussed. Until the pet cat population reaches a more manageable size, these fascinating and beautiful creatures will continue to experience mistreatment and neglect.
Everyone, purebred breeders and pet owners alike, should think very seriously before deciding to let males or females breed and produce even a single litter.
If you decide that it is reasonable to breed your cat you need additional information. Only outstanding individuals should be selected for breeding. Both temperament and health should be given equal consideration, and if either is lacking, reproduction should not be permitted. In general terms, no animal affected with an heritable disease or whose littermate or parent is affected should be allowed to reproduce.
Many physical abnormalities of cats including forms of retinal atrophy, deafness, patellar luxation (kneecap dislocation), head and facial abnormalities, and heart and kidney defects are genetically influenced diseases and can be elimated by appropriate selection of toms and queens. Genetic selection against shy, nervous cats is also possible.
Genetically influenced problems cause unnecessary and extraordinary suffering for pets and expense for their owners. For more information on how to avoid them, consult: Foley, C.W., J.F. Lasley, and G.D. Osweiter, Abnormalities of Companion Animals: Analysis of Heritability, lowa State University Press, Ames, lowa, 1979; and Robinson, Roy, Genetics for Cat Breeders, 3rd ed., Pergamon Press, New York, 1991.
Before a female is bred, she should be vaccinated against infectious diseases. She should also test negative for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus. Live vaccines should not be given during pregnancy (killed type can be given to a pregnant animal), but the female should be fully protected before breeding so she can pass on a protective level of antibodies to her kittens in the colostrum (first milk). Take a fecal sample to a veterinarian for examination to be sure that a female to be bred is free from intestinal parasites that compete with her for nutrients. It is best to avoid breeding most queens on the first heat unless they are definitely full grown.
Generally, this means waiting until the cat is at least one year old so she won’t have to try to get enough nutrients to meet both her growth requirements and those of pregnancy. No special feeding is necessary before breeding, assuming your cat is already on a balanced diet, but avoid breeding obese females because they will have more difficulties at delivery. If your cat is over five years old at the time you first consider breeding (most unusual for a cat), definitely consider preventing pregnancy. The incidence of difficult births is much higher in animals first delivering in their later years.
The ideal way to insure that breeding will occur is to take the estrus female to the male’s home and let breeding occur at will. “Emotional” factors play an important role in determining whether or not a male cat will breed. Often breeding will not occur in an environment unfamiliar to the male; therefore, it is best to take the female to the male. If the male must be brought into the female’s home, keep in mind that it may take several days or even several weeks until the male will readily mate, and allow for this when planning breeding schedules. Planning ahead is also important to allow adequate time to test the male cat for parasites and other transmissible diseases before allowing him to meet the queen. To help insure conception, queens should be bred within the first four days of estrus and allowed to copulate at least four times to help insure ovulation.
Even when the male feels comfortable and the female is in heat, breeding sometimes will not occur. Female cats in estrus do show preferences for certain males and will sometimes reject one male while readily accepting another. (Males will also occasionally reject estrus queens, but this is uncommon.)
When placed together, a receptive female and an interested tom will often sniff one another’s noses, and the female will rub against the male or roll on the ground. The male moves toward the female’s back and grabs the skin at the nape of her neck with his teeth. At this time the female will begin treading with her hindlegs, move her tail to one side, and strongly curve her back downward and her pelvis upward.
The male slips over the female’s back and then moves backward until genital contact occurs. This is followed by several strong and rapid pelvic thrusts resulting in intromission, quickly followed by ejaculation. Within five to ten seconds after actual breeding has occurred the female usually emits a loud, sharp cry, and the male rapidly dismounts and springs away to avoid being scratched by the female. The female usually licks her vulva, then rolls and rubs on the ground (the after reaction). If the cats are left together, this series of events may be repeated three to five (or sometimes more) times in an hour.
The female may lose her receptivity to the male (willingness to breed) as early as twelve hours following mating, but, on the average, ovulation occurs twenty-seven hours following breeding. A return to the nonreceptive state follows ovulation. After breeding, be sure to confine your cat until you are sure receptivity has passed. If another male is accepted and breeding occurs again before all the ova have been fertilized by the desired father, the litter could have more than a single father.