There are about 40 breeds of cats, and you’ve done your homework and found the one with just the right personality and energy level for you. Now, how do you find a good breeder so you can be sure your new kitten is healthy and well adjusted? We asked Allene Tartaglia, executive director of the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA.org), the world’s largest registry of pedigree cats, for some tips.
Q: There are ads for kittens in the newspaper, on the Internet, and, of course, there are those adorable kittens in the pet stores. Where should I buy my new kitten?
A: Ideally you want to buy your new pedigree kitten directly from a breeder. Of course, that could be through the Internet, through the newspaper, or by meeting breeders at cat shows. We generally steer people away from pet stores because there’s not a lot of human interaction in pet stores. You don’t meet the breeder, you don’t know where the kitten came from, how long it’s been there, anything like that.
Q: How old should my kitten be when I bring them home?
A: Most breeders will keep kittens until they’re 4 months old. That’s when they’re more socialized. Kittens socialize slower than puppies and they need that time with their mother and their littermates. They also have most of their shots by then. Some breeds do mature a bit faster than others, but generally it’s between 3-4 months.
Q: Do purebred cats have more health problems than mixed-breed cats?
A: Not really. In fact, breeders know if there are any health problems in their line and then they breed to avoid that. Breeders will get DNA testing of the parents and the kittens. It’s kind of a tradeoff. A kitten you get from a shelter may pick up an upper respiratory illness from all the other cats there. But if you’re looking at the genetic end of it, the gene pool is much larger with what we call random bred cats.
Q: Will someone who breeds cats to show sell me a kitten if I don’t want to show it?
A: Absolutely. They will require you to neuter or spay the kitten, but they will sell you a kitten. The whole idea behind breeding is you’re breeding to a standard. And certainly, a high percentage of the kittens that are bred are not going to be perfect specimens of that breed, so breeders are happy to sell them as pets.
Q: What questions should I ask to determine if someone is a good breeder?
A: How long have they been breeding? Do they show their cats? Do their cats have any titles? What breeds do they work with? Good breeders may not show all the time, but they’re still concerned with improving the breed and that’s what they’re breeding for, not just to sell kittens.
Q: Should I go to the breeder’s home to see the kittens? And what should I look for when I get there to be sure the kittens are healthy?
A: Today’s environment has changed a lot and many breeders are hesitant to have someone come to their home. Also, because of the Internet, more and more people are purchasing kittens from longer distances, so it may not be possible to go to a breeder’s home.
But if you can, you should look for a clean home and well cared for cats with no runny eyes or noses. They shouldn’t be sneezing a lot or lethargic. They shouldn’t look sick. There may be an odor, because there’s more cat food in a cattery than a home, and whole, male breeding cats do spray, and that’s a very tough odor to control.
Q: How can I tell if the kitten I like has been socialized correctly?
A: They should have no fear of a person. They may not run up to you like a puppy, but they should certainly seem interested. They should be active. You don’t want a kitten that’s lethargic and just lying there. Most kittens are very playful, regardless of the breed.
Q: How do I choose the kitten with the best personality?
A: People need to think ahead of time what kind of cat they want in their household. One thing you get with pedigree cats that you probably won’t get with random bred cats is a predictable personality and temperament. So if I want a really active cat, I might want an Abyssinian. But an Abyssinian may not be draping itself over me like a lap cat. So if you want a cat that will be with you all the time, then you might look at the Burmese or the Persian, which is a very calm, mellow cat.
There are a lot of breeds that are good for children. The best thing is to ask the breeders if their cats are good with children. The breeder will know which kittens are better with children or dogs. Breeders also can tell you if a cat would prefer to be an only cat. They know the personalities of their cats and kittens.
It’s also not uncommon for a breeder to suggest that someone take a second kitten or cat, and it’s not because they’re looking to make more money. It’s because cats need to interact, they need someone to play with and keep them company, especially if the owner is working all day. Sometimes the breeder will have an adult cat that they’re looking to place that might be a perfect second cat to go with the kitten.
Q: Will most breeders give me a health guarantee and agree to take the cat back if I can’t keep it?
A: Most breeders will give you a health guarantee. And most will gladly take a cat back, rather than have the cat given away or, even worse, taken to a shelter if something isn’t working out.
Q: The breeder is asking me a lot of questions. Why do they want to know all this information? Don’t they just want to sell kittens?
A: The more questions the breeder asks the purchaser, the better. They should want to know if there are other animals in the household, if there are children, if you have a home or an apartment. It shows they are concerned about the type of home their kitten is going to. They want to be sure it’s going to the right home. That will lessen the chance of the kitten being returned. To many good breeders, placing a kitten is like placing a child.
If the breeder doesn’t ask any questions, if they just want to make a quick sale, I would stay away from that breeder.