The Non-Profit Business of Breeding Cats
By Dr. Liz (Hansen) Brown
People see that pedigreed, pet kittens are sold for $1000 or more and assume that breeders must be making a profit. It's hard to understand how expensive breeding is without actually trying it. Reputable breeders will NEVER make money, this is a hobby.
I hope this outline will provide insight to pet owners who question prices & profits of breeders.
I. GETTING STARTED
When one decides they want to breed, they will usually have been the owner and exhibitor of a show alter (pet) - this is the recommended way to find reputable breeders who would consider then selling you a breeding cat. I began breeding after 2+ years of showing, networking and learning about Maine Coon Cats. I’ve found this experience essential to have reputable breeders willing to work with you. Many people buy and show an alter from a local breeder, develop the desire to breed and that same breeder then becomes their mentor and possibly supplier of the first breeding cat. Not a necessity, but typically the case. The same applies to finding a stud (stud service see expense #4).
*Many new breeders who elect NOT to go this route end up purchasing their breeding stock from outside of the US from unknown breeders and this adds on another layer of concern and more money. Contact me if you'd like more specifics about that.
Expense #1: one year of prior networking (showing minimum $3000 and purchasing at least one spayed/neutered pet kitten to show at a minimum $1500). To purchase at least one very good female kitten with breeding rights from an established breeder, the prior networking is essential. Reputable breeders will not sell a cat with breeding rights to someone new to the world of pedigree cats. So after time is spent showing an alter, finding a female (queen) who is registered and has an excellent pedigree can still be a task. In addition, the queen needs to be an outstanding example of her breed, absolutely sound, cosmetically much better than pet quality and come from a breeder who does all of the required testing (both DNA and beyond). Outstanding examples of the breed don't grow on trees and so the price of a breeding queen is much higher than a pet quality kitten.
Additionally, most breeders require that this girl be shown to the status of at least a Champion. To get to this point, the cat will need to be shown at a minimum of a few times as a kitten, so it will be acclimated to the showing experience, and then as an adult. If you are lucky, you can find a local cat show, where hotel accommodations are not needed, will still run approximately $200 per weekend for an entry or two. If you have to travel to show, you can expect to pay at least $400-$500 (if you can drive to the show or double that if you have to fly).
Expense #2: one female kitten with breeding rights & shown to a title $2000 & up. Every time a breeder buys a new kitten or cat for breeding s/he must make certain that cat is healthy and won't transmit any diseases, parasites, or genetic defects to the kittens (or to other cats already living in the home). The veterinary testing includes a physical exam, stool exam for parasites, and blood tests (FIV, feline leukemia). When you start with a kitten, that baby will need its annual vaccinations, at least rabies, in addition to the testing. I prefer to DNA test all cats in my breeding program so as to have documentation for new owners (and not the paperwork from several generations away). This can cost $120 and up per cat. Additionally, if the breeder hasn’t done so, I microchip all of my cats.
Expense #3: Initial veterinary health screening, PCR Feline Upper Respiratory panel, PCR diarrhea panel, micro-chipping & DNA testing about $550 of a new cat.
Expense #4: male (stud) cat, $2500 & up plus showing expenses. It's MORE expensive and much more work to keep your own stud, so this cost is assuming you can find a good stud to use & pay a stud service for one litter.
The new breeder must purchase an excellent stud and build him stud quarters or he/she must locate a breeder with an excellent stud who is willing to provide stud service (easier if you are known through showing and doing the "right" things as mentioned above - if not, most established breeders won't consider offering you stud service). A responsible stud owner will want to protect her stud from possible exposure to disease. Therefore, even though you had a thorough vet exam of your queen when you first bought her, you will probably be asked to repeat at least the blood tests and show the test results to the stud owner prior to each and every breeding. Also, most stud owners will ask that the queen come to the male’s home for breeding. That means travel, driving or flying, food for the cats, etc….
Owning a stud outright not only costs the initial expense of the purchase price, typically a minimum of $2000 (plus the vet care, etc…as with a female), but most breeders want their male cats to be shown to the title of Grand Champion or higher. To do this takes even more shows, which means more expense. And if the title wasn’t a requirement, the only way other breeders would want to use your male (which could provide some inflow of money), is if he’s known on the show circuit. That cost would be two to three times as great as it was for a female. And most important, the upkeep of a stud male is also much greater than a female.
Expense #5: registration fees, at least $155 the first year and at least $65 per year thereafter.
The breeder must pay to register their cattery name with at least one cat association ($50 for CFA and $50 to TICA), must register their new breeding queen ($15), and must register each litter produced ($10to each association). There will be at least one litter per year and at least one kitten kept and registered per year thereafter. In TICA, there are also membership dues to belong to a breed group. This cost is $35/year.
Expense #6: reference books/classes, about $500 the first year and at least $25 per year thereafter.
The breeder must buy two or three textbook type reference books to help her learn what she needs to know about making breeding decisions, veterinary screening, genetic screening, rearing kittens, caring for females in heat, caring for pregnant and lactating females, common feline diseases, feline nutrition, and much more. Visiting the library is not sufficient because the library is unlikely to have books that are up-to-date on feline husbandry - or may not have books on that topic at all.
I also participated in Cornell’s Feline Genetics Course, on-line, $375.
Expense #7: kitten rearing equipment, about $150 to $250 for first litter and at least $30 for every subsequent litter.
The breeder needs special equipment to rear litters of kittens. At a minimum, the breeder needs a heating pad safe for kittens to keep them warm ($40). Hypothermia is the leading cause of death of young kittens. Also needed are clean rags for bedding and disinfectants ($50), feeding tubes and feeding syringes for weak or sick kittens ($25), KMR kitten formula (there is a kitten who needs supplementation or who threatens to need it in almost every litter, $20), kittening box (we use a $200 show shelter opened up within our bedroom), at least two small litter pans for kittens ($15), an accurate scale to weigh kittens every day ($15 to $100), first aid and kitten delivery kit (latex gloves, betadine, kaopectate, millions of paper towels, eyedroppers, etc., about $50). We also use puppy piddle pads for birthing and through the first week of life. These run approximately $40/box of 100. We also use paper towels ($2/roll) during the birth.
Expense #8: advertising, breed promotion, networking, $200 per year minimum.
The breeder needs to advertise kittens, promote her cattery, promote her breed, and network with other breeders. Advertising of kittens can be done various ways, but will cost an absolute minimum of $100 per year if you are very lucky. Most catteries now have as their primary form of advertisement, a webpage. These can be professional or not. A professionally designed site can run upwards of $500 for the design and then $150/year for hosting. Some designers continue on to complete any updates the breeder requests (you need to list those kittens for sale, as an example). That can run $100/year on average for very limited updates.
Expense #9: forms, phone calls/email , website and other modes of communication, about $50/year.
Breed promotion and networking is not only to help the breeder advertise long-term, but to altruistically help the breed, to enhance the breeder’s education, and to provide the breeder with contacts that will help him/her achieve breeding goals far into the future. To do these things a breeder must join at least one cat association and at least one breeder's club at a cost of about $50 per year in dues.
Our primary advertising is done in person at cat shows and on our website.
The breeder must have a sales contract and other cattery forms, a cattery brochure with which to answer written inquiries, business cards, and must take photos of breeding cats and all kittens for cattery documentation, advertising, and other purposes. The breeder must make many phone calls, including long distance phone calls, as a courtesy in returning calls received from kitten clients and even those merely curious about the breed. The breeder must also do long-term follow-up on every kitten sold, telephoning new owners regularly to answer questions and nip problems in the bud. All these forms of communication come at a cost that is hard to estimate accurately, but I would say at least of $50 per year. Luckily, with the advent of the worldwide web, email saves time and money towards communication.
Expense #10: Showing, supplies and the travel associated with, a min. of $2000/year (this is if you just do a few local shows ~ we spend $20,000/year on average to show once or twice a month)
Reputable breeders can be found exhibiting their cats at (a minimum of) a few cat shows per year. Showing your cats is a tool used to verify you are producing pedigree cats that meet the breed standard, have excellent temperament and for networking with other, reputable breeders. Entering one cat into a single show, in TICA, runs at least $100. In addition, there is almost always travel involved. Driving 3-4 hours is an average distance to attend a show; therefore 1-2 gallons of gas ($50), hotel for two nights ($120) and food ($50) are the minimum expenses. Not to mention supplies such as shampoos, cages, combs, etc..
II. MAINTENANCE OF ADULT CATS
Food, litter, routine veterinary bills, and other basic maintenance costs will vary depending on the quality of the food and litter, the number of toys and special furniture items purchased for the cat(s) and more. It costs more than $500 per year to maintain one healthy adult cat - and it can average as much as $2000 per cat per year, especially as cats age.
Expense #11: Routine care for breeding cats (lets say just one queen) and a couple of pets (remember those you purchased as show alters), $500/cat/year x 4 cats = $2000
III. THE COSTS PER LITTER
Expense #12: Essential Veterinarian Care/Assessment, $700 per girl prior to breeding
Even once you have the kittening equipment and other overhead expenses taken care of, there are additional costs incurred per litter. They include:
Queen must be vaccinated right before she is bred or in some cases during the pregnancy. That's at least $50. In addition, our breeding cats are screened for HCM (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy) & HD (Hip Dysplasia). The HCM screening is done annually, at $300. The screening for HD is done at least once in the cat’s breeding career at runs $200. And today, DNA tests are becoming available for some genetic diseases. Those run $100 per cat.
Expense #13: Feeding the queen, $147 per litter
A Queen will eat up to twice as much as usual during her pregnancy and up to three times as much as usual while she is nursing the kittens. She needs special premium quality food that is approved for pregnancy and lactation. That is two 6-ounce cans per day for 9 weeks of pregnancy and 3 cans per day for at least 8 weeks of lactation. Each can costs about $1.50 for premium food, so that is 63 days X $3 + 56 days X $4.50= $441. We also feed raw and offer some dry food. Those typically double that cost, per cat, so $882 to feed one female.
Expense #14: Formula, $30
Kittens can die within hours if they don't get enough to eat because of a feeding problem. So you need to keep emergency formula, feeding tubes, and feeding syringes on hand. The formula needs to be purchased fresh nearly every time you have a litter, so that's $30 per litter. We use fresh goat's milk, mayo, eggs, gelatin, Pedialyte and yogurt to make our own.
Expense #15: Total food for kittens is $560 (canned) + $135 (dry) + $168 (raw) = $863
The kittens will begin to eat solid food at age 4-6 weeks and will be eating almost entirely solid food at age 8 weeks. At age 8 weeks, each kitten eats about two 3-ounce cans per day of premium food rated for growing kittens and will eat perhaps 1/8 cup of dry premium kitten food each day & 1/4 cup of raw. What they don't eat, they spill soil, scatter, or play with until it must be discarded. The kittens will stay with the breeder usually until age 12 weeks - and sometimes for much longer. So that's a minimum of 4 cans X 4 weeks X $1 per can = $112 x 5 kittens. Then the dry food adds up to 1/8 cup X 5 kittens X 55 days = 34.4 cups. So that's about three 8-lbs bag of premium kitten food per litter, at $45.00 each. We also feed raw and find that kittens eat the most of this from ages 4 weeks through 12-14 weeks of being with us. They go through, on average, 1 lb per day as a litter. That's 1 lb x 7 days x 8 weeks x $3/lb = $168.
Expense #16: For our average litter, of five, vaccinations & the basics can run as low as $225 (breeder providing) or as high as $325 (if the vet is providing them).
The kittens will require two vaccinations: one at age 9 weeks and a final at 12 weeks. Those cost $10 each if the we do them or $20 each if the vet does it. So that's five kittens X 2 vaccinations X $10 per vacc = $100, or alternatively it is $200 if the vet does them. Also done, flea treatments ($15/kitten) and deworming ($10/kitten).
Expense #17: Spay/neuter kittens prior to placement, $750
Some breeders spay/neuter each kitten prior to adoption. This averages $125.00 per kitten X five kittens = $750.
Expense #18: A vet visit for a minor problem with a kitten, $50 (this is for the exam ONLY done during regular hours)
In virtually all litters there is at least one kitten who during his 12 weeks living with the breeder requires veterinary attention due to an umbilical infection, failure to thrive normally, getting poked in the eye, falling off a table the wrong way, developing an upper respiratory infection, developing a minor eye infection during the period when the eyes are starting to open, needing a re-examination after neutering, being born with a minor birth defect, developing a mysterious limp, swallowing a foreign object, or many other possible calamities. Kittens are like small human children. They have a talent for getting themselves into scrapes or picking up bugs. The veterinary costs typically vary from a $35 exam (to be on the safe side) to $1000 emergency surgery or treatment (off-hours).
Expense #19: Possible C-section, minimum $500
Occasionally, the queen requires a C-section to deliver her kittens or may require treatment after the birth of the kittens due to diarrhea, intestinal obstruction, mastitis, hemorrhaging, uterine infection, or other complications. The costs associated with treating these problems may run up to $1000 for an emergency off-hours C-section. Also, if C-section is required up to half of the litter may die due to side effects of the anesthesia. Kittens may also be lost due to the effects of complications on the queen's milk production.
Our first litter was taken by C-section and it ran us $300 in 2003. Two of the six kittens were alive.
Expense #20: Prenatal Veterinarian Assessments $175
The queen will require at least one precautionary prenatal or prenatal veterinarian examination, $50.00. In addition to the exam, we perform an ultrasound ($125) and/or X-rays ($125) to determine pregnancy and the number of kittens. This is done for every litter we have.
Expense #21: Registration, $30
The litter must be registered and the one kitten who is kept must be individually registered with both TICA & CFA.
Expense #22: Supplies, $30
You must replenish, repair, replace some of the kittening equipment each litter (see part I), $30.
Expense #23: Vet exam, microchip, fecal test and blood test, $125 x 5 = $625.
Each of our kittens is checked by our veterinarian ($25/kitten), microchipped ($50), have at least one fecal test, $25, and tested for FIV & FeLV ($50).
IV. INCOME FROM ONE LITTER OF KITTENS
If you’re keeping track, these are the costs to get started (including acquiring and caring for alter pet(s) and a single queen for one year) and produced the FIRST litter, in best case scenario where all goes well, a C-section is NOT needed, and the breeder does her own vaccinations = $17330 (and that doesn’t even include cat litter or the possible C-section!)
If the breeder keeps one kitten and sells four, the income is 4 X $1800 = $7200
Wow…that $1800 per kitten is spent very fast… $26330 - $7200 = -$19130
That’s much less than our first year losses, since our queen developed a uterine infection during her first pregnancy, lost that entire litter, needed a C-section for the second, and we had only two kittens to sell.
**And, do remember that due to the occasional accident of nature, you may also end up with a kitten with a special health or behavioral problem, to which you must give a lifetime of love and good care or sell at a reduced cost (usually that means for free).
V. ECONOMIES OF SCALE?
Well, you say, maybe if a breeder buys more than one breeding queen and starts raising more litters per year, THEN a profit can be made. Unfortunately, it turns out that with cats the more breeding cats, the higher the cost climbs.
First of all, there won't be a best-case scenario with all the litters produced by every cat; breeders are usually more in debt from some cats than others. A percentage of the breeding cats purchased will also turn out to be not able to be bred, die unexpectedly, develop pyometra or have their reproductive lives cut short.
As the number of cats climbs beyond one or two, it becomes nearly impossible to continue using stud service. Multiple queens can't ALL be shipped long distances on a regular basis. Also, the stud service provider may be unable to offer the stud services needed when the queens are in season. They have cats of their own which need breeding.
So a stud is purchased. That means special stud housing that will cost at least several hundred dollars in materials and several hundred more in equipment (e.g., special cleanable surfaces, cat tree(s) and other niceties for the stud house). Now the stud must be maintained year-round whether he is siring litters or not.
If multiple queens have been purchased, problems may arise with them all co-existing. In some cases, an unhappy cat can be confined to a room, separate from the stud quarters, or she may just need to be spayed and adopted out to keep the peace.
Usually, breeders find home remodeling a necessity. With multiple breeding cats and several litters of kittens born per year, separate rooms are needed to isolate not only a stud, but young fragile litters. Cleanable, bleachable surfaces are essential for disinfecting because having litters around all the time greatly increases the risk of infectious disease. It becomes extremely difficult to keep carpets clean in a house of multiple cats, especially with young ones underfoot all the time, and is why many breeders choose to replace the carpets with Pergo or tile or similar cleanable surface. Old furniture is also usually replaced with furniture that is easily to clean and doesn’t show wear.
Yes, it is possible to keep a home sanitary and odorless when having multiple healthy and happy breeding cats, but it requires money and time.
With multiple cats and multiple litters there will, despite the best of vaccination and quarantine systems, occasionally be epidemics. These may be minor or they may be serious, but they always mean large vet bills. It's very much like running a day-care center full of young children who succumb to every new virus and bug that's out there. A common, minor case of upper respiratory running through the house will cost at least $150 in antibiotics for everyone. Another common, yet worse, case is ringworm in a cattery. Good breeders, even with excellent sanitation in the cattery, occasionally bring infectious disease home from cat shows, the vets, etc…to properly treat ringworm, all cats in contact with the infected cat should not only be cultured, but treated over a long period of time. Proper treatment will last months (at the least) and cost thousands of dollars. Additionally, the cattery must be “closed” which means no cat or kitten can leave during the infected time. A breeder recently quoted her costs to properly treat and test at $10,000.
So why do breeders bother to breed multiple cats and litters? Because we want to keep the breed going and also hopefully improve the breed. Accomplishments are small when breeding only one cat.
And why is it worth the money? Because we love our cats more than our money (which is a good thing because after all of those expenses there isn’t much).
This essay is a modified version of Dr. Cris Bird’s essay “Where The Money You Pay for a Kitten Goes”. Dr. Bird breeds Siamese cats under the name Sarsenstone cattery and has given written permission for the editing of her essay.