Before You Breed a Persian
By Mary Baldwin
Spring is in the air, daylight hours are getting longer, and our girl cats are coming into heat...
"Hmm..maybe just ONE litter of kittens would be fun."
"We should have just ONE litter for the kids."
"I want to breed her so i can have kittens just like her."
"I just want ONE litter to make back the money i spent on buying her."
"Well, she's a purebred, papered Persian - why NOT breed her?"
These are just some of the most common statements I have heard over the years from people wanting to breed their cats. Most have just been purchased as family pets, and the idea of breeding did not enter the owner's head until they started "calling" all night long. Others were indeed good-quality cats that had been purchased for the intent and purpose of breeding -- but no research had been done prior to the purchase, and now the owners are all looking for a "quick fix" stud service for their girls.
Breeding your cat, or any companion animal for that matter, should never be a decision made in the spur of the moment. Unlike dogs, breeding your female cat is usually not just a quick afternoon trip over to the home of the stud cat. A serious breeding program -- one that ensures that the best, healthiest kittens have good, responsible homes waiting for them -- is something that takes planning, research, and time to develop.
Did you know that in the Cat Fanciers' Association alone last year, there were almost 15,000 Persian kittens registered (including Himalayans)? This does not include the thousands of kittens that were not registered but are purebred. This does not include all the Persian kittens from all the other associations, such as ACFA and TICA. This is more than all the other breeds combined! Most are not show quality, or even breed quality.
Do you really think the world needs more pets? Do you really want to contribute more pets? Many Persians end up in pounds and shelters because new owners buy from breeders that don't properly screen the new homes. Many cat lovers want Persian kittens. Really, what is cuter? However, most cat lovers should NOT own Persians. They just have no idea what is involved in the 12- to 20-year lifespan of this pet.
The grooming is a major commitment. These cats have been bred for a super heavy, thick coat. This coat does not take care of itself, and in most cases, it is far more than the cat itself can manage. This means a life time of either keeping the cat shaved down or a lifetime of constant grooming, and bathing, keeping the face clean and healthy. This is not a breed that just needs a once-a-day combing and brushing to keep the coat healthy and in good condition.
Many Persians have poor potty habits also. This is probably the biggest reason for surrender of a cat to an animal shelter, pound, or new home. Sometimes this is an environmental problem. Other times, it is something that seems to follow in certain lines. If your cat has poor potty habits, maybe it is just because of being intact, but if not, do you really want to produce more kittens that may have the same bad habits? They could be tossed outside to fend for themselves, bounced around from home to home, or dumped in a shelter or pound.
When producing a litter, a reputable breeder feels responsible and bound to each kitten in that litter for their entire life. If the new owners cannot keep the kitten for any reason, are you willing to take this cat back at any age into your home? Persians have the unfortunate honor of being the number one most popular breed of purebred cats. With this comes overbreeding and an increase in breed-specific health problems. Poor conformation can lead to crippling jaw or hip/kneee deformities. There is a genetic kidney disorder (Polycystic Kidney Disease) that is common to some lines in the Persian breed. Heart problems are common as well. And let's not forget cardiomyopothy. Do you know if any cats behind your cat have had any of these or any other genetic disorders?
If you bought your kitten from a pet store, then you may not even have correct information about the ancestry. Pet stores usually buy their puppies and kittens from "mills." These are notoriously filthy "farms," where the cats and dogs are kept stacked in cages with little room for movement. There is no concern for their health, genetic makeup, or well-being -- and little or no socialization. They are also notorious for not correctly registering with the proper parentage.
There are other issues for breeding your cats that are usually not explored by the new breeder. As mentioned above, many people think it is like breeding a dog. You just pop the girl in the car, take her over to the stud cat, wait a few minutes, and you are done. It is usually much more complicated. First you need to be sure the male cat is appropriate and complementary to your girl. Do the lines mesh well? Will he correct any of your girl's faults? Does your girl complement the faults of the male? Has he been minimally health tested? Has your girl been tested? For example, FIV, FELV, FIP are 3 contagious, incurable, and fatal diseases that can be passed through breeding. If a tomcat is being offered at public stud by his owner to anybody who has the stud fee, then you are exposing your girl to all the other cats that have been through that cattery. Other problems that you can bring home with you are fleas, earmites, fungus (i.e., ringworm), and bodymites. Another common problem is just getting the girl to accept the male. Often, cats that have been raised as pets, or are properly spoiled, do not adjust well to travel, strange environments, or new cats. It can take weeks and/or several trips back and forth to even get her bred.
Many people buy a pet-quality persian and use the excuse, "I don't like the flat face of the show-quality Persians -- I will breed some long-nosed Persians because people always like them." Well, consider this: even the most well-planned Persian breedings may not produce a show-quality kitten. There will never be a shortage of longhaired, long-nosed cats - either purebred or not. If you really want to breed cats, but really do not like the look of the Persians, then I urge you to spay your pet-quality Persian and adore her as a pet. Then research one of the many other breeds that are longhaired and long nosed.
There is a shorthair variety called "Exotic." Ragdolls have a classic dish-faced look that is reminicent of the old-fasioned Victorian Persians (heavy bones, thick coats, and they come in 4 patterns of the colorpoint class). Norwegian Forest Cats also have a long, heavy coat, large body size, and a nice full ruff. These come in a rainbow of colors but do not come in the colorpoint variety. Siberian Cats look similar to the Norwegian Forest Cat and Maine Coon but also come in colorpoint varieties. There is the Selkirk Rex, a curly-coated breed that still uses pet-quality Persians, Exotics, and British Shorthairs for outcrossing.
Many people think the Persian is just all about hair. In the longhair variety, it is indeed a major visual part of the cat. Yet the Persian is so much more than just that thick coat. If you just really love the laid-back, easy-going personality of the Persian and really want to breed them, look at your cat and his/her pedigree. Does she look like a Persian? Is she more than just a longhaired cat? The Persian should be a large, short bodied cat with thick bones and a short tail. The head should be large and round. Ears should be tiny, set low on the head, and round on the tips. The eyes should be large, wideset and round, and the nose (probably the most distinquishing feature of the breed) ought to be short, snub, and with a deep break centered between the eyes. Look at your girl's pedigree. Does she have many grand champions behind her? Did the breeder you from which you bought her show? Did she have a good working knowledge of what the breed should look like and be?
Once you have decided that you really want to breed your girl and you have located and succesfully bred her to an appropriate male, you have to be prepared for the arrival of the kittens. The mother will need to be on high-quality food and receive good nutrition during her pregnancy and lactation. Gestation is only an average of 65 days (with a variation of 63 to 72 days). Not much time to learn and prepare for all you will need. Once she is bred, it is too late to decide you don't want to do this or the timing is bad. You need to arrange to be home with her during the time she is due to give birth.
There are plenty of health risks of which to be aware. The females are subject to uterine infections, which if left untreated can lead minimally to infertility and in worse cases, to death. Also, twisted uterus is a condition that can happen accutely towards the end of pregnancy. If not detected immediately, it is fatal to the queen and the kittens. You have only hours. Remember that Persians often have a high rate for C-sections. Is your vet comfortable and able to perform this surgery if needed?
Let's not forget the actual birth. Persians often need help cleaning the kittens, cutting the placentas, and getting the kittens dry and breathing. You will need to have your birthing kit all ready and a box/cage set up in a small, confined, yet easy-to-reach area. You can put together the birthing kit with the help of your vet.
After the kittens are born, you will need to raise them and keep them until they are of the appropriate age to leave home. Persians seem to be a bit slower in maturing than other breeds. Most reputable breeders do not let kittens leave until they are at least 10 to 12 weeks of age (usually closer to 16 weeks). You will need to provide good quality food for the kittens and the nursing mother at all times. Vaccinations will need to be given at the right ages.
When it is time for the kittens to leave home, if you do not already have homes waiting, you will need to advertise and be willing to screen each potential buyer. Be willing to follow up with buyers that have purchased Persians as pets to be sure the kittens have been spayed and neutered at the right time rather than bred.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are problems that just cannot be foreseen -- even in the best-planned breedings. It is a lot of energy, heartbreak, fun, and joy. It is a great feeling of accomplishment when you have raised a healthy litter of top-quality Persian kittens and seen them to their new homes. It can be a great hobby, and many new friends can be made. But it must be taken seriously and not just done on an impulse.