To Breed or Not To Breed

© Copyright 1997 Gayle Blonar, Amberelle Birmans

As coordinator for a Birman Breeder Referral Service, at least once a week I receive a phone call asking about the availability of a pet quality female kitten with "breeding rights". Many times I have heard "we'd like to have one litter - just for fun".

When people indicate an interest in breeding Birmans, I ask why. For some, the motivation is financial. If they are paying over $400 for an animal - they want the opportunity to recoup the investment by producing one or more litters. For others, the motivation is a genuine love of kittens. I have learned that most people with an interest in breeding do not have a clear picture of what is involved. Before starting a breeding program, some of the following information may be beneficial.

Breeding cats is seldom a money making venture. If the price of a Birman breeder kitten is $600-800 - you could invest that money in a hundred different ways that would result in a much higher end yield than you will ever achieve by using the kitten in a breeding program. People who are motivated by the thought of financial gain are usually less interested when they learn the average Birman litter size is only 3 kittens. Not to mention the cost of supplies, veterinary care, and stud service fees.

If there are a number of Birman breeders located within close proximity to your home, you might want to consider a different breed. To be realistic, all breeders need a market for their kittens.

All Birmans are not created equal. There is a written standard for our breed and reputable breeders attempt to produce kittens who conform to that standard. Many Birmans are pets because they have disqualifying faults or poor confirmation to the written standard. They should not be used in breeding programs.

All Birmans do not look the same. There is a wide diversity to the overall "look" of a Birman. Some cats are longer and taller, others are shorter and stockier. Coat color, coat length, eye color, shape and size, muzzle, expression, etc. - any of the characteristics of a Birman can differ, depending on the lines from which the cat was bred and the preference of the breeder. It is important to attend cat shows and see as many Birmans as possible to determine which "look" is most appealing to you.

Buying a Birman female for breeding may require patience and persistence. If a breeder produces a really nice female kitten, they may want to keep the kitten for their own breeding program or place it within their own network of breeder friends. Very few breeder-show female kittens become available to the novice breeder.

Buying a female is only the first step in starting a breeding program. Where will you take her for stud service? People interested in becoming breeders need to understand the concept of a closed cattery. Breeders operate closed catteries, primarily for health reasons. There are several contagious and potentially fatal cat diseases. Offering stud service is one way to open a cattery to health risks. Sometimes it is difficult to find a breeder willing to give stud service to the novice breeder's queen. It may be better to form a relationship with a breeder or a group of breeders who will provide a support system. This may also require patience and persistence.

As it may be difficult to find a quality female kitten, consider purchasing a male kitten as a show neuter. He can be shown in the kitten class, and after neutering, be shown in the Premiership class for altered cats. The experience of showing a cat and the opportunity to meet breeders at shows is a perfect first step towards becoming a breeder.

I know there are breeders who do not show their cats, but I personally believe it is important to exhibit at cat shows for several reasons. It is the best way to see a variety of Birmans. It is also helpful to see which cats are winning and which look is considered most desirable by the judges and other breeders. It is a great opportunity to network with other breeders. And, if you are going to be producing kittens, it is a wonderful place to meet potential kitten buyers.

Years ago, as a new breeder, the biggest shock to me was realizing my female Birman was spraying urine all over the house. Females can and do spray. They also make a lot of noise and don't make great pets when in heat. Most whole male cats spray. Keeping whole cats is an entirely different ballgame from living with spays and neuters. Once a queen is pregnant, the work continues. Labor can be long and frightening, deliveries are generally bloody. Weaning young kittens involves messy feedings and lots of clean up. Baby kittens are known to have accidents, until they master litter box training. Breeding is not for the squeamish.

Things go wrong. Cats get sick. Queens have trouble being bred and/or conceiving. There can be problems with labor and delivery. Kittens don't survive. Bad things happens to every breeder, at one time or another. New breeders need to be prepared to take the bad with the good. Developing a good relationship with a veterinarian is important. Being prepared, financially, to handle unexpected bills which result from problems that occur, is important. Sometimes it is very difficult, emotionally, to handle the stress. You have to be strong, you have to be tough and you may have to make very hard decisions.

Breeding cats is work. It requires a commitment of time and devotion. At times, it can be incredibly frustrating. When things go well, it can also be incredibly rewarding. Watching a queen during her pregnancy and feeling the babies move inside her is a true wonder. Helping with the delivery and seeing the babies make their way into the world is miraculous. Spending each day with the babies, from birth through the first few months, watching them grow and develop into their own unique personalities is amazing. Forming a relationship with a kitten from infancy through adulthood can be a powerful bond.

So you want to breed Birmans? It is best to go slow, make no hasty, spur-of-the moment decisions. Learn as much as you can before you make any kitten purchases. Subscribe to the Birman newsletters and cat magazines. Join SCBF (Sacred Cat of Burma Fanciers). Go to shows, talk to breeders. Plan to visit the SCBF show in Medina, OH in August of each year. Breeding is not for everyone - you may find it is not for you. A good breeding program requires planning and informed decisions.

"A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not." -- Ernest Hemingway

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Last Modified: Sunday, February 28, 1999 3:16:21 PM
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