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Cat Breeding
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith
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The decision to breed

Breeding a cat should not be undertaken without a thorough understanding of what is involved. Many people get into cat breeding thinking it would be fun to have a litter of kittens to play with. Often, consideration is not given to the need to have healthy kittens that will need to be placed in good homes. Properly caring for breeding animals; care of the queen during pregnancy, queening, and after delivery care of the kittens and finding good homes for the kittens is a time-consuming and very expensive endeavor. Ask any top quality breeder, and they will tell you it takes a lot of dedication, money, and knowledge to do it right.

Cats do not need to have a litter to be fulfilled. Spaying the female before her first heat cycle will eliminate the cycling, decrease her risk of mammary cancer as she ages, and eliminate the males coming around the house while she is in season. Even if she is used for breeding, after she has her last litter, consider spaying to prevent a future pyometra.

On the male's side, using a pet for breeding is unwise. He will be more inclined to spray and fight. If neutered, he will be less inclined to do so. Two big benefits of neutering are the decrease in the smell of the urine and the decrease in the frequency of spraying.

No discussion on breeding is complete without mentioning pet population control and the hundreds of thousands of cats and kittens that are euthanized each year due to the lack of homes. Remember, breeding your cat adds to the problem. Do not breed unless you own healthy animals with excellent breed characteristics, and you are very committed to these kittens preferably for their lifetime. For each home you find for your kittens, there is a kitten at the shelter being euthanized.

Age at breeding

A female cat should be allowed to attain her adult size before breeding. If bred early, she will put her energy into feeding the unborn/newborn kittens instead of finishing her growth. She will be 18-24 months old before she is ready for breeding.

A male should be 18 months of age prior to being allowed to breed. This allows time to determine if he is healthy and suitable for breeding. Temperaments are passed to the offspring as are genetic diseases.

Health evaluations

cat being vaccinated over the shoulderBefore the breeding season begins, make an appointment for a physical exam, vaccinations, stool check for internal parasites, and any other necessary tests. Both parents should be tested for FeLV and FIV before each breeding. They should be healthy and free of ear mites, fleas, and ringworm.

The cats should be tested for genetic conditions such as polycystic kidney disease, hip dysplasia, patellar luxations, and heart disease. These tests should be done before breeding. Check with your veterinarian for other breed specific diseases that should be screened for before breeding.

The female cat should be at her ideal weight at this point. Those too heavy or too thin may have an increased difficulty conceiving, carrying the litter, and queening.

In addition to physical health, the personalities of the parents are also important, since they play a major role in determining the kittens' personalities. If the parents are easy-going and friendly, chances are good that the kittens will be also. If the parents are aggressive or fearful toward people and other animals, chances are good that the kittens will be also.

The heat cycle and when to breed

Queens are seasonally polyestrous, which means they come into heat in certain seasons of the year, and they will cycle multiple times if they are not bred. They are also reflex ovulators, which means they need to be bred before they will ovulate. Cycling tends to occur most often in the spring and summer in outdoor cats. Cats kept indoors and exposed to artificial lights may cycle year-round.

The stages in a cat's estrus cycle are: anestrus, proestrous, estrus, interfollicular stage, and metestrus. Anestrus is typically seen in the short days of winter. The tom is not attracted to the queen, and vice versa.

cat rollingProestrus may last 1-2 days in some queens, but is not consistently seen. During this stage, she may 'call' the tom, roll, and rub on the ground. She will still not allow the tom by her. The bleeding seen in female dogs during proestrus is not seen in female cats. She may progress from proestrus to estrus in just a few hours.

Estrus lasts about a week, but may be longer or shorter. The queen should be taken to the tom for mating. During this time, the queen will allow the tom to approach her and mate. Mating may last 1-20 seconds. The tom must have an escape route such as a box or shelf to jump on after breeding the queen, as she often responds aggressively. Immediately after mating, she will frantically groom herself and not allow anyone near her for up to an hour. After that point, her receptive behavior and mating resumes. Three breedings a day for the first three days of estrus produced ovulation in 90% of the queens in a study. During estrus, the queen may allow more than one tom to mate with her; it is possible for a litter of kittens to have different fathers (superfecundation).

If she was not bred, she will enter an interfollicular stage (also known as interestrus). She shows no sign of reproductive activity during this stage. This stage may last about 1 week. She then goes into proestrus and estrus again. If she mated and ovulated but did not become pregnant, she goes through a metestrus stage that lasts about 5-7 weeks. During this stage, she does not show signs of reproductive activity.

If the mating was successful, she will go through an approximately 63-day pregnancy. Determine her due date by adding 63 days to each day breeding occurred. If her estrus cycle lasted for a week and she was bred every other day, her due date is over the course of a week also.

If a female aborts or loses her nursing kittens, she will return to estrus within 2-3 weeks. After having a litter, she will start cycling again by the time the kittens are 8-10 weeks old.

References and Further Reading

Fogle, B. The Cat's Mind - Understanding Your Cat's Behavior. Howell Book House. New York; 1992.

Feldman, E; Nelson, R. Canine and Feline Endocrinology and Reproduction. W.B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia, PA; 1987.

Cain, J; Lawler, D. Small Animal Reproduction and Pediatrics. Pro-Visions Pet Specialty Enterprises. St. Louis, MO; 1991.

Ettinger, S.F. Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 3rd ed. W.B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia, PA; 1989. 

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