How do you know if you have found a good breeder or not?It’s a question everyone will ask at some point: how do you know if the breeder you finally buy a kitten from is reputable? How can you be sure you’ll get a healthy and well-reared kitten? Temperament is reasonably easy to judge, but health is something you many not realise is a problem until too late. Don’t believe the public face that people present on their websites particularly. Look around you when you visit, trust your gut feelings about the person as they talk to you and see how they behave with their cats. Cleanliness is not the only way to judge a breeder: a bit of dirt but happy and well-fed cats is far preferable to clinical cleanliness and order and sickly animals.
I have put up this page because, yet again, I have heard of someone who has bought a kitten from a breeder and has not realised that the tiny, skinny emaciated thing is NOT what their lovely new family pet should look like. I tell people: don’t buy a kitten because you feel sorry for it, because you will probably be buying a whole load of vets bills. On the other hand, what will happen to the poor mite if someone responsible doesn’t take it out of the hands of the breeder? It’s a dilemma. Remember though, that every kitten someone buys from a bad breeder is making it easier for that person to breed more kittens in this way. The only way to shut down the kitten farmers is to stop buying their kittens.
EnvironmentI’ve noticed that some breeders describe themselves as ‘home breeders’ when in fact their cats live outside in catteries, and only come in to kitten. This is not ‘home breeding’: a home breeder is someone who breeds from their much-loved family pets, so when they’re not having babies a home breeder’s adult cats live as pets - members of the family - they are not stock to be put outside when they’re not being useful. Stud boys have to live outside, but girls don’t, though sometimes that means the house gets a bit smelly because breeding girls often spray. Smell is something we have to live with a bit as breeders, so the house may whiff slightly when you walk in the door, but it should not STINK. Adult females often spray when on heat, and it's hard to keep washing curtains etc. However a really stinky house is often a sign of stressed animals who are spraying and peeing everywhere, or a breeder who is in over their head and can't keep up with the cleaning! I know that sometimes my house smells and I'm not aware of it because I'm in it all day, and I'm very embarrassed by that! Sometimes also smells come from things like furniture that I can't wash. However, I hope you're not hit by a wall of ammonia when I open my door.
It’s difficult keeping the numbers down in a home-breeding environment: you end up with quite a lot of neuters and the house can get a bit full. Breeding girls can be temperamental, so sometimes you will find a breeder has to keep groups of cats apart within the house. Lots of breeders have a cattery setup in the garden that allows the cats to get fresh air safely in runs, but a home-breeder’s cats don’t live out there.
A home breeder usually has a maximum of three breeding girls, possibly four, but that’s quite a lot of breeding activity, and can make for a stressed household as kittens generally aren’t liked by the other cats. Too many girls and the whole operation loses the home and pet environment, and becomes more of an operation for churning out kittens. There isn’t a black-and-white line between home-breeding and cattery breeding, but when you visit a breeder look at how the cats live in relation to the family, as well as how the kittens look. You may find that the mother is only allowed in the house when she has kittens, and when the cats get older and have to be neutered they are excluded from the household altogether.
Rehoming is something home breeders try to avoid, but with temperamental breeding girls and boys sometimes the cats stop getting on, and that means one cat is being bullied and has to be kept apart. Usually the best solution for the cat is to be rehomed. Rehoming also allows breeders to keep their numbers down, and for many home-breeders it’s a last resort. I have rehomed, but only when the cats were stressed, or had to be kept in a way that prevented them from having free access to me, so they couldn’t truly live as my companions and friends. Sometimes I had to rehome as I had to admit that I had too many cats to be able to give them all the level of love and attention that I wanted to, but I wanted to be able to keep breeding, and that meant making a hard decision. Tonkinese and other Oriental and Foreign breeds become very attached to their human companions, and being kept confined or away from people is stressful and upsetting for them.
Kitten healthThe kitten below was sold to a novice breeder as her first breeding queen. It wasn’t until the purchaser bred her own first litter of kittens, reared with love and with no cost spared, that she realised how sickly and tiny the kitten she had bought had been. At six weeks old, her kittens were almost the size of the 13-week-old kitten she had bought. The kitten in this picture is suffering from malnutrition: its hips and pelvis are prominent and appallingly thin, there is no muscle on the thighs at all because the kitten has been living off its muscle bulk because it has not been getting enough food. Her owner told me that she could not cuddle the kitten (who was also very nervous), but had to wrap her in a blanket when she picked her up for fear of hurting her. This is an absolutely pathetic picture, and this kitten came from a breeder who represents herself as good and trustworthy, and whose website looks not only reputable but caring and genuine. It is all to make the right impression.
Fortunately this kitten ended up in good hands, and is now a beautiful, healthy and well-fed adult, though still a bit nervous. Sadly such a bad start in life is likely to mean that this cat does not have the life expectancy of one reared with more care. Tonkinese are naturally loving and trusting, as are any kittens bred from domestic cats, and they rely on us for all their nutritional and health needs: doing this to any kitten is, frankly, disgusting.
Sneezing/Colds/FluI recently heard of a breeder who warns her new owners that the kitten may develop a 'sniffle' after homing, due to the stress of the move. This is not a good sign, and is certainly not normal. Kittens do not 'sniffle' ever if they are healthy. Cats do not get 'colds', they only get 'flu - Calici or Herpes virus, and if a kitten ends up sneezing or sniffling when you get it home then you have bought a kitten from a house either with one of these viruses or Chlamydia. Even if the kitten is vaccinated, it may still be a flu carrier, since it probably had 'flu when it was very small, or has been so exposed that the stress of moving home will cause inactive virus to become active. Although your existing cat(s) may be vaccinated, this is not 100% effective, and your own cat may end up with 'flu as well. Healthy kittens in a healthy household do not get eye infections or sniffle or sneeze. Cats do get 'flu, and it's not the end of the world, but you have to work hard to clear the illness, sometimes rehoming cats who are carriers and might infect new kittens. I could not continue to breed if I knew that I was going to end up passing on kittens with any illness that was preventable, and I know several breeders who have shut down until their houses were clear and all their cats had tested free from being carriers of virus.
Making Money at breeding?The tax man says that dog-breeding is a business and cat breeding is a hobby. This is because it is almost impossible to make a profit breeding cats, and definitely impossible with the Tonkinese, which is not a ‘money’ breed, unless you are cutting corners on welfare. If you feed good food and look after your cats responsibly, you would have to sell each kitten for about £1000 to make any ‘profit’ on them, but we don’t. We make a loss. The only way I could make a profit would be to cut out the high-quality foods, cut out the veterinary care, and basically let my kittens and queens nearly starve to save money on food and litter (a lot of what goes in one end, comes out the other!). My kittens would look like the one above. This picture makes me terribly sad, because I know that this breeder is turning out litter after litter of kittens like this, and even puts pictures of her miserable and emaciated kittens on her website, though they are small pictures so that you have to look carefully to realise how undersized and pathetic they are.
This is what happens when the breeder is more concerned about making money than about making a healthy kitten. A kitten of ANY breed should be rounded and tubby (even Siamese, who are not supposed to be bags of bones either). A kitten who looks like this should come with a health warning.
Before deciding on a breeder look CLOSELY at the pictures on their website: are the kittens chubby and roly-poly, or do they look like this? Do their heads look too big for their bodies? When you visit look really hard at the way the kittens live and are reared. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and for goodness sake don’t just visit one breeder: check several so that you have a balanced view of breeders as a whole.
There are lots of legitimate reasons why a kitten may end up like this: worms (though it should never be allowed to get to this stage without treatment), ill-health (a nasty dose of diarrhoea going through the litter) ... it can happen to anyone, but if it does, a good breeder will not sell the kitten until it is back to normal health and weight, and certainly would not pass off a kitten like this as healthy. This kitten is also badly undersized (you can’t tell this from the picture), which shows that it has been malnourished throughout its life. It was about half the size of a healthy kitten of the same age.
If, when you get to the breeder, the cats seem sickly or unwell don't feel you have to buy a kitten - don't even feel you have to sit down; don't handle the cats if you're worried about infections, and leave as soon as you can. Don't worry about insulting this person as you're probably never going to see them again, and it's better that they know that someone was unhappy with their household in case their problems are because they simply don't know any better. We all rely on mentors when we start (or should) and look to them for an example. If your mentor gives you a bad example, then you have no reason to know any better. There are lots of breeders out there with good hearts, who are just not getting good veterinary advice, or whose examples are poor breeders themselves. Take care: don’t believe everything you see on a website (including mine!) Look carefully at the kittens, and try out my checklist below... I shouldn’t need to tell you which are the ‘right’ answers, but these are things you should think about.
For buying a kitten as a pet:
- Did the breeder ask you questions about your home and care of your cats before agreeing to sell you a kitten?
- Were you invited to visit the house so that the breeder could meet you and check you out before agreeing to sell you a kitten?
- Does the breeder kiss their kittens?
- Does the breeder care about what they feed?
- Was there food easily available to all the cats?
- Did the breeder ask about other cats you had owned, and whether you had ever had a Tonkinese before?
- Did the breeder make sure you knew what you were getting into with this breed?
- Were the kittens chubby, playful and friendly?
- Did the breeder invite you to visit as often as you liked?
- Did the household feel happy and the cats relaxed and peaceful?
- Were you expected to commit to buying a kitten without meeting the kittens first?
- Were you expected to commit to buying a kitten without any really dialogue about the transaction?
- Did you check out other breeders for comparison? If not, why not?!!!
- Did the breeder have a contract, and did it outline their commitments (i.e. health, well-being and after-care) as well as yours?
For buying a kitten for breeding:
- Did the breeder want more money for the kitten as it was for breeding? If so, why? Did it cost more to rear? Is the breeder guaranteeing that it will be a successful breeding cat by charging more?
- Did the breeder go into a lot of detail about the dangers of breeding, and in fact try to put you off breeding?
- Did the breeder insist that you keep in touch for advice and help while you were a novice?
- Did the breeder offer unlimited assistance and support during your first litters?
- Did the breeder suggest that you bring your kitten back to her father for her first mating - do you think that's a good thing?
- Was there a contract of sale, and were you happy about everything it contained?