Within the cat family any type of Felis domesticus will mate with any other. In fact, perhaps unhappily, this occurs all too frequently, and a vast number of mongrel cat births results from casual mating between dissimilar types. The whole essence of cat breeding is to eliminate this event and always to breed between a pedigree queen and a carefully selected pedigree stud.
The normal procedure is for the owner of the queen cat to send it away to a male stud cat for mating. It is clear therefore that to begin breeding cats one must first obtain the best possible specimen of female available. A complete novice is best advised to seek information from other breeders of the same type of cat as they will ultimately be the source from which the queen will be purchased. Obviously a breeder whose cats are consistently winning at major shows will expect to charge a higher price for kittens than someone who is just starting and whose animals may not have settled down to win major prizes. A breeding female must be as perfect as possible, with no bad characteristics likely to be perpetuated. For example, although in certain breeds kinks in the tail are permitted, in others they may be regarded as bad faults, like badly set ears or poorly shaped eyes. There is never any way to be absolutely sure that your kitten is free of such faults but it is important, as in the purchase of any animal, to see the male and female parents if this is practical and possible. This should at least give you some idea of the probable appearance of the kitten you purchase when it is fully adult.
It is particularly important to see the parents in certain breeds where coat colouring is quite misleading in the very young kitten. Siamese, for example, develop their distinctive markings as they grow, and the young kitten may have a pale and poorly marked coat which gives no indication of its strength and quality in the final adult animal. This is also true of mixed-colour animals where the definition between the patches or markings is an important factor in judging the breed. To some extent therefore the selection of the first female is an educated gamble, so it is best to take time over the final choice of kitten. After discussions with breeders at various cat shows it may be possible to visit their individual breeding establishments to look at their kittens at home.
As in all things, it is possible to purchase a kitten at below market price, but this is likely to mean that you are getting a poor specimen of the breed which the breeder would intend to sell merely as a pet. There are of course cases where a poor female purchased in this way and mated to a prizewinning stud can produce champion offspring. This, however, must be regarded as a result of luck rather than of good judgment and it is not unnatural for a breeder to request that the owner has the poor specimen neutered. Obviously a well-known breeder would prefer not to have progeny from a poor kitten introduced into a show where its inferiority would reflect upon the quality of his or her own strain. After all, the major cat show is really a shop window for the breeder and the good publicity which follows a win helps to increase the value of a particular strain and hence the prosperity of the breeder.
It is advisable, therefore, to start with the finest female kitten that you can afford from the best stock showing as near as possible the major breed characteristics you are looking for. It is also important to make sure that the kitten has a good pedigree stretching back several generations to ensure that the characteristics are ‘fixed’. Obviously the competition for the best kittens in a very popular variety is high. The Siamese, for example, always fetches a high price because of its popularity but this in turn means that there is strong competition at individual shows with very many entries, often from kittens developed from the same or closely similar breeding lines. This naturally makes the job of the judge even more difficult and of course it means that the novice breeder increases the odds against winning a prize.
Much depends upon the motive behind the decision to breed. If it is simply for pleasure then clearly you should purchase an animal which will be a companion pet as well as the foundation of a breeding line. This means that the variety chosen should be the one you prefer rather than the one that is most popular. If, however, the decision is a more commercial one, with the intention of providing a hobby which also makes a little money, then there is something to be said for choosing a variety which is extremely popular and therefore enjoys a ready and extensive market. This would certainly put the Siamese at the top of the list.
At any general cat show you can see rows and rows of cages of Siamese with different markings, whereas you may have to search hard for varieties such as the Korat, the Turkish or Angora, or even my favourite British Blue. This emphasizes that there is less competition among these varieties and the breeder’s chances of success at the show are therefore greater, but the market for kittens is likely to be smaller.
If you are lucky enough to find a breeder who will sell you a kitten intended for breeding which is exactly what you want, then it is important to seek as much advice as possible from that breeder without expecting to learn any personal trade secrets. Information concerning diet, mating behaviour and, most important, how to look after the pregnant queen, will all be helpful.
For example, breeders can be consulted for advice on when to allow queen cats to be mated for the first time.
Certain breeds mature very early: the females may begin calling at five months, and even earlier has been reported. It is essential, though, that the kitten be allowed to grow to full size before mating is arranged. If the kitten is mated too early this can easily result in her being held back in her growth, or even permanently stunted, because of the rival demands for body-growing elements, such as calcium in the formation of bone, between the mother herself and the kittens she is producing in her womb. Six months is considered to be the average at which females come into season for the first time or start calling. Great care must be exercised to ensure that the urgent instinct to mate which the kitten is feeling for the first time does not result in her getting out to be mated by a prowling mongrel torn in the neighbourhood. Most breeders consider ten months of age to be young enough for a queen cat to be mated for her first litter. However, this applies only when she has already been observed to call on a previous occasion.