breeding program

How I Choose Cats for My Breeding Program

Being involved in a breeding program for Maine Coons is serious business. There’s so much that goes into the creation of such a wonderful breed of cat. None of which is seen by the public. It’s all done behind the scenes.

Most people think that it’s as easy as buying a male and a female and having them mate. BAM! Kittens pop out and you’re off and running. That sounds easy in theory, doesn’t it? It doesn’t exactly go like that in the real world. There’s [what seems like] 1,000 moving parts to the equation. Unfortunately, even with the most critical care and diligence, the kittens don’t turn out as expected.

In this blog post, I wanted to take you behind the scenes in my life as a Maine Coon breeder. Not for the entire process, but for my process of how I choose a new kitten to be part of my breeding program. This may bore you to tears, or it may enlighten you some. This may bring some awareness into the process of a responsible Maine Coon breeder, and why knowing how things are done.

Am I Ready to Add A New Cat to My Breeding Program?

At what point does a new cat get added to the breeding program? This is a lot to consider for a Maine Coon breeder. One of the first things that has to be considered are the goals of the breeder and the cattery. We all have different goals, but before I add a new kitten, these are the things I take into consideration:

  • How many kittens do I want to produce each year?
  • How much time do I have to commit to raising kittens and caring for adult cats?
  • Do I have enough space to add another cat?
  • Do I have enough space to raise multiple litters of kittens?
  • Does my budget allow for the care and medical treatment (if needed) of another cat?

I’d like to break down each one of these questions to help you better understand what they mean.

breeding program
Look at this cute little Maine Coon Baby

How Many Kittens Do I Want To Produce Each Year? And Do I Have Time?

Raising a litter of kittens takes a lot of work. And I mean a lot. For the first few weeks, the Queen does most of the work. That is, as long as nothing goes wrong and you have to step in and care for neonatal babies. But once the kittens start to move about and leave the nest, it’s like having 7 tiny toddlers running around. They’re very curious and very messy! To keep cleanliness and order in the nursery, it takes several hours of JUST CLEANING each and every day. Not to mention litter training, socialization, and weaning.

From the outside, all you get to see are the adorable photos that pop on websites and social media. There’s no place to see what goes on behind the scenes. The countless hours that are spent raising these pretty little balls of fur and getting them ready to transition into their new forever homes.

With that being said, some consideration is taken into how many kittens I actually want to produce each year. Each Maine Coon Queen can have 1-2 litters per year. They need 10-12 weeks of care. That’s a huge commitment of time. Projecting into the future is quite necessary when it comes to this goal. Travel plans are pretty much out of the question if there are to be kittens on the ground.

I have an advantage in the time requirements. I own two of my own businesses and work from home (aside from breeding Maine Coons). Both of my businesses are equipped with a team of people that keep things running smoothly. I make my own rules and my own schedule. Therefore, I have the option to commit as little or as much time to anything that I choose. Not everyone has this option. Breeders that work full time away from home maybe a little more restrictive on what they can devote to raising kittens.

Solid White is one of my favorite colors! I’ll be adding a solid white Queen in 2020 [on the hunt now]

Do I have enough space to add another cat?

Living space is huge when it comes to cats. If they’re in an over-crowded situation, they become stressed. A stressed cat equals a sick cat. We don’t want that. So I want to make sure that there is adequate space for the new cat to live, be comfortable and be happy.

Believe this or not, the amount of space that’s required [according to CFA] is only 30 Cubic square feet per cat. That’s not a lot of space! In fact, some would classify that as a “cage”. My personal requirements are much greater than that. I want the cats to be able to live a normal life, have space to wander, perches to hang out on, and their own beds to sleep in.

In addition to living space, a cattery also requires space for Quarantine and Isolation. When a new cat comes home, they must be quarantined for 14-21 days without exception. This to time to observe the cat for any illnesses, diarrhea, or health issues. The cat must be taken to the vet and checked for any issues that may affect him and/or the other cats if he is to be released into the colony.

Since I have a cattery where most of my breeding cats live, I know exactly how much space I’m working with. Before I decide to add another cat, I analyze the amount of space that I have as well as the personalities of the cats that currently occupy that space. If I feel like space can comfortably accommodate another cat without disrupting their lives, then I move on to the next step in the process.

Do I have enough space to raise multiple litters of kittens?

With each new queen [or King] that is added to my breeding program means more kittens. Each litter of kittens needs its own space to be delivered and reared, with their Mother. Personally, I bring my Queens inside when it’s time for them to deliver their kittens and they stay in the nursery (which is a spare bedroom). They raise their kittens there and aren’t bothered or stressed out by other cats or high traffic.

So adding a new cat to the cattery means there will be more kittens. Possibly even multiple litters of kittens on the ground at the same time. What this means for me is that I need to create separate living spaces for multiple litters. This is when I call in the help of my husband. He’s currently converting the nursery into two nurseries so that multiple litters can be raised comfortably at the same time.

Does my budget allow for the care and medical treatment (if needed) of another cat?

Having a Maine Coon cattery and raising kittens isn’t cheap. My Chewy bill is currently around $500 per month. That’s for food and litter for my 3 neutered male pets and 5 breeders. When kittens are on the ground, the bill goes up about $50 per litter per month. I have to be sure that my budget allows me to sustain the cost of keeping everyone clean, full and healthy indefinitely. They are all my responsibility.

As much as I wish it didn’t come up, sometimes medical treatment is needed. Having cats is no different than having children. I do everything I can to keep them healthy but then some crazy bug shows up and medical treatment is needed. There could also be the need for emergency C-Section to help with the delivery of babies. Veterinarians aren’t inexpensive. So I have to also make sure that my finances will allow for any medical treatment that’s necessary.

Here’s an idea of the cost to own / maintain a Maine Coon. These cost will vary so don’t freak out. But they also do NOT include any emergency or one time vet expenses.

What Colors and/or Patterns Do I Want?

Now that some initial screening and evaluation of the cattery is done, I can start thinking about colors and patterns. There are 84 Maine Coon Colors and Pattern Variations. I learned very early that if you want to produce the best coats (rich colors, clean patterns) then it’s best to mate similar patterns and colors together. For example, a red tabby classic mated with a red tabby classic female is more likely to produce a more beautiful coat than the same male mated with a black silver mackerel tabby.

It seems that silvers and smokes are in higher demand than the more traditional or classic colors (red, black, blue, white). My waiting list has a very high demand for silvers and smokes. Fortunately for those waiting, I have black smoke Male and a couple of silver Queens. So I’ll be able to produce those colors for a few years. My goals are changing, however, and I’ll be focusing more on clean, classic colors with beautiful coats. Rich reds, beautiful blacks, and pure deep blues (Solids and tabbies). There’s something about the classic colors that appeal to me more than the trendy smokes and silvers.

With the goal in mind to produce the classic, clean colors, I can narrow down the color and pattern of the cat that I want to add. There are also some genetic factors to consider (agouti, non-agouti, and dilute). So I look at the Queens that are in my cattery and decide what colors and patterns I want to see in the future and narrow down my choice to the color I’m seeking.

red tabby Maine Coon
Pretty Red Tabby Maine Coon Kitten [So classic and Beautiful]

Choosing A Breeder to Buy a Kitten From

Just like you should do your research when it comes to choosing a breeder, so do I. I did make some fast decisions in the past, just randomly choosing a breeder based on how the kittens look. I’ve learned to be a little more diligent when it comes to where I buy a kitten from. There are so many factors to consider other than just how the cats look in photos. Be sure to read my article about choosing a reputable Maine Coon breeder so you can see just a few of the requirements I follow.

What I started doing about a year ago is following the breeders on Facebook and Instagram. I just watch from a distance for months and months. I like to see how much information they share about their cattery and their cats. Transparency is commendable to me. There’s not a lot of transparency from cat breeders, so I find these highly valuable.

Breeders who share an enthusiasm for the Maine Coon Breed Standard are an absolute must for me. It’s hard to buy a kitten from a breeder who doesn’t share the same goals as far as “type” is concerned. What I mean by that is the fine details of the cat that creates the signature look of the Maine Coon cat. There are standards written by Cat Associations that detail these in writing. I want my cats and kittens to be as close to breed standard as possible. That means choosing cats for my breeding program that exhibit those features.

black silver mackeral tabby Maine Coon
Tiffany – 1 Year 7 Months Old

Price is irrelevant when it comes to a Quality Kitten

There are way too many other factors for me that are more important than the cost. In fact, the cost to acquire is the very last question that I ask if I’m inquiring about a kitten. I’d rather have a high quality, immensely pre-screened kitten over a “cheap” one. Cheap is never good and good is never cheap.

I like to see Maine Coon breeders that test their breeding cats. Both using DNA Genetic testing as well as echocardiograms. There is a select number that publishes the results and show photos and videos while they’re having their tests performed. Although there’s no way to prevent ALL health issues, buying from conscience breeders is my top choice.

Finding the Perfect Kitten for the Breeding Program

Looking for the perfect Maine Coon kitten is what takes the most amount of time. I have my favorite breeders saved, and once I’ve decided on a breeder that means waiting until they have a kitten that meets my criteria – both in color AND in type [Breed Standard]. This could take months!

Now that I’ve narrowed down my choice of breeders to just a few, I watch for kittens. The color and pattern is already pre-determined, so I can ignore any other colors that show up. Yes, they’re distracting!! Patience is a virtue when it comes down to this part of the process. It’s easy to see one that is awesome in the photos and say “I’ll take that one”! That’s when mistakes are made and later it’s discovered that they don’t fit the requirements that I had in mind.

Front-facing photos are what I see first. To be honest, all kittens are beautiful from the front. But when you’re looking for very specific details (as a breeder), you have to slow down and take notice of every little thing. Ears, eyes, head size, muzzle, bridge of nose, chin, and whiskers.

The profile of a Maine Coon is my obsession

When the profile is Breed Standard, it’s just a very beautiful picture to admire. It’s what makes the cat and kitten have the look that everyone so admires. The challenge is, it is VERY HARD to find a kitten and/or a cat with a perfect profile. VERY HARD. This is probably the MAIN REASON why I am so obsessed with finding cats for my breeding program that have beautiful heads, no matter which way you turn or angle them.

The number one reason I decline 99% of every kitten I see is because of their profile. There’s several different “looks” when it comes to profiles but I prefer the ones that look like the photo below.

Photo and Kitten by Unicum Cattery in St Petersburg, Russia

If you’d like to study the Maine Coon Breed Standard, then you can download it here. You’ll then be able to see just how many details there are when it comes to producing a Breed Standard Maine Coon kitten.

It’s hard to notice minor details that may not qualify as a breed standard, but I’ve really trained my eye for it. And now it’s literally an obsession. If I don’t see Breed Standard or something VERY CLOSE to it, then I’m not interested in adding that cat to my breeding program. That would go against the goals of my cattery.

When I’m looking for a new kitten, I look at a minimum of 500-700 kittens before deciding on the best fit for me. This is why my “pre-qualifying” breeder research is so important. I don’t want to find the perfect kitten and then the breeder turns out to be a piece of shit.

Health Testing and DNA Genetics

Before any kitten is added to my breeding program he/she must be DNA tested for any genetic anomalies that could cause health issues for the cat, or any kittens in the future. The main health concerns that are tested are HCM, SMA, PK and PK Def. I’m looking for N/N [Negative] Results on these. PK Def is the only exception. One parent can be a carrier of OK Def, but not both parents.

Once I get the kitten in my possession, I do my own DNA Genetic testing AGAIN and test for 37 conditions. Then I post the results of these tests one each of my cats’ profile pages for the public to see.

optimal selection testing

Although all of these tests are performed, there’s still no way to guarantee that the cats won’t develop these or other conditions in the future. Thery’e not perfect animals, just like dogs, horses, or even humans. Things happen that we can’t prevent. But I do my best to pre-screen them before using them to produce offspring.

Pedigree Research

I perform Pedigree research on the parents of the kitten. I’m looking for several factors in the Pedigree.

  • At least four (4) Champions showing in Pedigree in four generations.
  • Inbreeding coefficiency of no more than 12.5% on the actual kitten.
  • Complete Inbreeding Coefficiency of no more than 25% when mated with my cats.
  • Any information on cats in this Pedigree that participated in a health program. (This is where the health records of a particular cat are tracked and reported on the Pedigree.
  • Research on ancestors to look for dominating features, how long the cats lived, and how many offspring they produced.
  • Names of catteries that are familiar to me, or ones that may or may not have been reported as a “Bad Cattery”.
Maine coon Pedigree

Test Matings

Using a great website provided for breeders, I can do test matings with the potential prospect kitten, and all of the cats in my cattery that I plan on mating this cat with. This means that my cats have to be in the database. This is something I do as soon as I get possession of the cat. So I can always do test matings and check for duplicate cats in the Pedigree as well as complete inbreeding coefficiency. [An inbreeding coefficiency that is too high can cause potential health issues].

Shipping of the Kitten

If all of the above requirements pass my tests, then I discuss the price and the shipment of the kitten. There’s not a breeder in my area that sells Maine Coon kittens, so shipping is always going to be part of the equation. So far, al of my cats have been imported from Europe so they require an overseas shipment.

In the beginning, I used to ship the kittens cargo. But I’ve found a few companies that provide courier service by an actual human being and I’ll never use anything other than that. I prefer that someone ride with my kitten and accompany them on the flight and travel home. It’s along distance to travel and stressful enough as it is.

The Kitten Makes it Home

After a long, vigorous process the kiten finally makes it into the Sassy Koonz Maine Coon Breeding Program. He goes straight into Quarantine for observation. Soon, he/she will become part of a beautiful family and begin the work of producing the beautiful, happy little Maine Coon kittens that you fall in love with. All of the work to produce some majestic beauties has been done by me so that the choice for you is an easy one. You can rest assured knowing that I’ve done everything in my power to make sure you have a healthy baby that is as close to Breed Standard as I can get it. The beauty that you love and admire about Maine Coons is packaged up by me behind the scenes with diligence and care. <3

1 thought on “How I Choose Cats for My Breeding Program”

  1. Excellent info on the kitty’s. It shows you really care. I tried to go thru you and the price is quite a bit high. I hope some day to get my maine coon thru you.

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