So You Want to Breed Bengals: The Confessions of a Bengal Breeder
Updated: 4 days ago
So you have decided you want to breed Bengals. They are a pretty and popular breed, and heck if breeders are selling them for $1200-$1800 you can totally make money off it, right? You and your children get to see the miracle of life and play with cute kittens for a while. What could be better?! Unfortunately, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies when breeding cats, it’s not as simple as putting two cats together, and it’s not as easy and carefree as some may think. This article is going to cover the financial costs involved to just start a program, topics you should be educated on like genetics, the emotional side of breeding and more topics to provide you the nitty gritty of what's involved in breeding Bengals. Each is divided into sections. It's important to read each section, some which build on other sections. In addition there is a question section addressing each of these to help you determine if breeding is for you.
This article may be long but there are many things to think about, some you may not have realized, and some that may not be too happy about, or frankly be able to handle. This will be a reality check. If at any time you start skimming this article, think any of this can’t happen to you, or you stop reading, I highly advise you DON’T breed cats.
Whether you have many breeding cats or just a few, finances are a huge part of this. This is before you see any income from the sales of kittens. Start-Up Costs
I got my first girl in 2017, but I didn’t have my first litter until 2018. Here is a breakdown of costs from my first year:
Studs and Queens purchased in 2017 - $10,100 Entrance health testing - approximately $300 per cat if not more = $3300
Initial building of cattery and proper housing set up - $3800
So there was $17,200 invested BEFORE I even had my first litter. Within that first year: Basic operating costs: $480-960 of cat litter $6700 for cat food $52-$85 of water
Expected Medical Cost HCM screening $150-$350 per cat, $1650-$3850 each and every year
Unexpected medical costs Cherry Eye $100 Pyometra (emergency 3 am on a sunday) $3500
TOTAL: $3600 Then we have the costs to raise kittens about $372 per kitten:
Food $50 per kitten
Health certificate $40 each.
Spayed/Neutered $100 per kitten.
Optimal selection health and color test $100
Registration with TICA $15 per litter
Kit Pack which includes free coupons, toys, teasers, e-book (valued at $10) security blanket (valued at $12), security blanket etc. valuing over $60
This does not include toys, cat trees, medical equipment for first aid and birthing, office expenses for record keeping, advertising expenses, website costs etc.
Each litter is 4-6 kittens on average. In our first year February 2017 to February 2018 we had one litter of four kittens. We had to have another queen who got pyometra, had to be spayed and rehomed before ever having a litter.
So our costs for the first year were as follows : Start Up and years operating costs $33,883
Profit from kittens $7200 Total: -$26,683 These were business expenses only for our cattery, this does not include costs to operate our home on a regular basis or other life circumstances.
You probably think ok that was your first year, the following year was better.
From 2018-2019 we made $51,000 but our profit was only $8,000 after all our expenses and costs were factored in.
Let’s talk about your current home environment and what you currently have.
Cats that are for breeding purposes require much more than a house cat or other pet. Some can free roam around your home but a majority of the time this just isn’t feasible. Stereotypically we know males tend to spray. They are on 24/7, 365 days. Some don’t spray but that is often in the minority. They need an area where they have plenty of room, to run, play, sleep, relax, etc. It needs to be easy to clean which may require special paints, flooring that will hold up to constant peeing, on and other marking territory behaviors. Boys also call. It is very loud and guttural, some sound like birds, others like monkeys. Not only can you hear this throughout your house as they look for a mate, but if you live close to neighbors they may be able to hear too. Hormones are also influential. The main purpose of any living being is to reproduce and at the very core, this is the purpose of your male cat. Due to these hormonal influences and territorial behaviors, this also means they will fight with other males or animals. No one likes to kennel their boys but if you don’t you can have males that will literally kill another cat over a female or space. So not only do you need a space for your male you need one that is cleanable and safe from other males. Females aren’t excused from these behaviors. While most females only spray while in heat, some spray all the time and cannot free roam around your home. They will need their own space at times if they don’t get along with other females and especially when they have kittens. You do not want her having babies in the couch or a dark crawl space where you don’t know where she is, you can't attend to her babies if there is a problem, nor can you attend to things she or the kittens need. A space for her allows her to have a quiet, low-stress area where she can raise the kittens and you can help if need be. If your girl is in too much stress she may harm or hide her babies.
You also will need a proper space for kittens. Often a bedroom isn’t good enough. Not only do they get into everything, but they also need to be potty trained. You WILL have to constantly clean up pee, feces, and vomit. They can hide in very small spaces which could be dangerous. You will also need a space to quarantine. What if you bring in a new cat or you have a whole litter of kittens sick. They can’t run around with your other cats. Illness spreads very quickly and soon it can get out of hand.
If you don’t have cattery space you are forced to use your own living space. Upstairs in our main home space, we have two bathrooms, a living room and kitchen, and two bedrooms. At once point, every single one of those rooms had at least two cats in them.
Now what if you can’t sell a few kittens, you may have to keep them longer than you anticipated. Do you have space for them? When you retire an adult from breeding and need to rehome them, what if people only want kittens and not an adult? Are you able to house them until they find their forever home?
Another things to think about is if you have small children. They must be separated. You don’t want your children to leave doors open leaving your male to breed with anyone. You don’t want your children to be unsupervised playing or removing kittens which may stress mom out or the children may not be handling kittens safely or to let your male run free, potentially breeding your females. MEDICAL
Bengals can be affected by a few breed specific conditions. Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA-b), a type of blindness, Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency (PK-def) a type of enzyme deficiency that results in anemia, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a heart condition that is fatal. In addition to these just like any cat they can be affected by FeLV, FIV, blood disorders as well as various parasites, viruses, and bacteria. All of these MUST be tested for not only before you purchase a cat, but when you bring them home. Some of these like PRA-b and PK-def can be swabbed for once and done, HCM however needs to be screened for every 1.5-2 years and others should be performed randomly like fecals and PCRs.
I always say expect the unexpected and medically with breeding cats this is 100% true. No matter how much you research, vaccinate, medicate, be proactive, something inevitably will happen unfortunately. It could be an emergency c-section or pyometra. It could be bacteria, viral and fungal. If can be isolated in a litter of kittens or spread through your whole entire cattery including domestic rescues and depending on the situation your other companion animals. It can be pests like fleas, ticks, parasites, or worms. It could be anatomical like cancer, kidney failure, liver shunts. Some things are easy to treat others take weeks or months to treat. You may have to treat multiple times with the same or different medications and protocols. You may not even know what it is. Some may require expensive tests or surgeries. Really the possibilities are endless. You may need to employ numerous vets in order to get a well-rounded treatment and some may give you trouble just for being a breeder. Others may be difficult because they are general practitioners and aren’t up to date on more complicated cases or reproductive care. A few things to consider when wanting to breed Bengals is where can you screen for HCM. You must use a board certified cardiologist, not any old vet will work. Not all veterinary schools or clinics perform this screen or at least not willingly. You may have to drive to a whole other state to get the screening done. You must also consider cost. While some locations will screen for $150 per cat others may be several hundred dollars per cat. Do this research ahead of time, it is 100% unacceptable to not HCM screen your cats no matter the size of your program or how many litters you plan on having. If you cannot find a place to HCM screen and/or you are not willing to pay the fees to do this screening PLEASE DO NOT BREED. This also goes for spaying and neutering as well. Sending kittens home unaltered is a bad idea. There are many people out there that too want to breed a beautiful cat and make money. Incentive of registration papers is not enough to prevent someone from not altering or lying about doing so. Spay and neuter costs have greatly increased over the years. While some locations provide low cost spay and neuter clinics many practices now spay and neuter for well over $300 per animal.
We all know animals need to eat, but the food bill can add up fast and providing the best food is essential for reproducing studs and queens as well as growing kittens. The cheapest cat and kitten food isn’t going to cut it when it comes to breeding. You will also have to be diligent about providing supplements or other nutrients for your queens as well as appropriate amounts to make sure she is healthy and able to properly grow little ones. Doubling their food intake may not be enough and you may not be able to leave food out all day. Same with little kittens they eat a ton and will need multiple meals each day even after they leave your home.
At the end of the day, you are glorified pooper scooper. Not only does each adult need a litter box but your little kittens need at least 3 if not more while they are litter training and even after when they are introduced to larger rooms. Scooping daily for the adults will suffice sometimes but kittens go to the bathroom A LOT more. You will also be doing a lot dishes. Water bowls especially need to be cleaned regularly as there are many boys who like to pee right into them, some even like to pee on their food plates too when they are done eating. You will need to clean the kennels and rooms daily. Some moms like to throw litter out of the boxes, kittens will spill or play in the water bowls. Boys and girls will be spraying or kittens may get into paper towels shredding them to pieces. Often you clean up one mess and turn around to find another, could be throw up, poop, scattered clothing from your closets or pens from your drawers. They will keep you on your feet that is for sure.
Aside from daily tidying and spot cleaning, you’ll need to keep things clean and sanitary. You’ll need to mop daily, clean walls and windows, wipe down kennels and litter boxes to avoid a build-up of urine or other things that can attract bugs, pests, and parasites. You must remain diligent or illness and disease can quickly spread through all your cats.
Are you prepared to deal with unsavory behaviors over and over and over…..and over? Boys will always spray, every day multiple times a day and even right as you are cleaning up a pee spot already. They will fight with other boys out in the open and between kennels. They will yowl, howl, and meow for girls. They will be sexually frustrated, potentially aggressive, and even bite at times. They will become escape artists opening locks, doors, or latches to get to a girl.
Girls can spray, maybe while in heat, maybe all the time, maybe not at all. They may go in heat and not come out. They may fight with other girls or be nasty to their male suitors. Females also can go in heat as early as 2 weeks after giving birth. Some you may be able to knock out of heat, but some may not stop. This could cause her to ignore her litter or kill them, naturally to make room for more kittens.
Kittens will get into everything as they learn and explore. As they learn they will discover they have claws and teeth. They will bite you, scratch you, climb your legs and back, play with your hair, bite your toes, scratch up toilet paper, paper towels, and furniture that you may not want scratched. It is your responsibility to each and every time redirect their behavior and understand they don’t know better and are just learning. They poop and pee on the floor, on your bed, on your couches and rugs. And some days it’s a total shit show...literally.
While these are general statements that I and many other breeders have experienced, you may not experience this but isn’t out of the question and are a potential possibility. Many of these behaviors can only be solved by honestly just spaying or neutering the cat.
Breeding truly is not about putting two cats together. Your purpose as a breeder is to better and progress the breed in a positive direction, the individual cats you have, and work towards a domestic cat that looks like the wild asian leopard cat. If this is not one of your top goals PLEASE DO NOT BREED BENGALS! You don’t need to have a degree in animal science but there is some basic things at a minimum that you should have an in depth understanding of: Animal husbandry Genetics including bengal specific color genetics Microbiology
Parasitology Nutrition Animal laws for import/export, state and city level, other types of transport
TIME One thing I hear from some new people is they will get a female than do research. Why is this a bad idea? Getting a young female doesn’t always work out. Our first female was 4 months when we got her and went in heat at four months. She proceeded to go in heat every 15 days. We had to make the hard to decide to send her to a stud (because ours wasn’t old enough) at 10 months old to avoid risking her getting a uterine infection called pyometra that could either end her breeding career or her life. Despite all that she was with two boys over 4 months and didn’t come home pregnant. She was bred by one of my boys when she came home and still wasn’t pregnant. 6 hours in with yet another stud and bam pregnant.
Breeding is A LOT of waiting. Waiting for girls to be of age, waiting for two cats to breed, waiting to see if a girl is pregnant waiting for a girl to give birth which in itself could be hours, waiting to wean kittens to solids, waiting to spay and neuter, waiting to find homes, waiting for them to go home. It can be boring more times than not.
While many people take breeding on as a hobby, it really isn’t, it is a full-time job that frankly no one gets paid enough to do.
You may find yourself with a mom that won’t nurse her kittens, which means you will need to tube or syringe feed them. This requires feedings of each kitten every two hours around the clock. Take it from someone who did this for a kitten for two weeks. It's very tiring and little sleep can be hard. There are also emergency vet visits. More times than not, an emergency has happened on a Sunday around 3 am. Waiting at the ER can take hours, plus waiting for a doctor and treatment. Sometimes you wait for 8 hours and still end up leaving without your cat or kittens to take home with you.
This “job” is very emotional. At times there a lot of ups and days within one day. Socially there can be a lot of stigmas against breeding. At times you will have to deal with emotionally charged discussions with other breeders in regards to how kittens are raised and placed, ethics, values, discussions/gossips about other breeders/groups of breeders, etc. In other words there are difficult situations just with relating with other breeders. Pet owners or rescue only advocates can be very degrading and make you feel like a terrible person for adding to the pet population for example. Pet owners or potential pet owners can get nasty if something doesn’t work the way they want and some may even try to report you to the better business bureau, scam sites, or animal control, while others may smear your name elsewhere.
Aside from social stigmas, there are emotional tolls breeding can take on you. Kittens can be born stillborn, with their intestines outside their body, or suffer an illness that later kills them despite all your efforts, among many, many other things that can be emotionally hard.
An illness may ravage your cats and treating everyone, going to the vet, trying to figure out what the problem is can be very upsetting and add additional stress to your life. Rehoming kittens or retiring adults can also be difficult. All the time spent raising and caring for them you obviously form a deep connection with them. It can be hard letting them go. While some pet owners will keep you updated others will not and you don't know how your kittens are doing. Further so, some pet owners may not raise them the way you want which can be discouraging, yet there is little you can do.
This partially goes hand in hand with the above EMOTION section but breeding to one's surprise can really affect your relationships. From my personal experience, while my husband is very supportive of breeding, I know my husband has felt trapped in the house with all the cats, the messes have been overwhelming, and he has felt they are not only taking over our living space, but destroying it as well despite us being in the process of renovating for them. I know of other breeders whose relationship with their spouses, friends, children, and spiritual relationships have greatly suffered and as a result their spouses have left them or they have chosen to stop breeding all together. This unfortunately is something you can’t entirely account for ahead of time. It is hard for me to portray this unsavory part of breeding, but we all know animals take time and require to be looked after but sometimes we can’t truly understand what to expect until it’s here upon us and we are forced to deal with it one way or another. VACATION
Are you prepared to not go on vacations or be away for long periods of time? Or not go on a trip with your husband or the rest of your family? It can not only be hard but expensive to find a pet sitter. Most do not have the confidence to take care of multiple cats and kittens. Some may be overwhelmed and some may not have the experience you need if there is a problem. Many pet sitters just want to come to your home, feed the cat, play a little and leave. Someone who is watching your pets needs to be another you and perform the same job and duties in your absence. As such it can be expensive because of it is not a quick and easy job. Cats also aren’t on a time schedule so you may be at work or go on vacation when your cat decides gives birth or there is a huge emergency, or you are in the middle of having to bottle feed a litter of kittens unexpectedly.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
The market is saturated with Bengal breeders. It has become a very popular breed and due to their beauty and unique personality more and more people are breeding them. There aren’t just quality breeders you need to compete with but you also need to compete with backyard breeders. They may be unethical but their cheap prices are pretty attractive to many people. Can you compete with that? One thing to consider is do you have a demand for kittens. Friends and family don’t entirely count. Advertising can be hard as well. Facebook doesn’t always allow it and you have to find ways to stand out especially among other breeders. It may require time, resources and money to get your name out there as well as the kittens you have available.
As you can see there is way more that goes into breeding cats than just putting two cats together. There is a lot to consider especially if you are to be an ethical and responsible breeder. Breeding isn’t about you, it's about the cats and that breed. Your responsibility is to better the breed and the cats that you have. So in short here is a list of questions to consider. There are many more but this is a wonderful starting place:
Financial: Are you prepared to invest money into a business that most likely will not make you a profit? Are you prepared to renovate space in your home to accommodate your cats that will need quiet, safe, secure places and who may spray? If not are you ok with damage to your living space and potentially not having your own living space that is human only? Do you have a space to quarantine a sick animal or contagious litter? Will you be able to save money for emergencies and basic care? Are you able to financially support your family’s normal bills and life stresses in addition to the cattery?
Medical: Are you willing to screen and genetically swab each and every one of your breeding cats before and when they enter your home? Are you willing to buy from a breeder who practices these ethical responsibilities? Are you will to travel potentially long distances to HCM screen your cats every 1.5 years? Are you will to pay between $150-$600 per cat to HCM screen them every year? Will you have a team of vets potentially at different practices to keep your cats healthy? Do you have a location when there are emergencies and something can’t wait for the next day? Are you willing to spay and neuter your kittens before they go home? Are you prepared to pay anywhere form $35-$600 per cat to spay or neuter?
Food: Are you willing to provide only the best food to your cats and kittens? Are you willing to supplement and add nutrients for your companions individual needs? Are you willing to feed more than double a cat’s normal food intake? Are you willing to feed multiple meals each day?
Cleaning: Are you ready to clean every single day including litters, food and water bowls, walls, doors, windows, carpets, kennels and more?
Are you ready to continuously potty train kittens that may poop and pee where they shouldn’t? Are you prepared to clean and turn around and find a new mess?
Behavior: Are you ok with listening to a constantly calling male? Females calling when in heat? Are you prepared to deal with spraying males and possibly spraying females? Are you prepared to break up nasty fights? Are you prepared to deal with sexual frustration and male aggression towards humans? Are you prepared to deal with escape artists?
Are you ready to be bitten and scratched while kittens learn how to be cats? Are you prepared to redirect bad behavior over and over again?
Education: Are you willing to find and use the guidance of a mentor? Are you willing to educate yourself about ….
Animal husbandry Genetics including bengal specific color genetics Microbiology
Parasitology Nutrition Animal laws for import/export, state and city level, other types of transport
Time: Are you ready to do a lot of waiting? Are you willing to miss family vacations or traveling for holidays? Are you willing to tube feed, syringe feed or bottle feed kittens every 2 hours around the clock if needed?
Are you ok with going to the emergency room early in the morning and waiting for hours to see a doctor or be treated? Emotions: Can you handle drama, cattiness, and rumors from other breeders? Can you handle rescue warriors attacking you? How will you handle angry pet owners or potential pet owners who may not be getting their way? How will you handle stillborn kittens or those that pass way weeks or months after birth? How will you handle a whole litter being sick or an illness that spreads through your whole cattery? How will you feel if you just spent $3000 on a breeding cat only to have to retire them before they produce a litter of kittens? Will you be ok rehoming kittens and retired adults after you have formed a bond with them? Supply and Demand: Are you ready to compete against cheap unethical breeders? Responsible and ethical breeders? Are you willing to advertise and stand out? Do you have people that aren’t friends and family interested in kittens? While no one can prepare you for everything you come across, these are basic questions you should be able to answer before you decide to officially breed bengals or buy one intended for breeding.This is a big a decision and the health and wellbeing of a cat or multiple cats and the breed could be in your hands.
Ok so you think you can handle breeder. You understand all the emotional, nitty gritty, bad and ugly side of breeding so what now? I and many other breeders highly recommend a mentor. This is someone who has been breeding this breed and has extensive knowledge, life experience, unique and applicable backgrounds, resources and many more traits that can guide you during your journey. This topic is yet a whole other article, so before I go on a tangent please follow the link to part 2 So You Want to Breed Bengals: Mentorship