Finding the Right Breeder, Avoiding the Wrong Breeder
Updated: Aug 12
There are two situations I often come across. The first being the price of a Bengal kitten is too much. The second being pet owners ending up purchasing inexpensive cats and instantly or down the road having serious issues. This often results in a lot of heart break for the owner, suffering for the cat or kitten and unfortunately owner regret in working with the breeder. While cost is certainly a factor, we should also want to support ethical and responsible breeders and increase the chances of providing a home to a beautiful healthy kitten. The following are indicators you may want to find another breeder. Registered Breeders A breeder that is registered more times than not is one that follows a code of ethics and guidelines that an organization like The International Cat Association (TICA) or Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) has set in place for breeders to follow. A breeder should not only have their cattery registered with a recognized body, they should also be registering their kittens. A breeder that is not selling registered kittens means their breeding cats are not registered. This could mean they are breeding these cats without permission or even the cats may be stolen. Registration provides a form of identification and ownership. It helps identify purebred cats and a pedigree or family tree of a specific cat. Through this illness and disease as well as other traits can be tracked and local laws and authorities can see the cat is what it is Any breeder that says there is an extra cost to your kitten, it costs a lot of money to get papers or some other excuse about not providing papers is being dishonest to you. Registering a litter not just one kitten is $13-$15. That’s it! Unfortunately it is true a breeder only pays $75 or so to be registered and is not required to be inspected by the organization to be registered therefore it is essential to look at a few other guidelines for finding the right breeder to purchase from.
Health Testing Breeders While you may not be breeding your kitten it is essential you purchase a kitten from a cattery that health tests. This could avoid a lot of heart break.
Bengal Specific tests that should be performed are PRA-b, PK-def and HCM. PRA-b or Progressive Retinal Atrophy is a type of blindness. If the cat is a carrier (breeding cat or kitten) they are 100% UNAFFECTED and will not suffer from this type of blindness. Their sight is 100% fine, it is only a problem if they are bred to another carrier.
PK-def or Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency is an enzyme deficiency that results in a type of anemia. Like PRA-b a carrier or a cat with one copy of the gene is 100% UNAFFECTED. These conditions are very well known to Bengal Breeders and the tests needed to perform them are simple to conduct and inexpensive. It should be noted that if a parent is free of PRA-b and PK-def their kittens cannot have the condition so some breeders may not test their kittens however “I don’t test because I’ve never had a problem” is not an excuse to not test. HCM or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a heart condition that eventually leads to the death of the cat do to an enlargement of the heart. Starting at 1.5-2 years of age breeding cats should be screened by a board certified cardiologist who performs an echocardiogram to measure the heart. While this is an expensive test (depending on a breeder’s location) and should be performed every 1-1.5 years, it is the ONLY way to even remotely test for this condition. It is a genetic condition. This is also a well-known condition that affects the Bengal breed. There is absolutely no excuse to not screen. This is the bare minimum! Breeders should also make sure their cats are negative for FeLV and FIV. They should make sure their cats do not have parasites, worms, viruses, bacterial infections and more which can all be tested for. Illness and disease always can occur, even breeders aren't exempt from this no matter how careful you are but its important breeders are being diligent in helping to prevent this, taking responsibility if it does happen as well as treating appropriately to correct it. One major purpose of breeding is to improve the breed on an individual and whole picture level. Health should be one of the top things to work on which includes health screening to ensure breeders are integrating healthy cats in their program and producing healthy kittens for kitten owners. Someone who does not health test is not improving the breed and not being ethical or responsible.
Rehoming Policy Is the breeder picky about where their kittens go to? Do they heavily vet people to make sure kittens and families are the perfect fit or are they selling to anyone? This typically can be indicated by any combination of phone calls, email questions, skype/video calls, applications, in person meetings etc. This may seem "elitist" or frustrating but these breeders are entrusting a pet owner with their babies that they have raised from birth and put a lot of time and energy in to. They have a right to be picky and should not be required to sell to anyone if they don't feel they would be a good match. Kittens should not be rehomed any younger than 12 weeks of age. TICA recommends 14-16 weeks and CFA recommends 12-14 weeks. The reason for this is that kittens should be completely weaned from mom and eating solid food. While you can get a shelter cat at 8 weeks there are other important things to take into account. Kittens even if they are eating solid food still have a lot of social skills and cat behavior to learn from mom and litter mates. This age recommendation also can avoid suckling, separation anxiety, inappropriate litter box behavior, aggression and much more. Kittens are more well adapted and better prepared to bond with humans from readiness of leaving mom and litter mates versus out of fear. Kittens are also completely litter trained, know how to use scratching posts, are used to nails being cut, and aren’t biting anymore. Any breeder that sells a kitten before this age does not have the kittens best interest in mind and are breaking their code of ethics if they are registered. In addition to rehoming age, spaying and neutering is another part of rehoming. It is essential if kittens are going as pets to be spayed or neutered before they go home. This prevents irresponsible breeding, kittens going into the wrong hands and additional costs on the buyers part. There are exceptions to this of course. If a cat/kitten is a special needs they may need to be spayed/neutered later. Some breeders also feel that spaying and neutering before full maturity is detrimental to development and growth. While studies do not show this yet like with dogs, there is no doubt removing essential organs and hormones will most likely have some sort of effect on the kitten. If this is the case, breeders should have a spay/neuter clause in their contract that requires the cat or kitten to be spayed or neutered by a certain period of time.
Breeders should require you to sign a reasonable contract. This should outline guarantees of the breeder as well as expectations of the buyer. A contract is designed to protect both buyer and breeder. Without a contract neither a buyer nor breeder is liable for anything which could result in a very sticky situation should something happen. If the breeder does have a contract make sure you read it in its entirety and make sure you understand it as well ask any questions you may have BEFORE purchasing a kitten or giving the breeder any money. Website Most reputable breeders will have a website where you can view kittens, parents, test results information etc. Some breeders may only have a Facebook page. Be wary of those who have nothing or barely anything on their pages especially when it comes to pictures and testing information. Keep in mind some older breeders may not have a website or Facebook or if they may seem outdated. You will have to ask plenty of questions to get a good sense of the breeder instead.
Don’t’ be Worried There are a few things to be aware of that many would think are suspicious but may not upon further investigation. Closed vs. Open Catteries It is becoming more commonplace that some breeders are closed catteries. This means they are not open to the public for visits and do not provide stud services. This is not always something to be concerned with as long as the breeder is transparent in other ways.
Transparency is answering questions, providing pictures and/or videos of their cats, kittens and/or cattery space, potentially willing to meet in a public location to meet a kitten etc. Breeding may seem like an easy business but there are some nasty people out there that have robbed and/or have intentions on hurting breeders. You must remember many breeders have families and children, they operate their cattery from their own home and they must be able to have a separation between personal and business as well protect those they love just in case. Listed are several reasons a breeder may choose to be a closed cattery 1. Their cattery is in their home. They may have children and want to protect them.
2. They live remotely with few neighbors for help if there is a problem, or its hard to even find their home. 3. Illness and disease can spread fast. While breeders can control the cats they bring in through testing, that is much harder with potential families and their pets. If the family has visited another cattery, shelter or rescue recently that can also bring in unwanted illness and disease that could very heavily affect newborns for example.
4. No matter how much socializing a breeder does hormones have a heavy influence. Moms and their babies could be extremely stressed out even if they only can hear new people in the home.
5. There have been numerous issues where upset breeders or customers come after breeders in numerous ways. This can be robbery including stealing cats, stalking people, taking pictures or showing up at people's homes, even murdered breeders (a google search will bring up several cases).
It's important to know that not all breeders that are closed catteries are shady or trying to hide something. Most are just trying to keep their families and their cats safe. If you feel uncomfortable with this there are numerous other breeders that are open catteries.
There are a wide variety of programs focusing on various features, traits, colors, patterns etc. With this comes varying sized programs. Just because a breeder has many cats does not always mean they are back yard breeders or a kitten mill. There are many reputable breeders with large programs and many unethical breeders with small programs. Its important to look into other morals, ethics and practices that will help determine if a breeder has too many cats or is unethically breeding. That being said one indicator is how often a breeder breeds their females each year. In general a maximum of 2 litters a year per girl is appropriate. Some females may have a third if they lost a litter for example. Breeding back to back all year or not knowing how many litters a breeder has, is a red flag in my book.
Not Accepting Phone Calls There are only a hand full, but some breeders do not communicate via the phone. While this may seem strange if you think about it, it can make sense. Spoken word isn’t usually recorded but Facebook messages and emails are. There is a paper trail that can be referenced. Just like making sure a breeder uses a contract, one that you can view and reference back too, this is the same concept. As long as the breeder is open, shares pictures and is fairly transparent, there should be little concern if they only want to communicate in this manner. Always remember to be open, some breeders have heard horror stories or have their own that have resulted in them making a personal decisions for the safety of their family and their cattery. If something seems strange, ask. They will be able to provide better insight.
Showing It is very common in the dog world that if your breeder doesn't show or have champion lines you shouldn't buy from them. Cat showing is a tad different and is not always an indicator of a fishy breeder. It doesn't mean they don't have quality cats or don't understand the breed standard. There are many reasons a breeder can't/won't show. It is important to understand why this may be and should not be necessarily a deciding factor when purchasing a kitten from a breeder.
Breeders should offer support after a kitten goes home. This not only includes checking in to see how their kittens are and answering questions, but also helping in times of stress. Will the breeder take back or help you rehome your kitten should something happen where you can’t keep him or her? Much of this information can be discussed with interviewing breeders but also should be found in their contract.
If at any time you have a weird gut feeling and you find yourself questioning the kitten and/or the breeder WALK AWAY! If you have red flags now and trying to convince yourself everything is OK that’s a clear sign something isn’t right. Red flags now most likely means problems down the road.
Common Red Flags 1. The breeder is not registered 2. Kittens are less than $1000 (the average cost for a Bengal is $1400-$1600 however as the popularity of bengals increases so does price which can reach reasonably up to $2400 for pets) 3. Do not perform any tests including but not limited to HCM, PRA-b, PK-def or will not provide test results 4. Send kittens home earlier than 12 weeks of age 5. Do not have a contract
6. Do not allow you to see pictures, videos of parents, kittens and/or cattery setting
Always go with your gut. If you have red flags now, bad gut feelings or find yourself rationalizing things take note of this. You most likely do not want to work with this breeder and you will most likely face problems down the road. If it seems to good to be true, it most likely is.
Recommendations Ask around, ask other pet owners, ask other breeders, search google, scam sites and the BBB. Ethical and responsible breeders will happily and willingly provide references to another Breeder’s character, kittens or practice. At the end of the day any ethical and responsible breeder would much rather steer you in the right direction, than allow you to purchase a kitten from an unethical breeder.