Where the Money You Pay for a Kitten Goes

OVERVIEW

People see that pedigreed kittens are sold for $400 or more and assume that breeders must be making a profit. It's hard to understand how expensive breeding is without actually trying it. Breeding each domestic species is different with different special challenges. With cats, the biggest challenge is preventing and managing infectious disease because cats evolved as loners, almost never in contact with other cats after reaching adulthood. Cats also tend to start manifesting behavioral problems in a multicat situation. Hence there is no such thing as "economies of scale" when breeding cats. As long as you continue to give the cats all the veterinary care and other things they deserve, the more cats you have, the more expensive it gets.

I. GETTING STARTED

A. When a breeder starts breeding for the first time, she has to buy at least one very good female kitten to eventually be used for breeding. This female (queen) must be registered and have an excellent pedigree. In addition, the queen needs to be an outstanding example of her breed, absolutely sound and cosmetically much better than pet quality. Outstanding examples of the breed don't grow on trees and so usually the price of a breeding queen is high. Also, it's very unlikely that the new breeder will be able to find and persuade a reputable breeder to sell her a healthy, high quality female unless she has first spent about a year educating herself and networking with more experienced breeders (see part G below). Experienced breeders don't want to sell breeding cats to a newbie without abundant evidence that the newbie will do right by her cats and by the breed.

Expense #1: one year of prior networking (breed club dues, advertising, telephone calls: $160) and one female kitten who costs $500 to $1000. Total at least one year advance preparation and $660 to $1160.

B. Next, every time a breeder buys a new kitten or cat for breeding she must make certain that cat is healthy and won't transmit any diseases, parasites, or genetic defects to the kittens (or to other cats already living in the home). The veterinary testing includes a physical exam, stool exam for parasites, blood tests (FIV, feline leukemia), and it's also wise to do PCR testing for hard-to-detect parasites.

Expense #2: veterinary health screening, about $200 per cat.

C. The new breeder must either purchase an excellent stud and build him stud quarters (very, very expensive and challenging for a newbie) - or she must locate a breeder with an excellent stud who is willing to provide stud service. A responsible stud owner will want to protect her stud from possible exposure to disease. Therefore, even though you had a thorough vet exam of your queen when you first bought her, you will probably be asked to repeat at least the blood tests and show the test results to the stud owner prior to each and every breeding.

Expense #3: stud service and further health testing of queen, about $400 to $600 per breeding. It's MORE expensive and much more work to keep your own stud, but usually consistent quality stud service is not available and there is no choice.

D. The breeder must pay to register her cattery name with at least one cat association ($50 for CFA to be paid for a five-year registration), must register her new breeding queen ($10), and must register each litter produced ($10). There will be at least one litter per year and at least one kitten kept and registered per year thereafter.

Expense #4: registration fees, at least $70 the first year and at least $20 per year thereafter.

E. The breeder must buy two or three textbook type reference books to help her learn what she needs to know about making breeding decisions, veterinary screening, genetic screening, rearing kittens, caring for females in heat, caring for pregnant and lactating females, common feline diseases, feline nutrition, and much more. Visiting the library is not sufficient because the library is unlikely to have books that are up-to-date on feline husbandry - or may not have books on that topic at all.

Expense #5: reference books, about $100 the first year and at least $10 per year thereafter.

F. The breeder needs special equipment to rear litters of kittens. At minimum, the breeder needs a heating pad designed specifically to be safe for kittens to keep them warm ($40). Hypothermia is the leading cause of death of young kittens. Also needed are clean rags for bedding and cleaning (cheap), disinfectants and special urinary enzyme deodorizers to reduce disease risk and aid in housebreaking ($20), feeding tubes and feeding syringes for weak or sick kittens ($5), KMR kitten formula (there is a kitten who needs supplementation or who threatens to need it in almost every litter, $20), cardboard kittening box (cheap), at least two small litter pans for built for kittens ($15), an accurate scale to weigh kittens every day ($15 to $100), first aid and kitten delivery kit (latex gloves, twine, food coloring, betadine, kaopectate, millions of paper towels, terramycin, eyedroppers, etc., about $30).

Expense #6: kitten rearing equipment, about $145 to $230 for first litter and at least $30 per year thereafter, or at least $30 for every subsequent litter.

G. The breeder needs to advertise kittens, promote her cattery, promote her breed, and network with other breeders. Advertising of kittens can be done various ways, but will cost an absolute minimum of $100 per year if you are very lucky. Cattery promotion involves a form of year-round advertising, which will cost at least $10 per year independent of kitten advertising. Breed promotion and networking is not only to help the breeder advertise longterm, but to altruistically help the breed, to help the breeder educate herself, and to provide the breeder with contacts that will help her achieve breeding goals far into the future. To do these things a breeder must join at least one cat association and at least one breeder's club at a cost of about $50 per year in dues.

Expense #7: advertising, breed promotion, networking, about $160 per year minimum.

H. The breeder must have a sales contract and other cattery forms, a cattery brochure with which to answer written inquiries, may need business cards, and must take photos of breeding cats and all kittens for cattery documentation, advertising, and other purposes. The breeder must make many phone calls, including long distance phone calls, as a courtesy in returning calls received from kitten clients and even those merely curious about the breed. The breeder must also do longterm follow-up on every kitten sold, telephoning new owners regularly to answer questions and nip problems in the bud. All these forms of communication come at a cost that is hard to estimate accurately, but I would say a bare minimum of $10 per month.

Expense #8: forms, photos, phone calls, and other modes of communication, about $120 per year.

II. MAINTENANCE OF ADULT CATS

Food, litter, routine veterinary bills, and other basic maintenance costs will vary depending on the quality of the food and litter, the number of toys and special furniture items purchased for the cat(s) and more. But it always costs more than $500 per year to maintain one healthy adult cat - and it can average as much as $2000 per cat per year, especially as cats age. A queen can only be bred for 1 to 2 litters per year for 5-6 years after which she must be spayed and retired. Every breeder may begin with one queen, but eventually there will be other queens, perhaps one or two studs, retirees, and a cat or two of any age that was too special to the breeder to adopt out or that was unadoptable because of health or behavioral problems. As cats age, their vet bills increase substantially, beginning with annual dental cleaning ($150 per year) and accelerating to much higher costs as the cat develops physical problems with aging. Even though they retire some of their adult cats early and adopt them out into loving homes, breeders sooner or later accumulate more elderly cats than a pet owner usually would, with the result that their yearly expenses for taking care of their beloved retirees and pensioners can be substantial. Even adopting cats out all cats while still young is not a financial solution (and certainly not an easy solution from an emotional perspective!) because the more often cats are retired and adopted out, the more often the breeder must buy a new breeding cat, pay for health screening, and register her/him. In addition, an occasional new breeding cat will prove to be unbreedable for various reasons and the effort and expense of finding a replacement must be repeated yet again.

III. THE COSTS PER LITTER

Even once you have the kittening equipment and other overhead expenses taken care of, there are additional costs incurred per litter. They include:

A. Queen must be vaccinated right before she is bred or in some cases during the pregnancy. That's at least $10 if the vet does it (more if he charges for an office visit) and $3 if you learn how to do it yourself (that's if you manage your inventory perfectly and can avoid having vaccines expire before you can use them all up, not that easy to do).

B. Stud fee and health screening discussed in part I section C above. $400 to $600.

C. Queen will eat up to twice as much as usual during her pregnancy and up to three times as much as usual while she is nursing the kittens. She needs special premium quality food that is approved for pregnancy and lactation. That is two 6-ounce cans per day for 9 weeks of pregnancy and 3 cans per day for at least 8 weeks of lactation. Each can costs about 50 cents for premium food, so that is 63 days X $1.00 + 56 days X $1.50 = $147.00.

D. Kittens can die within hours if they don't get enough to eat because of a feeding problem. So you need to keep emergency formula, feeding tubes, and feeding syringes on hand. The formula needs to be purchased fresh nearly every time you have a litter, so that's $20 per litter.

E. The kittens will begin to eat solid food at age 4-6 weeks and will be eating almost entirely solid food at age 8 weeks. At age 8 weeks, each kitten eats about two 3-ounce cans per day of premium food rated for growing kittens and will eat perhaps 1/8 cup of dry premium kitten food each day. What they don't eat, they spill soil, scatter, or play with until it must be discarded. The kittens will stay with the breeder usually until age 12 weeks - and sometimes for much longer. So that's a minimum of 3 cans X 4 weeks X 33 cents per can = $28 per kitten. Average litter size for Siamese is five kittens, so 5 X $28 = $140.00. Then the dry food adds up to 1/8 cup X 5 kittens X 28 days = 17.5 cups. So that's about one 4 pound bag of premium kitten food per litter, or $8.00. Total food for kittens is $140 + $8 = $148.00.

F. The kittens will require at least two vaccinations, one at age 9 weeks and one at age 12 weeks. Those cost $10 each if the vet does it, or $3 each if the breeder does it. So that's five kittens X 2 vaccinations X $10 per vacc = $100.00, or alternatively it is $30.00 if the breeder does her own vaccinations.

G. Each kitten must be spayed or neutered prior to adoption. This is responsible breeding that prevents new owners from unintentionally failing to neuter kittens in time to prevent accidental litters. Breeders aim to preserve their breeds but they also wish to avoid adding to the numbers of homeless cats on the streets and in shelters. If you can find a good low-cost early neuter clinic (not always possible), average cost of neutering is $25.00 per kitten X four kittens = $100.00. NOTE: If you can't find a low-cost neutering clinic, it will cost you about $50.00 and up to neuter and or spay each kitten. The reason there are only four kittens neutered, and not five, is because the breeder nearly always keeps one kitten from each litter to see if it will have potential as a future breeding or show cat. Obviously, in many cases the kitten does not realize its potential and thus is eventually placed in a home as a pet, but placed at a later age it may have to be sold for almost nothing.

H. In virtually all litters there is at least one kitten who during his 12 weeks living with the breeder requires veterinary attention due to an umbilical infection, failure to thrive normally, getting poked in the eye, falling off a table the wrong way, developing an upper respiratory infection, developing a minor eye infection during the period when the eyes are starting to open, needing a re-examination after neutering, being born with a minor birth defect, developing a mysterious limp, swallowing a foreign object, or many other possible calamities. Kittens are like small human children. They have a talent for getting themselves into scrapes or picking up bugs. The veterinary costs typically vary from a $35 exam (to be on the safe side) to $300 emergency surgery or treatment (off-hours).

I. Occasionally, the queen requires a C-section to deliver her kittens or may require treatment after the birth of the kittens due to lactational diarrhea, intestinal obstruction, mastitis, hemorrhaging, uterine infection, or other complications. The costs associated with treating these problems may run up to $1200 for an emergency off-hours C-section. Also, if C-section is required up to half of the litter may die due to side effects of the anesthesia. Kittens may also be lost due to the effects of complications on the queen's milk production.

J. The queen will require at least one precautionary prenatal or perinatal veterinary examination, $35.00.

K. The litter must be registered and the one kitten who is kept must be individually registered, $20.00.

L. You must replenish, repair, replace some of the kittening equipment each litter (see part I), $30.

Total costs per litter in best case scenario where all goes well, breeder does her own vaccinations,and somehow no kitten gets sick = $933.00

IV. INCOME FROM ONE LITTER OF KITTENS

A. If the breeder keeps one kitten and sells four, the income is 4 X $400 = $1600.00

In the best-case scenario J-1 and if you ignore start-up costs and overhead for a moment, you have $1600 - 933 = $667.00

B. But the queen originally cost you at least $500 + $160 for advance networking + $200 for health screening + $10 for registration + min $500 per year maintenance for perhaps six years of reproductive life. Total cost of queen = $1370. Divide that by six years and you get $228 per year (and that's the minimum she cost you assuming you don't have to support her after her retirement). Since she only produced one litter per year, you have to subtract the cost of her support from the litter income: $667.00 - $228.00 = $439.00. And of course in reality you didn't get a best-case scenario from every litter she produced. But let's suppose you did...

C. You also paid $160 per year in networking and advertising for six years while you were breeding her. $439 - 160 = $279.00.

D. You had $120 per year of long distance phone calls and related expenses. $279 - $120 = $159.00.

E. You had the costs of registering a cattery name with CFA $50 per five years. We are actually talking about breeding the queen for six years, but let's be generous and average the cattery reg fees over five years, or $10 per year. $159.00 - 10 = $149.00.

F. Oh, and Uncle Sam won't let you deduct your cattery expenses as business expenses because it will turn out you never make a profit. So you have to declare your kitten income as hobby income and pay taxes on at LEAST everything you make in immediate "profit," so let's say that's 25% of part A's $667.00 = $167.00.

Now $149.00 - 167.00 = - $18.00. So now you've LOST $18.00 per year even with a best-case scenario.

G. But we're not done. Reference books were $100 (during preparatory year) + $10 per year X 6 years = $160.00 divided by 6 = $27.00. So that makes a loss of $45.00 per year.

H. And there was the $145.00 of up-front kittening equipment. Divide that by 6 years and you have $24.00.

So now we have lost $69.00 per year under the very best of circumstances.

I. Remember that due to the occasional accident of nature, you may also end up with at least one unadoptable kitten, a kitten with a special health or behavioral problem, to which you must give a lifetime of love and good care. That adds to the richness of your emotional experience with the cats, but it also costs you a lot more.

J. And we haven't even talked about what it would cost you if you were showing your cats several times per year at cat shows!

V. ECONOMIES OF SCALE?

Well, you say, maybe if you buy more than one breeding queen and start raising more litters per year, THEN you can make a profit.

Unfortunately, it turns out that with cats the more breeding cats you have living together, the higher your costs climb.

First of all, you absolutely can bet you won't have a best-case scenario with all the litters produced by every cat, so you will be much more in debt from some cats than others.

You can also bet that a percentage of the breeding cats you buy will turn out to be unbreedable, will die unexpectedly, will develop pyometra and have their reproductive lives cut short, and so on.

As the number of cats you buy climbs beyond about one, you will find that it becomes nearly impossible to continue to get by with stud service. There aren't many breeders who will offer stud service and who have a high quality stud and who are located near you. In fact, there may not be any. And if you have multiple queens, you can't be shipping them ALL long distances on a regular basis. Also, your stud service provider may be unable to offer you all the stud services you need WHEN you need them.

So you buy a stud. That means you have to have special stud housing that will cost you at least several hundred dollars in materials and several hundred more in equipment (e.g., special cleanable surfaces, heated bed and other niceties for the studhouse). Now you also have to maintain the stud year-round whether he is siring litters or not. And you have to hire someone to care for him while you are out of town. Studs are not cats you can leave in the hands of just anyone, especially if they spray urine heavily on a daily basis.

If you have multiple queens, you will begin to have some problems with them getting along. In some cases, that may mean you have to spay one and adopt her out to keep the peace. And you may suddenly have extra vet trips to help you differentiate and treat behavioral versus medical problems.

You will also need cages (about $175 per cage and up). With multiple queens often several of them will come into heat at once. If allowed to roam the house, the wailing will drive you and possibly your neighbors to distraction. Queens in heat also tend to spray urine on furniture. It's easy to monitor the behavior of just one queen in heat and leave her free to roam, but when you have several queens in heat that's not feasible. You have to confine them during each heat cycle.

You will need more kittening equipment, such as multiple heating pads, because often more than one queen will have kittens at the same time.

You will need to remodel portions of your home. When you have multiple breeding cats and several litters of kittens born per year, you need rooms in which to separately isolate young fragile litters. You need cleanable, bleachable surfaces so you can disinfect because having litters around all the time greatly increases the risk of infectious disease. It becomes extremely difficult to keep carpets clean in a house of multiple cats, especially with young ones underfoot all the time, so you need to replace the carpets with Pergo or tile or similar cleanable surface. You need to get rid of the lacy curtains because young kittens can poke their heads through them and strangle themselves. You need to replace your old furniture with furniture you can easily clean.

Yes, you can keep the home sanitary and odorless when you have multiple breeding cats. You can keep the cats happy and healthy. But it will require remodeling. It will cost you money.

When you only have one queen and one litter per year you can work around the limitations of your home. But once you have multiple cats and multiple litters per year, you can't. The remodeling will cost you thousands of dollars. Just replacing all the carpets with Pergo or tile can cost ten thousand dollars.

With multiple cats and multiple litters you will, despite the best of vaccination and quarantine systems, occasionally end up with epidemics. Those may be minor or they may be serious, but they always mean large vet bills. It's very much like running a day-care center full of young children who succumb to every new virus and bug that's out there.

When you only have one queen and one litter per year, you have very minimal vet bills, but once you graduate to multiple breeding cats and litters, the vet bills can be substantial. Cats evolved to live by themselves most of the time. Consequently, they are very susceptible to epidemic diseases, much more so than dogs.

So why do breeders bother to breed multiple cats and litters? Because they want to keep the breed going and also hopefully improve its health and appearance. You can't accomplish much for a breed when breeding only one cat.

So much for the "profits" in cat-breeding.

When you buy a kitten from a reputable breeder, you are helping the breeder with some of the expenses of breeding so she or he can keep the breed going. It's that simple.

Photographs and text copyright 1996-2002 by Dr. C. Bird of Sarsenstone Cattery. You may link to this document, but you may not redistribute it in any form without the express written consent of the copyright holder.

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