By now, you may have heard that Puppy Mill Action Week is in full swing. There is a lot of information available about puppy mills these days. Puppy mills are businesses where dogs are bred in horrible conditions with little to no concern for the health and well being of the dogs involved. What about kitty mills? Does the same thing happen to cats? I turned to Mary, the owner of a TICA registered Bengal cat cattery, Purrfect Dreams Bengals, to learn about the difference between a kitty mill and an ethical cat breeder.

Title Image Credit: Purrfect Dreams Bengals on Facebook

What is the Role of Cat Breeders?

You've heard about the horrors of puppy mills, but how about a kitty mill? I interviewed a terrific Bengal cat breeder to find out.
Image Credit: Purrfect Dreams Bengals

In a world where domestic cats are considered to be overpopulated, it may seem odd that anyone would want to breed cats. This is certainly a big concern for those involved in animal rescue who are working hard to find homes for kitties that would otherwise be out on the streets. What is, then, the purpose of cat breeders in our modern world? Here is what Mary had to say: “I personally will always have a rescue cat, especially when I am breeding. Breeders are needed to keep pedigree cats from going extinct. A responsible breeder will always make sure their breeding cats are Health tested. Responsible breeders do not overbreed their cats.”

She has a point. An example of a time when breeders have saved entire breeds of domestic cats would be following the World Wars. Between the carnage of the wars themselves and the number of cats that had to be euthanized to reserve resources for humans in that time, a number of cat breeds in Europe had all but disappeared. The Abyssinian, Chartreux, and Egyptian Mau breeds were only 3 of the breeds would have disappeared after World War II had it not been for the concentrated efforts of breeders.

If ethical cat breeders are very conscious of the number of cats being produced, then where does the overpopulation of cats come from? Do kitty mills exist? Mary says that they do. She refers to these unethical cat breeders as “backyard breeders”. “The overbreeding problem lies in the so-called ‘Backyard Breeders’. They think they see a quick way to make money. They are the real reason the shelters are flooded with kittens and cats.”

What Are The Characteristics Of An Ethical Cat Breeder?

You've heard about the horrors of puppy mills, but how about a kitty mill? I interviewed a terrific bengal cat breeder to find out.
Image Credit: Purrfect Dreams Bengals

Clearly, ethical cat breeders have a different mindset than backyard breeders. Ethical cat breeders care deeply about their favorite breed as well as the health and well being of both their breeding cats and the kittens they produce. Mary says that the health of her Bengal cats is so important to her that she thoroughly checks the lineage of the cats for any potential genetic diseases.

All my breeding cats are tested for HCM (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy) every 12 to 18 months. Cats that test HCM negative today can test positive at a later date. This is why I also check the lineage of my cats in the Bengal Database to make sure they have no relatives on the HCM list. I can feel pretty confident that if my breeding cats do not have a relative on the HCM list that my breeding cats should continue to test HCM clear. I currently have a retired 9-year-old queen that still tests HCM clear. They are also tested for PRA-b and Pk-def. Parents that are negative for PRA-b and Pk-Def will not produce any kittens with the disease so there is no need to test the kittens.”

There are a number of characteristics that a cat lover can look for to help them decide if a cat breeder is a legitimate or a backyard kitty mill breeder. Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions. According to Mary, the following are characteristics to look for in ethical cat breeders:

  • “The breeder should be registered with and in good standing with TICA (The International Cat Association), CFA (Cat Fancy Association) or both.
  • Breeder should be able to produce health testing results on the parents.
  • Breeder should be willing to provide video of the kittens.
  • Breeder provides a sales contract which includes a health guarantee.
  • Breeder should be willing to answer any and all buyer questions.
  • Any good breeder will not hesitate to show you their cats and kittens. They will gladly show you their queens and studs, provided they didn’t use an outside stud who is offsite. If that is the case, ask if photoscan be provided of the stud so you can see what he looks like as well.
  • They will happily show you where the cats and kittens live, how they are raised, and let you socialize and play with them. During this time, you should be observing their behavior. Watch and see if the cats and kittens are social and willing to visit and play with you. They should be clean and well fed, with no signs of runny noses, goopy eyes, sneezing, coughing, diarrhea, hair loss, fleas, ear mites, or other health concerns. The kittens should be alert and playful. They should not be fearful, timid or shy around people. You shouldn’t feel rushed or pressured to purchase a kitten by the breeder. If a breeder is unwilling to allow you onto their property to see their kittens, that is a sign of something being wrong.
  • Breeder is willing to provide assistance in rehoming the cat if the buyer ever needs to give up the cat.
  • Breeder does not sell their kittens to pet shops.”

Keep in mind that TICA and CFA have the same standards for all of the breeders that they endorse, regardless of which cat breed they raise.

What Are the Red Flags That a Breeder is Unethical?

Kitty mills breeders prioritize making money above the interests of the cats involved. According to Mary, if any of the following are true, the cat breeder is likely a kitty mill breeder:

“Buyer should walk away if a breeder does not provide pedigrees on the parents which proves the cats can be registered.
• No sales contract.
• No health guarantee.
• Breeder asks for payment via gift cards.
• Breeder does not allow Cattery visits.
• Breeder cannot provide veterinary references.
• Breeder does not provide core vaccinations.
• Breeder releases kittens before 14 weeks of age. Both TICA and CFA recommend that breeders not release kittens before this age.
• Breeder will only do business via text messages.
• Breeder is not willing to provide real-time (FaceTime, Skype, etc)video of kittens in or to prove they do have kittens.
• Breeder allows the queen to have more than two litters a year.”

What Should You Do If You Find a Kitty Mill?

You've heard about the horrors of puppy mills, but how about a kitty mill? I interviewed a terrific bengal cat breeder to find out.
Image Credit: Purrfect Dreams Bengals

Unfortunately, many people don’t do enough research to know whether they are dealing with an ethical cat breeder or a kitty mill breeder. The first signs might be a very sick kitty. If you purchase (or adopt for that matter) a cat that has medical issues that were not already discussed with you, contact the person from whom you received the cat immediately. Legitimate breeders will have provisions in their sales contract that will give you ways to resolve issues with illnesses that may come up.

Should you find yourself dealing with a kitty mill breeder, Mary has a few tips for how to report them.

• “Notify the local animal welfare or law enforcement.
• Notify TICA and/or CFA if the Cattery is registered.
• Make a public posting on Facebook in one of the various ‘Bad Cattery or Bad Breeder’ groups.”

Don’t be shy about reporting kitty mills. If you have seen poor living conditions or sickly cats, write down notes that can be shared with law enforcement. They may need documentation to take legal action.

Have you ever encountered an unethical breeder? If so, what did you do?