Before we get started this week, we'd like to offer you a cat safety reminder. It's getting to be the time of year where it's best to keep your cat friends indoors. Not only is it getting cold at night--and even though we have fur, we can still catch a chill or even freeze to death!--but Mama says that creeps who like to hurt cats start crawling out from under their rocks at this time of year. Apparently these creeps think there's some kind of "magic" involved in hurting cats on certain days, but Mama says that no legitimate spiritual path involves the deliberate torture or murder of living creatures in the quest for personal power. So especially around Halloween, please keep your cat friends indoors. Especially if they're black! Now, on to this week's question.
Dear Sinéad and Siouxsie:
We lost our kitty, whom we had for 18 years, this past summer. We are finally feeling ready for a new kitten to enter our lives once again. We have always adopted strays before (we've had 3 other kitties) but this time we would like to buy a Maine Coon kitten and will be dealing with a breeder for the first time. How do you find a good breeder and what are important questions to ask of them? How do you determine the appropriate price to pay? We've seen prices ranging from $200 to $650 (Ouch!). We are not looking for a cat to breed or show but want one who is friendly, cuddly, cute and will become a good family member. Can you help us out, please?
A Family with Room for Another
Sinéad: Oh, our condolences go out to you on the loss of your beloved cat companion. We're glad that you've given yourselves time to grieve and you're ready to adopt another wonderful cat into your household.
Siouxsie: We don't know a whole lot about cat breeders ourselves, because we're rescue cats ourselves (or so Mama tells us). But we asked Mama to look up some things to help us answer your question.
Sinéad: And here are some of the answers we came up with.
Siouxsie: First of all, we assume that you've done your research about the temperament and disposition of the Maine Coon cat, and you've come to the conclusion that a Maine Coon would be a good fit for your family.
Sinéad: It's sad but true that a lot of people who buy purebred cats, buy a particular breed just because they like the look of them or think that breed is "cool," without determining that some of that breed's special needs might be a burden for them. But since your family has been a cat family for a long time, we figure you know what you're doing in that regard.
JaneA: There's a book called CatSmart by Myrna Milani, DVM, that will help anyone considering adopting a cat for the first time (whether it's a shelter cat or a purebred). The book has questionnaires, stories of people with successful and unsuccessful adoption experiences, information on how to meet a cat's physical and emotional needs, and all sorts of other great stuff. I recommend it highly for anyone considering adopting a cat for the first time.
Siouxsie: Do you mind if we get back on the subject now, Mama?
JaneA: No, no. Not at all.
Siouxsie: So . . . finding a breeder. Mama asked the man at the local pet store, where she buys kitty litter and toys for us, what he would recommend. He suggested asking your veterinarian. He figured that the local vets would know of reputable breeders in your area, and maybe they could point you in the right direction.
Sinéad: Another option you have is adopting a cat from a breed rescue group. When Mama looked on the Internet for information about Maine Coon cat rescue groups, several popped up. Now, since we've never dealt with any of these groups, we can't vouch for what it's like and how good they are. But we do know that you can expect to pay a good deal less for a purebred adopted from a breed rescue group than you would for a cat from a breeder (Mama says she saw adoption fees at one site that range from $125 to $150).
Siouxsie: The down side of breed rescue adoptions is that these groups rarely have kittens available, so if you have your heart set on a little kitten, you may not find one there. But it couldn't hurt to try.
Sinéad: Sometimes rescued animals have special needs or issues that arise from how they came to need rescuing. Medical or behavior issues, or being removed from abusive homes, can require extra patience and resources on your behalf.
Siouxsie: But again, many people have found perfectly wonderful pets through rescue groups. If you want to check out the rescue group option, you can go to the online magazine of the Cat Fanciers Association for an article about rescue groups.
Sinéad: And Mama found a website for the United Maine Coon Cat Rescue League. They have cats available for adoption and links to other Maine Coon Cat rescue groups as well.
JaneA: Sometimes you'll find Maine Coon cats available at Petfinder.com, too. Many humane societies and rescue groups will post information about animals available at their shelters on that website.
Siouxsie: If you'd prefer to work with a breeder, though, there are some things you'll have to look out for.
Sinéad: There are people who breed cats in "kitty mill" type of situations, just to try and make a buck. Cats from these situations are often poorly socialized (they're scared of people) and often are not in optimum health. So you want to stay away from those people.
Siouxsie: The words "raised underfoot" in any breeder's literature generally means that the cats are raised in the house with people and other animals, and so are better adjusted to a variety of lifestyles and situations.
Sinéad: It's a good idea to visit the breeder's home and see not only the kittens but their mother and the circumstances in which they are raised. This will give you a good idea of the future health of your kitten, and the atmosphere of the home will tell you a lot about the standard of care the breeder is offering. Dirty bedding, smelly litterboxes, and cruddy water and food dishes are warning signs.
Siouxsie: A reputable breeder should be willing to offer you references from other people who have bought cats from him or her, and perhaps also from the cats' veterinarian.
Sinéad: A responsible breeder is willing to take the time to talk with you and share information about the breed, both before and after the purchase. A good breeder will also want to interview you and determine whether your family and lifestyle are an appropriate match for their cats.
Siouxsie: A reputable breeder will not sell kittens until they are at least 12-14 weeks old. By that time, the kittens will be fully weaned and should have had their first shots. Some pet-quality kittens may already have been spayed or neutered by that time; otherwise, the contract for the sale of a pet-quality kitten will indicate that you are required to have him or her neutered by a certain age.
Sinéad: Speaking of "pet-quality," we should clarify that term. Generally when a breeder separates their kittens into "show-quality" and "pet-quality," that doesn't mean that the pet-quality kitten is any worse than the show quality kitten. It usually means that there are tiny issues such as a kink in the tail or the "wrong" eye color that would disqualify that cat from becoming a show champion. A pet-quality kitten is just as loving and wonderful as a show-quality one.
Siouxsie: But don't expect to pay less for a pet-quality purebred. Breeders invest the same amount of time and money into the production of all their kittens, whether they're potential grand champions or not.
Sinéad: Finally, a reputable breeder will provide a health guarantee, stating that the kitten is free of major defects, in writing. That means that to the best of the breeder's knowledge, the kitten is healthy and sound, and if that proves not to be the case, you can be reimbursed for the financial cost of purchasing the kitten.
Siouxsie: Mama found another great list of questions to ask a cat breeder, which was adapted from the book Cats for Dummies, 2nd Edition. Since it's kind of long, we'll provide you with a link to it for nice, easy access.
Sinéad: Good luck in your quest for a Maine Coon kitten. We hope we've been able to help. Please write back and let us know when you find the perfect kitty friend to add to your family. If you want to send pictures, we love seeing pictures of other cats. Especially kittens!
Got a question? Need some advice? E-mail Sinéad and Siouxsie at email@example.com. None of the advice in this column is meant to be a substitute for regular veterinary care.