How to Find a Maine Coon Kitten
By Cat Moody, Stormwatch Maine Coons (reprinted with permission)
Contents: Finding a Kitten | How Much Does a Maine Coon Kitten Cost? | Why Are Kittens So Expensive? | Visiting a Cattery | Questions to Ask a Breeder | Questions the Breeder Should Ask You
Finding a Kitten
First, put "pet shop" right out of your mind. No reputable breeder, of any kind of cat or dog, would even consider selling an animal to a pet shop. Kittens found in pet shops are from what would be considered "puppy mills" in the dog world. Pet shop prices will always equal or exceed what a reputable breeder would charge. And you cannot evaluate the conditions the kitten was raised in, or meet its parents, or other adults of the breed. It is a massive mistake to think about "rescuing" a purported MC from a pet shop.
Almost as bad are the backyard breeders (abbreviated BYB). These may be people who truly love their animals, but have started out with pet quality cats (perhaps purchased from a pet shop) that they breed together. They don't register the offspring, show their cats, or maintain any contact with the breeding community at large. They do not necessarily provide the same level of research into health issues, breeding their cats to the accepted Standards established for this breed, or socializing their kittens. They have no intention of improving the breed, and they have no network of other breeders to contact to help resolve a problem. Their pricing may be the same as that of reputable breeders - but people end up paying for a cat with questionable heritage, that may or may not resemble a purebred MC, with no knowledge of what health issues may be lurking in the ancestry of the cat. See following section on "Questions to Ask the Breeder" and "Visiting a Cattery" for some ways to make sure you are dealing with a reputable breeder.
The very best place to find a MC kitten is by attending a cat show in your area. Nope, the kittens themselves may not be there, but the most important thing is finding a breeder that you trust and want to work with. You can find out about cat shows in your area by reviewing the show schedule in Cat Fancy magazine, or by calling the Cat Fancier's Association (CFA), who can refer you to shows and breeders in your area. The phone number is (732) 528-9797
Cats are also advertised in various magazines - Cat Fancy, Cats USA, Cats, and in the local newspapers. Many legitimate breeders advertise in all of these publications, but there may also be BYB's - so you will need to ask plenty of questions first.
Another referral source is the Maine Coon Breeder's and Fancier's Association, or MCBFA. Contact Deborah Hall, Corresponding Secretary, at 4405 Karrol SW, Albuquerque NM 87121. They will not recommend specific breeders, but will send you a list of breeders in the area that belong to MCBFA. That doesn't mean that only MCBFA breeders are "reputable", but most are reliable. Again, you need to ask your questions.
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How Much Does a Maine Coon Kitten Cost?
This varies greatly depending on the area. Generally, the kittens are more expensive on the East and West Coasts, less in the Midwest. In the New York area, pet quality kittens range from $400 - $l000. And you DO want a pet quality kitten. Good breeders have a long waiting list from other established breeders for top show quality kittens, and are unwilling to sell their "cream of the crop" kittens to pet homes. Beware any breeder who tells you that every kitten they produce is a "Top Show Quality" kitten. However, feel free to ask the breeder to show you the difference between pet and show - you'll be surprised. This has nothing to do with size, beauty, or temperament. The factors that determine the difference are so slight that only experienced breeders and judges can distinguish - and even then, most breeders agonize over whether or not they are making the correct evaluation. This difference could mean that the tail is an inch too short, or has a slight kink. A white spot on the chest, ears or eyes set a fraction of an inch too close or far apart, eyes that slant just slightly too far up or down, even just the expression in a cat's face....these make cats "pets" rather than "show". You may actually prefer the pets to the show cats! Sometimes, the kitten IS technically "perfect" (or close), but the breeder just does not want that particular "look" to represent their cattery, or they may have a breeding restriction set down by the breeders of the kitten's parents. But ask to see the difference - you'll be surprised. Pet Quality kittens are certainly not inferior cats.
The price of the kitten will probably include the first two FVRCP vaccinations, and at least one veterinary exam given before it leaves the breeder. Shipping costs will be extra. You will be expected to provide a carrier and a mandatory vet visit under most contracts.
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Why Are Kittens So Expensive (a common, but often unasked, question)
While BYB's and pet shops may make money selling kittens, most legitimate breeders do not even cover their own costs. It's a very expensive hobby. Most of us WISH we could just break even, but can't. It may look like a gold mine to you, but let's go through the expenses involved and you'll see that turning a profit would be a rare event for a breeder. We do this for love of cats, not money (and most of us hide the REAL expenses from our spouses!).
As an example, buying a top show quality female, with breeding rights (which may have restrictions on how we can sell the kittens), may cost $800 to more than $1000. Males are more. Showing her to the preliminary title of "Champion" can add another $500-$2000 to the investment. Showing a male or female to the title of Grand Champion, or Regional/National Winner, can be from $1000 to more than $20,000! Maintenance, supplies and veterinary care generally cost breeders about $500 per cat per year. By the time a cat is first bred, at about a year old, the breeder will have invested several thousand dollars. Then there is a stud fee for the breeding, which may be $500 - $l000 per litter. Kitten shots cost breeders about $l00 per kitten - and that's if there are NO problems to be treated. Kittens stay with breeders for 3 months or so, and have to be fed, cuddled, and cleaned-up-after for all that time. Separate, special areas of the house are often customized for the cats to use as a cattery or nursery - and some cattery set-ups cost $5,000 or more to build. If all goes well, fat healthy kittens are born - but there are always the disasters, such as C-sections that run $750 and up. Sometimes, after all the investment is made, a cat is found to be infertile. Good breeders make a huge investment into "doing it right", by having the right breeding cats and facilities. Both pet shops and BYB's reap profits, by cutting corners (not having quality cats as parents, not showing, not keeping kittens until the proper age or providing proper prenatal and kitten veterinary care) - and then they charge the same price as the reputable breeders. And those caring, professional breeders make huge sacrifices in their personal lives, and shed lots of tears, in trying to create succesful breeding programs. BYB's are "one hit wonders" - they take your money and are gone. Most legitimate breeders are going to be pretty darn annoyed if you neglect to send photos and check in once in awhile!
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Visiting a Cattery
You are well advised to shop around. All kittens are cute (repeat this in your head over and over as you cuddle kittens). All of them! It's hard to stay objective, but you are selecting a companion that should hopefully be with you for the next fifteen years or so - an expensive companion at that. It's really hard not to fall in love - and especially if a kitten falls in love with YOU! that's usually a good indication, kittens are very smart. But you should make the BEST choice, not the fastest choice. Plan to meet the breeders at their home. Visit the cattery, meet the adults, including the parents (if the breeder used an outside stud, the dad might not be there). Is it clean? Sure, if the breeder has ten cats, you may detect a bit of litterbox odor - but do the boxes look like they have been properly maintained (recently scooped)? Do the food and water dishes look clean? Cats can trash a place in mere moments, so don't be expecting perfection - but DO expect to see that care has been taken in maintaining the facilities. If the breeder has stud males, they HAVE to be confined in most cases - even if they don't spray, they will surely manage to breed their sisters or moms if not confined. And you may smell male cat odor - well, the males do that, and they are proud of it. But the smell should not make you gasp for breath. Despite being confined, you should be able to see that the studs have adequate space to stretch, sleep, and play. By and large, stud males are aggressively friendly cats, who should be anxious to make your acquaintance. They are usually retired show cats, who necessarily are by nature friendly, trusting, and affectionate animals. Sometimes they may indicate their friendliness by taking a nip out of your arm, but rest assured this is an overexcited response - a love bite. Females - well, give them a break - almost every one of them will have good days and bad. They seem to get PMS once in awhile. But if you see three females who are throwing themselves at your feet, and one glaring at you from the top of a cabinet, assume that the ONE girl is having a bad day.
It's really important that the breeder's adult cats be friendly and curious. Give them a few moments to get used to you, but you should EXPECT that most, if not all, of the adults should be anxious to meet you. These cats are the example of what the breeder is doing. If most of the cats slink by, nervous and scared, or the breeder has to drag the parents out from under the couch, beware. Retired show cats are generally very anxious for attention - after all, they were trained to revel in the adulation of large crowds of people. Mom cats, by the way, are not usually too protective of their kittens - usually, they are trying to push themselves in front of their kittens to get your attention, not to protect their kittens.
Check out the parents. There are many styles of MC's to choose from, from a "sweet" look to very "feral". You should choose the style, sex, and color you are most attracted to - although, if it really doesn't matter for any other reason, you should definitely go for the kitten who "picks" you. They sense something special, a bond, and are never wrong! Breeders may have waiting lists, which is not a bad thing, for particular colors or sexes. But don't despair. If you are a bit flexible, you will get your kitten sooner. And waiting lists have a habit of being flexible - someone will wait nine months for a silver male, walk in to choose their kitten, and get "chosen" by a brown female. Waiting lists only mean that a breeder has been evaluated before, and found desirable by others.
See how the kittens are raised. No, cages are not necessarily a bad thing if they are used by breeders in specific situations, such as keeping two litters apart from each other until they both have been vaccinated. Sometimes two females who have kittens can't be together due to territorial issues. But if kittens are being raised in a remote part of the house, mostly by the mom-cat, they might not be well-socialized. There should not be a dozen litters of kittens around - two or three litters at once is a LOT for breeders to cope with. It takes a lot of time to raise every kitten.
And see their personalities. If you are viewing very young kittens, under 6 weeks of age, they might be a bit timid. By ten weeks, you should have a hard time escaping from the room with your shoelaces tied. The earlier you view the kittens, the more you should rely on your impression of the adult cats. Most legitimate breeders can accurately identify different personality types in their kittens by the age of l0-l3 weeks. If you have an unusual home situation - an aggressive dog, a dominant female cat, a child who is too excitable - please please please listen to the breeder's recommendation. We can usually be helpful in choosing the kitten with the right temperament for each situation. If the breeder says "oh, they're all the same" - they are more interested in money than matchmaking. They may all be appropriate to any situation, but they are ALL different.
So the most important part of your shopping should be identifying a breeder you want to work with. The vast majority of kittens placed bounce right into their new homes, healthy and happy and adjustable. But if you have a problem with your kitten, you need to have established a mutually trusting relationship with the breeder. So make sure you feel comfortable with the breeder - hard to believe, but it's more important in some ways than which kitten you pick out.
The most important question to be answered on a visit to a cattery is, "Do the breeding cats and resulting kittens seem like beloved family members?" They should all be treated as pets, even if a quasi-professional cattery facility exists. The adults should be friendly, clean and healthy, and delighted to meet you. The kittens should be curious, healthy and affectionate. Most breeders have some kind of health problems from time to time - so you might see a sneezy kitten once in awhile. A good breeder will tell you what the problem is, what they are doing about it, and what they expect the prognosis will be. A bad breeder will ignore or deny that a problem exists.
Most important? Shop around - do your homework on researching the breed - and trust your instinct. Never, ever buy a kitten if you have any hesitation - there's lots to choose from. And if you shop wisely, you will end up with a terrific kitten who will be the very best choice in the whole world, and enhance your life for years to come. But be smart about it!
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Questions to Ask a Breeder
You are making a big investment, in both money and time, and should make sure that you are getting the very best kitten you can. Ask the following questions of any breeder you contact. A vague answer or two might be expected, but most of these questions should be answered to your satisfaction - or go elsewhere. And most of all, does the breeder seem friendly and anxious to answer your questions? If they seem annoyed with you, move on. Most of us are proud of what we do, and happy to hear from informed pet buyers who have done their research and are asking a lot of questions - it makes us feel more confident in the commitment the pet buyer intends to make to this kitten. Always ask, right up front, if this is a good time to talk. And remember, many of us show on most weekends, so don't feel ignored if it takes a week or so to get a return phone call. Always give a breeder two tries (leave messages) - don't give up if you don't hear from them five minutes after your last call. Most breeders are courteous enough to return the call, even if they have no kittens available right now - and most also are gracious enough to refer you to someone else in the area if they have no kittens but know someone who does. Those are usually good recommendations to follow.
l. Do you show your cats? Do you have a registered cattery? All legitimate breeders will answer "yes" to both questions. Now, of course, there are exceptions to the first part - maybe the breeder has recently moved, had a baby, or has some other legitimate reason for taking a break. It is NOT an acceptable answer if the breeder proclaims there is no reason for showing. Showing your cats is not about (necessarily) obtaining titles or acclaim for a cat, and experienced exhibitors are not an elitist, unfriendly bunch. We show our cats to improve our breeding programs, to subject our cats to the evaluation of judges and other exhibitors, and to maintain contacts with the established breeding community, who share a wealth of knowledge about all aspects of the MC, including health problems. Showing is how we find appropriate outcrosses, compare our results to others, share concerns, and develop a group of "shoulders to cry on" when we are having a problem. We also have a darn good time!
There is no excuse for not having a registered cattery. If you don't know what this means, look at a purebred cat's name - it has three parts. "Stormwatch's Havok of Purrfection" is a typical example. "Stormwatch", the first part, is the name of the registered breeder. The second part of the name, "Havok", is the cat's name. The third part indicates the registered owner of the cat. If a cat is kept by the original breeder, you won't see any "of" designation. The breeder's name is the most important part. The name of the breeder follows the cat throughout its show career, and is on the pedigrees forever. We take pride in our cats, and our cattery name is the identifier for many generations to come. A BYB or pet shop could care less.
One other advantage to buying a kitten from a breeder who shows - since we can't determine who is going to be "pet" and who is going to be "show" until much later, kittens ALL have to be raised as potential show cats. This means they need to get used to bathing, grooming, claw clipping, riding in the car, and greeting strangers at an early age. In addition, top show cats generally have a superior disposition - they are trusting, laid-back, and fond of people in general. They pass these qualities on to their kids in most cases.Show cats are necessarily bred for temperament.
2. Can I see the pedigree? You really don't know much about who those cats are in the pedigree, but you sure as heck can identify a mother/son or brother/sister breeding. This can happen in the finest cattery, and doesn't usually cause a problem - but we call these breedings "oops", and will tell you that this was an accident. BYB's typically do a lot of "linebreeding" or inbreeding, since legitimate breeders won't sell them cats. So they tend to keep their own offspring, and then breed back to its relatives out of necessity. Ask the breeder how they feel about linebreeding - most of us try very hard to use outcrosses as much as possible, believing this is the healthiest combination for the cats.
Reputable breeders will be happy to show you the pedigree, and are usually proud to point out the many titled cats - champions, grand champions, regional or national winners - in your kitten's background. Beware a pedigree that has lots of cats that have no cattery names prefixing the ancestors. And these titles do mean something = that the cat has been repeatedly judged, by several different judges, to meet the standard of the MC. At least one of your kitten's parents, if not both, should have a title. One exception - the two major cat associations (CFA and TICA) do not recognize each other's titles, so you may see one side of the CFA pedigree totally devoid of titles - since the ancestors were shown only in TICA and may have been the best cats in the country in that organization. But ask for an explanation.
3. What are the health problems of this breed? A bad answer is "none" - it's just not true. As in all pedigreed animals, the MC has some potential inherited problems. The breeder should not only identify these breed health problems, but should tell you what they are doing to try to prevent these things from happening in their offspring. This is one reason the established show/breeders stay in touch - we share information freely and often. BYB's may tell you that the breed is perfectly healthy and that there is no problem. This is equivalent to the used-car salesmen telling you the car was only driven by an old lady to church on Sundays. Beware.
If you ask a BYB "how much Heidi Ho is in your pedigrees?" they will answer Huh? There's nothing wrong with Heidi Ho pedigrees, but they were used extensively early in the development of the MC, and most breeders are careful to identify how much of this line is in their cats. They will look at you askance if you ask this question, but will have an answer. BYB's will have no idea what you are talking about
4. How old will the kitten be before it comes home? Ten weeks is minimum, most breeders hold kittens until 12 weeks or maybe longer. MC's are a slow developing breed, and need a long period of nurturing from both their mothers and breeders. Kittens develop their sense of bonding with humans between 2 and l0 weeks of age - it's wrong to break their bond to their FIRST "human" - the breeder - any earlier. They also have not developed their immune systems or had their necessary shots before l0 weeks of age. Any breeder selling kittens younger than this is more interested in moving the kittens out and getting the money than in raising healthy, stable, happy kittens. At about l2-l3 weeks, a MC kitten is going to be gaining a quarter to half pound a week, and is confident and ready to bounce right into its new home with confidence. Don't worry - they may be "big", but they are still "babies"!
5. Will the kitten be registered? It's kind of silly to have a purebred cat and not register it - the cost is less than $l0. Generally, the breeder will provide the "blue slip", or official registration, when you notify the breeder that the kitten has been neutered.
6. Will I get a contract and written health warranty? You should. And read the contract specifications carefully. Most breeders will be requiring that the kitten be kept strictly indoors, not declawed, not shown without permission, and neutered at a specific age. Another clause in most contracts is that this kitten may not be transferred to anyone else without obtaining the breeder's permission (hey, we interviewed YOU!)...and that, if for some reason you cannot keep this cat in the future, the breeder must be given the opportunity to take the cat back and assist in finding it a new home. This is because a nightmare to a legitimate breeder would be to find out that one of his/her cherished kittens ended up in a pound. This should never, ever happen.
Your health warranty will spell out your rights. State laws vary, but most warranties will cover a specific period of time for which the breeder remains liable. Check carefully over the specifics - and ask the breeder if you have questions about it.
7. What if I want a show cat? Most breeders are happy to mentor someone through the show process, once you have demonstrated a true commitment to the time and money required. The best way to do this is to buy a "show quality cat", neuter it, and show it in premiership ( the neutered cat equivalent to championship). If you get hit with the show bug, you'll have a lot of contacts and experience if you then decide to go ahead and establish a breeding program.
8. What if I want to breed? A BYB will be happy to sell you breeding rights to the cat for extra money. Don't do it. First, you will find it impossible to find a stud cat for your female from a legitimate breeder to breed to. The converse is, no legitimate breeder is going to want to obtain stud service from your male either. Legitimate breeders get these calls all the time - and none of us believe in just plain" breeding for the sake of breeding". We think that the majority of breeding cats should be titled - and the chance of you having gotten a true show quality cat from a BYB is about zero. You will not have had a mentor with experience with the established show/breeding community, and by selling you breeding rights, the BYB has created another BYB - you! If you really think you want to be a breeder, then you need to do a lot of research and learning, and you need to do that by becoming involved in the established community of breeders and exhibitors. You will also find that being a BYB is difficult, with an educated public. This is not a way to make money, and the "joy" of having kittens around is balanced - sometimes inequitably - with the tragedies. It takes a strong stomach to survive the bad times. If you are SURE you want to be a breeder, then get the very best start you can, by working with the very best breeder you can find, to mentor you and help you along.
9. Do you give your own shots? This answer can surely be "yes", but be careful. Many experienced breeders give their own shots, but they should also be making sure that each kitten has at least one veterinary exam before it goes. In some states, health certificates must be obtained from the vet before the kitten can be sold. Don't buy a kitten that has not been examined by a veterinarian. Back to the used car example, you definitely would want a mechanic to check the car out first to make sure no serious damage already exists!
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And finally, there are surely Questions the Breeder Should Ask You!
A good breeder is trying hard to make sure that the kittens get great new parents, and that the parents get an affectionate, healthy and beautiful kitten that fits into their lifestyle. They will want to know if you have children - and if so, how old are the kids and what is their experience with animals so far? Do you have other pets? How did you lose your last cat? Are any of the cats in your home allowed outdoors? Do you have a veterinarian? Don't be surprised if some of the questions seem personal - these kittens are not commodities to the reputable breeder. They are little lives that we have planned, assisted in their births, raised with love, and probably have slept on our heads for the past three months. We want to make sure they are going to great new homes, or we would prefer to keep them ourselves. Beware the breeder who asks you no questions - because it is obvious that they are more concerned with the money than in giving a kitten a fabulous new home, and the parents a fabulous new fur child.
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