We are often asked, "what are the elements that should be considered when establishing a new Ragdoll Breeding Program?" While the question seems simple enough, there are a number of specific decisions that must be made in advance of acquiring your first kitten or cat. Here are some considerations:
1. Breeding Philosophy - At the outset, it is important to understand your Breeding Philosophy (Why are you Breeding). There are a number of potential answers to this question; however, we believe that at the heart of all of them is a love for this breed and a desire to produce the best of the breed. Beyond that, the motivation is entirely yours. I would say, if the goal is purely financial, you are embarking on the wrong business venture. In order to do this well and have healthy, sweet and beautiful Ragdolls, you will invest way more than you make, not just financially, but emotionally as well. We recommend that you document your philosophy before you start so that you can go back to it when things get difficult, and they likely will. Further, we recommend that your cats be registered and that the offspring be eligible for registration. If you are breeding pure bred Ragdolls, the only way to prove they are purebred is via registration. Register!
2. Size of Program - Considering the scope and scale of your breeding program in advance is important as a first step. Each breeding male should represent a separate breeding line, that is, genetically diverse between the males with limited overlap. Typically, each line can support multiple females without creating an inbreeding concern as long as you are tracking any relationship between the males and females. It is typically best to begin with one male and add females; however, with only one male, retaining kittens to enhance the program is problematic. The second line allows you to build your program organically; however, determining where you would like to be in terms of size is important.
3. Space Planning - Once you have determined the size of your program, space planning is the next step. One male with multiple females is fairly simple in that you are not forced to isolate the cats themselves. If you have multiple breeding males, it is often necessary to keep the males apart particularly when the females are in season as they can get aggressive. So, while adding a male may double your program, it may increase your space requirements even more. The other consideration is having space to separate Mama's and their litters from others. This can be done by creating a nursery that leverages isolated spaces so that Mama's are in the same space but separated by cat runs (large cages). You may also need a space to separate females in season that you do not wish to breed. For example, a young female or a recently delivered Mama that are not ready for their next breeding, should be isolated from males. In our cattery, we have a room for our breeding males, a room for our recently bred or soon to bred females, a nursery and a large room for our other females.
4. Color and Pattern Consideration - Some breeders approach their program with a more traditional perspective. That is, they choose to only include those colors and patterns that are generally accepted by one or more of the Registering bodies (aka TICA, CFA). Others may choose to include a broader range of colors and patterns. Essentially, this is a personal decision but is ultimately driven by your breeding philosophy. The common colors and patterns include:
- Colors - Seal, Blue, Chocolate, Lilac, Flame, Cream
- Patterns - Pointed, Mitted (low, med and high), BiColor, Solid.
- Others - Lynx (Tabby): can appear in any of the patterns or colors above; Mink/Sepia: Can appear in any of colors or patterns above; Van: more white than color on the body of a bicolor.
Determination of color and pattern is purely genetic. A blue cat can look lilac; however, they are dramatically different genetically. We recommend having all of your breeders color tested to ensure you know exactly what you have and what to expect from future litters. See below for an explanation of genetics and genetic testing.
5. Health - Ragdolls are fairly resilient in terms of health; however, kittens are fragile and can suffer from a variety of health issues. Expect roughly a 20% mortality rate in new litters as there are literally dozens of things that can go wrong with a new born kitten, most of which are developmental and outside of your control. Immunizations, a veterinary health check and constant care/cleaning is necessary to get past the "danger zone" in terms of kitten development. We mentioned above the emotionally expensive part of breeding, this is 75% of that cost. The other 25% is letting your kittens go when the time comes to go their new homes. We have become adept at administering treatments like intestinal parasite, Flea, minor injuries and other related issues. Not every health issue requires a vet visit; however, knowing how to administer certain treatments is critical to healthy litters. Vaccines are another consideration. The typical FVRCP (3-way) given at about 8 weeks can be done by you or the vet. It is important to consider the shelf life of these vaccines before making that determination. Finally, genetic testing for things like HCM and PKD1 should be done on all breeders.
Genetics testing is an important part of any breeding program. Understanding the traits of your breeding cats and the potential combinations from a breeding will help you to ensure you properly representing your kittens. Health testing like HCM and PKD1 ensure you are not breeding dangerous health issues into the Ragdoll breed as a whole. Finally, all of our males have their genetic markers documented. This means if something happens like a male gets to a female in an unplanned way (don't laugh, this does happen), we can check the markers against a resulting kitten to determine paternity.
A quick lesson on genetics:
- Each Trait is composed of 2 genes (with one minor exception, see below)
- Each Gene can be Dominant or Recessive and may have variants.
- A Dominant gene will over-ride the Recessive, but having the Recessive makes the animal a "carrier"
- There are roughly 20,000 genes across 38 chromosomes in the feline genome, we are focused on a few.
- Essentially, each parent has a pair of chromosomes per trait. Each parent contributes one of the two to the baby resulting in a pair for each trait in the baby. Essentially, 50% from dad and 50% from mom.
Okay, so let's take a look at how this relates to Ragdolls:
The primary set of genes that deal with color are the Brown , Amber, Dilute and Orange:
Dominant = "B" - The Cat will be seal if the dominant appears
Recessive ' "b" - If both are recessive "bb", the cat is chocolate
Dominant = "E" - Brown/Red variant
Recessive = "e"
Dominant = "D" - No dilusion so Seal remains Seal and Chocolate remains chocolate
Recessive = "d" - if both recessive "dd", seal becomes blue and chocolate becomes lilac. Also Flame becomes Cream.
Dominant = "O" - Flame gene
Recessive = "o" - no Flame
NOTE: the orange gene is attached to the X chromosome, so males can only be flame/cream while females can be flame/cream or tortie (calico) *only females can be Tortie*
The primary set of genes that deal with pattern are Colorpoint, White and Agouti:
Dominant = "A" - the cat will be Lynx (Tabby)
Recessive = "a" - no Lynx if both recessive "aa"
Dominant = "C" - Cats with "C" will be solid
Recessive = "cs" - Siamese. This gene creates the points on a cat, that is ears, face, tail and legs are darker than body *
Recessive = "cb" - Burmese. This is the mink gene. if both genes are "cb/cb" the result is Sepia.
NOTE: cs and cb are mutually recessive. This means a cs/cb cat can be mink and pointed or mink with no points. * The Siamese gene produces color change depending on body temperature. Body parts closer to body temperature do not release color to the coat. "cb" is not based on temperature and color remains conistent.
Dominant White and White Spotting
Dominant = "W"
Recessive = "w"
The following are genetic health checks that should be done on all of your breeders:
HCM - Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: A condition in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy makes it hard for the heart to pump blood. It often goes undiagnosed. Most people with the condition have no symptoms and experience no significant problems.
Desired Result: N/N
PKD1 - Polycystin 1, Transient Receptor Potential Channel Interacting: is a Protein Coding gene. Diseases associated with PKD1 include Polycystic Kidney Disease 1 With Or Without Polycystic Liver Disease and Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease.
Desired Result: N/N
Establishing Your Breeding Program
Genetics and Determining Traits
As mentioned above, registering your kittens with a recognized registry is critical. The International Cat Association (TICA) is the registry that we have chosen as they tend to be more promiment in the US. The first step in engaging with a registry is to select a Cattery name and go through the process of becoming a recognized breeder.
Cattery Name - When picking a Cattery name, keep in mind that it will appear on all registered kittens cats that you produce. the name should represent you but also be unique in terms of existing names. When using TICA, cat names including cattery may not exceed 35 characters. For example: SWAFFSRAGCAFE PRINCESS ANNA is 27 characters. If we re-homed her to another cattery, her name would change to SWAFFSRAGCAFE PRINCESS ANNA OF NEWCATTERY which is 41 characters and would not be accepted. if you know you are going to rehome a cat to another breeder, it is beneficial to consider name length so that the new cattery can add their OF "NAME" to the registry. Your cattery name will remain with the cat forever. This allows a much simpler mechanism for tracking pedigrees. This is also important as you grow and develop to create a recognized brand in terms of your cattery.
Recognized Breeder - TICA, for example, has a process by which a breeder can be added to the Recognized Breeder list maintained by the association. The list is often the first place new owners will go to find their kitten. There are a series of steps to get on this list and we highly recommend that you do so. Even if you only produce a small number of kittens per year, this list creates brand recognition and a level of trust with new owners.
Advertising and Marketing - Setting up a web site for your new cattery can seem like a daunting task; however, there are a number tools out there that will help you get through the process. Indeed, the more difficult activity often is maintaining the site once it is built (try taking pictures of a 6 or 7 week old kitten, not fun we assure you). We recommend posting as much information about available kittens as possible including color/pattern, gender, date of birth, data available, parents (with links to parent pictures), name, price and status. We name our kittens early so that we can keep track of whos who; however, there are other ways to do this like colored collars or ribbons. The more info posted, the easier it is for new owners to make a choice. Finally, the question of Wait Lists. We tend to use a wait list; however, they have their issues. Folks that are interested in specific color or pattern kittens can wait a long time for that kitten. Do you take a deposit to be on the list? Do you offer kittens to those that are not interested in that color or pattern? All tough questions that you have to address if you use a wait list.
Re-Homing - It is a day of mixed emotions when your babies finally go to their new homes. You are excited for the new owners and anxious to see how the kittens will do. At the same time, you are saying goodbye to a little life that was in your care for up to 12 weeks and dealing with the pain of separation (tears are not unheard of during this time). Educating your new owners on what to expect, what to feed and how to take care of their new baby is all part of the exercise. We provide a paperwork packet that includes the health record, vet receipt, registration paperwork, 5 generation pedigree and the purchase contract. We also include a box that contains a sample of food, coupons and other materials for the new owner. Typically we will include a blanket the kitten has used and a toy or two. These are all, of course, things we do and are not required by any means. The point is to create an understanding with your new owners that you are reputable, thorough and transparent in terms of their new family member. The acquiring of a Ragdoll is not a one time transaction, it is a relationship that extends before and after the kitten goes home.
Registration, Advertising and Re-Homing
Swafford's Ragdoll Cafe works closely with other Ragdoll breeders as well as mentoring new breeders. This page is designed to provide resources related to building a breeding program and supporting an existing program. The page is being developed with new resources being added regularly.