Introduction to Breeding Birmans
WHAT MAKES A BREEDING QUALITY CAT.
Most litters will consist of pets with the occasional show quality kitten. A pet is as healthy as any other Birman, but it will have perhaps some fault with its markings or poor eye colour, a white spot in a coloured area or a coloured spot in a white area, or maybe a kink in its tail. All of these things will stop it becoming a show kitten. In order to breed cats that conform as closely as possible to the breed standard, kittens showing these faults should not be bred from and should be placed on the In-active Register and sold as pets.
Breeding a show quality Birman is a difficult task. All show Birmans have to conform as closely as possible to the Standard of Points as set out by The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy, more information is available on this subject within the “Showing Birmans” booklet. The feet markings should have white in the specified areas, the eye colour should be a deep blue, the head has to have good width between medium sized ears, and the nose should be medium in length with a slight dip being allowed but no “stop” as seen in Persians. The fur has to be the correct colour and length and the tail, body and head should all be in proportion. It is possible via selection of the correct stud, to breed from a Dam that does not completely conform to the standard of points with regard to markings. However the cat must be of good “type” and you should avoid breeding from small, fine boned cats.
Be aware when buying a breeding queen of the genetics relating to the different colours, and what options you will have by using different stud cats. The Seal & Blue Point Birman Cat Club produce a very good Breeders Colour Guide, which details the potential variants of progeny, based on the colours of the Stud and Dam. The colours are:
Seal, Blue, Chocolate, Lilac, Red, Cream, Seal Tortie, Blue Tortie,
Chocolate Tortie, Lilac Tortie, Seal Tabby, Blue Tabby, Chocolate Tabby,
Lilac Tabby, Red Tabby, Cream Tabby, Seal Tortie Tabby,
Blue Tortie Tabby, Chocolate Tortie Tabby, Lilac Tortie Tabby
THE CALLING QUEEN
The most often asked question by novice breeders is “When will my queen start calling and how will I know?” There is no easy answer here as to when; cats mature at different rates and ages, however a good average to work with is a first call is often around 9 months of age. Birmans can be quite vocal, so you will certainly have no doubts when it does happen. A maiden queen should not be mated on her first call. If queens are put to a stud too early, a high percentage will not become pregnant. It is best to plan on a first mating around the third call, when she will have established a pattern and will have matured a little.
The average age for the first mating is between 12-14 months. Likewise a female should not be allowed to call continually without being mated, as this can cause ovarian cysts or other complications. There is a drug called “Ovarid” which can control oestrus. It can be obtained from, and should only be used after consultation with your vet. However it is not advisable to give this to maiden queens.
A call can last between four and six days if she is mated and ten or more days if she is not. Generally there will be a lull of approximately three to six weeks between calls. The first signs of calling are excessive friendliness, followed a few days later by a lot of attention paid to washing her vaginal area. The final stages are the squatting when you stroke her, the characteristic calling sound (once heard – never forgotten) and “paddling” with her back feet, at which time she is ready to go to stud.
CHOOSING A STUD
The Birman Cat Club produce a very good Stud List, which gives details of stud pedigrees complete with the colours in the line. This is a good compliment to the colour guide as an aid to understanding the potential colours of the offspring. It is a good idea to visit cat shows to familiarise yourself with the studs and / or his offspring currently being shown. Most stud owners are willing to discuss with you your queen’s pedigree and advise if she is, or is not compatible with their stud. Also the breeder whom you purchased the female from would be a good source of information and guidance on stud selection, or pedigree matching.
USING A STUD
The queen should be in absolutely perfect health before mating to enable her to carry her kittens successfully; if in doubt have her checked by your vet. She should also be tested FeLV negative, or have an up to date Leukaemia vaccination certificate along with the usual up to date Flu and Enteritis vaccination certificates. Most stud owners also ask for a ‘snap’ FIV (Feline immunodeficiency virus) test, this is a blood test done only by a vet., as there’s still no vaccine. The stud owner will usually ask for this 24 hours before accepting the queen. The stud owner will want to check over the female and see the certificates on arrival, and likewise you should satisfy yourself of the studs health and cleanliness of quarters, and don’t be afraid to ask to see his current certificates. She will be placed in a pen within the stud’s quarters for a while, where she will look bewildered and quite likely spit and hiss at him through the wire. Mating is usually carried out over a few days, and you will be notified when she will be ready for collection. A certificate of mating will be handed to you which indicates the expected date the kittens are due, and the stud’s pedigree. It is usual to pay the mating fee on collection, and most stud owners offer a free return visit if she does not “take”. It is courtesy to offer to pay for her food on the return visit.
A pregnancy lasts for nine weeks or 65 days from the first day of mating, and this is the time to read as many books as possible. One of the first signs of her being pregnant may be one or two meals immediately vomited; 3 to 5 days after the first mating. Around 21 days after mating, if conception has taken place, her nipples become erect and pink and her appetite will increase. At around 28 days a vet can tell you if she is in kitten, but if she is fit and well, it is quite unnecessary to take her. It will be the fifth or sixth week before she will show visible signs of the life within her, and only then does her shape alter. From about week seven you should be able to see and feel the kittens move when the queen is resting. A pregnant cat should never be wormed or sprayed with NUVAN TOP, but should be given a well balanced diet of vitamins and proteins and allowed to eat as much food as she desires.
The time between the mating and the birth can be well spent putting together a box of items that you will need for the birth:
1: Electric Heater Pad, should be no larger than half the size of your kittening box.
2: Box of tissues.
3: Blunt- ended clean surgical scissors.
4: Diluted disinfectant
7: Small squares of clean towelling – face flannels are ideal
9: Notepad and Pencil, to make notes during the birth in case of problems and you need to tell the vet what has been happening
It can also be a good idea to put a list of useful telephone numbers together (breeders, Vets etc.) and stick this in the lid of the box.
(Please note that it is not the intention to give details of every possible occurrence during the birth in this booklet. We strongly recommend reading a good reference book)
A couple of weeks prior to the birth date, provide her with a choice of suitable beds, which can be either purpose built, wipe-clean wooden ones or cardboard boxes. These should be about two feet square and approx. two feet high, with a removable lid for access which should overhang the front of the box. The front should have a hole cut in it similar in size to a cat flap. Some queens like to scratch and dig quite vigorously to make a nest in the box, therefore some breeders use layers of newspaper for the bedding, as she will have fun shredding these to bits, they can however get rather messy and stick to mum and babies, although they can be removed and burnt after the birth. Other breeders prefer to use some old sheets or vet bed, which she can dig up and hide under. Towards the end she will choose one of the boxes and spend several hours a day in her preferred nest. Keep the room which she has chosen at an even temperature of 22C or 72F, this is important to avoid chilling of the new born kittens. Apart from the frantic shredding of her nest, another useful indication is two days before kittening, milk can be seen from the nipples if a gentle squeeze is applied.
The first stage of labour is that she will purr almost constantly and her breathing quickens and a little later she may start to pant. A clear discharge is also apparent now, and should not be a cause for concern unless there is a heavy blood loss. Now is the time to plug the heater pad in to warm it up, but keep it outside of her box – she will not enjoy being on it whilst giving birth.
The second stage will commence with small contractions as her panting becomes more laboured. This panting can be rather frightening to novice breeders, but is quite normal. The discharge at this stage becomes a little blood stained.
The third stage will start with her bearing down. This initially can be up to an hour between contractions, reducing to seconds prior to the birth of the kitten. Some females circle the box and seem quite distressed, often screaming. Stay with her and re-assure her, a gentle stroke to the tummy has a soothing effect.
When the contractions are coming regularly, you will see the fluid-filled bag enclosing the kitten (amniotic sac) appear at the vaginal opening. Ideally the kitten should then be expelled within thirty minutes. The queen will wash away the foetal membranes and you will hear the kittens initial squeak of life. Usually the next contraction brings the afterbirth, which she may eat and cut the umbilical cord. Should the queen have been contracting strongly for about two hours and there is no sign of a kitten, call a vet without delay as there may be a problem such as two kittens in the birth canal causing a blockage.
If the kitten shows no sign of life you must sever the cord, as near to the vaginal opening as possible and start resuscitation immediately. This is done by checking that the nose and mouth is clear of membranes. If the queen makes no effort to clean the membrane from the kittens face, wipe it away from its nose and mouth with a tissue or cloth, it should then sneeze and start crying. If there is still no sign of life then start rubbing the kitten briskly all over with a clean piece of towelling, which will aid circulation. If the kitten is still not breathing strongly after several minutes, the kitten should be “swung”. Hold the kitten in the palm of the hand, with your forefinger supporting its back and its head on top and your thumb one side of and under its body, and the remaining fingers over and under the other side of its body so that the kitten is totally supported, and swing it in a large arc. The kitten should now gasp. It must be said that this is not a common problem, and usually everything goes well.
Always ensure that you have seen the queen expel one afterbirth for every kitten, unless you have a rare delivery of twins. If she seems to have retained one, consult your vet.
Kittens have a natural suckling instinct and will usually scrabble around and seize a nipple readily if you place it near one. It can help to cut away some of the fur from around the nipples prior to the birth. If a kitten seems a little weak, or possibly premature, you must get it suckling within the first two hours, or it will not develop the suckling instinct. You can help the kittens find a nipple by gently squeezing the teat to bring milk to the surface, hold the kitten gently around the tummy with its head slightly lower than the nipple. Its natural instinct is to search upwards.
It will be apparent when she has finished, as she will completely relax and purr with her new offspring feeding at the milk bar. Now is the time to offer her some warm milk or water with a little glucose, which you may have to give her on a teaspoon as she will be unwilling to leave her kittens.
Very occasionally a queen may walk away from her babies and ignore them until the maternal instinct kicks in. The best remedy is to confine her in a large cat box or kittening pen from which she cannot escape. She may also be a little confused and normally settle if you sit with her for a while giving comfort and stroking. This behaviour usually only lasts a day or two.
All Birmans are born pure white, with their eyes closed. It is now that you can check the ends of the tail for kinks and also look to see the sex of the kittens. Sexing is easy at birth, but becomes difficult from two days onwards and is not easy to determine again until the kitten is about 6 weeks old. By the end of the first day, the kittens should have well rounded tummies, and growth within the early weeks is apparent to the naked eye. It is always advisable to weigh kittens regularly, as weight loss can be an early sign of problems. The average weight at birth is 90 – 140 gms (3-5oz), but varies with the number in the litter. They will feed and crawl about the box in a wobbly manner, and as scent plays a major part, you will find that they will tend to favour a particular nipple. Kittens that are well fed will only cry when their mother arrives and leaves the nest, or when they are fighting over the “milk bar”.
The markings on Sealpoints will be apparent and the nose area will now be brown. Bluepoints will still have an overall white appearance and a bluish colour to the nose. The umbilical cord should have healed after falling off on about the fifth day and the eyes should now be open or opening.
Sealpoints markings should now be showing and although the Blues are faint, they should begin to be apparent. White blazes will be appearing above the nose. The kittens will now be steadier on their feet and will be standing or crawling. Teething has begun, and forward kittens may be weaned. The ears will become upright.
The kittens should be taking semi-solid foods and will be playing and washing themselves, as well as using the litter tray. The eyes will become deeper in colour, the coat will have lengthened, tabby bars will be apparent on the legs and tail. Bluepoint markings will now be clear.
Bluepoints are now at the right age to be correctly assessed as the markings will now be clear. This is also the right age to assess the kittens type, and those with the deepest eye colour will remain that way. They will now have a full set of milk teeth, the blaze over the nose would have faded and the markings spread and deepened in colour. Play is now the main part of the kittens day, with less time spent with mother.
The kittens will now be very agile and will climb, chew and play-attack. They may still suckle from their mother if she lets them. The blaze and tabby markings should now have disappeared completely (except in Tabbies of course) and the points continue to darken.
They start to shed their milk teeth and chew at whatever is available. Pencil dog chews are a good item at this stage. This is also the start of the “gangly teenager” stage, the ears look too large for the kitten and the body and legs also look out of proportion. Vaccination should now be carried out against Feline Enteritis, Cat Flu and Leukaemia, and by 12 weeks the kittens are fully weaned and very active and loveable. Plans can be made for them to go to their new homes, and this should be staggered over a week to let the mother get used to losing her kittens.
Original Document written by Alistair Balharrie
Updated by Teresa Cole