Weighing the Difference
Determining Pet, Breeder or Show Quality
Every kitten is beautiful in its own way, whether that be its personality, temperament, health, coloring, pattern or the feel of its coat. But, how do we determine which kittens are destined for the show hall as the next international winner, which are destined as breeders and which will be someone’s next forever pet companion? Learning to critique a litter without prejudice may be one of the hardest things a breeder has to do. Proper evaluation takes time and an understanding of the breed standard. It requires breeders to evaluate their kittens objectively.
Any Bengal kitten should be able to fit within the parameters of the breed standard. For instance, looking at a Bengal kitten should allow the person examining the kitten to determine that it is of the Bengal breed and not a Siamese. The differences within the breed are what help separate the best kittens in accordance to the standard’s requirements. With a purebred like the Bengal, where the breed has made huge advancements, those differences may be subtle, which makes it difficult to objectively evaluate a kitten’s true potential. In general, type and quality cannot be determined at birth, and some maturity must first take place, to be able to observe traits that make a kitten exceptional. Although some outside factors can assist in determining a kitten’s potential, i.e. parental traits (ear size, placement, temperament, pattern).
There are some things that will exclude a kitten from breeding and show, such as color faults, lockets, structural faults or a birth deformity/injury. Learning to feel for tail faults takes experience and sometimes time, since some faults don’t present themselves until the kitten is six, eight or ten weeks old and others may even appear at a later time in the kitten’s development. For example, flat chested kittens are often perfectly normal at birth and at around two weeks they begin to flatten in the chest area. A flat chest may completely resolve itself with age, but this kitten should never be utilized for breeding. Cow-hocking is another fault that may take time to develop, but on some kittens, it is very obvious that the structure is incorrect when they begin walking. Faults show no discrimination, and can and will appear on some of the most beautiful kittens in a litter. While faults do change the classification of the kitten from breeding or show to pet, many faults are not harmful to the kitten’s health, but are rather cosmetic in nature. Excellent health should always be the breeder’s and buyer’s first concern. A complete examination by a licensed veterinarian will also help determine a kitten’s overall quality, in terms of health and structure. The dam and sire should have a clean bill of health, too. You should know what testing has been done, on the kitten and its parents, and the results. Examine the kitten for sound structure. (See The Cat Breeder’s Hand-book ISBN 978-0-9792807-2-6 for complete information on evaluating feline structure.)
A photo diary of each kitten in the litter will help the breeder evaluate their litter and will also help buyers see the true pattern of a kitten that is ready for placement—just as the―fuzzies hit. During the fuzzies, the coat takes on a whole new look and kittens that once had obviously beautiful coats now even have the breeder questioning their quality. The fuzzy stage should not be mistaken for ticking. Ticking is bands of color on the hair shaft that if developed over the pattern, obscure the pattern and make the coat lose clarity and definition. The fuzzy stage generally begins at around seven weeks of age, and lasts until the kittens are approximately sixteen weeks old, sometimes a little longer. Some kittens appear to never go through a fuzzy stage, and others are obviously affected.
Determining placement as a breeder, show or pet kitten may be relative to simple facts like: Does the breeder have room to keep this show or breeder quality kitten? Many breeder and show quality kittens end up in pet homes for this reason alone. Other factors for determining pet, breeder or show quality are a direct reflection of the breed standard written for the Bengal cat, and the association (registry) that the kitten is registered with.
If you are searching for a show cat, breeders with a consistent track record of producing top winning show cats are probably the best place to start your search. In competitive breeds, like the Bengal, obtaining championship titles, in top associations, like The International Cat Association (TICA), is no easy feat. Remember though, this doesn’t mean that a breeder who has never produced a champion hasn’t just produced their first! This might be a good time to check pedigrees to see if the dam and the sire come from proven and titled lines.
A breeder who has determined that one of their kittens has breeder or show potential should also be able to provide an honest evaluation of this kitten. The breeder should be able to, with conviction and honesty, justify their decision based on the breed standard requirements.
When determining quality, look at the entire litter as a group. Do not ignore the temperament of the kittens. Shy or timid kittens may grow into a shy or timid adults. Kittens should be outgoing, curious and friendly. While there may be some hesitancy on the part of the kittens at first, they should easily mill about you, bat at your shoelaces, climb up into your lap, nibble on your fingers and just generally want to check out everything about you! After a while, they may decide to go back to the business of playing with each other. While evaluating the group, ask yourself―is there consistent quality in the litter? You may have already made certain decisions in advance, like what color, pattern or sex best meets your expectations, but don’t be surprised if this changes after seeing different kittens that are available.
For the buyer looking for a breeder or show quality kitten, there are other important factors to be considered as well. Again, first know the standard. Based on the breed standard, determining which kittens more closely conform becomes easier. Dealing with a reputable and successful breeder should provide you with someone that can help you to become a successful exhibitor!
Breeding cats is not for everyone.
While some professional breeders do make money breeding, far more do not. Breeding is expensive. Breeding can also be emotionally taxing. This is one of the greatest downsides to being a breeder. Some of the heartbreaks that go along with breeding, are not easily handled by most people. Breeding is restrictive and will change your life. The responsibility and commitment that goes along with breeding is great. You must understand that all of your time and energy must be devoted to each litter. Vacations often become impossible and to maintain healthy litters, the kittens, the sire and the dam will require top notch care. Realizing the magnitude of the commitment is essential. When looking for a breeding candidate, you may be looking for a quality or trait that is strong. Here, your pedigree knowledge will play a big part in the selection. Knowing the pedigree can help to determine inherited traits—i.e. small ears, large whisker pads, white tummy, etc.
The defining difference between that of pet, breeder or show kitten comes down to knowing what is expected of the breed, knowing what your goals are and knowing what is most important to you. Using the breed standard as your ideal will help you understand that the standard is not just about show cats, but about keeping the breed distinct from other breeds and providing a means of quality control.
What you pay for your kitten depends to a large extent on the type of kitten you want, the quality of the kitten you want and the breeder’s ability to produce and provide that kitten for you. Price ranges vary with a pet quality kitten being the least expensive, but this lower price should not be confused with a show quality kitten that you want as a pet. The act of altering does not change the quality of the kitten.