Thoughts on the Caging of Cats

These are some responses to a discussion taking place recently on a cat-related email list. (Reprinted with permission)

Linn Currie, of Raglin Ragdolls
"Caging" a cat can mean a lot of things to many people. At first, I pictured a cat cage as just a small wiry cage, drafty, cold, miserable, and a coldhearted practice. That is, till I viewed some websites, saw some pics and got to understand that when breeders talk about "caging" it can mean a lot of things. It can either be a very smart, well designed queening cage; a big walk-in stud cage; an entire basement set up for males; etc. I still didn't like the idea and swore I would never keep any of my cats in any such cages, no matter how "smart" they are!

Then it struck me that even *I* cage my cats. What I thought of being a luxury timber cabin with a verandah, small enclosed little garden as well as a massive, very secure private garden for each male *is* in fact a cage :-) Confining my cats indoors is also in fact caging them! Dedicating a spare room to each litter and queen is *also* caging them.

I thought I knew it all when I had my first litters. I read up about any possible thing that could go wrong during birth ... and I thought I was prepared. Yes, all my kittens were born alive and well ... just to lose some of them at a couple of days old (turned out to be due to a Strep Infection which we prevented with the next season's litters). O.K., so all is well with the remaining twelve babies (between three moms) and what could be easier than putting them all in one room? Less work, more socialization for everybody, everybody safe and moms get along well. Big mistake! The first sneeze and by day three you have everybody with runny eyes! The first sign of soft stools and you have it go through the litters like a veldfire! Vaccinations are at different times so you have those running around with un-vaccinated kittens! My vet expenses almost exceeded our country's annual budget, my nerves were shot and I often thought that breeding was not for me.

Then I started reading up about the various diseases and realized that if I want to do things the right and proper way, I would have to start separating. Right, now we are much the wiser. Next kittening season I was expecting three litters and turned my house upside down. Dedicated three rooms to the litters, each mom get her own ... all rigged out with kittening pen (Yes! A cage!), jungle gym for babies, litterbox for mom, stacks and stacks of food/water bowls and what seems like a mountain of kitten litterboxes. Much more work, much more time spent between the feeding and socializing with babies but what fantastic results. Hardly a sneeze, perfect poops, incredible health and extremely happy moms!

To get moms used to *their* room, I haul in a single mattress and sleep on the floor with them three days before due time and at least three, four days after they gave birth. I have the kittening pen all set up with a kitten basket, her own food and water bowls, her own litter tray and we "bond" with the room before she gives birth. Oh, I never shut the door to the room and made a hook that would keep the door slightly open so she can come and go as she pleases and of course, they don't allow any of my other cats into *their* rooms.

Re the kittening pen ... one can either leave the top open completely for mom to come and go, or you can close it up and have the little "front door" open. By draping a dark colored cloth/sheet over the kittening pen, you can create a "den" for momcat. Once kittens start moving around, I put up a high enough barrier so that they could only wander around their cage floor and at around three/four weeks I take the barrier down and "set them free" in their own room. Then they start noticing mom's kibble and food bowl, examine their own litter trays and before you know it, babies are litterbox trained and nibbling on solids. Oh, none of my queens ever used their own adult litterboxes in the kitten rooms, they all went to the communal "cat cloakroom" (read ex formal lounge!) where I keep six large litterboxes for the adults.

Once the babies are allowed out of their pen, I put a barrier across the entrance of the door, low enough for me to climb over but high enough to keep babies in. This way, kitten buyers are allowed to watch from the passage how the babies play and interact. At the age of around eight weeks, I encourage kitten buyers to come visit their own kitten and they get a lounge to themselves where they can play and bond for an hour, on a weekly basis. I don't let my kittens run free in my house and all my kitten buyers are thrilled with their loving, confident and attention-seeking kittens.

>> As for putting cats into small cages for isolation of the sick, having babies, etc.... well... I am sorry but I do not feel that is appropriate.<<
Sorry to say, but it is a must to isolate a sick kitten/cat! I would much rather have a kitten isolated in a pen/cage/whatever you want to call it, heal it back to good health and re-introduce to the litter. I would much rather spend money on only one sick kitten than treating an entire litter. That is money that could be put to good use, ie. kitten food, litter, etc. Healing and treating *one* cat/kitten is quicker than treating an entire litter or household of cats.

As for raising a litter in a bathroom, I would never do it again. I recently had to as I had one more litter than originally planned (queen coming into heat too often, too hard). In fact, this is my isolation room where I normally quarantine my new imports and it is O.K. for a couple of weeks but *not* for say fourteen/fifteen weeks. We built the kittens a very fancy jungle gym with three different levels, creating the "mental image" of more space but they need floor space to run.

To be quite honest, I would much rather buy a kitten from a breeder that isolates/cages her litters and know that I get a healthy kitten that has not been exposed to all kinds of diseases that working studs could harbor, show cats bring in, other litters could spread around, etc.

Truda Straede, of Nintu Australian Mist
I can't imagine breeding without a huge variety of pens, cages, separate rooms, kittens rooms catteries, covered in verandahs etc, the real point is that the kittens MUST be handled regularly often and be exposed to as many people as possible. I have tried with and without penning - though I always contained during the learning the litter tray stage. Neither I nor anyone else wants a kitten which poops under the bed because it knows no better ... And ripping your wardrobe apart to track down a funny smell is no joke ... Jon, I think you might enjoy my "Breeding Cats ... a Practical Guide" - if you would also like to contribute to the FIP fund, you can get details through the Orion Society site

What I am really saying is that it isn't to cage or not to cage - there are reasons underlying the choice you make, to do with husbandry, circumstances, finances, those with whom the house must be shared, health considerations, breed (and boy - a male that doesn't spray, I do envy you!) I actually let one of my studs out to roam the garden during the day - over the years I have had many studs able to manage this without getting themselves into trouble, or giving the old desexed garden denizens a hard time ... I also have a couple of brood queens who always have their babies on my bed for the first 3-4 weeks (when I wake up being prickled in the middle of the night it is time to transfer to the safety and security of a pen). I agree that you breed for the pleasure it gives you - BUT it IS NO PLEASURE if you don't have healthy kittens - its a mix and match - horses for courses - and it is a matter of SELECTION - and this means for HEALTH FIRST, TEMPERAMENT SECOND - then all those show qualities ...

It's really funny how perceptions are about cages - I wouldn't consider selling to a customer who is funny about my pens - after all, I go to the trouble to explain to them why I have them, and if they don't have the brains to appreciate that I am trying to provide them with a healthy, loving kitten to be a friend for life, well, they aren't the home for one of my kittens. I have bought from all sorts of breeders, all I require is that they demonstrate that they UNDERSTAND what they are doing enough to chose a husbandry method suited to their circumstances, and capable of producing these well socialized, healthy kittens. And no righteous words about numbers please - they aren't relevant - what is relevant is the TIME that the breeder spends on and with their cats .... I have had 150 cats when I was young and frightfully energetic, I am down to 60 now, and heading for 40 in the next year or so. This suits my more creaking bones, and gives me time to do things like writing books - and chatting on this list ... Life is a whole to be lived, and while obsession with cat breeding may not be a good thing in itself, it is a prerequisite if you want to create a new breed - however, achievement brings passing of the obsession ...

I have cages that are 1 sq m by .5 tall - these are for Mums with very young kittens, also they fold up and I take them with me when traveling interstate so that i can have my cats in the motel room. I don't use them much any more, except if I have an ill cat, or too many litters ... I have doubledecker cages .5m deep, .5m off the floor on stand1.7mlong, .7m tall, with shelf and separate litter tray box, above this one is big pen taking up the rest of the wall height - bed box in top LH corner, litter box enclosure/shelf on lower RH corner, 2 ladders between them. Everyone loves these (my husband designed and built) In fact the Royal Agricultural Society owns one built from my husbands plans which is used in its Animal Nursery display each year at the Royal Agricultural show - twice I have been invited to provide the mother and kittens in it. This pen has been much admired by other breeders ---. It actually can be disassembled and folded into flat sections too, so that you can move it round the house as needed - without having to take out all the furniture in the room first!

I also have 2x2m full height rooms, with 2x2m outdoor runs attached with window access. These are furnished with chairs, (plastic ones from Coles) which can be completely disinfected, and lots of soft bedding - and small washable carpet squares --- many people say they will come and stay in them - till I point out that a bed won't fit! I also have covered verandah with mesh/fiberglass outer wall divided into runs, with chairs, beds etc - and part of this is single boarding units, with bed shelf, high shelf, and transparent walls so that they can see outside (these are full height walk in, but only 1.3 x 1.3 m - after all the cats is only a temporary resident here. I also have garden run with verandah as protection, and door into my bedroom for cuddles, and similar 'Trophy room run' where the kitty groups I am keeping for breeding come inside for the evening to crawl all over me while i watch TV, or to rush up and down like maniacs - these are my future boy or girl colonies, and also show cats. They are very well socialized, and we all enjoy each other's company. Last but not least I have a huge 'Patio Run' 6x2m in which are armchairs, beds, shelves - for my oldies (retired studs mainly) these fellows are allowed to loll around the garden during the day, though when it is wet, hot or cold, most of them loll around in their beds. This is where my washing machine is too, and emergency clotheslines, so they also get lots of casual people company.

Hope this provides you with some insight into the range about which we are talking...

Masada Bengals built a kittening pen in their bedroom out of particle board and PVC pipe. The kittens live in here until they are 8-10 weeks old. After first vaccines they can be let loose in the house.

Their studs have walk-in cages for times when they need to be confined, or for visiting queens, and outdoor patio enclosures for all the cats to enjoy when the weather is nice.

Maia Sornson
I get asked that question all the time -- How can you raise your kittens in pens. That immediately tells me that the person speaking it probably hasn't raised very many kittens. Males have to be penned for the obvious reasons. If mothers who are having kittens for the first time aren't caged they tend to have their kittens in inappropriate nesting places or, worse yet, have one kitten here then one kitten there very often losing the first couple of kittens to say nothing of exposing them to all kinds of infections. There is also the problem with other cats. I have had queens who kittened out of a cage whose kittens have been killed by the other cats or mortally injured as they bashed them about like a stuffed mouse. Newborn kittens have no scent so other cats are not apt to recognize them as cats.

Kittens that grow up unconstrained by a cage also tend to not learn about litter boxes. They will not seek one out as juveniles and if they start going to the bathroom behind a bed or couch, they remember that all their lives even when they are properly introduced to litterboxes.

As far as socialization goes, that can go both ways. If kittens that have a tendency to be shy are raised in elevated cages they tend to be less afraid of the human face and more easily held. If cats tend to be standoffish, they tend to be more tolerant of human movements if they are caged and used to having humans feed and clean them every day. I have had some cats that were shy and if left to their own resources, would bond to the other cats rather than to humans if not caged their first 6 months of life. And then there is caging after a show and caging during an illness. No competent breeder can do a good job without caging sometime.

Cheryl McGee
This is just my opinion and viewpoint. Not to betaken as anything other than my feelings. Appropriate caging is a given when even considering a successful breeding career. When I say successful, I mean a person that has consistently given forth top specimens of their chosen breed. And these animals not only excel in breed type, but they excel in temperament and health. for successful breeding, with the integrity of the breed at stake, caging animals, or should we say, specimens, is the proven way to do it. I tend to get my feathers ruffled a little when I hear things about the dreaded cages. The picture that was previously painted was of a 12' X 12' wire box. with a cat inside....its not that way at all. Caging has to be designed around the particular breed of cat you choose. What's fine for a Persian is in no way suitable for a Cornish Rex.

One or two cats in a one room apartment does not make one a breeder...statistics prove that the majority of the litters produced are one or two litter people ... then you have the breeders and I would be most certain if I said that the long term successful ones use a good amount of caging to their utmost advantage.

Cornish are small cats, made of pure steel. Ask the judges what breed of cat demands the most respect for being the fastest and wiryest it's these little characters. My cages, some of them 25 yrs old, are 56"LX30"WX34"H with two shelves. They are a breed that likes to pace and the floor length gives them an extra stride. Everyone seems to be big on Tokyo cages, aka, Ferret cages; ell, keep them for the Ferrets as they are worthless as far a cats go. Give me cages with floor space and shelves. Another thing I take into serious consideration is the individual disposition of the cat. Does he do well caged or does he pace and scream.(One big mouth in the house is enough and that's me). If a cat is not happy living in my 'environment', he will not stay very long. One stressed unhappy cat seems to keep the entire cattery up in arms. The only time I have an unhappy campers now is when I outcross and inherit different behaviors. Pick your cats and pick your cares.

True breeders deserve more credit than the general public gives them. The public, unfortunately, is only inspired by the negative side, the Back Yard Breeder and the horror stories on DateLine. Those situations are very accurate but the good and responsible breeders get caught up in all the myth and unpleasantries and therefore get looked down on. There is no real reward system set up for lifetime breeders, no gold watch and certainly no pension. The greatest reward we ever have is seeing a wonderful kitten, that is a credit to the breed and a wonderful pet, live a long and happy life with someone that also respects the breed and animal life in general. They also appreciate the decades of endless time that goes into consistently producing animals that breed true to type. Lay people have no idea that breed type can be lost in as little as 1-2 generations if these animals are left intact in the wrong hands.

ALL the books on successful cat breeding advocate caging ... Pedersen, Cornell, CFA, etc, etc ... I can't imagine the combined group of specialists would even suggest a housing criteria without careful consideration for the animals welfare itself ... removing stress is the rule of thumb. JMHO.

Jennie List
I agree with everything that has been said up to now about caging, whether the cage is a cage you buy or a room dedicated to cats. I started keeping my cats in discrete groups after being on this list for a while. Of course that was after I had an only underfoot cattery and sat on the floor and cried because they ALL got diarrhea. :>) Sound familiar? What I have to add is this: I have hammocks in my cages and even when the doors are wide open, each cat is in "his/her" hammock. They get to choose--and they do choose and claim ownership. If the caging were so horrible, I doubt that I would find cats choosing to sleep in cages with the doors open. And when a cat goes into heat, she gets to stay with her "group" in a cage, rather than having her or a potential stud sent to other quarters.

Another reason to cage: For the protection of the cat! During Christmas, one of my cats in the "kitchen group" was allowed out of the kitchen in the confusion. (The kitchen group has about 800 square feet since it includes the breakfast room and utility room.) I had already gone to bed and the guests chased the cat, trying to get her back in the kitchen. The cat was so terrified that she didn't come out until the next day. I couldn't find her at all and was just sure they had let her outside and was beside myself. My adult son pointed out that if the cat was so valuable, why hadn't I caged it while there were guests going in and out. Excellent point, and it won't happen again.

Anyway, having "caged" cats doesn't mean having cats in 2 x 2 x 2 cages in a dark basement. It does take more time in that I have to go to each room to spend time with the cats--but believe me, they are getting more attention now than when I was cleaning litter boxes every five minutes and scrubbing the floor with Clorox every hour!

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