Building A Cattery
By Lou Kritz
Originally published in the CFA Yearbook 1999
“We began with one pet, went to one show, and then it…it…just sort of sneaked up on us”.
This sentence is similar to the beginning of the oft-told story of how we all got started in cats and the subsequent need for a cattery.
Most breeders didn’t plan for a multicat operation. They just found a particular breed of cat they love, acquired one, and… Well, you know the rest. One day you wake up, trip over a litter pan, take the laundry off the stack of carriers, move the queen of the house off your favorite chair, and in exasperation say, “I gotta build a cattery”. Hopefully, this article will help put you on the right track to building a clean, healthy, and loving environment for your cats.
Multicat colonies present unique, difficult problems that can escalate into serious health or animal welfare concerns. As lovers of these fine friends, we often fail to realize that cats do not naturally live in a close group unit. Most are loners, with males and females only coming in contact at breeding. Not being herd, or group, animals means they don’t easily establish the “pecking order” natural to wolves, deer, and others that live together in large groups. When we force them to adapt to the communal arrangement, we cause a certain level of stress. The challenge, then, is to maintain a household of felines, keep them healthy and happy, and reach the goals of breeding and showing that’s become our passion.
In 1992, the CFA Board of Directors, possibly reacting to negative reports of poor housing of animals, concerned with the growing animal rights movement, and wanting to provide positive direction to those breeders desiring it, implemented the Approved Cattery Program. The goals of this program were:
- To create basic, minimum requirements for the acceptable housing of cats.
- To enumerate the various aspects of professional cat husbandry and the acceptable application of each one.
- To provide for the recognition of those breeders and catteries that meet the acceptable level of sound cattery management.
- To provide for recognition of outstanding catteries.
The guidelines of this article deal with the first two points. Creating acceptable cat housing then managing the environment effectively should be every breeders’ goal, regardless of the recognition factor. However, following the ideas discussed here will go a long way to achieving the Approved Cattery and Cattery of Excellence designations established by the Program. The specifics of the Program are listed on the Inspection Form that is used for grading the cattery. Accordingly, this article uses the points defined on that form as a basis for constructing and maintaining your cats’ home.
While not designed as a building blueprint, it effectively functions as one. The primary considerations for proper housing of the multiple cat household are space, air, light, food, water, sanitation, and husbandry. Husbandry is defined as “the control and management, including production and care, of a branch of agriculture, and especially of domestic animals”. In simple terms, it means putting all of the foregoing factors together into proper daily care of the animals. As you begin planning construction of your cattery, it’s helpful to be clear on your goals for your cat owning-breeding-showing experience. Are you going to house and show one or two Premiers? Will you keep a limited number of females and purchase stud service outside your own cattery? Do you want a large breeding program that includes several males? Along with size considerations now are plans for the future. That is, how will it grow? Will you add a second breed? These questions are almost endless, but time spent pondering them in the beginning will eliminate many problems later on. Once you feel that most of your goals are clearly defined, it’s time to begin.
The first big step is finding a place to put the cattery. First, you’ll need 30 cu ft of cage space for each cat, plus free play space, and grooming and maintenance areas. Consideration should be given to separating the cages; i.e., putting space between them, for cleanliness and disease control. Stud males should have more than the minimum 30 cu ft. Remember, the Board’s guideline establishes minimums, not optimums. Thus, in planning more space is definitely better. The type of space is also important, and there is not one best place. Visit catteries around the country, and you’ll find them in the basement, the upstairs bedroom, the sunporch, and out in the garage. For your cattery, decide what area can be given up entirely to the cats, with isolation being of paramount importance. The cattery must be able to be closed off from the rest of the house. This provides climate control, sanitation, privacy, security, and breeding control, for the sake of both the cats and the family. For example, scrubbing the place down with a strong chlorine solution often does not go well with that gourmet meal you’re preparing for the in-laws. A screened sunporch that is heated in winter is perhaps the ideal. It offers sunlight, fresh air, security, and easy access. However, not everyone has that type of space available. One or more spare bedrooms offer many of the same advantages, if they are available. The basement can also be used, if moisture is not a problem. Light, heat, and ventilation can be added or adapted; but moisture, as will be detailed later in this article, will ruin any efforts to create a wholesome environment. Even apartment living need not prevent the establishment of a cattery. If a room is large enough, face cages away from the living area and cover the backs with solid material, sort of a false wall. Close off the walkway with a folding baby gate covered with a heavy cloth. It will take a little training to convince your cat that this is a barrier not to be crossed, but it can be done.
But just how much space is needed? That depends. It depends on how willing you are to adjust your breeding plan and your living space to accommodate all your needs. Let’s assume you plan to keep six adult cats, including one male for stud purposes. Also, you can do the bathing, grooming, litter pan washing, etc., in another room, perhaps the laundry room. The Program suggests 30 cu ft of cage space per cat. To figure this, multiply the length times the width times the height, all in feet. For example, the standard show cage is 4 ft long x 2 ft wide x 2 ft high, 16 cu ft (4’x2’x2’=16). Thus, a show cage is not adequate housing for even one cat in the cattery environment. However, removing the top of one and stacking another on top to double the height provides 32 cu ft, enough room if perches or shelves are added.
To show just how much space is needed, let’s design a cage 30 inches (2.5 ft) deep, by 4 ft wide by 3 ft high. It meets the 30 cu ft requirement (2.5 x 4 x 3 = 30). In a room with a seven foot ceiling height we can stack two of these cages, requiring ten sq. ft of floor space. For five females, you’ll need three stacks, using one as a kittening cage. Plus, you’ll need another big cage for the male, a total of four cage stacks, each taking ten sq. ft of floor space. Free play space, litter pans on the floor, the cat tree, and grooming table will take at least 21/2 times as much space as the cages do. Using these figures, the total square footage required is:
4 cage stacks x 10 sq. ft. = 40 sq. ft.
Open Area: 21/2 x 40 sq. ft. = 100 sq. ft.
Total= 140 sq ft.
Essentially, that’s a 12 x 12 bedroom, using a closet to store food, litter, pans, and supplies. While the foregoing seems like a lot of space, it just describes the minimum requirements for a six-cat household. More cats mean even more space. Not mentioned are bathing and drying areas, isolation cages for new and sick cats, and an area for the record keeping and paperwork that a cattery demands. If owning a cattery seems like a daunting commitment, well, it is. That’s why the need to plan is stressed, and with that planning, is a need to understand the serious commitment of time, space, energy, and money that quality cat care demands.
Proper ventilation, the flow of fresh, oxygenated air, through the cattery is essential to the cats’ cleanliness and health. A supply of clean, outside air builds natural resistance to airborne pathogens; i.e., germs and viruses, that closed spaces don’t permit. Fortunately, good ventilation is relatively easy to achieve. Screened windows in warmer times of the year are the simplest means of “airing” the cattery. Screens must be sturdy and in good repair. If your cats enjoy snagging and pulling the standard screening, a product called hardware cloth can be used as a reinforcement. It is essentially a heavy screen with openings 1/4″ square. While it is much stronger than window screen, it does not keep out insects. It should always be used with the standard screen to keep the flying and crawling visitors outdoors where they belong. Sometimes, windows are not available or the best option, and powered ventilation, vent fans, must be used. There are a myriad of systems, some easy to install, some quite complicated and expensive. The simplest is the enclosed window fan fastened to the window frame. It moves the air and provides a sturdy barrier in a window that you may not want opened. A relatively simple system uses standard kitchen or bathroom vent fans. These are available in home centers and hardware stores starting at about $15 and up, depending on size and features. Size is measured in cubic feet per minute, and describes the amount of air moved in a given time. To buy the right size, figure the cubic feet (LxWxH) of the area. Given obstructions and corners, figure that the fan will be only half efficient. Here’s an example:
A 10′ x 12′ x 8′ room contains 960 cubic feet (10 x 12 x 8 =960)
A 60 cfm fan should change the air in 16 minutes (960 -:- 60 = 16)
Half Efficiency Principle will take twice as long (16 min x 2 = 32 min)
The Half Efficiency Principle means that it will take 32 minutes, twice as long to do the job.
Installation of this type of fan requires both carpentry and electrical skills. If you’re a good do-it-yourselfer, you can do it following the directions supplied and some tips from the store clerk. The fan must be installed flush in the ceiling or wall, and a vent hose run to the outside. A power supply with a switch must also be installed. Our cattery is in the basement with a suspended ceiling so installation was fairly simple. And, the fan replaced a light fixture so the electricity was in place. If you’re not sure how to do this job, hiring a professional is money well spent.
You won’t want the fan running constantly, both to prolong the life of the fan and to save on the electric bill. Installing a timer will turn the fan off and on at regular intervals. Sears and other hardware stores sell a simple timer, for about $25, that replaces the wall switch. Easy to install, it can be programmed to turn off and on in 15 minute intervals. It also has a button that allows manual operation without changing the program. Our cattery fans are set to run 15 minutes very two hours. One additional suggestion. Buy vent fans bigger, higher cfm’s, and not the cheapest model. They’ll do a better job, last longer, save money in the long run. Vent fans should exhaust air from the cattery. Odors will be expelled to the outside, and the clean air supply will be drawn through the living quarters. This air will have been either warmed or cooled by the house system and, since it is being drawn through a large area, will provide the oxygenation needed to freshen the cattery. See also Installing a Cattery Ventilation System
In a sunporch cattery, a room with many windows, or an outside cattery, providing ample lighting is not too difficult. A basement or a room with few windows will need artificial light to allow proper living conditions. In any situation, however, some natural light, i.e., sunlight, should be directed into the cattery if at all possible. Basements often have small ceiling height windows that allow a small amount of sunlight to get in. If possible, locate your cattery on the east or south side of the basement under these windows to take the most advantage of the sun’s rays. The morning or early afternoon sun has an invigorating effect on the cats, and there are direct health benefits from sunlight. Dairy farmers, when wintering their herds in a dark barn for the winter, often have ringworm problems. They cure it in the spring by turning the animals out into the bright sun. Ringworm, like many other germs, viruses, and fungi, like the dark. Spring’s shining days drive it away.
It’s obvious that most in-home catteries need added lighting. The best is ceiling mounted fluorescent fixtures with daylight bulbs. Some veterinarians believe that the daylight fluorescent provides at least some of the benefits of natural sunlight. If nothing else, their color simulates most closely that of the outdoors. Remember that cats on the lower level of a cage stack can spend most of their day in shadow. Prevent this by mounting a fixture on the wall so that it sheds light into the lower level of the cage. A simple way to do this is to buy an under cabinet fixture that mounts with a double sided tape strip and has an on/off switch on the front of the fixture. You just stick it on the wall, plug it in, and the problem is solved.
An important aspect of lighting is coat control. Many breeders, especially longhair ones, believe that temperature plays the most important role in keeping coat. While that may be a factor, the amount of light effects the pituitary gland, which, in turn, controls coat retention and shedding. Keeping the daily amount of light that your cats get as close to the natural cycle of light and dark will keep their shedding close to the natural cycle. That cycle is a heavy shedding of the winter coat in the spring, and a lighter shedding of the less dense summer coat in the fall. Many breeders complain that, “My cat sheds all the time”. Since the cat is in the light from 6 AM to midnight, that’s probably true. A little more darkness probably will help.
The importance of wholesome, nutritious food cannot be stressed enough. Fortunately, there has been tons of research done in the field of feline nutrition, by food companies, university programs, and the government. There is an abundance of quality diets available at reasonable prices, and in all forms. Rather than state what we feed and claim it’s best, it’s better advice to ask your vet what he recommends. And, after a while, you’ll learn what your cats like, and more importantly, what they do well on.
There are basic factors to consider with any feeding program. First, it demands your attention. You must observe your cats eating habits, weight gain or loss, and health status. Not every cat in the cattery will have the same feeding habits as its mates. You may have to isolate that piggy neuter at feeding time so he doesn’t go to the show looking like Baby Huey. Also, watch that the shy little girl doesn’t get pushed out of the food dish by the more aggressive litter mates. The effects of undernourishment may not show up until she’s bred and produces a weak litter.
The Approved Cattery Inspection Form asks if food is stored and handled in a clean, uncontaminated manner. Is the food dish next to a litter pan where fecal matter can be kicked into it? Is it next to the water bowl so it gets damp? As we’ll see in the section on sanitation, water and warmth combine to make a perfect environment for the growth of bacteria and other organic contaminants. Food left too long in the cattery can be a breeding ground for all types of unwanted guests. One of the best ways to ensure contamination is to always pour fresh dry food over top of what’s left in the bottom of the bowl. The cats’ saliva, water droplets, and darkness will almost certainly help to exacerbate the problem. To eliminate the chance of contamination, regularly discard uneaten food. Dry food should be cleared out every day, and moist food and meat should not be left for more than several hours. If you’re tossing too much uneaten food, it’s a sure sign you’re overfeeding. Try cutting back so the cats eat most of what you serve. Then, after you’ve emptied the bowl, wash it. While there are many cleansers and chemicals being marketed, nothing can beat a regular dose of good old fashioned soap and water!
Even more important than good food, an ample supply of fresh, clean water is absolutely, positively, unequivocally, the most needed nutrient for the cat. Grind the finest steak, mix the most expensive, scientifically prepared dry food, and top it all off with premium vitamins, but then leave out good water, and your program will fail. Water makes it all work! Mammals are over 90% water, and all of us need a good supply. Again, sanitation is the key. Fresh water is higher in dissolved oxygen, which makes it taste better – fresher – and kills anaerobic bacteria. Cold water tastes better and stimulates the taste buds, so feeding goes well. On the contrary, water left sitting for too long a time gets warm and stagnant. Place stagnant water under a microscope and it looks like a miniature city, teeming with life. The longer water sits out, the longer contaminants in the air have to find it and call it home. Water is also affected by the cat’s saliva as he drinks. A small amount of saliva, a nutrient and bacteria rich fluid in the mouth, is deposited each time the tongue laps the surface. Given time, moisture, and warmth, the bacteria grow and multiply.
One way to keep water cleaner and fresher is through the use of water bottles. Commonly sold as rabbit watering bottles, these are inverted and hung on the cage, with a metal tube spout and ball valve at the end. Placing a cage cup about three inches below the spout will keep any drips off the floor. Despite what some breeders believe, cats will learn to use these bottles. In our cattery, some take to them immediately, while others take two or three days. Over the last several years, we’ve switched to them exclusively, have every cat in the cattery using them, and drinking as much or more than they did with open bowls. As an added benefit, we can see just how much water is used very day, something impossible with walk-through bowls.
Like bowls, bottles should be cleaned regularly. We rinse and refill two times at most, then wash them out with soap or detergent, and soak them in a mild bleach solution. This cleans and sanitizes the nooks and crannies of the valve and tube.
Sanitation can most easily be thought of as cleanliness; clean air, clean food, clean water, clean cages, clean everything. Come to think of it, that’s a good motto for running a cattery, “Clean Everything!” A study of surgical sterility practices teaches that bacteria, viruses, molds, and fungi, are on all surfaces and in the air. Normally, our systems are able to handle those that would cause illness and contamination. However, when they’re allowed to build to higher than normal levels, or when our defense mechanisms are weakened, we can’t fend them off and illness ensues.
It’s the same for the cat, especially those confined and unable to distance themselves from the problem areas. The real enemy of a sanitized cattery is a dark, damp, warm environment. A good example is Kitty’s furry bed. Moisture from drinking, food particles, the cat’s warm fur, and the darkness under her body provide an incubator environment that will allow the invaders to grow and multiply. Regular washing and airing of beds and perches help to both eliminate these uninvited guests and make Kitty’s life more pleasant. Fortunately, there are many weapons available to combat these invaders. Light, fresh air, wholesome food, and clean water were discussed above, and are the first steps. Next comes removal of waste and other breeding grounds. Of course, the place to begin is with the litter pan. We have an abundance of litter types available, most of it suitable and sanitary when used correctly. Fecal matter must be removed at least once a day, if not more often. When litter becomes urine-soaked it must be dumped and replaced. Along with removal, cleaning and disinfecting of litter pans is essential.
Recent Cornell University research has shown that FIP is an opportunistic virus present in the intestinal tracts of many cattery-bound animals, and is spread through fecal contact, as in litter pan sharing. A good way to control its spread is through proper cleaning, disinfecting, and controlling litter pan use. Occasional dumping of litter isn’t sufficient. The illness causing microbes remain behind in those little spots and stains on the pan. Fortunately there is a cheap, easily obtainable solution that eradicates most microscopic pests – chlorine bleach. The best know brand of chlorine bleach is Clorox”, and the Clorox Company publishes a booklet describing the proper way to use bleach in conjunction with detergents to both clean and sanitize surfaces. Surface sanitation is accomplished by first scrubbing with a good detergent solution to remove visible stains and dirt, then rinsing with clear water. A solution of chlorine bleach applied after the rinse, and allowed to air dry, effectively controls microbes. The bleach is broken down to little more than salt and water as it disinfects, and is thus safe when used properly. In our cattery, we scrub litter pans in the laundry sink, rinse them, then mist them with a bleach solution in a spray bottle, and let them dry. The same process is used on cattery surfaces, food dishes, and water bottles and bowls. If you prefer, there are also many other cleansers and germ-virus-fungicides on the market to keep your cat’s home fresh and clean. Again, check with your vet for recommended, safe chemicals.
In setting up the cattery, it is wise to plan an isolation area. New cats coming into the cattery, cats returning from shows, and sick cats can be confined here to avoid the risk of contaminating the entire cattery.
Ideally, this area should be on a different heating and cooling system from the rest of the house. For most breeders, however, this is not feasible. A spare room or bathroom will often be the solution.
This should be outfitted like any other areas, but special care should be exercised when this space is being used.
Always attend to isolated cats last and make sure the water and food dishes and litter box are kept separate. This is easily done by marking them with fingernail polish. Spray your clothes and shoes (especially soles) and wash your hands before handling any other cat. If your fears are realized and the cat in isolation is seriously ill, you should repaint the area before using it again.
A leukemia isolation is handled much the same way. This virus, however, is not airborne. FeLV is fragile outside the cat, unlike many upper respiratory viruses, and can live only about three days under optimum conditions. Once it dries or comes in contact with disinfectants, it is killed. Special care must be used to see no other cat shares this cat’s food, water and litter pans, as these are the principle paths of infection.
In case an epidemic hits the cattery, isolate and treat all infected animals. When the situation subsides, the most effective way to stop the “bug” from lingering is to entirely repaint the cattery and seal in the infection. This is more effective than any disinfectant ever produced.
Husbandry, earlier defined as the control and management, including production and care, of domestic animals, ties together all the facets of building and maintaining a cattery. Your cats’ condition; i.e., weight, size, health, cleanliness, grooming, and vitality, along with your observation and supervision, and concern for security and safety, all play a part in professional husbandry. A cattery owner doing all that it takes to produce healthy, happy cats and kittens truly is a professional. You must know cage building techniques, construction and maintenance procedures, security measures, and sometimes even the legal aspects of licenses and permits. Add to the list animal health practices, sanitation, grooming and care. Then, top it all off with show rules and breed standards, and a good knowledge of genetics. Once the package is all put together, remember to keep abreast of current developments in all of these areas, as our technology-driven age continually revises and updates all of our knowledge. While the scope of maintaining a truly professional cattery may seem daunting, it really can be a lot of fun and quite interesting. Begin with the basics presented here and build both the physical scope of your program and your knowledge of your breed and the fancy at large. But begin with a plan. Of course, this plan will change over time, but the love and care for each of our furry companions will not only change, it will grow.
FELINE HUSBANDRY, “Cattery Design and Management”, Neils C. Pedersen, DVM, PhD and Joan Miller. A wonderful 45 page chapter on the design and management of a cattery – complete with photos, plans, standards and guidelines. Highly recommended.
** This book is out of print, but used copies are sometimes available through amazon.com.
PDF files of the chapters in this book by Dr. Pedersen are available for free download on the UC Davis Center for Companion Animal Health web site.