Feline reproduction: when looking for a new breeding male (part II)

In the blog I posted last week, we discussed why it was a bet to pick a kitten as your future breeding stud. To my knowledge, this remains the most common option feline breeders will turn to, simply because finding an available kitten is usually way easier. However, the easier does not necessarily means the better.

When it is a future breeding stud you are looking for, without a doubt, the best option would consist in picking a young adult:

- "Young" because it means that it is at its top shape in terms of reproductive performances.

-  "Adult" because it means the individual is sexually mature and can quickly be integrated in your breeding program;

Easier said than done, right? There are not so many of those young breeding studs available. And when they are, well, they can eventually cost of fortune that will make you think twice before acquiring them… Therefore, let's just think in terms of reproduction here to better understand why, theoretically, picking a young adult would make more sense. 

Puberty ≠ Abitlity to breed

Kittens usually reach puberty around 6 months of age (usually a bit later in giant feline breeds like Maine Coons). So one might think that by picking up a 3-month old kitten, you won't have to wait that long before integrating it inside your breeding program. Maybe... or maybe not! Reaching puberty does not necessarily mean that the animal is ready for breeding. In certain breeds like Persians for instance, some males might not be able to properly breed a female before 1.5-2 years of age. Moreover, if sperm production indeed starts at puberty, it is important to keep in mind that first ejaculates are usually of poor quality. They might contain a lower number of sperm cells and their motility (which is obviously a critical parameter) might be lower as well. It is therefore not uncommon to have lower fertility results with very young males. Fertility-wise, the perfect stud should be a 1.5-2 year old adult so you won't have to wait for long before starting using it as a breeding stud.

Adults might come with fertility results 

Some of these young adults might have already been used for breeding. Which means you will have access to their fertility results. These are huge zootechnical parameters to consider:

- Fertility is usually excellent in felines, but if less than 30% of the females your future pick was bred to did not conceive, you can definitely question its fertility and might want to reconsider choosing him as a breeding stud. 

- You might want to have a look into the average size of the litters he fathered. There are definitely lots of factors that can influence litter size, that's for sure, but if all those litters are small compared to the breed standards, there might be something wrong with the male.

-  For your genetic selection program, it could also be great to take a look at the kittens that were born from this male. They might help you make a better opinion of the genetics he will bring inside your cattery for sure. 

 Things you need to check in an adult.

As usual there are key elements you need to focus on in order to make sure this is the right pick, and we discussed many of them in our previous post on the topic.


Fig 1: Penile spines: reflection of the testosterone secretion

 There is also one other thing I would recommend you to check in a young adult: the penis. And I am not kidding here ! The penis of an adult male cat carries little spine called "penile spines". These spines are meant to induce ovulation in the female during coitus (remember that ovulation is induced in queens, more on the female physiology here ). These penile spines are also the reflection of the testosterone secretion, the main sex hormon that governs sperm production. This hormone is essential secreted by the testes. So for instance, when an animal is castrated, the penile spines will disappear (usually in about a month following castration). This little anatomic detail can therefore tell you a lot about the hormonal environment of the future breeding stud. If testosterone production (and therefore fertility) is an issue, you might see it there. I agree that some males might not be very receptive to this kind of manipulation, but I met several breeders who told me checking this was no big deal. If you can therefore, you should definitely check this. 

The last thing we would recommend to evaluate the fertility in a breeding stud is to check its semen quality. This is a test called spermogram that is routinely conducted in many species including dogs. In cats it can be done, however it requires specific material; is very technical - at least at the beginning- and very very few clinics would offer it. That would be however the best way to assess the fertility potential of a breeding individual for sure. That is the end of our blog today but stay tuned, in the next one we'll give more details about how we perform semen collection in the feline species! 

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