Do cat breeders in America need a licence?

Cat breeder
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I know that in the UK, cat breeders don’t need a licence but dog breeders do. In Sweden, one of the world’s best countries, and in Switzerland, perhaps the world’s best country, you will need a licence to breed cats but only if you breed a certain number.

In America, you will have to ask the local authorities in the state where you live to find out if you need a licence to be a cat breeder. But this page hopefully provides an introduction and some guidelines.

In New York State for instance, you can become a “pet dealer”, to use their language, if you have a licence because you sell nine or more cats per year. This law became effective on July 1, 2002. I mention this because it’s one example of 50 in the United States.

So, you will find that in some instances that you will need a licence to breed cats. Perhaps the difficulty starts with how you define “breeding cats”.

You get informal breeding where a person allows their female to become pregnant and then sells the kittens locally for a few dollars to make a bit of pocket money. That kind of breeding won’t require a licence and, in any case, it will be unenforceable because nobody except the neighbours knows about it.

But governments typically consider breeding as the facilitation of the reproduction of animals for the sole purpose of selling their offspring. And if the breeder is advertising, displaying or transporting animals, as the top cat breeders do, they’re going to be regarded as operating as cat breeders.

In general, it appears that a person will only qualify as needing a licence if they have five or more breeding animals. That’s a very general statement but it indicates that licensing appears to turn on the number of animals the person has and how professional their operation is.

Another factor will be whether a person is breeding cats for their primary source of income and that income shows up on their tax return. This is going to lead to restrictions and rules that need to be followed. Once again it will depend upon the state where the person lives.

It is probable that you have to drill down lower than that to county or even city level to find the relevant law. It can get complicated in America because there are four levels of jurisdiction: federal, state, county and city.

The laws all overlap but they should be distinct from each other to avoid clashing. But you need to check with local and state regulations to get the most accurate information.

You can also refer to the USDA APHIS website for more information about applying for a cat breeding licence. This is the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service which is part of the US Department of Agriculture.

This department runs an “Animal Care Licensing and Registration Assistant”. This is a questionnaire which you can complete online, at the end of which the website tells you whether you need a licence or not. I completed it myself on the basis that I was a cat breeder making more than $500 profit while operating from my home in America. I don’t need a licence to do that using this online questionnaire.

My impression is that this is quite a complicated area and it took me about an hour’s research to have a fairly clear idea as to whether I need a licence or not to be a cat breeder in America. It all comes down to how professional the operation is and how much money you make and finally and perhaps more importantly how many breeding cats you have or litters you create. These factors determine whether you need a licence or not.

A website dedicated to cat breeding starts off asking whether it is a hobby or a business. That highlights what I mention above. And they have a questionnaire which allows you to work out whether you run a hobby business or a genuine business. Interestingly, they have a section on hobby breeding guidelines by state.

This indicates that each US state has their own criteria for deciding whether a cat breeder is engaged in a hobby or a business. For instance, in Alabama you will need to have more than nine intact females to qualify as a business. Numbers below that, as I understand it, mean that you are running a hobby.

In California, the standard is stricter. The limit on litters or intact adults is: one litter. This would appear to say that if you breed cats to create more than one litter in one year you will qualify as being a cat breeder and be subject to laws governing cat breeding in that state. California – as is New York State – pretty hot on animal welfare.

In Colorado the threshold between being a hobby breeder and a business is 3 litters, in Connecticut it is 2 litters. In Florida it is 2 litters and in Georgia it is 1 litter. In Minnesota it is 5 litters and in Nebraska it is 4 litters. In Nevada any amount of breeding requires a permit. In Maine the threshold is 16 kittens. That gives you a taste for how variable the laws are between US states. You can go to that website by clicking on this link to research the matter more if you wish. Please note, however, that I cannot vouch for the fact that this link will run continuously, indefinitely. The link may break over time. If that has happened, I apologise.

The conclusion is that you need to do your homework before starting up as a cat breeder in America and it might require a bit of digging around to get to the bottom of it.

This is an update to the post after publication. It’s about granting cat breeders a licence. In this instance the USDA suspended the license of this cat breeder in August 2023. Comment: judging by the level of abuse that this breeder perpetrated on their cats and kittens, I would have thought the better outcome would have been a revocation of their licence but that is just my thought about this.

The Humane Society of the United States reports on their website that they partnered with (on the request of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office) the Atty Gen and Chesterfield County Animal Services in the rescue of 110 cats and kittens from a large-scale breeding facility in which there was large-scale alleged cruelty in Chesterfield County.

The local authorities served search and seize warrants on the facility on October 9. The cats were rescued by the Humane Society and transported to an undisclosed location to receive veterinary care, after which they will be rehomed through partners of the Humane Society.

We are told that this facility had numerous prior breaches of animal welfare laws and they were on a report as being problematic. In fact, inspectors had documented more than 50 animal welfare violations at the facility since March 2023.

My reading of the article is that the breeder, a man, was extremely reluctant to take cats and kittens to veterinarians when they required veterinary care. This is one of the main reasons why he was abusing the animals. He was doing ad hoc treatments himself without knowing what he was doing. This is an example of how a breeder can lose their licence.

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