So the practice to follow when Breeding depends a lot on the species and Breed you are using. Females of many species can only ovulate when they are "in heat". Females will announce their "in heat" status with many signs, like loudly caterwauling, spraying, acting very friendly, rubbing up against everything, and even walking around in the mating pose. What this means is that the female is finally in a receptive phase and hormones are high enough to ovulate. Female cats, known as Queens, are "obligatory ovulators," which means that they must be stimulated with multiple matings before the body warrants the need to ovulate. This is one way nature has evolved to save on energy reserves when a chance at pregnancy is unlikely. This is also why some females can't get pregnant if they're not enough couplings or if the male's sperm count is too low, which maturity and health can have an impact.
With many Breeds of cats you can allow them to cycle in and out of heat a few times before allowing them to mate, thus allowing for long breaks between litters. These breaks allow for a Queen to regain a good weight and replenish the body. However, the Bengal Breed must be treated differently than most breeds. This is because the Bengal Breed has a more intense and harsher heat cycle that will replete energy stores and lasts much longer if not bred. Furthermore, when females are in heat their cervix will dilate to allow entry for the male's sperm. This dilation also leaves the uterus very vulnerable to opportunistic bacteria to move in that normally peacefully coexist within the vaginal walls. With most Breeds, the heat cycle is very short and the window of opportunity for uterine infection is minimized. With a longer heat cycle, Bengals inherently are much more susceptible to this life-threatening uterine infection known as Pyometra. Successful matings will decrease the normally harsh and long heat cycle of a Bengal thus also minimize exposure to Pyometra.
It is because of these fundamental differences between the Bengal Breed and other Breeds that the best policy is to Breed a Bengal when they come into heat and not miss heat cycles. This means that Bengals do require higher nutrition and supplements to alleviate the stress of more litters as well as retiring them sooner than other Breeds. This may also be the reason that Bengals tend to have smaller litter sizes of 2-5. A good mentor and famous breeder Marianne of WildStyle Bengals use to be known for Breeding exotic Persians. She bred this Breed for over 20 years allowing for breaks in between litters. When she transitioned to the Bengal Breed and tried to use this same policy, many of her Queens came down with Pyometra fairly quickly. She had to learn the hard way that the Bengal Breed requires a different Breeding dynamic.
So how often do we Breed our Bengals?
Queens, when kept in optimal health, prefer to be in either one of two states, either Pregnant or Nursing but not both. Since both pregnancy and lactation require an enormous amount of energy consumption, it is best not to do both. For this reason, often times our Queens do not go into heat until after their litter has been either weened at 6 weeks or they're gone at 8 weeks. This frees up the Queen for concentrating on starting the next litter. In this way, cats are very prolific. We, at Lap Leopard Bengals, encourage easy pregnancies, large litters, large kittens, and easy heat cycles by using the best nutrition available in unlimited quantities. We also use a myriad of supplements that include: prenatal vitamins, postnatal vitamins, stud vitamins, regular daily vitamins/minerals/fish oil, additional B vitamin supplement for metabolism, probiotics for digestive health, lysine for respiratory and immunity health, Bone Meal for extra calcium support, and Absorb More for additional digestive enzymes. With these nutritional support systems in place, our Queens have the potential of having 2-3 litters annually. Despite these frequent litters, our Queens retain a good healthy weight and produce larger-than-average litters of large kittens thus confirming that the nutritional support makes a tremendous difference. We also like to proudly state that comparative to other Breeders, we have lower-than-average stillborn or infant mortality ratings.
Just because a Queen mates during her heat cycle it doesn't mean that pregnancy is assured. There's a variety of reasons why a Queen may not get pregnant, such as low weight, not enough matings, immaturity of the Queen or Stud, compromised health, there was an early miscarriage, lower fertility, or sometimes it just doesn't take. When a Queen doesn't become pregnant during her heat cycle, she will usually not go back into heat until 1-2 months have lapsed if ovulation occurred or as early as 2-3 weeks if ovulation did not occur at all. The increased frequency of heat cycles from lack of ovulation is yet another reason why Bengals are more susceptible to Pyometra.
When do you retire a Breeding Bengal?
In general, Bengals retire at 4-6 years old and is dependent upon the individual Queen. In contrast, other Breeds may not retire their Queens until 8+ years. Breeders look for signs of decreased fertility and fatigue like: consistently small litter sizes of 1-2, difficulty getting pregnant, difficulty birthing litters, and higher-than-average stillborn or infant death rates. Male studs may retire a little older but fertility rates do drop with age as well. Once a Breeder retires, they are spayed/neutered and then sold at a significantly decreased price and live the rest of their life as a loved family pet. The price of a retired Breeder is usually dependent upon how old they are ($350-$700). Before you purchase a retired Breeder, it is best to know under which conditions did this Breeder spend most of their life. A retired Breeder that spent most of their life in a cage or with minimal human involvement may be impacted.