Meet the super-ethical cat breeder who once travelled more than 1,000 miles from Scotland to Switzerland to keep a rare breed alive - and makes a £12,000 loss on her passion.

Heather McRae, 37, has played a part in breeding around 20 per cent of Asian cats registered in the UK in the past two years.

The relatively new breed was formed in 1981, when a Burmese cat was bred with a Chinchilla, a variation on a Persian cat.

Asian cats are known for being stunningly pretty, and having playful and intelligent character traits, but have never become well-known and are classified as rare.

Mrs McRae fell in love with the breed in 2008, when she bought a kitten for her husband, Richard, also 37.

She kept the birthday present a secret and only bought Annas - Gaelic for ‘surprise’ - as she was a black kitten, rather than because of the Asian breed.

But the couple found that Annas had the temperament they had been looking for in a pet, and despite having several other cats at home including a Maine Coon, Devon Rex, and also rescue moggies, they were besotted.

At their home in Polmont, Falkirk, they now have 16 cats, and have bred 153 kittens since 2010.

The costs are enormous, and Mrs McRae, who works as the director of an advertising agency, estimates that she makes a £12,000 a year loss on her "expensive hobby".

She said: “I like Asians because they look like cats, and some people say they have dog-like personalities because they’re so friendly and sociable.

“I don’t like cats with squashed faces or extremely pointy ears. 

"I just want a cat that looks like a cat. With a moggie you just don’t know what you’re going to get, but each breed has different characteristics. The Asian breed is our passion.

“Most years our losses are about £12,000.

“People come to see us after visiting other breeders and they are shocked, but we are just normal breeders - the problem is the people they have seen before.

“Responsible breeders do not make money, they do it because they love the breed and they want it to survive.”

She has termed breeders who cut corners to try and make cash quickly "greeders", and said people who buy cats from backstreet breeders risk buying unvaccinated kittens, bred from parents cats who have not had health checks.

In a bid to introduce new bloodlines into the Asian breed, the couple even travelled across Europe to deliver a cat to another breeder, who they befriended online.

They drove to Brussels and slept on the floor on the airport with the kitten, before flying to Milan where they were collected and taken to Switzerland by fellow cat breeders.

Mrs McRae said: “More than 20 per cent of Asian cats registered were bred by us, or by people breeding cats that we bred.

“We have bred Asian cats with Burmese cats to create new bloodlines, and we have done two outcrosses, where the fourth generation would count as Asians.

“We had a lot of soul-searching before we started, and decided we would have to be very strict with ourselves - there have to be rules and parameters, and the outcross kittens have been rehomed.

“In older breeds, in-breeding is at about 20 per cent, but in our cats it’s more like five per cent.

“There’s a balancing act between having enough consistency in characteristics, and enough variation in the genes that the cats are healthy.

“In the older breeds there is a level of puritanism, people don’t want to sully their lines.”

Heather and Richard travel to cat shows so the general public can admire their pets, including Meet the Breeds at Supreme - the cat equivalent of Crufts - in Birmingham.

They recently upped their prices from £400 per cat, to £500, to cover rising costs - but Heather says that in order to break even, a kitten would have to be sold for around £900.

She said: “There’s the cost of buying a cat, the cost of using a stud, or building a stud pen and ensuring it’s ventilated, and travel costs...

“Pregnant cats cost twice as much to feed, and we get through four kilos of food for a litter of kittens every two days.

“Each kitten needs two vaccinations, they have to be wormed three times and neutered before they leave. Then there is the mum’s vaccinations and vets bills, and insurance is about £200 a month.

"But our passion is this breed.”