By Patricia Jacobberger and Marva Marrow

Five thousand years have elapsed since the domesticated cat initially intertwined its future with humans. Since then, cats have shared our hearth and home, our food and beds and have been the objects of adoration as well as the recipients of ill will. Initially, cats were kept about farms and hamlets and respected for their practical contributions to rodent control. Cats were rarely regarded as companions or pets. Most certainly, no one kept records of their breeding habits or the colors, patterns and unique oddities that resulted from those breedings; no one, until the latter part of the 1800's.

By the Victorian Era, and thanks to Charles Darwin, people in Europe and North America were learning about their own evolution. We had entered the industrial revolution and were becoming more affluent as a society. In the late 1800's, competitive cat shows came into vogue. As a result of these competitions, people became interested in the various colors and individual characteristics of the cats that they saw and admired. Humans began to record, influence and regulate the breeding of cats.

The idea of the pedigree, used to trace and confirm the lineage of an animal, became popular as people began to take pride in their unusual or particularly unique cats. Many years before the science of genetics was developed and unusual variations of cats were studied by the scientific community, pedigrees provided valuable insight into the predictability of matings. It was not long before the term pedigreed became the equivalent of the phrase "purebred."

 |                          +----<3>GC ANSHENT-WON'S MESABI                  |  
 |                          |       0380-003752 RUDDY 12/18/1974             |  
 |      +SIRE:--<1>MILLCREEK'S FRAZIER                                       |  
 |      |          0380-005915 RUDDY                                         |  
 |      |                   |       ANSHENT-WON'S MARNIER                    |  
 |      |                   +----<4>0381-003752 RUDDY                        |  
 | CH MILLCREEK'S ATHENA OF TAILSEND                                         |  
 | 0381-008562 RUDDY 07/14/1979                                              |  
 | (F)  |                   +----<5>GC ANSHENT-WON'S MESABI                  |  
 |      |                   |       0380-003752 RUDDY 12/18/1974             |  
 |      |DAM:      MILLCREEK'S JUSTINE                                       |  
 |      +-------<2>0381-008179 RUDDY                                         |  
 |                          |       ANSHENT-WON'S MARNIER                    |  
 |                          +----<6>0381-003752 RUDDY                        |  
 CH=Champion GC=Grand Champion 

What is a Purebred/Pedigreed Cat?

What establishes a cat as a purebred/pedigreed animal and what is a "breed" of cat? In the minds of some, a "purebred" cat is, very simply, a cat that is registered with a recognized agency such as the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA). Theoretically, after a sufficient number of cats bred from recorded parentage are registered, pedigrees can be generated to trace the family trees or lineage of parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.

Today the term we prefer to "purebred" is PEDIGREED as lineage can only be traced back to a certain point in time and record and thus pedigreed may be the more accurate term.

While a pedigree can reflect the proper registration of the lineage of a cat, it really says little about the animal's appearance. That brings us back to the question of what is a "breed?" A breed may be defined as a group of animals that possess a set of genetic characteristics that are agreed upon (by humans, of course) as unique and distinguishing and reproducible. The CFA defines a breed in the following manner:

"A breed is a group of domestic cats (subspecies felis catus) that the governing body of CFA has agreed to recognize as such. A breed must have distinguishing features that set it apart from all other breeds."

Those genetic characteristics and/or distinguishing features may be things such as long or short hair, color, body and head shape, or eye color and shape.

One could also say that the basis of the creation of breeds of cats is related to the mutation of genes that affect color, body and coat characteristics. Well then, is tortoiseshell a breed? Is tabby a breed? Is long hair a breed? What about calico - is that a breed? No, none of these is a breed and in fact, these characteristics are common to several or more breeds. There is more to a breed of cat than a color or a pattern or the length of the coat.

Early in our interest in the pedigrees and inheritance patterns of the domesticated cat, a distinctive head or body type or the exotic origin of a cat qualified as a method to determine its breed. The Abyssinian, for example was known by that name because his owners brought the cat to the Crystal Palace Cat Show in London from their home in Abyssinia. Even though there is reason to believe that the Abyssinian tabby gene (i.e., the ticked tabby gene) may have had its origins in India and Ceylon, stories about the Abyssinian being THE cat of Egypt still abound.

As our understanding of genetics and inheritance has grown over the years, we have come to distinguish some breeds of cats by their genetic makeup. In many cases, there is one distinctive, visible feature that sets a group of cats apart as a breed. Examples include the Scottish Fold with its folded ears, the American Curl with its ears curled back, the Rex with its curly coat, the Japanese Bobtail with its pom-pom tail, the Manx without a tail, the Birman with its white gloves and laces, or the Siamese with its color at the points.

In other cases, the genetic characteristics are more subtle. For example, the Burmese with its altered albino gene, the Korat with its heart shaped face, the Russian Blue with its double thick coat or the Turkish Angora with its intermediate length coat. Other physical attributes of a breed of cat such as body style, ear size, etc. are not generally related to the genetic mutations that caused the primary characteristic of a breed but are the result of breeder preference, fashion and intervention, i.e. "breeding for" certain desired characteristics.

From time to time, either through an accidental breeding or out of curiosity, hybrid breeds have been introduced. The Exotic is a combination of Persian and American Shorthair; the Colorpoint Shorthair and the Oriental Shorthair resulted from breeding the Siamese with the American Shorthair; the Himalayan came from breedings of Siamese and Persian; the Ocicat from the Siamese, the Abyssinian and the American Shorthair; and the Bombay resulted from a combination of the Burmese and black American Shorthair.

Adapted from the CFA Mentor Program.


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