Aby-a-Day – August 20: The tooth and nothing but the tooth

Angel has the worst teeth of any cat I have ever owned. She is only 8 years old, but already she has had more dental work than all the other cats combined.

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While Abyssinians are notorious for being prone to dental problems, this isn’t just an Aby thing with her. Jacoby, only two years younger, has amazing teeth. He’s never even needed a cleaning! According to both Sherry and Chris, his grandparents had good teeth, too.

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Since I know very little about Angel’s ancestry (and what I do know is based on speculation and theory), I have no idea about her genetic history.

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All I know is, she has had several FORLs (Feline Oral Resorptive Lesions).

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As a result, she has lost nearly all her teeth. Besides her four canine teeth, she has only a few teeth left.

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She has lost every single one of her tiny incisors, both top…

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…and bottom.

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She’s lost more of her upper teeth than her lower.

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One lower jaw only has two teeth left!

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The other side sports a few more teeth…

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…But I’m not sure I like the looks of that big one in the back. Hopefully it’s just a shadow?

Aby-a-Day – May 30: “Red” (Saturday Photo Hunt)

This week’s Photo Hunt subject is “Red.”

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This is an easy one! Angel is a red Aby!

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But it’s not at simple as that, because Angel isn’t really red. Her colour, genetically, is cinnamon, a dilute of the brown gene. True, sex-linked red in cats is a completely different gene.

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You see, in non-Abyssinians, the red gene in cats is sex-linked, and only carried on the X chromosome. Females are XX, and males are XY, of course, so the Y doesn’t contribute to a cat’s colour. Red is also dominant, so if it’s present, no other colour can manifest…unless it’s on the other X in a female. So, a female can either be red-red, red-not red, or not red-not red. Males can only be either red or not-red. Red females, contrary to popular belief, aren’t “rare,” they’re just statistically less likely, since the chances to have a red female are shared with the chances to have a red-not red, or tortoiseshell, female. It’s a bit confusing, I know. Maybe that’s why the “red” in red Abyssinians isn’t really red. It’s definitely easier that way.

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True sex-linked red does exist in Abys, but it’s not recognised by all registries; the CFA does not recognise it all. The true sex-linked red Abyssinian is bright orange with a red tail tip. It is important for breeders to know whether they have sex-linked red or non-sex-linked red as this will affect the breeding program. Where there is sex-linked red, there can also be tortoiseshells. Tortie Abyssinians do occur, but since the breed does not permit white, these are always brindled rather than “calico.” The combination of brindling and ticking can make it almost impossible to determine whether a female is tortie or not just from a visual inspection. Sometimes a female Abyssinian is only known to be a genetic tortie when she produces a mix of red and ruddy kittens!

Aby-a-Day – April 24: Kylie’s 10th Birthday (Friday Flashback)

Today is a very special day – it’s Kylie’s 10th birthday!

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Of course, we don’t know her exact birthday, but we got her on June 20, and she was about 7 or 8 weeks old. So, counting back, we decided that her birthday was April 24.

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My husband wanted a tiny girl kitten. I found a Craigslist post for free kittens in Quincy, and when I emailed the man, he said he had mostly white kittens and one grey tabby. My husband kind of wanted a tabby, but by the time we got to the house, only the white kittens were left. We saw them running around, and then heard a tiny “mew” from a side table behind us. The tiny mew came from a tiny, white kitten with two grey stripes on her head. And that was that.

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Kylie was tiny when we got her, too.

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She was literally the same size as a Beanie Baby cat! We got to meet her mother, who was a very petite, slender all-white shorthair with odd-coloured eyes, one green and one blue. Her name was Mary Jane, and she was so pretty. To this day, I wish I’d taken a camera along and gotten a photo of her.

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At the time, I had my two Siamese, Harri, aged 14, and Patrick, aged 11. We had just gotten Tessie a month before, and she was meant to be Kylie’s mother figure and playmate, since the boys were a little old to be much fun for an active, lively kitten. This is one of Kylie’s first encounters with Tessie…it got better.

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Kylie was a very lively kitten.

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She was the type who would play with anything.

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Anything!

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A piece of plastic foil wrapping paper was an awesome toy. I think she played with this for days.

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Despite being 14 years older than Kylie, Harri really loved her. He always loved other cats and kittens; even though he was an only cat until he was 3, Harri was the most welcoming, friendly cat I’ve ever known – he never minded having other cats around him.

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Kylie looked up to Tessie as her role model.

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“This is how you lie on a hot day, Kylie.” “Okay, Tessie, am I doing it right?”

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Like I said…Kylie was tiny. Look at her compared to Tessie in this photo!

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She was tough, though. She could hold her own against Tessie, despite the size difference.

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Tessie was so patient with her. Of course, Tessie had one litter of kittens before I adopted her, so she knew how to handle Kylie.

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Kylie and Tessie were almost always together. Even today they still sleep together.

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Kylie was also fond of Patrick.

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They would play together. At the time, Patrick was our largest cat; he was a bit chunky at 13-14lbs. It was comical to watch Kylie and Patrick play together because of their size difference.

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Patrick was always the last cat to accept a newcomer. I guess Kylie won him over.

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Trick even shared the cave at the top of the cat tree with her!

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This photo of the four of them sleeping together on my bed in my old apartment was my Christmas card in 2005.

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Kylie loved to play and cuddle with stuffed kittens. This was one of her most favourite “dollies.”

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Harri died in August of 2006, and then that following December, Gun-Hee joined the family. Kylie was only a year older than Gun-Hee, so they were pretty close.

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She took on the role that Tessie had taken with her.

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You would find them together a lot.

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They used to play together all the time.

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They had projects, like trying to open the dishwasher. Gun-Hee was the brains and Kylie was the muscles of the operation.

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They hung out together.

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She helped him celebrate his first birthday. She was really sad when Gun-Hee died and she mourned him. She didn’t eat treats for a week.

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She was quick to accept Jacoby, too. I think she was happy to have another Aby to play with.

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Kylie and Jake have always gotten along.

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She was one of the first to not hiss at him and let him play with her, actually.

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They like to go out to the park together, too…although Kylie isn’t as brave around dogs as Jake is.

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But since Kylie is four years older than Jake, their bond isn’t quite the same as the one she and Gun-Hee’ shared.

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They share a love of high places.

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This is also a common sight at our house: Jake cuddling with Tessie and Kylie.

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Angel always seems to be the odd cat out. Of all the cats, Kylie and Angel probably interact the least. I think that’s more Angel’s doing than Kylie’s, though.

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I had Kylie’s DNA tested at UC Davis. We think her father was a tabby Maine Coon. Since her mother was a white shorthair, those dominant traits covered up anything her father was carrying. I know that she does carry the genes for long hair, dilute, and tabby, and that her ancestors originated in England rather than the Middle East or Asia. Underneath her dominant white, she is probably a non-dilute tabby, and she may actually be a torbie (UCD doesn’t have a test for sex-linked red). While Kylie is small like her mother, she is built like a Maine Coon, with a long tail, lanky legs and a boxy muzzle. She’s just a miniature shorthaired version.

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She also does a mean Hello Kitty impersonation!

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It’s hard to believe she’s 10 years old. Happy birthday, Kylie!

Beware of Caracats!

A few weeks ago, there was a post on the Facebook Abyssinian Cat Club about Caracats. Caracats are a hybrid of Abyssinians and Caracals. My friend TJ Banks, inspired by this post, wrote an article about Caracats for Pets Adviser. Well, now it’s my turn.

I’m against wild/domestic hybrids in general (all species, not just cats) because they tend to dilute the wild species. Granted, this does happen naturally, but Scottish wildcats and American red wolves are almost extinct as distinct species and part of the reason is because of hybridisation. In the Scottish wildcats’ case, it’s interbreeding with domestic cats and in the red wolves’ case it’s interbreeding with coyotes…although an argument can be made that this can also be blamed on human intervention which enabled the coyotes to expand their range into the red wolves’ natural territory. Even when it happens naturally, hybridisation it is bad news for wild species. Messybeast has an in-depth article about wildcat-domestic cat hybrids that is well worth reading.

Another problem is that lot of cat rescues aren’t equipped to handle the early (F1 & F2) wild/domestic hybrids because they’re so wild…but the wildcat sanctuaries won’t take them, either, because they’re not wild cats. It’s a bit like the old fable about the bat, the birds, and the beasts – the hybrids are neither one thing nor the other. So where do they go? Well, a lot of times, they’re put to sleep. Or, they’re “set free” in the wild – which causes problems to the ecosystem. Also, if you read this article…the infertile Caracat male “in-between generations” kittens were being sold as DECLAWED pets. Which tells me that they are too wild to be allowed to go as clawed pets…and declawing is a whole other issue I don’t want to get started on!

Big Cat Rescue has a good article on the subject as well, and it excellently makes an important point: “So many breeders claim that they only breed 4th and 5th generations, but don’t seem to get the fact that you can’t get a 4th generation without a lot of suffering in the first three.” The early generations are, basically, wild cats. Not at lot of the domesticated traits exist until you get to the fourth generation and beyond.

Which brings me to what I think is the biggest problem about Caracats – their wild origin. Caracals, you see, are big. Really big. You may think your Aby is big when he’s lying all over your laptop or taking over half your bed, but that’s just peanuts compared to Caracals.

This is what one looks like lounging on top of your refrigerator.

And THIS is what a regular domestic cat looks like next to a Caracal. Got it? Caracals are big. While yes, I do see the appeal that owning a part-wild cat would hold, especially one that was more “dog-sized”…It’s just not a good idea.

Obviously, this size difference causes issues in getting the Caracals and the Abys to breed. Female Caracals can weigh up to 35lbs/16kg, and an average male Aby would be too small to properly mate with a female Caracal (Jacoby is considered a “larger” Aby, and he only weighs 10lbs/2kg! Male Caracals, weighing up to 40lbs/18kg could easily accidentally injure or kill the smaller female Aby during mating with the “mating bite” that felines use. What’s happening to all the Abys who don’t survive the mating? Yeah, I don’t want to know, either.

Then, even if the male Caracal and the female Aby manage to conceive, there are still problems. The gestation period for Caracals is 73 days, 10 days longer than the domestic Aby’s 63 days. Even if the Aby carries to term, the kittens are still premature from the Caracal’s perspective. But the kittens need to be premature to be born at all; if they were more developed, they would be too big for the Abyssinian mother to be able to give birth to them naturally. Breeders are putting their mother Abys through a lot of stress when these kittens rarely survive. Also, because of the chromosomal differences, first generation male Caracats are usually sterile; only the female kitten can be used for breeding successive generations.

Savannahs (Serval/Domestic crosses) are actually illegal in Massachusetts, although Bengals (African Wild Cat/Domestic crosses) are allowed. I know a lot of people have Bengals and they’re “hardly wild anymore” but they still aren’t domestic cats, and you can achieve the look of them without a drop of wild blood (take the Ocicat, for example…or the Abyssinian!) so why put the wildcats through it? We’ve got plenty of domestic cats with 12,000+ years of domestication behind them. Lately, CFA has been considering recognising hybrid “breeds” like Bengals and Savannahs. These “breeds” are already accepted in TICA. I really hope CFA sticks to their “domestic cat” origins and NEVER accepts the wild hybrids.

Aby-a-Day – May 8: Smoke and mirrors

I haven’t gone through all the photos I took of Jacoby at last weekend’s cat show yet.

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But I wanted to share a few of some other cats who were there.

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Look at this Maine Coon! Look how huge she is! And yes, she is a female…look at her next to Jake. Now, Jake’s a big Aby, all 10lbs of him, and he’s very tall…but she’s just enormous!

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Here she is again between two adult male Persians. She is one big girl!

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Another very cool thing that happened last weekend is that Burmillas became recognised as a CFA breed. May 1 marks the beginning of the CFA show season, and this was the first show weekend that the Burmillas were allowed to show as a regular breed.

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There were several Burmillas entered in all three classes (Kitten, Championship and Premiership), but the one I saw the most of was the Premiership boy. He’s a chocolate tipped named Kitzn’s Mickey.

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He was a super sweet boy. As you know, Tessie is an Asian, which is a relative/variant of the Burmilla. She’s a smoke, while Burmillas are only shaded or tipped. In the UK, Burmillas are part of the Asian group, which includes Asian Smokes, Asian Selfs (the Bombay is considered an Asian Self in the UK), and Tiffanies (longhaired Burmese variants) along with the Burmillas. The tortie pattern is recognised in Burmillas.

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Apart from the depth of her colour, though, she’s basically a Burmilla, albeit a Burmilla as they looked ten years ago, before their body type was refined through selective breeding.

The difference between smoke, shaded and tipped is one of degree; all of these are a colour over a white undercoat, but on a smoke each hair is 1/2 to 2/3 coloured, while on a shaded each hair is 1/3 coloured and on a tipped cat each hair is only 1/8 coloured.

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I wonder if someday Smoke Burmillas will be recognised?

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Finally, there was this Household Pet kitty called Snowball. Look at him! Doesn’t he look like he could be Kylie’s brother? He even has green eyes like she does.

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Unfortunately, he’s only 8 years old (Kylie just turned 9), so he can’t really be her brother…but he sure does look like her!

Aby-a-Day – April 4: Feline Diversity

One of the best things about going to cat shows is you get to see a lot of different breeds. The show in Stamford was especially good; of the 40 breeds recognised by the CFA, 27 were present at the show we attended.

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The first breeds to be shown in the 1800’s in the UK were the Persian, the Siamese, and the Abyssinian. All the breeds have changed over the years, but two have changed significantly.

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Take the Siamese, for example. When I was a kid, they were shaped more like Abys! Now, they’re very slender, sleek cats with dainty, refined features.

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Compare these guys to Pyewacket in Bell, Book and Candle and you’ll see what I mean!

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Technically, this guy isn’t a “Siamese,” but a Colorpoint Shorthair.

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All that means, really, is that he is NOT one of the Original Four point colours (Seal, Blue, Chocolate or Lilac) but is either Red-, Cream-, Tabby-, Tortie- or Torbie-pointed.

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A rose by any other name…I think the CFA is the only breed registry that still separates Siamese this way.

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The Cornish Rexes have become almost as elongated as the Siamese.

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Compare this little girl’s head to the Oriental Shorthair in the background.

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I am utterly fascinated with the rex gene. It’s a different gene in each of the Rex breeds (Cornish, Devon and Selkirk) and they aren’t related at all. Three separate curly-haired genes!

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Aren’t they cute?

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At the other end of the feline spectrum we have the Persians.

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Look how flat Persians’ faces are!

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And then, of course, the Siamese and the Persian were bred together to create the Himalayan which was once its own breed but which is now a colour class of the Persian breed. There’s little left of the Siamese side of the family besides the points nowadays.

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Then there’s the Burmese, which seems to be well on its way to becoming almost as round as the Persian.

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These are very stout, very round, very muscular, solid cats.

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It’s hard to believe they originated from the same part of the world as the Siamese!

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Russian Blues are a very moderate breed. They’re neither very long nor very round. They’re just cat-shaped.

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They’re a little more stocky than the Abys, though.

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That’s probably due to the fact that they originated in Eurasia while Abys originate from either Africa or Southeast Asia, depending on which story you believe.

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Climate plays a big role in how animals’ bodies evolve. Just look at the difference between the Arctic Fox and the Desert Fennec!

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A rare shot of Jacoby in the traditional “Show Cat Stretch.”

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If you want to see what a cat really looks like, though, you have to look at the Sphynx.

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There’s no fur to hide behind on a Sphynx. What you see is what you get.

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They are wonderful cats to study if you want to learn cat anatomy.

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This little blue and white girl is still just a kitten!

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Some people think that Sphynxes are kind of…well, creepy. I think they’re beautiful.

Aby-a-Day – December 9: People-pleasing felines (Serious Sunday)

Our friend Sparkle posted on Friday about a recent research study that she disagreed with. The study basically found that purebred cats are more “human-oriented” and friendly than random-bred cats.

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The actual study was published in Volume 7, Issue 6 of the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour (November 2012) titled “Do cats from established breeds behave differently toward humans than outbred cats?” The conclusion? Yes, they do; they tend to be more attached to humans, more dependent on them, and “friendlier” towards them.

Sparkle took offence at the article, mainly because it made it seem like random-bred cats aren’t as friendly as purebred cats as a whole. But actually…I think the researchers are correct – I do agree that in general purebred cats are more attuned to people than random-bred cats, and this is actually what I tell people when they ask me why Jake is so tolerant and patient, unlike “most cats.” This is a subject I’ve read a lot on, as it’s near and dear to my heart: feline genetics. But there’s a couple of factors that do make purebred cats tend to be more human-oriented than random-bred cats:

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Part of the problem is that people inevitably compare cats as human companions to dogs as human companions, and dogs have a decidedly unfair advantage. They’re been domesticated a lot longer than cats have; the current consensus is that dogs have been domesticated for about 12,000 years, while cats have been domesticated about 4,000 years. But cats became domesticated in a very different way than other domesticated animals.

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In other cases of domesticated animals, humans decided to tame and use the animal for a purpose, Dogs, for hunting first, then protection, and then, as humans developed farming, herding; cows, pigs, chickens, goats and sheep, as a ready supply of fresh meat, milk, eggs, leather and wool; and horses, for transportation. These animals were selectively bred by humans to suit their intended purposes better: Cows were bred to produce more milk or meat, chickens more eggs, sheep more wool. Dogs were bred to be better companions to humans: better hunting partners, better farming partners, better guardians to our property and our children. As a result of this long partnership, dogs can read human emotions and facial expressions as well as a human baby. There was a study done that found that dogs will follow your gaze and look where you’re looking, something even our closest ape relatives can’t do. It’s thought that in order to help humans hunt or herd, they needed to understand humans, and this was how they learned to do that. The dogs who best understood humans were selected to breed to produce more puppies who understood humans, generation after generation for 12,000 years.

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Cats, on the other hand, discovered humans later on, after agriculture had been firmly established.
Cats decided to live with us rather than humans deciding to “use” cats to fulfill a specific human need. This is a pretty key difference in the way cats became domesticated, because cats basically domesticated themselves, and chose their own mates, for much longer than any other domesticated species. Humans didn’t intervene with cats’ domestication for the first, they didn’t breed cats to fit a specific purpose or meet a certain standard for the first 3,850 years they coexisted.

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Friendlier cats found it easier to live with humans, but even unfriendly cats could still survive and reproduce. Breeds of cat did start to evolve, but these were based more on physical genetic mutations (length or type of hair, taillessness or short tails, partial albinism, unusual patterns or colours) rather than on personality traits.

At least, not until the mid-1800’s, when the cat fancy started and humans started developing breeds of cats with a purpose. Maybe they weren’t bred to be hunters or herders, but all of a sudden, humans were starting to breed them with a plan in mind. But even then, many of the breeds were still based on a simple physical genetic mutation rather than on personality (long hair for the Persian, curly hair for the Rexes, no tails for the Manx, stubby tails for the Japanese Bobtails, and partial, thermo-restrictive albinism for the Siamese). Of the three oldest recognised breeds of cats, Persian, Siamese and Abyssinian, only one is not based on a physical mutation so much as its based on temperament (guess which one)? Also, many breeds have allowed outcrosses to random-bred cats that meet the breed standard during their development – even now, this is allowed with some breeds.

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But one thing about cats is that kittens “inherit” the personalities of their fathers, even if they never meet them or spend time with them in person. Even if the father’s input is strictly genetic, father cats who are friendly to humans beget friendly kittens. Random-bred male cats aren’t really “kept” by humans as much as they are “hosted.” Purebred stud cats are hard to keep and there are fewer of them than there are breeding queens, and because of this, they’re generally hand-picked to be the “best” cats. Stud cats are highly “selected” and one of the traits they’re chosen for is their personality. The kittens inherit this friendlieness, and the males selected from this generation to pass on their genetic material will be the most personable of these kittens. It may not always be the main trait the breeder is selecting for, but a side-effect of selectively breeding cats is that the males, being harder to keep in a breeding situation, became limited. Fewer purebred males are allowed to pass on their genetic material, but of the males who do reproduce, they father a larger number of kittens. And thus the succeeding litters of purebred kittens were friendly and personable.

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We’re still almost 10,000 years behind them, but the older breeds of purebred cats, I believe, have or are developing the same attachment to humans that dogs have, so yes Abys, Siamese and Persians are more personable and friendly then your average random-bred cat. Of course, “more personable and friendly” can also be interpreted as “more clingy and high-maintenance.” These cats need to have their humans around a lot more than your average moggie from down the road. Generations of human intervention may have made them more friendly, but it also made them less self-sufficient. Imagine a purebred Persian out hunting in the woods. Between the sticks and leaves tangling his fur and the shortened muzzle, making it harder to deliver a killing bite to a mouse, a Persian would have a hard time trying to survive without humans even if his mother was able to teach him to hunt.

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Of course, none of this is to say that random-bred cats can’t or will never be friendly. Of course they can be; they’re cats, after all. But there’s no predictability, especially since feline “friendliness” is so dependent on the father, and the fathers of random-bred felines are seldom known. Furthermore, it’s possible for kittens in the same litter to have different fathers, meaning even littermates can be genetically diverse…and harder to predict, personality-wise. Basically, random-bred cats are just that: random. You can’t predict what you’re going to get.

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To bring it down to a personal level, take Kylie and Angel. Kylie is a random-bred cat; her mother was an odd-eyed white cat named MaryJane, and her humans did not know who the father was, but one kitten in the litter was a tabby. But we raised her from the age of 7 weeks, she was pampered, doted upon, played with and loved, but she’s still an aloof cat. She doesn’t like to be held or to sit on people’s laps. She’s very attached to my husband, but still only on her terms.

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On the other hand, we have Angel. We don’t know who her parents are either, but she’s a purebred. She had a very traumatic kittenhood; we don’t know how much she was cuddled or paid attention to as a kitten, but we do know she was in the shelter for at three nights and was sick much of the time. She had two eye surgeries (one to remove her eye and put in a prosthetic, and one to remove that prosthetic when she rejected it) plus her spay surgery before she was a year old, and she had to live in an upstairs bedroom at her foster home because one of the family cats bullied her. All this before flying across country to live with us. There’s no doubt that she’s damaged. Yet she will run up to greet strangers, she’s not afraid of the vacuum, she cuddles and headbutts and purrs like crazy, and she’s not afraid of strange places and situations. Despite her kittenhood experiences, she’s still an Aby, with the personality and bravery her breed is known for. Odds are, her father was a friendly, brave Aby, too.

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Abys have only been bred for 150 years, and they’re already amazingly attuned to humans. Imagine what they’ll be like in another 10.000 years or so.