Aby-a-Day – 8 Augusti: Two words you never want to hear at a cat show: “Cat out!” (Thursday Things)

Especially when it’s your cat.

Sunday at the show, after Izaak had been judged and we were waiting for the Nominations, Lorelai was called up for her Nomination at the same time. So Björn had Rory and I had Zak. Then I dropped my phone and it came out of its case. I needed two hands to put it back in, so I handed Zak over to Björn. Then Zak started to cough up a hairball.

I raced over to the Secretary’s table and grabbed a piece of scratch paper, and got Zak to puke on it. Björn was right next to us, so I asked him to grab Zak whilst I dealt with the barf. In the time between me letting him go and Björn grabbing him…

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…he decided this space under the folded-up bleachers (the show hall’s day job is a basketball arena). And he. Would not. Come. OUT. When he doesn’t want to be caught, he is a master. They announced that a cat was loose and to close all the doors, but I was like, “Yeah, no. The doors are the least of our worries!” He’s roaming around underneath the bleachers, and he’s up for Nomination like NOW

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Finally, a woman with Siamese working the Secretary’s table called to me. She saw Zak in the corner, near her stroller. They asked me if I had any food that would lure him out. I said, “No…he won’t eat anything but raw and chicken necks. Does anyone have a raw chicken neck?” Yeah, nobody did. I had grabbed Chirpy Mouse and Zak’s favourite wand toy (a fishing lure blue crab I picked up in Baltimore), so we tried those. Chirpy Mouse had no effect, but Blue Crab got his attention. I almost grabbed him…but then he backed away. He wandered around a little more, and then came back to that corner, and, with the help of Blue Crab, I was able to grab him. The judge he was up for Nomination with, Glenn Sjöbom, asked me if I was okay and patted me on the back, telling me not to worry and not feel like I needed to rush. When he actually got nominated, I held him up, and, during the applause, I said to him, “You. Do. NOT. Deserve. This!”

I repeated that when he was declared Best In Show.

I don’t have any photos of the actual events…I was too busy trying to catch the little asshole.

But here’s the punchline to the whole escapade: Just after it happened my friend Kinsey posted on Facebook that Zak’s brother, Paolo had escaped that morning and led her on a merry chase around the neighbourhood before she managed to catch him again. He wears a tracker on his collar that she can track on her mobile.

One of her friends commented that it could only happen to Kinsey, and I chimed in, “Nope, not just Kinsey. Today at the cat show, Izaak, Paolo and Keiko’s younger brother, escaped and went exploring under the bleachers!”. To which Kinsey explained, “Must be in their genes. Paolo did that at a cat show once and I was on my hands and knees under the benches trying to get him.”

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They ARE full brothers, perhaps not littermate brothers, but brothers nonetheless. Kinsey’s always posting about Paolo’s adventures…and by the smug, “sorry, not sorry” look on Zak’s face, I suspect I will be, too.

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.

Of Cheetahs, Cats & Kings…Genetics in action

On 21 September, Science Magazine released a new paper titled “Specifying and Sustaining Pigmentation Patterns in Domestic and Wild Cats.” Unfortunately, I can’t find a free copy online of the full article, but
Science Magazine does have an illustrative slideshow here, and other supplementary materials here.

This blog post does a great job explaining the article, and also has a link to an earlier study on King Cheetahs done in 1986 , and even Wired Magazine did a piece on this paper, proving that cats really do own the internet.

Basically, what the study found is that the gene responsible for the Classic/Blotched tabby pattern in cats is identical to the gene that causes the blotched “King” Cheetah.

As you regular readers know, I love breaking genetics news. But even better than random genetics discoveries, I love seeing genetics in real life. So imagine the thrill I felt sitting down to watch the HHP judging at the cat show last weekend and seeing this little girl:

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This cat isn’t your average, run-of-the-mill, random-bred silver classic tabby HHP. Sascha is actually a purebred, pedigreed silver Egyptian Mau. She just happened to be born blotched, not spotted.

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The blotched, “classic” tabby pattern is actually recessive to the mackerel, spotted and ticked (aka Abyssinian) tabby patterns. Blotched Egyptian Maus do crop up in even the best bloodlines, but they’re extremely rare; in this cat’s breeding program there hasn’t been a blotched Mau in seven years.

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In every other way, she’s 100% Egyptian Mau, but she’s not registrable as a Mau in CFA. But she can be entered in the HHP class.

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She has the most amazing blotching. I was mesmerised by her. Compare Sascha to her spotted half-sisters:

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I’ve got a couple of them side-by-side, too:

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Isn’t it just so cool when you get to witness something you just read about in real life?

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Sascha really enjoyed showing, too, so I’m sure she’ll be in New England CFA HHP rings for years to come. I think it’s awesome that her breeder isn’t keeping her hidden; this is just a great thing to be able to see in real life.

Revealing more about FIP

The Winn Foundation just released information about some new FIP research: A particular virus protein, the 3c protein, has been investigated as a possible viral mutational site contributing to disease development.

Basically, it looks like this protein is involved with the ability of the virus to replicate in the intestines. Mutations in the gene for this protein lead to the virus being unable to replicate in the intestinal tract and then they cannot be shed via feces. What’s more, they found that more than half of the FIP viruses analyzed had a mutation in the 3c gene.

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This helps explain why it doesn’t spread from cat to cat: it isn’t airborne, and now it appears that it isn’t fecal-borne, either. We still aren’t sure how cats get this mutated virus, but we’re finding out more about how it isn’t spread, and that’s useful information.

The paper’s abstract is here; I haven’t been able to find a free copy of the entire paper online yet.

Winn-ing the fight against FIP

Interesting the way things collude sometimes, isn’t it?

An interesting new study just came to my attention today via the Winn Foundation blog: Risk factors for feline infectious peritonitis in Australian cats

According to the blog entry, “the purpose of this study was to determine whether patient signalment (age, breed, sex, and neuter status) is associated with naturally-occurring feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) in cats in Australia.”

Of course, Australia, being an island nation, makes a nice enclosed laboratory for a study like this. What I didn’t know (but have suspected), is this: Pedigreed cats were significantly over-represented and domestic crossbreeds under-represented in FIP cases. Several breeds were over-represented, including British Shorthair, Devon Rex, and Abyssinian. Male cats had a significantly higher proportion of representation than female cats.

That dovetails nicely with my personal theory that there is at least some component of FIP that involves the Y chromosome. And I hadn’t seen that Abyssinians were one of the more susceptible breeds before this article. There’s a related article which explores this further: “Abyssinians, Bengals, Birmans, Himalayans, Ragdolls and Rexes had a significantly higher risk, whereas Burmese, Exotic Shorthairs, Manxes, Persians, Russian Blues and Siamese cats were not at increased risk for development of FIP.”

Interesting! And what’s more, this weekend is the CFA Annual Meeting, and just so happens to be about 6 or 7 stops away on the red line in Quincy. I’m going to the Winn Foundation Symposium this afternoon; the subject is “Diving Into the Feline Gene Pool” and one of the speakers is Dr. Leslie Lyons from UCD, who pretty much invented all those Cat Genetics and Ancestry tests that I got for Kylie. She and her study are also the subject of a National Geographic feature entitled “The Science of Cats.” I can’t wait!

Then, on Saturday, I’ll be attending the Abyssinan Breed Council Meeting with Meg. That should also be quite an experience.

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But the biggest reason that it’s somehow fitting that all these things fall into place on today of all days? Today, in 2008, was the day that Gun-Hee lost his battle with FIP.

Edit: Steve Dale posted a recap of the Symposium on his Pet World blog on the Chicago Now website. Check it out! There’s also a shot of our friend Banjo Mooner greeting everyone as they came in. You can also see me in one of the photos…well, my arm and one eye, anyway…

UC Davis announces new Cat Ancestry Test

I got this very interesting email yesterday:

As a client of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, you may be interested to learn about our new Cat Ancestry test. The test, developed by Dr. Leslie Lyons and the Lyons’ Feline Genetics Laboratory at UC Davis, can identify the racial origin and possible breed of a cat. The test also provides information regarding coat color and fur type.

As an owner/breeder of purebred cats, the test may not be useful to you, but if you have friends who own random bred cats, please let them know about the Cat Ancestry test as they might be interested to learn more about the genetic history of their cats.

For more information regarding our Cat Ancestry test, go to: http://www.vgl.ucdavis.edu/services/cat/ancestry/

Thank you,
Veterinary Genetics Laboratory
UC Davis
PO Box 1102
Davis, CA 95617-1102
(530) 752-2211

It’s a bit pricey ($120), but if you’ve got a mixed-breed cat and wonder about his or her ancestry, this may be well worth it. Since I already got Kylie’s coat length and colour tested, this test may not tell me any more about what she is underneath her white, but I’ve sent them an email to ask if this new test will tell me anything more. If I get her the Ancestry Test, I’ll keep you posted!

CSI: Kylie and Jacoby

I have been intrigued by genetics and inheritance since I was about four years old; my dad bought me a little book on zoology when I was seven and I wore out the part that illustrated basic Mendelian theory with black and white guinea pigs. Of course, cat genetics were my primary focus; in 7th grade, while everyone was trying to grasp how a green smooth pea and a yellow wrinkled pea would produce all green smooth peas, I was making a four-trait Punnett square showing to to breed a black Scottish Fold to a blue-point Siamese to get folded-eared, pointed cats (and I even took into consideration that the fold gene couldn’t be homozygous). Why didn’t I go to college for this stuff? Well…who knew this would actually turn out to be a “thing” back then?

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to get Kylie’s DNA tested because I just wanted to know if she really is part Maine Coon as I’ve always suspected. I also want to know if, underneath her big white spot, she’s actually a blue tabby (which the little patches on the top of her head when she was a kitten implied). But every time I looked, there “wasn’t a DNA test that could tell what breeds a cat was descended from, the way you can test a mixed-breed dog for its ancestral breeds,” because, basically, most cat breeds haven’t been distinct for as many generations as have dog breeds.

But I figured there HAD to be a way to figure out certain breed traits, since so many cat breeds are based on genetic mutations (Abys are, actually, one of the few breeds that aren’t really based on a mutation, interestingly enough). And, today, while answering a question about the Siamese (thermorestrictive partial albinism), I found (via this super-cute and also informative link) that UC Davis actually does several genetic tests for cats that, while not breed-detecting, can at least tell you some probable genetic contributors.

(Pause for a bit of irony: I grew up in Davis, California I did not go to UC Davis because, being a typical 17-year-old, I wanted to “get the hell out of town” as fast as I could…so I went to CSU Sacramento. Whoo hoo, moving on up to the big city!)

I ordered two tests for Kylie: the Longhair Mutation test, which will tell me which longhair mutation, if any, Kylie carries (N/M1, N/M2, N/M3 or N/M4: Cat has short hair and carries one copy of a long hair mutation. Cat can produce short and long-haired kittens depending on genotype of the mate), and the Coat Colour Panel, which will tell me, among other things, if she carries the Agouti (tabby) gene or the Dilute gene. So, finally, I’ll know if she is part Maine Coon and if she’s a blue tabby with a big white spot.

I also ordered a test for Jake, the PK Deficiency/Progressive Retinal Atrophy carrier combo test, because those are the two major genetic-related problems Abyssinians are known for, and it’d be nice to know if I might need to worry about them cropping up someday.

These are actually part their “birthday presents” this year, since they’re both born in April…talk about perfect timing!

And, when the results came back, I was so giddy!

Jake’s were all good news:

PK DEFICIENCY results for Pellburn Jacoby Stealin’ Home(CAT44879):
N/N – no copies of PK deficiency, cat is normal

PROGRESSIVE RETINAL ATROPHY (PRA) results for Pellburn Jacoby Stealin’ Home(CAT44879):
PRA-CEP290 Result:
N/N – Normal, cat does not have rdAc mutation
PRA-CRX Result:
N/N – Normal, cat does not have Rdy mutation

But Kylie’s results…WOW.

Agouti Result:
A/a – Offspring can be agouti or non-agouti depending on the genetics of the mating. (So, she is a tabby underneath the white!)

Amber Result:
E/E – No copies of the mutation for Amber. (Not a surprise)

Brown Result:
B/B – Full color, cat does not carry brown or cinnamon (Again, not a surprise)

Dilute Result:
D/d – One copy of dilute allele. Cat is a carrier of dilute. (She is NOT a blue. She carries it, but she’s not a blue tabby under the white. Which is interesting, because she had grey spots on her head. Hm. That result is kind of puzzling…)

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I mean…she’s not a blue tabby? Don’t her little “racing stripes” look blue?

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I mean…I guess they could be brown (genetically black) tabby marks, but they really look more blue than black to me. Still, DNA doesn’t lie, so it must be black.

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Gloves Result:
N/N – Normal, cat does not have gloving. (So her white spotting is not the glove/mitted type).

Colorpoint Restriction Result:
C/c(s) – Carrier of Siamese colorpoint restriction (She carries the Siamese gene! That I wasn’t expecting! If she had kittens, they could have been pointed! This is definitely the shocker of Kylie’s colour results.)

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She could have had kittens that looked like Patrick!

And her Longhair results…Well, I was right!

Genotype Result: N/M4

Cat has short hair and carries one copy of a long hair mutation. Cat can produce short and long-haired kittens depending on genotype of the mate.

M4 isn’t the genotype that’s specific to Maine Coons (that’s M3), but it does occur in Maine Coons. M4 is the longhair mutation that’s present in all longhaired cats. But still, I was right, one of her parents (or possibly a grandparent) was a longhair, and she may still actually be part Maine Coon (since she’s a native New Englander, it’s a pretty good bet that she is).

I just think it’s so very awesome that we can even get this kind of information on our random-bred, Craigslist kitty!

Aby-a-Day – April 14: Happy Birthday Jakey!

Today is a big day! It’s Jacoby’s third birthday!

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I may make a bigger deal of this than I should, but because Gun-Hee didn’t make it to his second birthday…

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I have always made my cats special “cat can cakes” for their birthdays.

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This one was made using a specialty cat food from New Zealand I found, ZiwiPeak “Daily Cat” Moist Cuisine. This was venison and fish, and “fish” includes New Zealand Green-Lipped Mussels. And that candle on his “cake” is all-natural beeswax, so it’s especially non-toxic and good for cats.

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Jake is fearless in the face of the lit candle. He loved his can cake this year!

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I’m not sure if he really likes venison and fish, of if he’s really just happy to be eating something that isn’t UT diet.

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Whatever it was, he really loved it!

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I know I get a little silly about my cats’ birthdays, but when they enjoy it as much as I do, it’s hard not to get excited.

Happy birthday Jakey!

Other People’s Abys – Kittens inside and out

I’m on a couple of Abyssinian mailing lists, and one of these is very active and very international. The listmembers also share a lot of really fascinating photographs.

Susan Graham of Aksum Abyssinians shared these x-rays and photos of the litters of two sister Abys, Aksum Tiny Dancer, a chocolate, and Aksum Cheyenne of Blue River, a blue. The father of both these litters, as it happens, is the same male, Vivid V’Lane of Spiritcat, so all the kittens are cousins.

From Susan’s email: Here’s the photo of Dancer’s x-ray (above photo with drawings of where the kittens are, below photo without the drawings). And also the very first photo of Dancer’s fourth and last litter of kittens that I’m publishing. I’m pretty sure they are: ruddy male, ruddy female, chocolate female. 🙂 Yes, the x-rays have been correct every time so far. 🙂

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Here is another recent x-ray we got done, on Dancer’s younger full sister Cheyenne, who also recently had kittens. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get one of them out fast enough, the kitten was breach and she didn’t make it. Cheyenne is a blue and the sire has produced blues, but she had three ruddy females, go figure! Anyway, here is the x-ray and it’s more like what you really see since a picture of it was taken with a better camera.

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With Cheyenne, there were three kittens and two survived. All three were/are ruddy females. The two ruddy females are doing great! One of them had one eye open yesterday and I took a picture. The other eye opened today. They are so CUTE!! I adore kittens!!

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With Dancer, there were three kittens and all three did fine. Dancer and Cheyenne are full sisters, but Dancer is a chocolate carrying cinnamon and dilute and Cheyenne is a blue (not sure if she carries chocolate or not yet, need to color test I suppose, but probably won’t because she is also a B blood type, ugghhh…). We’ll test Cheyenne’s and Dancer’s kittens instead in about three weeks, for blood type and color.

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Between the two litters (born about a week apart, with Dancer now caring for all five), there are four ruddies (one male, three female) and one chocolate female. Talk about crowded! LOL!! Dancer is a little girl, which is why I named her Tiny Dancer. 😉 She looks a bit overwhelmed, poor girl, but she just purrs away, she is such a great mom!

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I just find it so incredibly cool to see x-rays of unborn kittens and then photographs of the same kittens after they’re born.

Susan also posted x-rays of another of her pregnant females, Alexy Blue Cream Sky of Aksum, a blue-cream torbie.

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There are only two kittens in Sky’s belly. Here’s how she looks on the outside:

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Isn’t she lovely? Blue-cream Abys aren’t recognised in CFA, and they’re more common in Europe; Susan is one of the few breeders in the US breeding sex-linked reds and torbies (I say “torbies” rather than “torties,” since all Abys are, technically, tabbies). You can see the subtle patching of blue and cream in these photos of Sky. It’s said that torties are “crazy,” perhaps because of the mosaic genetics that produces their motley coat. We all know what Abyssinians are like…I wonder if a torbie Aby is a special kind of crazy?

One more interesting little thing I discovered: Dancer’s paternal great-grandfather was Paranor’s Panamaniac of Devande. Paranor’s Panamaniac of Devande is also Jacoby’s maternal great-grandfather! Once again, the Aby world is a small one!

It’s an Abyworld. We just live in it.

Thanks to my Abyfriends Meg, Molly, Katie and Teresa, I’ve discovered Yahoo’s various Aby-related groups and mailing lists. And I have to say, I’ve already learned a lot from the discussions since I joined!

One of the groups I joined, Unusual Aby Cats is very active, and much of the discussion is about breeding, showing in the GCCF, TICA and FIFE in the UK and Europe, and the genetics of the “other” Aby colours (sex-link red, silvers, chocolates and torties) that aren’t common at all in the US and that aren’t recognised in the CFA.

A recent discussion involved the Test Mating Calculator on Abyworld, and oh, what a fun toy this is. Many of Jacoby’s ancestors are in the database, which makes the inbreeding coefficients useful when you compare two cats that were actually bred together. I need to play with this a little more, but it’s a really wonderful resource.

Aby-a-Day – November 2: Wordless Wednesday (Selective breeding in action!)

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Another Jake

I was actually looking for photos of Jake aka Zunar-J5/9-Doric-47, but I discovered this handsome red/sorrel Jake.

I went to my mom's house and my first born Jake greeted me. Jake is a cat.

Apparently Jake’s human, Angry Julie Monday, is allergic to him. I test allergic to cats, but I’ve found I’m only allergic to certain breeds: Persians and American Shorthairs will set me off, but Siamese, Burmese, Devon Rexes, Abys and Maine Coons don’t. It makes sense that certain breeds would be more or less allergenic; dander is mainly dried saliva, and saliva is protein, which is basically made of DNA. Since purebred cats have orderly, specialised DNA, their dander is a known quality. That’s why I tell people who are allergic to cats that they may not be allergic to certain cats.

I’m glad I didn’t give up when I had that first allergy skin prick test when I was 10 that indicated I was “moderately to severely” allergic to cats. I would have missed a lot.

I wonder if “Jake” and its variations (Jacob, Jacoby) is a common name for Abyssinians? I know that Jacoby’s grandfather was called Jake, too. But ERoS only shows 18 cats with “Jake” in their name or pet name.

Hereditary Conditions Known in Abyssinians

I found this list at Dr. Addie’s FIP and Coronavirus website (an incredibly useful site, by the way). It’s a very handy list of the diseases that Abys are genetically more likely to get as a breed:

Corneal Sequestrum

Familial Amyloidosis (A distant cousin of Gun-Hee and Jake’s died from this)

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) (predisposition to development of) (I can vouch for this)

Gingivitis (hyperplastic, early onset) (As I posted yesterday…!)

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) and Retinal Dystrophy (Angel’s eye wasn’t lost to this, but it’s a reason we’re watching her remaining eye so closely)

Progressive Rod/Cone Degeneration and Rod/Cone Dysplasia

Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency

Aortic Thromboembolism

Other conditions prevalent in Abys the list doesn’t include are:

Patella Luxation

Hip Dysplasia

Hypothyroidism

Ceruminous Otitis Externa (I’ve had earwax problems with Gun-Hee, Angel and Jake, so I agree with this one!)

Obviously, any cat can get these diseases, and not every Aby will get all these diseases. But one of the advantages to owning a purebred cat (or dog) is knowing what you may have to deal with. For example, when Jake is an elder, he’ll probably need thyroid meds, but he may not have arthritis. It’s a “better the devil you know” sort of deal, but at least there’s a good idea of what you may encounter.

Aby-a-Day – Day 231 of 365

Veterinarians are always telling us we should brush our pets’ teeth, but how many of us actually manage to do it on anything like a regular basis? Not trying to make you all feel guilty, but I actually do brush Jacoby’s teeth nearly every day.

Why do I brush his teeth, and none of the other cats’ teeth? Basically…because he lets me. He doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t fight me, scream, squrim, pummel or push me away with strong arms and dull but still scratchy claws.

I started getting him used to the brush and the toothpaste as a young kitten. We alternate between C.E.T. Poultry Flavour (for him, because he likes chicken) and C.E.T. Vanilla Mint (for me, because I like the smell) and he seems to like the taste of those; at least, he licks the toothbrush when I’m done.

I use a toddler toothbrush from the Korean market to brush with because it’s got a tiny brush head, it’s super soft, it’s got a nice grip and it’s made for a parent to brush their child’s teeth with. It’s also got cute little cartoon sea creatures on it, but that’s beside the point.

The point is, he tolerates it, and the vet can tell that his teeth are being brushed when she looks in his mouth. I’m glad because Abys as a breed have a genetic predisposition to gingivits.

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He actually holds pretty still while I’m brushing…although, he will try to hide from me when he knows it’s toothbrush time.

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He’s trying to lick the toothbrush before we’re even done!

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I even give those tiny teeth in front a little brushing!

I wish I could do the other cats…and believe me, I have tried – I can’t even get near them with a toothbrush without my husband’s help. Kylie screams blue murder and twists like a tornado, the usually gentle Tessie growls and bites, and Angel…well, Angel is the only cat I ever saw a need to put into a kitty straightjacket, and even then she ripped out the zipper and escaped! Angel may have a divine name…but don’t make her angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry. She does everything but turn green.