Their countries of origin (not!)

Siamese cats probably did come from Siam (Thailand), and Burmese came (probably) from Burma, but otherwise the geographical names of various cat breeds have little or no connection to where the breed actually originated, as you will see in some of the breeds’ descriptions later in this chapter. Chalk it up to bad guesses, the choice of names that sound exotic or other factors.

Related Posts:

“Foreign” vs. “cobby”

Siamese: slim and lithe, the cat equivalent of what would be called a swimmer’s build in a human. The cobby body is heavier, shorter in the legs and sits closer to the ground.

Persians are the classic example of the cobby body. Naturally some breeds fall somewhere in between, and they are called “moderate” or “modified.” The average mixed-breed house cat is a moderate.

Related Posts:

“Spontaneous mutation” breeds

mating that cat with a cat with the same odd trait, an entirely new breed results, all the offspring of which have the same odd trait.

The most famous example of this is the Manx, the tailless cat. A more recent example is the Scottish Fold, with the famous flattened-down ears. No one knows what causes genetic oddities, and not all of them are attractive enough that humans would want more of them.

Related Posts:

“Man-made” breeds

kittens are the new breed, Z. A “man-made” breed results from this deliberate hybridizing.

Once the new breed is established, of course, new litters can be produced by mating the hybrids with other hybrids, instead of reproducing the original mating of breed X with breed Y. As you will see in later entries, many of the newer breeds are man-made.

Related Posts:

“Natural” breeds

Turkish Angoras and Russian Blues.

They are natural because the breeds’ distinctive traits (color, body shape and the like) occurred without any deliberate interference from humans. But take “natural” with a grain of salt: the basic Persian look may have occurred naturally, but the various natural breeds have, over the years, been refined by selective breeding.

Related Posts:

Don’t say “mongrel”

Many dog owners are perfectly content with their “mutt” or “mongrel” dogs, and that is certainly true for cat owners as well. It is safe to say there are a lot more “mutt” cats around than purebred ones.

However, you seldom hear a cat owner speak about owning a “mutt” or “mongrel,” and there is no generally accepted slang term for such cats. Some owners refer to their pets as “alley cats,” and some say the pet is “just cat.” The proper term is “mixed-breed.” There are signs that the British term mog may slowly be catching on in America.

Related Posts:

Melanism, the original mutation

Felis catus, the most common mutation is melanism, or blackness. You might say that a solid black cat is nature’s first variation on the tabby pattern, occurring without any human involvement in the breeding.

Melanism occurs not only among domestic cats but also among thirteen species of wild cats. Genetically, tabby is dominant over black, and as a result there are far more tabby cats than black ones in the world.

Related Posts:

Tabby, the “default” setting

If domestic cats were left to breed on their own, with zero interference from humans, there would be very few longhaired cats and very few solid-colored ones. Genetically, the “normal” cat would be a tabby, with a mostly grayish-brown coat and the familiar striping. That is also the typical coat of many of the world’s smaller wildcats.

Most of the larger cats, such as leopards and tigers, have spots or stripes to help conceal them when they stalk prey. Even solid colored cats—lions and cougars—have coats of muted colors that serve as camouflage. For a predator in the wild, a gray-brown coat with irregular stripes is the perfect camouflage, so the gray-brown tabby is, because of the coat, the perfect stalking machine.

Related Posts:

Sizing up cats

Felis catus, the common house cat.

Humans have been breeding and crossbreeding dogs for centuries, which is why we have tiny breeds, huge breeds and every size and shape in between, all so different that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude that these dogs are different species. Not so for cats, which have never lent themselves to the same kind of genetic manipulation.

So the largest breed of cats (the Maine Coon) isn’t that much bigger than the smaller breeds, and frankly there isn’t much variation of the basic body shape of cats. The differences are mostly matters of hair color, hair length and texture, eye color and head shape.

Related Posts:

The root of “breed”

Since there is much discussion about breeds of cats and other animals, let’s pause here for a quick history of the word breed. It comes from the Old English bredan, meaning “to nourish, to keep warm.” (The word brood is rooted in the same word, by the way.)

In times past an individual offspring in a litter could be called a breed. As farmers and animal experts became more aware of animal heredity and how to control it, the term breed took on its current meaning, that is, “a specific type within a species, having distinctive traits that are passed on through genetics.” In addition to cats, there are breeds of dogs, horses, cattle, hogs and so on.

Related Posts:

Tails talk

A cat’s tail is a great communicator, as every cat owner knows. When excited, the cat’s tail flicks quickly from side to side. If it is still, and raised, the cat is friendly. If it is raised but twitching, the cat is on the alert.

When stalking, the tail is carried low, either still or with a slight twitching at the end. In the classic “fright” pose made famous in Halloween decorations, the tail is straight up with the hair standing on end, in accompaniment to the arched back and loud hiss.

Related Posts:

Jumping, pouncing, etc.

jumping ability, for the cat can jump six times her own length. (And that’s from a still position, not a running leap.) This comes from the same powerful but fast-tiring muscle cells that enable the cat to sprint swiftly. The same muscles are involved in the classic pounce: using the hind legs to spring forward, arching her back, then landing with her front paws on the prey.

Related Posts:

Sprinters, not long-distance runners

cheetah. Talk of the cheetah’s amazing speed has to be accompanied by a disclaimer: very fast, but only for short distances.

Every cat, including your pet, is the same as the cheetah: made for fast sprints, not endurance over long distances. Some house cats can run thirty miles per hour—faster than you, probably, but you could outlast the cat, and so could a dog. A cat will literally overheat after a minute of running and will have to stop. Such is the nature of the cat’s muscle cells.

Related Posts:

Gut juices

saliva as the first digestive fluid to start working on the food, but cat saliva contains hardly any ptyalin, the enzyme that breaks down starches. (Cats do not naturally seek out starchy foods, and there is little point in their owners giving them starchy snacks.)

But what they lack in saliva power, cats make up for in phase two, the stomach, where their stomach acids are much more powerful than those of humans. The cat stomach has no difficulty digesting bits of hard bone and other things that send the human stomach into a tizzy.

Related Posts:

“Hair up!” in Latin

Let’s learn some hair-related Latin terms: piloerection (“hair standing up”) and arrector pili (“raiser of hair”). Piloerection occurs in humans, cats and many other animals.

The arrector pili are muscles under the skin of all areas of the body where hair is present. When the muscles contract (due to fear, excitement and so on), the hairs stand on end. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the most developed of a cat’s arrector pili muscles are on the back and tail.

Related Posts: