Why not just say “baldness”?

The technical term for baldness is alopecia, and cats are subject to a form of it, though a very different form than the human male-pattern baldness. Feline endocrine alopecia is probably hormone related (as is male-pattern baldness), but the areas where the hair thins are the posterior, underside of the tail, belly and inside of the thighs.

The remaining hairs can be easily pulled out, but the areas are never completely smooth. No pain is involved, but it does make the cat look less attractive. Some cases respond to hormone treatments. (There is no “Hair Club for Cats,” as far as we know.)

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Melanoma

black mole on the body.

Melanoma is dangerous for both humans and cats, but humans are fortunate in being able to monitor their skin for unusual growths, while on cats the melanoma may be well hidden underneath the hair. In some cases, an early melanoma may not be life threatening, but, sadly, many cats have died from this cancer.

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The Jungle Book man

Book, which features several big cat characters, such as the panther Bagheera and the fierce tiger Shere Khan.

He also wrote the wonderful story “The Cat Who Walked by Himself,” in which Man and Woman tame all manner of animals but don’t quite succeed in taming the cat. The cat finally agrees to live in the humans’ house and catch mice, but he is never completely tamed. He is “the cat who walks by himself.” As you might expect, Kipling was very fond of cats.

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Just call him Saki


The British writer Hector Hugh Munro (1870–1916) wrote his many clever short stories under the pen name Saki. Among Saki’s stories is “Tobermory,” whose title character is a cat who can talk.

Some of the human characters tease Tobermory about his having an affair with a lady cat who lives at the stable. Then it dawns on them that the cat, climbing around in windowsills as cats are inclined to do, is all too aware of their affairs.

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The bad news about skin cancer

white cats, especially those with blue eyes.

The danger of skin cancers is their ability to spread to other organs, usually the lymph nodes first, then the lungs. Vets try whenever possible to remove the cancers surgically. Obviously, as with human skin cancers, the earlier the cancer is found, the more likely that treatment will be successful.

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Feline sunburn

The vet calls it by the fancy name actinic dermatitis, but let’s call it what it is: sunburn. Most cats won’t burn, but the ones most likely to are white cats with blue eyes. (In other words, cats who correspond to blue-eyed, fair-skinned, easy-to-burn humans.) A sunburned cat shows redness around the ears, eyelids, nose and mouth.

With a bad burn, there may be hair loss, peeling and itching. Needless to say, it is more common in summer than in winter. Over time, the “fair” cats who have been overexposed to the sun can develop skin cancers, which is also true for sun-worshipping humans. One obvious way to avoid this is keep the cat inside, especially at midday.

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Frozen cat

pain and numbness but in more severe cases leads to tissue death.

It happens most often to the ears and nose, the areas least likely to be covered. And that is precisely where cats get frost-bitten: the areas with the least hair, their ears, nose and paw pads. (For some odd reason the tip of the tail seems vulnerable also.) An obvious bit of advice to pet owners in cold areas: don’t let the cat outside if it is extremely cold.

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The flea collar problem

Contact dermatitis is a skin ailment of cats, and the most common cause of it—is flea collars. Most cats wear them without any problems, but some cats break out in the neck area, and the only solution is to remove the collar. There are many other excellent flea treatments available now, so flea collar dermatitis is nothing to fret over.

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Selfish, yes, and not ashamed

Of course they are, and we love them for it. We would detest a friend or family member as selfish as a cat, but we don’t mind selfishness so much in a beautiful, purring beast. Consider this old proverb from Britain: “In the cat’s eyes, all things belong to cats.” One can easily imagine that cat’s reply to that: “Well, of course. Just as it should be. You got a masalah with that?”

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Caught it at the gym, maybe?

warm, moist places like shower stalls, so it won’t surprise you that ringworm is most common in warm, humid climates.

Ringworm fungus is highly contagious, passed on by skin contact, and humans can pass it on to cats (and vice versa). Ringworm on cat skin isn’t always red nor always itchy, so sometimes a vet is needed to determine the condition. It isn’t dangerous, just irksome, and, as already noted, it can be passed on to humans, so a cat who has it needs to be treated.

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Thin-skinned white cats

death from a flea bath. Some of the solutions used to kill fleas can kill the cat as well, even when veterinarians or their technicians give the bath.

The pink skin of a white cat is more sensitive to flea baths (and any kind of chemical) than the skin of other cats. If you own a white cat, be aware of this, and don’t be shy about reminding your vet that your pet has sensitive skin.

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Granddad Darwin

The scientist Charles Darwin, famous for his theory of evolution, had a famous grandfather, Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802), who was both scientist and poet. He combined his interests in The Botanic Garden, a long poem on flowers and other plants.

He was fascinated by all of nature and, of course, he was intrigued by cats. On one occasion he wrote, “To respect the cat is the beginning of the aesthetic sense”—that is, if you appreciate the cat’s beauty, you probably have a good sense of beauty in general.

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Cosby and the kittens

One of Bill Cosby’s best comic routines has to do with a family debating over which TV show to watch. (Obviously this routine originated in the days when most families had only one TV.) In the routine, Dad wants to watch the western Gunsmoke, but the kids want to watch Froofy the Dog.

The kids finally win the battle when they air the rumor that the Gunsmoke adegan is going to feature the drowning of kittens. (In case you were wondering, there never was a Gunsmoke adegan in which kittens were drowned.)

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Pregnancy and litter boxes

So what’s the connection? Cats may ingest toxoplasma, a nasty microscopic parasite often found in undercooked meat—and in mice or birds they happen to catch.

It usually does not harm cats, but since it is passed through the feces, it is possible for a human cleaning a litter box to take in the toxoplasma. If that human happens to be a pregnant woman, the toxoplasma can cause severe damage to the unborn child. So, as a general rule, pregnant women should avoid litter boxes.

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“All-natural”

Humans have a habit of involving their pets in their own trendiness. This is evident in the “natural healing” movement, in which people replace or supplement traditional medical care with “natural” remedies, such as herbs. Some pet owners believe that “natural” medicine will benefit their pets, so there is an American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA), with a membership of several hundred vets and other animal care professionals.

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Pet insurance

Well, you won’t get it through your employer, of course, or through the government. Nonetheless, more and more people are choosing to pay monthly or annual premiums for health insurance for their pets.

The reason is obvious: medical care for pets (as for their owners) is getting more expensive as it gets more sophisticated, and there is no Medicare or Medicaid for old (or poor) pets. As veterinary costs rise, and as more people (particularly single folks) own pets, the more likely it is that people will choose to pay for pet insurance.

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Butt dragging

legs. Simply put, the animal’s anus itches terribly, and she doesn’t have fingers to scratch it. The itching is caused by worms, so your cat requires medicine, administered either by you or your vet. (But by all means, get your camcorder out while the cat is still dragging, for it makes a great video.)

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“Honest as the cat”

Some people hate cats because of their habit of snitching meat—and “meat” might also include pet birds and fish. Well, why not? To a cat, if the meat is available, it is there to be eaten, even if you had intended to have it for your supper.

Essentially, no cat can be trusted if meat is within reach. Hence the old proverb about someone who is “honest as the cat when the meat is out of reach.” In other words, that person can be trusted only when there is nothing around to tempt him.

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Cat meets skunk

Wild skunks are the most easygoing, amiable animals in the world. They can afford to be, for they don’t need to bite or scratch their enemies, since their malodorous spray is excellent protection. Occasionally a cat gets sprayed by a skunk, and removing the smell is no picnic.

First the cat needs a good water bath (which most of them will resist tooth and nail), then a good thorough soaking in either milk or tomato juice, which needs to stay on the coat for at least ten minutes before being rinsed with water.

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Cat massage

Massage is very “in” these days, with people sometimes paying high prices for the supposed benefits of getting a relaxing massage from a professional. Humans have a way of pushing their trends onto their pets, of course, so there are books explaining the “right” way to massage your cat.

The less trendy among us are more inclined to do what people have done for centuries: rubbing and stroking our cats without giving a thought to “technique” just being aware that the cats enjoy it tremendously, and so do we.

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Some good ole chemical additives

food, including vitamins and minerals. Some people are fussy about such things, not even wanting additives in their pets’ food. But pet food manufacturers haven’t been shy about adding nutritional supplements to cat food.

One amino acid that has been added to most cat food since the 1980s is taurine, which has been found useful in preventing blindness and heart disease. As time goes by and we learn more about animal nutrition, it is likely that more additives will be found in pet foods.

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Bowl and collar technology

If you have more than one cat in your home, you may be aware of the problems of feeding them: one cat may hog the food, one may insist on eating before the others, they may (because of age differences or other factors) require different types of food and so on.

In past times, owners worked out their own ways of dealing with these problems, but, of course, the pet product manufacturers have come up with their own clever high-tech solutions. One is a food bowl that links up electronically with a special collar worn by the cats you don’t want eating from that bowl. If a cat wearing the collar nears the bowl, the bowl emits a tone that makes the cat skedaddle. (Are human beings clever, or what?)

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The lactose problem

milk. The end result (pardon the pun) is usually diarrhea, for either the person or the cat.

This needs to be kept in mind by doting cat owners who like to reward their pets with milk or cream, which all cats love. Most cats have no persoalan at all with milk, but owners who notice a milk-diarrhea connection ought to do the obvious thing and cut back or eliminate the milk they give to their pets.

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The dreaded hairball!

digestive tract.

Some cats never get them (my own hasn’t—knock on wood); some cats get them rarely and vomit them up with no harm to themselves (though perhaps some harm to your upholstery or carpet). The reason owners need to monitor hairballs is that occasionally they can lead to serious digestive problems, sometimes requiring surgery. Pet store shelves are well stocked with hairball preventatives, and most of the pet food manufacturers now market certain foods as “hairball preventers.”

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“Cat on a hot tin roof”

The playwright Tennessee Williams immortalized this phrase in the title of one of his dramas, even though the cat in his play was a woman, not an actual cat. The meaning of the phrase is obvious enough: an extremely uncomfortable or unpleasant situation. A cat on a hot tin roof would not be able to stand still for more than a second.

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Chatoyancy

Here’s a fancy French word, and if you know that chat is French for “cat,” you may have a clue what chatoyancy means: “shining like a cat’s eye.” The word refers to a quality of certain gemstones, not only cat’s-eye but moonstone and many others.

Something that is chatoyant possesses a changeable luster and has a narrow band of white light. If you change the position of the stone, the band of light seems to move across the surface.

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“Rusting” of black cats

black car, you know it isn’t going to stay very sleek if you leave it outside where it will experience all kinds of weather. In effect the same thing happens to black cats, specifically the long-haired ones. If exposed to the elements—including sunlight—a longhaired black cat’s fur tends to “rust”—not literally the rust that forms on iron, but the effect is the same in that the cat’s hair turns a kind of reddish-brown. It’s bound to happen to any black longhair who spends a lot of time outdoors. Needless to say, folks who exhibit their pets in cat shows are fussy about keeping black longhairs indoors and away from too much sun.

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Contests for darn near everything ...

cat shows, the cages in which the cats are displayed are a standard size (24 × 27 × 27 inches). While there is much fuss about grooming the cats in preparation for the shows, there is also plenty of to-do about the cages themselves—owners decorate them with cushions, curtain, fabrics, bric-a-brac and other ornaments. It won’t surprise you that some of the cat shows actually give prizes for the best-decorated cages.

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“Vetting in”

All the people connected to cat shows are, of course, fanatical about the health of the cats, given that so many cats in close quarters could lead to the spreading of an epidemic. For this reason the cats exhibited in British shows all have to be “vetted in,” meaning that a veterinarian checks each cat for fleas and other disorders.

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No outcasts here!

There was a time when cat show competitions were for purebred cats only, and the many happy owners of mixed-breed cats could not enter their pets in cat shows, no matter how beautiful and adorable they were.

That has changed, and now many cat shows award prizes in the Household Pet Competition. The strict rules applied when judging purebred cats are waived, except that mixed-breed cats entered in shows must be neutered and must not be declawed.

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The show season

winter, and this is also true for cat shows, which mostly take place between September and February.

There are several reasons for this schedule, notably that the longhaired breeds’ coats will be at their most luxurious during the fall and winter. In the spring and the summer, females are likely to be queening (giving birth and mothering), and thus will be out of commission for awhile.

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The cleanliness obsession at cat shows

disease.

This concern is felt by everyone associated with cat shows, which is why the judges and other folks associated with them are as fanatical about cleanliness as the cats are. Antibacterial cloths are used to wipe down the judges’ hands; ditto for the tables where the cats are judged. Considering that the cleanest animal in the world is being judged, this is appropriate.

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No performance at cat shows

You may have attended dog shows or horse shows, and if you have, you know right away that cat shows are different, for the cats are not expected to perform in any way.

They show up, well groomed and healthy, and get judged, whereas in a horse or dog show the animals would be expected to jump through the hoops (literally and figuratively) to prove they are not only beautiful but sound in the muscles as well. Cats (luckily for them) are required only to sit and be beautiful (which they are very good at), and all the movement and hustle are on the part of their anxiety-stricken owners.

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Not “a guy thing”

Yes, there are lots of men who love cats (the author is one), but the old stereotypes and prejudices—dogs are the proper pets for “real men,” and so on—linger. Thus, while you will see lots of men at dog shows, it is evident that there are far fewer men than women at cat shows.

This is changing as more men “out” themselves as cat fanciers, but part of the prejudice against cat shows (which the author fully understands) is the feeling of many men that cats ought to be kept and enjoyed but not necessarily fussed over and entered in competitions.

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Why so many?

Christian denominations instead of just one. Simply put: members can’t agree on everything.

The different cat associations mostly disagree on which breeds are registered and which standards should be used in judging the breeds. For example, the Cat Fanciers’ Association recognizes a certain number of breeds, while the American Cat Association recognizes a different number, and both believe they have good reasons for including or excluding a particular breed.

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The oldest U.S. cat club

American Cat Association (ACA), formed in 1904 as the offspring of a cat club in Chicago.

Typical of any human organization, disputes arose among members over various rules, and, inevitably, the dispute led to the founding of another group, the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA). Generally speaking, the CFA is considered the most prestigious of the various cat registry groups, but (obviously) the rival associations would not agree with that.

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Alphabet soup time

Most cat owners have no interest in entering their pets in cat shows, but for those who do, seven different organizations in the United States and Canada register purebred cats, create breed standards and sanction cat shows and cat show judges.

They are the American Cat Association (ACA), American Cat Fanciers’ Association (ACFA), Canadian Cat Association (CCA), Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), Cat Fanciers’ Federation (CFF), TheInternational Cat Association (TICA) and the United Cat Federation (UCF).

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Harrison Weir’s legacy

English artist and, as it happened, also a lover of cats. He is credited with organizing an 1871 cat show in London’s Crystal Palace that is considered to be the world’s first cat show. Weir served as one of the judges in the show, and he also created the standards for all the breeds exhibited.

Weir also published the book Our Cats and All About Them, which helped promote further interest in cat shows. A footnote to this “first” show: prior to this, cats had not been exhibited for their glamour—rather, “working cats” (mousers, that is) were displayed at agricultural fairs, along with cattle, hogs, sheep and other animals.

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Oriental Shorthair

original Siamese cats of centuries ago were not always the familiar cream color with points. Many of them were solid colors, and there were solids among the first Siamese brought to the West. Chalk it up to the fickleness of human taste: cat fanciers decided they preferred the pointed Siamese, so for a long time their solid-color cousins were rarely found.

Known as Oriental Shorthairs, they are gaining in popularity. They have the typical Siamese personality—gregarious, active, chatty and willing (some of them, anyway) to walk on a leash. They have the body type of the Siamese: long, lanky, with a wedge-shaped face and fairly large ears.

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A word about “points”

legs and tail. Siamese kittens are born “pointless”; the points develop as they age. Over the years, several varieties of points have been perpetuated through breeding.

The classic was the seal point (seal meaning “very dark brown”), but you can also find blue point, chocolate point, lilac point (light brown, not purple), cinnamon point, cream point and fawn point.

Each variety is attractive, and each has fans, though some cat fanciers consider the oldest varieties (seal and blue) to be the only “real” Siamese. Whatever variety they are, all Siamese tend to darken if they spend a lot of time outside.

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Siamese

If there’s one breed of cat that the average person on the street recognizes, it has to be the Siamese (though Persian owners might not agree). Siamese are blue-eyed, slender-bodied, with a wedge-shaped face, slightly slanted eyes and the very distinctive “points” of dark brown on the ears, muzzle, feet and tail. Whether the breed actually originated in Thailand (formerly Siam) is debatable, but we do know that the Thai people valued them highly.

So have many generations of Europeans and Americans, who find these cats to be graceful, playful and extremely inquisitive. They are also “chatty,” so much so that their loud voices (especially of the toms) do not endear them to everyone, even serious ailurophiles.

Another less endearing trait—one that many owners overlook—is the frequency of crossed eyes, a trait that ensures the cat cannot enter a cat show. Over the years, Siamese have been “bred thin,” apparently on the assumption that owners prefer the lanky body. The Siamese of a century ago had a more solid build than the Siamese of today.

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Orientals, in general

These breeds have a distinctive look: a long, slender body, long legs, a long narrow tail, a wedge-shaped face, fairly large ears and (often) a fairly long neck in short, traits you associate with the Siamese. They are shorthaired but distinctive enough to be considered as a separate group.

Think of the stout-bodied, round-headed, round-eyed, snub-nosed Persians as one cat extreme and the lanky, wedge-headed, slant eyed Siamese as the other. In the middle are the moderate-bodied, moderate-headed and moderate eyed shorthairs. However, as you’ll see in the descriptions of the longhairs, many of those breeds have Siamese/Oriental ancestry.

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Pixie-bobs

Felis catus) breed with the wild American bobcat (Lynx rufus)? The answer is a definite “maybe,” and fans of the Pixie-bob breed believe that their lovable six-toed, bob-tailed pets are descended from Pixie, the offspring of a cat and bobcat in the Pacific Northwest. Only one of the cat fancier associations The International Cat Association (TICA) has recognized the breed so far, and a number of people believe the Pixie-bob just happens to look like a cat-bobcat hybrid.

Whether or not they truly carry bobcat genes, Pixie-bobs are gaining in popularity, impressing owners with not only their size (not as large as a bobcat, but still quite large) but also their willingness to ride in the car, walk on a leash, even learn to fetch. These big, active cats have a future, whatever their ancestry and whatever the cat associations may think of them.

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Chartreux

You might guess from the name that this is a French breed. The Chartreux does have a long history in that country, including being known as the “cat of France” in the 1700s, and was bred even earlier than that by monks of the Carthusian order. (Hence the name; French Carthusian monks were well known for their liqueur called Chartreuse.)

This cat had virtually disappeared by the end of World War II but has experienced a kind of comeback, and rightly so, for this blue (gray, that is) cat with golden eyes and a sweet disposition deserves to be better known. As seems to be true of the larger breeds, this one is fairly quiet.

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Snowshoe

American Shorthair and you get this lovely creature with light blue eyes and white paws, from which the name is derived. Snowshoes are stockier than their Siamese ancestors, and also less vocal, but they make affectionate and active pets.

This very new breed is still rare, but will no doubt catch on with people looking for an attractive and pleasant companion. So far the breed has not been recognized by most of the cat associations.

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Munchkin

general idea, but not the whole story, of this cat: short, but not a real dwarf, for the only thing dwarf about the Munchkin is the leg bones. Essentially this cat is normal sized but with short legs, the result of a genetic mutation.

There is a lot of controversy about whether it is healthy (or ethical) to deliberately breed such cats, and for that reason the cat fancier associations have been slow to recognize this breed. Yet the Munchkins have their fans, not only because of their distinctive look but also because they are so playful and inquisitive. There are both longhaired and shorthaired Munchkins.

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American Bobtail

Japanese Bobtail has been around for ages, the American Bobtail is a fairly new breed. The parent cat for the breed was a mutation, a bobtailed kitten that an Iowa couple found at a Native American reservation in Arizona.

American Bobtails are stout-bodied cats, with a mottled coat that, along with their short tails, resembles that of the bobcats of the North American woodlands. Unlike the stubby tail of the bobcat, however, American Bobtails have a bushy plume to their tails.

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Bengal

Breeds of spotted cats have become popular in recent years, among them the Bengal, which originated from crossbreeding in the 1980s. Supposedly among the Bengal’s ancestors were some street cats of India, so the name Bengal is at least fairly accurate. Bengals resemble wildcats and are fairly large. The very attractive Snow Bengals are blue-eyed and white, with black spots or marbling.

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La Perm

That’s perm as in permanent wave, which is what these cats appear to have. While the American Wirehair has a wavy but somewhat stiff coat, the fur of La Perm is curly but soft. (As with the Wirehair, a genetic mutation caused this.)

The curly hair extends only up to the neck; the hair on the head looks like that of an American Shorthair. (This looks either odd or appealing, depending on your point of view.) Curiously, La Perm kittens are often bald at birth, but in a few weeks they begin growing their curly coats.

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American Wirehair

kitten born in an American Shorthair litter.

The Wirehairs have proved easy to breed, as wire-haired kittens will be born to a mating of a Wirehair with an ordinary Shorthair. Like the American Shorthair, the Wirehair is found in all colors and patterns and has a distinctive trait—a wiry, wavy coat.

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Manx

The name Manx means “from the isle of Man,” Man being in the sea between Great Britain and Ireland. The Manx people are rather fond of their distinctive tailless native breed, though no one knows for sure where or how the breed first originated. (One colorful legend has it that the cat was late in getting to Noah’s ark, and the tail was cut off as the door shut.)

Manx cats are found as completely tailless (“rumpies”), with a small stubb (“stumpies”) or with a sort of halftail (“longies”), but cat shows are limited to include only rumpies, the truly tailless variety. Manx are agreeable and active pets, delighting their owners with their “bunny-hop” gait, the result of their having back legs that are longer than their front legs.

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Russian Blue

It really did originate in Russia, and was for a while known as the Archangel Blue, after the Russian port city of Archangel. Russian traders brought them to Britain in the 1800s, and no doubt these cats were pleased to live in a locale warmer than Russia (not that Britain is exactly balmy).

The “blue” is, of course, a bluish gray, and Russian Blues give the impression of being deep plush all over with thick fur standing out from the body. These green-eyed cats are shy and quiet and make few demands on their owners.

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Korat

good luck gift at your wedding. This occurred often in the province of Korat in Thailand, which lent its name to this naturally occurring breed.

The Korat is a quiet breed, adapting easily to indoor life and avoiding noisy situations whenever possible. This cat seems to like most humans but not other cats, so the Korat owner is wise to maintain a one-cat household.

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Abyssinian

Abyssinia was the old name for Ethiopia in north-eastern Africa. Soldiers returning from there to Britain in the 1860s brought back some of these handsome cats, which are probably a naturally occurring breed in Africa.

Whether these were the descendants of the ancient Egyptians’ temple cats (as the story goes) can’t be determined, but they do resemble paintings of them. Abyssinians are usually a rich golden brown, with a darker brown “ticking” that gives the coat a plush appearance. These playful cats usually attach themselves to one special person in the home.

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Burmese

Think of velvet and you have the basic image of the Burmese. The coat is glossy, short and dense, and found in most solid colors.

Though Burmese had Siamese ancestors, you would never guess from their looks or voice, for they are heavier bodied (and less loud mouthed) than the Siamese. Like the Siamese, they do love to play and are generally fond of people, even strangers. They travel better in a car than most cats.

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Japanese Bobtail

Japanese Bobtail, a naturally occurring breed from (where else?) Japan, where they have long been considered good luck. True to their name, Bobtails have short (and puffy) tails. Most Bobtails are white, with patches of black or red, or both, on the face, back and tail. The Japanese are particularly fond of the Mi-Ke (“three furs”) variety—white with patches of red and black.

Bobtails are affectionate and playful and, as you might expect from a breed originating from an island nation, very fond of fish. As noted earlier, they are expensive, since they are rare outside of Japan. (Historical tidbit: When American troops occupied Japan after World War II, the Japanese got a quick education about cats, learning from Americans that Bobtails aren’t “normal” by world cat standards.)

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Singapura

As you might guess from the name, this breed originated in Singapore in Asia, where this cat is regarded as the “drain cat,” an unwanted street cat that seeks shelter in drains and other undesirable locations.

They are finding themselves more welcome in the United States and Europe, where their short, silky beige fur and quietness make them appealing pets. They love a quiet indoor life and make few demands on their owners. They don’t demand much food either, for Singapuras are the smallest of domestic cat breeds.

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Havana

Siamese ancestry, which is obvious from the long slender build, triangular face and slanted eyes.

There is no direct connection with Havana, Cuba; breeders chose the name because the cat’s color reminded them of Havana cigars. (Go figure.) Like the Siamese, the Havana is alert and playful and requires a lot of attention, which is usually given, given the cat’s talkative nature.

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Bombay

black patent leather. There are no connections at all with the city of Bombay in India, but the breeders chose the name because the cat reminded them of the lithe and jet-black panthers of the Indian jungles.

These placid, adorable creatures with their copper eyes are veritable “purr boxes,” purring almost constantly when in the company of people they love. The one drawback of their affectionate nature is that they don’t cope well with being left alone for extended periods.

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Tonkinese

The beautiful Tonkinese is the result of crossing Siamese with Burmese. The breed has the blue eyes of their Siamese ancestors as well as their familiar “points,” but these are less defined in the Tonkinese. (The points are barely visible on the very dark Natural Mink variety of Tonkinese.) The Tonkinese is a fairly new breed but has become very popular, in part because these cats are extremely affectionate and playful and more adaptable than most cats to riding in cars.

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American Curl

California in 1981, and the breed is now recognized by most American cat associations.

Curl cats are an acquired taste, but one that is easy to acquire, since the distinctive ears do give them an appealing look. They are quiet and sweet natured, and their very long and full-plumed tails are attractive.

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Egyptian Mau

As noted elsewhere in this book, mau was the ancient Egyptian word for cat. (And it’s no coincidence that mau sounds a lot like meow.) The Mau breed does resemble the cats depicted in the art of ancient Egypt.

It is possible the Maus are the direct descendants of those cats—but also possible that the breed was developed to resemble cats of ancient times. We do know for sure that Maus were imported from Egypt to Europe and the United States in the 1950s. Like the Ocicat, the Mau is spotted, a trait many people find appealing, and they are playful and affectionate.

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Devon Rex

Devon is a county in southwest England, near Cornwall, and by an odd coincidence Devon was the locale of a genetic mutation that produced a curly-haired cat—like the Cornish Rex but (genetically speaking) not related.

The Devon Rex looks much like the Cornish Rex, though slightly curlier in coat and thinner in body. (Both breeds are known as “poodle cats.”) The Devon Rex is so unusual in appearance that one appeared in the out-of-this-world science fiction movie Dune.

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Cornish Rex

Sphynx breed. Unlike the Sphynx, the Rex does not appear hairless, but has a thin coat—that is also curly. As the name indicates, the breed originated in Cornwall, the region of far south-western England.

In a litter of shorthaired kittens, one kitten had wavy fur and even wavier whiskers. These large-eared, slender-bodied cats are extremely playful and have the curious trait of wagging their tails like dogs when they are happy. Because of their curly fur, Rexes are often referred to as “poodle cats.”

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Sphynx

kitten was born.

The key word is almost: although the Sphynx appears to be hairless, there is in fact a thin coat of very short suedelike fur. The thin coat gives the cat a lanky and bony appearance, with oversized ears to boot, a look that is not to everyone’s taste. Even so, the Sphynx has become popular in recent years, no doubt aided by Austin Powers.

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Scottish Fold

American Curl breed. While the Curl’s ears turn back, the Scottish Fold’s ears are folded forward, flat against the head. Like the Curl, the Fold resulted from a genetic mutation. On a Scottish farm in 1961 cats with the distinctive fold were born, and all other Scottish Folds are their descendants.

There is some controversy about the breeding of Folds, since some people suspect that the breeding can perpetuate hearing problems. But Folds have their fans, who like the cats’ sweet nature and the distinctive look of the head. Scottish Folds come in most colors and as both longhair and shorthair.

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Ocicat

spotted wild cat of the Americas. The Ocicat breed gives the impression of being a very small ocelot (which this breed was named for), though in fact the Ocicat is a genetic fluke that occurred in a cross between an Abyssinian and a Siamese.

No one knows why the mating produced some spotted kittens, but it did, and this new breed has many fans. Ocicats have a lot of personality, and they are rare among cats in their adaptability to being walked on a leash.

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American Shorthair

When Americans use the term cat in the most generic sense, they are referring to the American Shorthair, and the vast majority of American cats belong to this breed. Alley cats are American Shorthairs, and so is the lion’s share (pun intended) of household pets, whose owners usually don’t particularly care about things like pedigrees.

However, there are pedigreed American Shorthairs, and “the papers” are required to enter them into cat shows. But many cat shows now have a household pet category that allows nonpedigreed cats to compete.

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Shorthairs, in general

As noted earlier, the domestic cat is genetically shorthaired; long hair occurs as a mutation. So, obviously, there are a lot more shorthairs around than longhairs, and no doubt there always will be. Without the deliberate breeding of longhair with longhair (thanks to human intervention), the percentage of shorthairs would be even higher than it is.

There is an immense variety of colors and patterns in shorthairs, but generally speaking they all have the “generic cat” shape underneath—not heavy-bodied, not thin and lanky. The exceptions are the Oriental breeds.

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Ragdoll

Persian comes to mind. But no cat is more laidback than the Ragdoll, which was named from the curious trait of going completely limp when picked up. Most Ragdolls look like longhaired Siamese, but they are infinitely more docile than their Siamese ancestors.

In fact, the breed seems to have a high pain tolerance, so much so that some overly protective owners feel compelled to monitor them for illnesses and injuries. Given this cat’s docility, a quiet life indoors rather than an outdoor life is suited to this cat. One other distinctive trait: this is a very large cat. The average male weighs more than fifteen pounds. Ragdolls and Maine Coons are the largest breeds of domestic cats.

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Turkish Van

Europe and the United States in the 1950s, where owners were amazed to find that the breed didn’t mind being bathed—and actually chose to swim.

The Van has a long white coat with distinctive patches of red on the ears and tail. (Interestingly, in their native Turkey, Vans were often all white, and the Turks still prefer this to the redpatched type.) Although Vans take to water, they are basically a quiet, indoor-loving cat.

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Tiffany

Burmese.

Like their Burmese ancestors, the Tiffany has a sleek seal-brown coat, but long and silky, giving the head a rounder appearance than the Burmese. Like the Burmese, the Tiffany has yellow-gold eyes and is affectionate and playful—and also “talkative” (or “noisy,” depending on your point of view).

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Norwegian Forest Cat

Many breeds have geographically based names that sometimes have nothing whatsoever to do with where the cat originated. The Norwegian Forest Cat—the “wegie,” as fans call them—really did originate in the forests of Norway. (In their homeland, they are known as the Skaukatt. Nearby Sweden’s version is the Rugkatt, while Denmark’s is the Racekatte.) As you might expect, a thick coat and stout body help this cat survive in a cold climate.

This large longhaired cat resembles the Maine Coon, though the two breeds are not related. They do share the need to roam the outdoors, both are good hunters who like a certain amount of independence, and both breeds are very affectionate. Wegies have been known to fish and even to swim.

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Cymric

Manx, with the characteristic Manx trait of having either no tail at all (a “rumpy”), a very short tail (a “stumpy”) or a halftail (a “longy”).

The breed was the result of a genetic mutation, and by the 1980s they were being exhibited in shows. Like their shorthaired Manx ancestors, the Cymrics are affectionate and active cats, with front legs shorter than back legs, giving them a curious “bunny-hop” walk.

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Somali

Abyssinian, so the breed gives the impression of being a small (and longhaired) cougar. Like their Abyssinian ancestors, the Somali is playful and inquisitive and fond of the outdoors (meaning that, unlike the Persian, the Somali is not a good apartment cat). The Somali has the fairly large ears of the Abyssinian as well as the same affectionate nature and soft voice.

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Maine Coon

American farm cats and wild raccoons—or so the legend goes. (Cats and raccoons do not mate.)

Probably the Maine Coon resulted from the breeding of shorthaired farm cats with Angora cats brought back to New England by sailors. (A more “all-American” explanation is also possible: the Maine Coons resulted from a genetic mutation in Maine farm cats, with no help at all from foreign longhairs.)

These lovable, longhaired, bushy-tailed cats were popular in America in the 1800s both as pets and show cats, but they lost ground to Persians. (There is lots of trendiness in the pet world.)

Maine Coons are popular once again, particularly with people who like longhaired cats that are more active and outdoorsy than the Persians. (Maine Coons aren’t lap cats, but they do like to be in their owners’ company.) Like the Persians, the Maine Coons are found in a multitude of colors and patterns, even within the same litter.

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Turkish Angora

This lovely breed was named after Angora, the old name for Ankara, now the capital city of Turkey. Like Persians, Angoras are prized for their rich coat of long hair, and even though many people confuse the two breeds, they are different in many ways.

The Angora has a more slender build than the Persian, with a more triangular face that is more “catty” than the round, snub-nosed Persian face. The Angora’s long coat does not mat and tangle as easily as the Persian’s does and comes in as many colors as a Persian’s.

They also share the Persian’s genetic flukes: blue-eyed white cats that are often deaf and “odd-eyed” cats that have one blue eye, and one copper or green eye. Though we can’t be certain, it’s highly possible that the Angoras were a naturally occurring breed, and that Persians were developed from them.

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Javanese

Siamese), and like the Balinese, was named for an Indonesian island (even though both breeds originated in the United States).

The Javanese are longhaired, white or cream in color, with “points” like their Siamese ancestors and the blue eyes of the Siamese. Like all the longhaired breeds descended from the Siamese, the Javeneses’ points are much less distinctive than those of their shorthaired ancestors.

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Balinese

Siamese, the Balinese started out as a real Siamese—specifically, as a genetic mutation in a litter of Siamese kittens in the 1950s.

Having too long a coat to be exhibited as Siamese, the mutant kittens were given a new breed name, even though they had no connection at all with the island of Bali, except perhaps that their graceful movements reminded people of Balinese dancers. The Balinese has long hair, though not as fluffy as the Himalayan or Birman. Personality-wise and body-wise, this cat is all Siamese—playful and slender.

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Birman

Burmese, obviously. (The two breeds are not related at all.) The Birman, like the Himalayan, gives the appearance of being a longhaired Siamese, but the Birman occurs naturally, while the Himalayan is the result of deliberate crossbreeding.

The Birman has an offwhite coat and the Siamese-like “points” of black or dark brown on the face, ears, legs and tail, plus attractive blue eyes. Though not as rambunctious as Siamese, Birmans are not as laidback as Persians are.

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Himalayan

Siamese. That’s exactly what breeders did back in the 1930s, and the result is the longhaired Himalayan, which some call the Himalayan Persian.

This cat inherited the stocky body and round face of the Persians, but the distinctive “pointed” coloration and the blue eyes of the Siamese, giving an appearance (obviously) of a longhaired Siamese. (Its blue is more subdued than the blue of the Siamese.)

Personality-wise, this cat seems more Persian than Siamese—fairly quiet, soft-voiced and less demanding than the typical Siamese. Thanks to a thick coat, a Himalayan also requires a lot more grooming than a Siamese does.

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Persian

Say “Persian cat” and most people think of something longhaired, elegant and quiet. And so they are, although they probably aren’t from Persia.

Their longhaired ancestors were brought to Europe from Turkey around 1520, and Europeans (and later Americans) were taken with these lovely creatures. (One proof of their popularity in the United States: there are more Persians registered with the Cat Fanciers’ Association than any other breed.)

The Persian (or Longhair, as the British call this breed) is fairly stout–bodied and has the trademark “pushed-in” nose, round face, round eyes and soft voice. The Persian is the quintessential lap cat, even though Persians surprise their owners with their mousing ability.

Their long hair is beautiful but needs regular grooming with a fine-toothed comb, particularly if the cat is allowed to wander outside. British (but not American) breeders consider the various Persian color types to be separate breeds.

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Longhairs, in general

Genetically, short hair is dominant in cats, meaning that the default setting for the hair of domestic cats is short, just as it was for their wild ancestors. But there is a recessive gene that results in long hair, and the breeding of longhaired cats was a fairly simple matter of getting together males and females who shared the recessive gene.

Where exactly this first occurred isn’t known for certain, though it was probably in central Asia (which would include Persia, the country we now call Iran). We have it on good authority that some of these longhairs reached France and Italy sometime in the 1500s, and from there they reached other countries in Europe.

No one tried very hard to be “scientific” about naming cats, so longhaired cats might be called Russian, French, even Chinese. (Obviously “Persian” was one name that caught people’s fancy and stuck.) Europeans, especially aristocrats who could afford to buy exotic beasts, were enchanted by longhaired cats, as are millions of people today.

In the descriptions of the longhaired breeds that follow, note that many of them began as longhaired mutations of an existing shorthair breed; for example, the Balinese are descended from longhaired kittens that showed up in litters of normally shorthaired Siamese.

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Calico

black and orange.

Calico cats, however, also have a lot of white—in fact, a mix of white, black and orange (or cream) in clearly defined patches—whereas tortoiseshells are black all over with the orange appearing as highlights all over. Put another way, calicos’ coats give the impression of being stitched together from various large scraps of white, black and orange.

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“Lilac” and “apricot”

Here are two other coat color names that, like blue, aren’t meant to be taken quite literally. Lilac, which has also been called “lavender,” is basically a beige-gray or a light brown-gray but is distinctive in having (barely) a hint of pinkish purple. (The colors purple and brown are not that different, as any artist would tell you.)

“Apricot” is a cream color that (again, barely) has a hint of orange-red. Neither lilac nor apricot seems to occur in nature; they are the result of selective breeding.

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“Blue” (but not really) and “ginger”

cat shows, there are no gray cats, only blue ones. (As far as that goes, no human or cat is naturally “red,” yet when we refer to a cat or person having “red” hair, people know exactly what we mean.) Likewise ginger is applied to orangey-coated cats, even though real ginger (the spice, that is) is brown, not orange.

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Tortoiseshell

True tortoiseshell (the shell of an actual turtle, that is) is black with attractive highlights of orange or cream. It has been used for centuries in making furniture inlays and ornamental articles, such as hairbrushes.

The name has long been applied to cats whose coats resemble tortoiseshells—that is, black cats with highlight patches of orange or cream. These beautiful cats are often referred to as “torties.” People often confuse the terms tortoiseshell and calico, but the two are not the same.

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Tipping

When a cat has a “tipped” coat, the individual hairs are not the same color from root to tip. Rather, the tips are of a contrasting color compared to the rest of the hair. If the tipping is light, the cat is a Chinchilla. If the tipping is medium, the cat is Shaded. And if the tipping is heavy, the cats are Smokes.

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The unicolor

Some cats are consistently the same color all over—that is, each hair is the same color from tip to root, and hairs all over the body are the same color. Among cat fanciers, this is referred to as the “self coat” pattern. It is very attractive, but so are the various patterns listed next.

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