Choosing a Purebred Cat
The development of nearly all domesticated breeds of animals is a relatively recent happening. Although some breeds have existed for many centuries, the breeds we see today in cats, dogs, rabbits, and other pets were all developed within the last 200 years, many within the last century. The process of creating new breeds is, of course, an ongoing occurrence as there are always people striving, for various reasons, to establish a new breed.
When in discussion on the subject of breeds many people confuse a breed with a type or a group, therefore a definition is useful. Most dictionaries will define a breed as a race, stock, sort, kind, variety or strain. Such definitions are far too loose because they embrace every possibility from, in zoological terms, what would constitute an entire family, or even a class, of animals to what genetically would be a group of essentially inbred animals.
The crucial words are ‘written standard’ for until this is appended to a subpopulation it leaves just too many aspects that would be contentious and would enable too many of a ‘type’ to be called a breed. This is especially true in cats which are all quite similar in many aspects, more so than in dogs, for example, where size and head shapes are so different. All the different breeds we see today developed from the various types of cats that were seen at any one point in time. This development has come about in basically three different ways.
Natural breeds are those cats which have been selectively bred from cats local to a region, a country, or even a continent. Such local types have been refined by breeding for uniformity of overall shape and maybe colors as well. Until enough people come together and draw up what all agree is the desired breed ideals, then the animals in that population may be broadly similar but they still cannot qualify as being a breed.
However, there is a gray area in this basis of a breed because it is quite possible that certain people may indeed have produced a number of generations of a given type, that have become quite identifiable as a separate subpopulation without actually having a written standard. This can come about through geographic isolation or because the breeders are in a position to ensure the members of a subpopulation are isolated from the rest of the population.
We know of no present- day breed which has on either account been isolated for over 200 years in a clearly defined way such that present day breeders could justifiably claim that the bloodlines of present breeds have remained pure for this span of time. This would need recorded pedigrees and these just do not exist. Even if such pedigrees existed they would have little value unless they were accompanied by detailed descriptions of the animals featured in the pedigrees. However, many of today’s oldest breeds will certainly be the shorthaired cats of Europe, the US and the Orient, together with the longhairs of places such as Persia.
The second oldest group of breeds are those which have come about as a result of a mutation. This will have given them some special feature which enabled them to be readily distinguished from most other cats in a population. It is possible that the longhaired cats actually fit into this category because it is by no means certain that these cats were developed from heavy coated wild felids such as the European wild cat, Felis sylvestris, as is often assumed. The tailless Manx is an old mutational breed as, no doubt, is the Siamese and maybe one or two other Asiatic breeds. A number of the Asiatic breeds have been developed from a type that has clearly been around for a long time.
The distinctive head and body shape of oriental cats stems from mutations that have been established for many centuries and have been spread by traders and travellers. When interesting color mutations have appeared, these may well have been selectively bred for. These were spread to other nearby countries so that we arrive at a situation where numerous similar features are seen on cats, without these being fixed in any one subpopulation to justify the term ‘breed' being applied.
The third group of breeds are those created by recombination of mutations. Obvious examples are the Colorpoint Persian, Himalayan, or Colorpoint Longhair, depending on which country you live in, or which registration body you support. Once a mutational form becomes well established then it is not long before breeders transfer it to other breeds and thus create new ones. When the mutation is well established and there are sufficient cats in the subpopulation displaying that group of combined features, a standard can be prepared and then the subpopulation becomes a breed. Pedigrees become obligatory in order to retain the purity of the breed and some form of registration body is necessary to control these aspects. Until that point in time, it is a hybrid of the breeds that gave rise to it.
The whole subject of breed definition is very much related to the animal group you are considering. In dogs and horses color alone would be insufficient to raise those carrying a given color to the rank of breed, but in cats this is possible. The term ‘breed' is therefore dependent on just how precise the written standard is and where breeders, collectively, want to restrict variation in the breed.
Whereas a type can change as the years go by based on what new genes are introduced into the population, casually or intentionally, this cannot happen with a breed. Its standard clearly defines its broad characteristics, which can only widen or become more restricted by those involved in the breed altering the standard to accommodate changes. A breed's initial standard is usually loose enough to allow for the wide variation seen within those individuals which may be regarded as examples of the breed. As desired features become more fixed the standard will become changed to reflect this fact and to outlaw faults that have crept in along the line and were previously not mentioned in a standard.