Book Preview: Some fancy-cats are losing their genetic heritage

There are many DNA tests for dog breeds, but cats? Not so much.

This isn’t anti-feline discrimination.

It has taken us thousands of years and lots of selective breeding to turn gray wolves into chihuahuas. But fanciers have been focusing on cats only since the 1870s.

There just hasn’t been enough time to develop DNA changes that register on today’s testing.

Geneticists are off to a good start, though–they’ve identified multiple feline races. But along the way, they have also uncovered evidence that intensive breeding has erased the genetic heritage of some fancy-cats.

House cats have races?

Short answer: It involves molecular markers in their genes, not fur color or length. Because of the way domestic cats first spread across the world, they now show differences that can be traced back to Asia, the Mediterranean region, Western Europe, or Africa.

More specifically, geneticsts have found eight original populations (a/k/a races):

  1. Egypt (of course)
  2. Iran/Iraq
  3. Eastern Mediterranean
  4. Western Europe
  5. Arabian Sea
  6. India
  7. Southern Asia
  8. Eastern Asia

Details: The early history of domestic cats is strictly an Old-World story. This particular group of small kitties is not native to the Americas.

In the Old World, after the last ice age had ended, some African wildcats began the long journey into domestication alongside people in the Fertile Crescent, which includes much of what we call the Middle East today.

A few millennia later, thousands upon thousands of domestic cats were living in private homes and temple catteries along the banks of the Nile River. Some of the glory of Ancient Egypt rubbed off on these pets, and they became must-have status symbols for the international elite.

As early as 1700 BC, pharaohs outlawed cat exporting, and even sent officials out to retrieve smuggled felines. Nevertheless, geneticists say, Egyptian cat lineages spread around the eastern Mediterranean, starting around the 8th century BC. By the 5th century AD, they were fairly common here and in Asia Minor.

Back then, the equivalent of our Internet was a network of trade routes. It ran on plodding beasts of burden and harnessed the restless wind on rivers from Continue reading


Book Preview: Fancy Breeds Fit Into At Least One of Five Informal Categories

This post, adapted from one of the facts in my upcoming ebook “50 Facts About House Cats (And Where They Come From),” builds on last week’s post on moggies and fancy-cats.

Purebred dogs get genetic testing, yet no cat registry requires DNA tests to validate identity, pedigree, and parentage.

That’s because geneticists are struggling to identify feline fancy-breeds in the lab.

One problem is that all cats look alike under the skin. Yes, that’s hard to believe, considering all the various feline looks today . . .

. . . but it’s true. Almost all of the genes in these animals are the same.

Another problem for researchers: cat breeding hasn’t been around long enough for clear-cut genetic breed differences to accumulate.

They’re working on it, though. Four different regional genotypes have been found, as well as multiple domestic cat “races.”

This all helps the boffins categorize the forty-plus modern cat breeds.

What are the five informal categories?

Short answer and details are best combined here.

While this isn’t formalized in the cat fancy, a review of scientific literature finds the following (exactly which breed goes where depends on the study; Menotti-Raymond and others, in the source list, used these examples–your mileage may vary):

1. Mutations: A spontaneous genetic change produces an interesting look that cat fanciers develop into a new breed.


  • Scottish Fold
  • Selkirk Rex
  • Sphynx

Continue reading

Book Preview: The Recipe for Fancy-cat Starts With a Moggy

This is another of those old posts that I had to rewrite into a book chapter. Hope you like it!

Fancy-cats are the beautifully groomed felines you’ll see at a show. The other 80% of the world’s cats are unpedigreed (but equally beautiful) moggies.

Once upon a time, there weren’t any fancy-cats. And most moggies were striped tabbies. Today’s fancy-cats are sometimes tabbies, but fanciers prefer to build a cat breed on some unique feature.

Like floppy ears.

This works for the Scottish Fold–Internet celebrity cat Maru’s breed.

It’s a good example of the pleasures and perils that happen when you turn a moggy into one of the most popular breeds in the cat fancy.

What are cat breeds?

Short answer: For many centuries, people across the world collected moggies whose appearance attracted them. When the cat fancy arrived in the Victorian era, it brought these enthusiasts together. They formalized the various looks into pedigreed breeds.

Details: Any dog in the street might be a mutt, with quite a mixture of canine purebreds in its background. That’s because humans have bred dogs for various purposes since mid-Neolithic times, while mongrels happened on their own.

Cats have followed a completely different path, with street cats eventually ending up as prize-winners. Continue reading