Considering the fact that a cat is likely to be part of the family for anything up to twenty years, it is surprising how many cats are acquired on impulse. A little careful thought and discussion within the family, and an investigation into the characteristics of the different breeds available, is sure to benefit all parties and is likely to result in a pride of ownership that will ultimately lead to more consideration, care and concern for the well being and health of the animal. The ever expanding application of science to the breeding of cats has resulted in there being over forty breeds recognized in their own right. Many of these offer colour variations and, as a result, the prospective owner is faced with over eighty breeds to choose from. With such a host of options available, it is best to visit a general cat show where the characteristics, in terms of appearance and temperament, can be assessed. By over simplifying, one can divide the breeds into three main categories: namely, long-hair or Persian, short-hair and foreign types.
The long-hair or, as it is more commonly termed, Persian comes in some twenty varieties and is certainly a most beautiful animal. It has fierce bright eyes, a slightly flattened face, a long silky fluffed-out coat and short stocky legs on a cobby body. As kittens, they are totally irresistible, darting about with characteristic curiosity in everything around them.
Although long-hairs are less likely to roam and are happy to be confined in a house with adequate fencing around the garden, at least five minutes a day will have to be set aside for routine combing and grooming. This must be carried out with a steel comb with carefully rounded tips to avoid scratching the sensitive skin. Some owners find that two combs are required. A comb with broadly spaced teeth may be used for routine combing and will separate the hairs and gently tease away any tangles which may have developed. This can be followed by the use of a finer comb which will trap and expose any fleas hidden in the depths of the coat. The second comb will also bring to the surface any large flakes of flea dirt, scurf or grass seeds which the long coat buries in its density.
Combing should be followed by gentle but vigorous brushing with a care fully chosen brush with soft-ended bristles to avoid scratching and damaging the skin. The experienced breeder will end the grooming routine by rubbing a damp cloth or chamois leather, or even moistened hands, over the coat with the lie of the hair to remove remaining debris and loose hairs.
One of the more unsavoury responsibilities of owning a long-haired cat involves the problem of coping with the rear end when the animal has an upset intestine. This will require at least wet brushing of the area and even thorough shampooing which is likely to be resented by the cat.
A particularly interesting variety of long-hair is the Colourpoint. Looking-for all the world like a fluffed-out Siamese, it combines a fine mixture of the dramatic Siamese markings with the endearing qualities of the long-hair. Similar in many ways to the Colourpoint, and not to be confused with the Burmese, is the Birman. This elegant animal is distinguished from the Colour-point by white boots on its front and back legs, shaped like gauntlets.
Short-hairs are much easier to keep in first-class condition than long-haired cats as their fur docs not tangle into knots. They require only a few minutes grooming each day and light brushing and combing will remove old hairs, dirt and dust. Polishing the coat with chamois leather, velvet or silk will result in a cat that has a bright and beautiful coat all the year round.
One of the finest specimens of short-hair is the British Blue, certainly my own favourite breed. This is a cat which possesses a coat of dense velvet, rather like that of a mole. Its length will cause no problems of tangles and lumps. It has a round flat head and the shape of its mouth is uncannily like that of Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire cat. The very essence of feline beauty, the British Blue has a chunky body, short legs and soft rounded paws. Its nearest equivalent in America would be an Exotic Short-hair with blue fur. Slightly less cobby than the British Blue, but no less endearing, is the Russian Blue.
Among other short-haired varieties, many people are unaware that it is possible to purchase a pedigree tabby cat. With their very distinctive and attractive markings, tabbies come in a variety of colours such as silver and brown and one must never forget the beautifully marked ginger with its delightful colouring and generally happy personality. A more exotic animal is the Tortoiseshell, but, because of the genetic factors involved, this will always be a female.
Special mention should be made of the Manx, a most unusual breed which is distinguished by the lack of a tail. Every one I have met has a personality and character that reminds one of a kind and friendly dog and the absence of a tail seems in no way to embarrass the animal in leaping about and keeping its balance. The hind legs seem slightly higher than the front legs, giving it something of the appearance of a hare bouncing across an open field.
Of all pedigree cats, the Siamese has proved itself to be the most popular. It is well known for its endearing and extrovert nature and the prospective purchaser has a large variety of colour markings to choose from. The original Seal Point has brown ears, a brown tip to the nose, brown paws and a brown tip to its tail. When the name Siamese is mentioned, it is normally the Seal Point that one thinks of. Today, however, there are many alternative colours, including Tabby Points, Tortie (Tortoiseshell) Points and Lilac Points.
In days gone by it was thought fashionable to have Siamese with slightly inward-pointing eyes. This is no longer considered desirable and the pedigree Siamese will now fix you with a level gaze of total indifference or anxious pleading, according to its mood.
The Siamese is regarded as the most vocal of the cat family, apart from perhaps the lion, and its voice possesses a very high decibel rating and pitch. Devotees of the breed accept this as one of the hazards of ownership but pet lovers unfamiliar with the cat’s determination to hold a conversation with anyone present can find it disconcerting – the breed’s attractions may well pall after several days of ownership.
If you like the Siamese but prefer something quieter, the Burmese, which can be obtained in various colours, would provide a very suitable alternative. The combination of a dark coat in the original brown and slanting yellow eyes gives the Burmese a distinct air of mystery. Another foreign type which has the benefit of being quieter than the Siamese is the Havana. Recently recognized as an official breed, the Havana, like the cigar, has a rich red-brown coat; it also has the distinction of being slightly unusual.
To many people the Abyssinian is the closest we come today to the revered and worshipped cat of Ancient Egypt. It is a particularly beautiful animal and has tobacco-leaf colouring of the basic coat with ticking, or striped hairs, and dark line down its back. Talkative, but not too strident, Abyssinians are individual in the extreme, aristocratic and proud.
From the above it can be seen that there is a wonderful array of different types, colours and temperaments to choose from when selecting a cat, breeds which are less well known to the general public than are many varieties of dog. As more and more people recognize the importance of carefully controlled breed-ing, the benefit of pride in ownership as a guarantee of greater attention to care and concern for the pet cat and perhaps, more importantly, as more people recognize the social problems, if not delinqucnce, of undisciplined and unplanned breeding from mongrel cats, we will see an increasing appreciation of these wonderful and graceful pedigree animals.
If this has whetted your appetite there is the obvious question of where to look for the animal you find most interesting and intriguing. As mentioned already, cat shows are the best source of information. If you are unable to attend them, a friend may perhaps lend you a copy of the catalogue in which the entries are all listed with the names of the breeders who can then be contacted through the organizers. There are also breeders’ registers which can be obtained from the official bodies governing the cat world and journals which cater for cat breeders. Easiest of all is to ask the local veterinarian who will almost certainly know of breeders in the area whose animals he treats. If the breed in which you are interested is not among those on his list it is almost certain that a pedigree breeder of one type of cat will know where to find a breeder of another type.
In arriving at a final choice the factors weighing most heavily will be appearance, temperament and colour. First-time cat owners, however, may wonder if, like some breeds of dog, there are certain breeds with hereditary abnormalities which might best be avoided. Happily in the cat breeding world there is little if any serious problem in this area. Whereas some dogs carry-defects in their bone structure such as hip displasia in certain German Shepherd clogs and other breeds, and hereditary blindness in, for example, the Irish Red Setter, the cat is remarkably free from such difficulties. Perhaps the long-haired cat with the flattened face may be slightly more subject to snuffles and breathing problems following, for example, cat flu, than the longer-nosed foreign type, but this is really the extent of the need to consider anatomical and genetic factors when making your selection.