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Creating a breed, the choices we make… using intelligent design
Human intervention begins when the decision is made to put two cats together for breeding. One could say, putting two cats together allows nature to do what comes naturally; however, nature bases selection on survival of a species, not on how it “looks”. The moment selection is based on appearance; genetic selection has been changed.
The responsibility of outcome shifts when genes are combined to enhance appearance versus natural selection. The creator has changed from nature to human. This responsibility requires awareness of consequences for the decisions made. Before proceeding ask: Why are these two cats being put together? What is my intent? Am I willing to be responsible for the consequences of this combination? Am I willing to evaluate my choices, one cat at a time?
What are the criteria for selection?
In the cat fancy, it is obvious we need to select for more than just the appearance. Creating beauty that is not healthy or not friendly is not a service to the people who buy these cats for love and companionship. Not only do we owe it to ourselves to breed and select carefully, we owe it to the individual cats, our clients, and collectively the cat fancy.
Selection of breeding pedigreed cats should be based on three attributes:
A condition of acceptance as a breed in the cat fancy is to have a distinctly different appearance that is passed from generation to generation. Consistent replication requires cats homozygous for those characteristics or a stable genetic base. Simply put, homozygous cats breed true or “like breeds like” giving distinct breed characteristics.
When the gene pool is narrowed to select for a consistent trait, health and temperament are sometimes lost. Luckily, it is possible to have the whole thing: temperament, health and appearance.
How to breed true and not sacrifice health and temperament?
This is the most important question facing the cat fancy today. One of the reasons people select pedigreed cats as pets, is to have a record of health and temperament coming from the parents as well as the appearance of the individual breed. To do this several things must take place.
- honest evaluation of cats for breeding programs
- open exchange of genetic issues both positive and negative of the breeding cats
- disclosure of genetic problems when found
- accurate record keeping
Cat shows are ideally designed to evaluate breeding stock and vigor. While a majority of the emphasis is on appearance, the side issue of health and temperament is subtly there. For instance, the cat enjoying the show, interacting with the judge and responding well with the stress of other cats, is more likely to do well and thus pass these traits to its offspring. The cat with the healthy vigorous appearance is going to perform and appear better to the judge, thus allowing the judging to go beyond appearance alone.
While the cat show seems the ideal scenario for picking the best cats to produce the best progeny, the scenario often falls short. Genetic information is not always in the phenotype (the appearance) of the cat. This genetic information only becomes apparent when bred and often not in the offspring but in the grandchildren.
Cat shows allow a view of the overall breed as well as a forum to openly exchange information not only on a particular breed but all breeds. It is a real place of learning.
Open exchange of information is also being made more possible through publications and on the Internet. This exchange is vital to the cat fancy as a whole, while breeds appear distinct, the collectively shared genetics will benefit all.
Open exchange begins with the individual breeder. Disclosing what might be carried in a line as far as temperament, color, structure, and potential problems noted in the progeny. Remember, it is often not the first generation but the grandchildren of a line that exhibit genetic traits. It is important to keep records of progeny so patterns of inheritance good and bad are revealed. Disclosure will allow the breed and cat fancy as a whole to move ahead. The website www.bengalpedigrees.com shows the pedigrees and a web list called email@example.com is a hypothesis based forum.
Back to the original question:
Inbreeding depression and genetic vigor…
How does a breed progress by becoming more homozygous and not loose its genetic vigor? It is helpful to go back to essential genetic knowledge and work from the point of what is known or at least not proven false. What is known about inheritance of a certain attribute? Perhaps a better way to ask: What hypothesis is followed? Most of cat genetics are hypothetical, though record keeping and compiling information clarifies, deeper questions will inevitably arise. The advent of DNA testing and the feline genome projects will assist in knowing what a gene pool carries but until then we have some basic ways of proceeding. The issue at hand is inbreeding depression and vigor. (Loosely borrowed from Robinson’s Fourth Edition, p. 115) Select against:
- A decline in the birth weight of litters.
- Lethargic kittens
- Developmental problems of poor growth
- Still born or birth defects showing up
- Decrease in litter size (numbers of kittens per litter)
- Reproductive problems, sterility or difficulty in getting pregnant
- Illness as the litter matures
- Shortened life span of adults
- Physical abnormalities
The genetic information is based on what is known today. The knowledge base is growing rapidly and benefiting the cat fancy as individual breeders discern their responsibility to the whole. DNA testing is opening a whole new realm for breeders, it allows us to know what might be carried but not expressed in the phenotype, as well as test for disease.
We promise we won’t overload you with information. Wait, forget that. Let’s Learn about A-Kerr’s Bengals! Ok, other cats too.
Going all CSI on the kitties. History of family lines, breeding for personality, looks, and so much more.
Written by a cat expert. Or the cats, sometimes it’s hard to tell! Read about Bengals from a 25 year award winning breeder.
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