Fancy that, we fancy cats!
What is the "Cat Fancy"?
Cat enthusiasts are found world wide, with many different ideas of the "perfect cat". Some are hairless, some long haired, some curly haired... some with tall ears, some rounded, some hardly seen at all... eyes of various shapes and sizes, and all sorts of body types... but the variance in cats is much less than the variance between a Teacup Poodle and a Great Dane. The size of cats is pretty much within the less than 25 pound range, most 6-12 pounds.
To be a "breed" it must be distinct from the other breeds and be repeatable with the breeding. Genetics play a huge part in the development of the breed as does the very exact form and details that must be followed to register a breed as distinct and separate and then to get them accepted in the cat registry of choice.
Going to a cat show you will find a wide range of cats and people. The old saying of "herding cats" holds true in trying to herd the cat owners and breeders!
To find out more about the largest genetic cat registry that recognizes the Bengal go to: The International Cat Association.
REGISTRATION / LINEAGE
Pedigrees take on a different sort of meaning in the cat fancy, and is the main purpose of the registries. While many use the term "pure bred" to designate a pedigreed cat but this is not an accurate term. Proper terminology is pedigreed.
There are several registries around the world, the largest two are the Cat Fancier's Association (CFA) and The International Cat Association, TICA. CFA does not recognize the Bengal cat as a domestic breed. A more conservative organization CFA and aware of the terminology used earlier, of pure bred, there is an ongoing discussion among the cat fancy of: "When is a breed a breed?" For TICA the answer is at the fourth generation, for CFA it is not defined for the Bengal cat. It could be 4 generations or it could be five or it could be more.
TICA benefits from the popularity of the Bengal cat which has remained the most registered and popular can both long and short haired in the cat fancy for years. TICA is a genetic registry. A genetic registry allows for the official registration of out-crosses in a breed and for the creation of new breeds. TICA allows for the registration of even non-permitted out-crosses to be followed with appropriate paper work. These are found in registrations that are distinct from the Certificate of Registration in the Stud Book Registration. There are two other registries in TICA, one is the Foundation Registry the other is Experimental Registry. Each of the registry have very specific rules to follow and all the registries main goal is to become Certified. The process of certification is a long one.
The Bengal cat has no allowable out-crosses and this includes the Asian leopard cat, the non-domestic source species. Any out-crosses other than Stud book Bengal to Bengal is in the Foundation Registration. These crosses are seen in the first three letter of the registration code. While Stud Book Registry cats begin with SBT, out-crosses begin with A, B, C or O as the first letter; 1,2,3 or O as the second, and N (non-permissible) or S (different species) in the last position. These cats are often referred to in Bengal-speak as: F1, F2, or F3. The SBT Bengal cat is the Bengal cat, all other generations are Foundation cats, but not domestic Bengal cats.
- 01 at least one unknown or unregistered parent
- 02 at least one unknown or unregistered grandparent
- 03 at least one unknown or unregistered great grandparent
The reason this is true, is because a breed is considered a breed when it has distinct characteristics (the Standard) from other breeds and it breeds true. That is both sex fertility and progeny consistent with the parents. It is known in genetics that it takes three generations of selective breeding to lock in a trait, or to at least begin to see the outcome of traits. In TICA, the Bengal cat is a Category 1 Established Breed. This designation was given in 1991 to show that the breed bred true, the gene pool was large enough, and that the breed was a distinct breed. From TICA's Registration Rules: page 35
"This category is for established breeds which are approaching the present goals as set by their standards. These breeds havea sufficiently large available gene pool within the breed that outcrosses to other breeds (other than within a breed group) for improvement of type, increased stamina, addition of new colors, etc., are largely unnecessary. Likewise, the likelihood of finding cats of unregistered parentage which would significantly improve the breed is minimal"
In TICA the process of becoming a recognized breed that competes in the Championship Class is very long with rigid rules to follow. The process is elaborated in the Member Section of www.tica.org These rules allow for the development of traits that distinguish breeds are followed and noted as the breeds progress.
At A-Kerr's we believe in selective breeding for traits not going back to the Asian leopard cat out-cross. Thus we work to stabilize the breed traits and to allow for the following of temperament and health. Our success at doing this is to be constantly testing for health, improving by bringing in new lines, and working always with the idea in mind of YOUR pet.
Creating a breed, the choices we make... using intelligent selection.
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 effecting the "look". 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 a good breeder asks:
- "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 (Libbie serves as a Trustee) and a web list called email@example.com is a hypothesis based forum (Libbie is the owner of the list).
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.
Selective Breeding at A-Kerr's
Let's face it... to be involved in creating a cat with very specific appearance parameters set by Breed Standards, making it unique in at least two to three areas to be a distinctly different breed... it to be interfering with natural selection. And as the saying goes: "Don't mess with Mother Nature!" As a breeder, this is delicate balance when making the decision on who will be the parents of the next generation.
We go through extensive testing of the animals before breeding them, and work with the realization that you can never KNOW everything. These are living entities... and as such many things that we do not completely understand play a role in the overall outcomes. There are so many unknowns, we can understand the how, but not always the why.
One of the traits that was first worked on by A-Kerr's was clearing the background color of ticking. This was simply done by breeding and selecting the clearest coats over several generations, once accomplished the next point was to make the pattern go down the full length of the hair... and that is what creates the popping contrast whatever the color of background and pattern. We hypothesize coat clarity and pattern density are polygenic traits, a group of genes that work together, not a major gene. Because these genes are subtle and hard to work with, it takes generations to lock them into the gene pool. There are other such traits that we have worked on: rosetting, three color rosetting, horizontal alignment of pattern, whited underside, spotted legs, and so on and so on. No sooner do we get one thing working and locked in than we bring in a new factor: rounded ears, longer body, thicker tail, rounder eyes... perfection seems to be a moving target.
But the above focuses on appearance, health is also something that is a moving target. We work at doing all we know to do and find the right professionals to guide us in the creation of the best health possible. We keep in touch with owners and have guarantees that make it worth while for owners to let us know outcomes. Since 1989, we do have a lot of feedback and find that people who have had cats from us for 25+ years are coming back for more! That speaks volumes.
Temperament is constantly chosen for. A-Kerr's cats are known for their healthy, confident personalities. We try very hard to allow each individual the space and time to develop into the very best animal it can be!
The ideal cat/kitten is confident. A confident cat/kitten is outgoing, interactive, watchful and most of all, allowed to fully develop its own personality. We breed for temperament. So how do we go about selecting for temperament?
First of all. We only breed to mothers who will allow us to handle the babies from the moment of birth. Many of the kittens are born in our hands, breathed on us from the first moment. It is important to note, that for a mother in labor to allow a human to intervene and participate is a huge step in temperament. This allows the kittens to genetically be inclined to want human interaction. We are able to nurture temperament as well from the beginning in this manner.
The old question: Nature vs Nurture! Who knows. It is just apparent that both are involved.