There is a whole new world that you will need to know about if you want to be a champion cat bluffer, and that is the world of pedigrees and cat shows. Initially, the intention of Harrison Weir, the organiser of Britain’s first cat show in 1871, was to promote the care and welfare of the cat. He had seen the neglect and abuse that they had been subjected to and, as a genuine cat lover, wanted to educate people and dissuade them from ill-treatment. Sadly he gave up judging at cat shows 21 years later because he became disillusioned about the results of his efforts, deciding that the breeders were more interested in winning prizes than promoting cat welfare. Bluffers can draw their own conclusions as to whether this situation has improved, but do not voice them out loud, either way. Cat people are notoriously touchy.
Most cats owned in the UK are referred to as ‘moggies’, created as-nature-intended without any human involvement. In the Victorian era, cat lovers started to selectively breed to promote particular shapes, colours and coat patterns. There were a mere handful of pedigrees in the early days, notably Persians, Siamese, and Burmese. Now the official number exceeds 80. There are probably another two on the production line as you read this, with breeders constantly striving to produce the latest ‘designer’ variety. Modern pedigrees are undoubtedly handsome creatures (with some alarming exceptions), designed with the demands of the modern pet owner in mind. They will often gladly sit on their owner’s lap, or shoulder, for hours, ‘talk’ back to them, walk on a lead and harness, and generally be more tolerant of life indoors in a London apartment or a suburban home. There is something in the cat world to suit every taste.
Anyone can become a cat breeder in theory; though it does appear to help however to be over 50 and fond of cat-themed sweatshirts. Pedigree kittens are registered with an organisation such as the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (referred to as GCCF and founded in 1910), and will have to conform to certain stringent criteria relating to the particular breed. Once money is exchanged, a new owner will receive a kitten with a paper ‘pedigree’ that shows its parentage (known as sire and dam), maternal and paternal grandparents and so on. Closer scrutiny will often show that the kitten’s father is also its great-grandfather, for example, but such is the nature of the cat breeding business. Some pedigree breeds have small ‘gene pools’, meaning there aren’t enough of them to avoid some form of incestuous activity, but it is probably far beyond the bluffer’s remit to dwell on such things.
Breeders play a fundamentally significant role in the future behaviour of their kittens; they are not just supposed to think about colour, pattern and shape. They are responsible for putting the ‘pet’ part into ‘cat’, and this they do by a process referred to as ‘early socialisation’. You can astound those around you by knowing more about this process than the average breeder. Basically, cats (kittens) have a ‘sensitive period’ in their development when they are particularly receptive to learning about other species and new things in their environment. This takes place between the ages of two and seven weeks of age and as most pedigree cats don’t leave their mothers until they are twelve or thirteen weeks old, this is solely the responsibility of the breeder.
A great word to use in this context is ‘habituation’, a vital element of this magic socialisation process. Essentially this involves exposing the tiny kittens to as many sights, sounds, tastes, textures and smells as might be encountered in a normal domestic environment; for example, the sound and vibration of the vacuum cleaner, or the feeling and smell of a leather sofa or fabric chair (ripe for the scratching). Exposing the brand-new kitten to all it might encounter, in a responsible and gradual way, is a sign of good breeding practice. This is something you need to know for those occasions when your neighbour laments the general temperament of her new Mongolian Kittypoo (that particular breed doesn’t exist yet but give it time). You can ask sympathetically, ‘Do you know what the breeder’s socialisation protocol was?’ In this way, you can appear both knowledgeable and compassionate in the same breath.
There is nothing more insulting for a pedigree owner than to have their beloved puss mistaken for an inferior beast.
The next important phase is recognising all the mind-boggling variations that represent individual pedigrees. It is easy even for the genuine experts to get it wrong from time to time, but you can always avoid making a mistake by never being tempted to hazard a guess about a pedigree in the first place. There is nothing more insulting for a pedigree owner than to have their beloved puss mistaken for, in their opinion, an inferior beast. If in doubt, and this will inevitably be the majority of the time, do not consider bluffing about a cat’s provenance until the owner proudly declares what it is.
Before committing the following details about the most common cat breeds to memory, here are a few general points:
Most pedigrees have a lifespan of between 12 and 15 years, with some a little less and some a little more. Needless to say, it’s a lottery but some, particularly the Siamese, can live into their 20s (although they’re not a pretty sight towards the end).
If anyone tells you that the hairless breeds (see below) are hypoallergenic, just state confidently that there is no such thing. It’s the protein in cat saliva, skin and sebaceous glands that people are allergic to, so no amount of shaving or breeding follically challenged mutations will help. If it works for some, it is entirely possible they were not allergic in the first place.
Generally, pedigree cats cost a lot of money and some, for example the Toyger (‘toy tiger’), look just like (and probably are) tabby moggies. There are fads for miniature cats, long-haired cats, big-eared cats, dwarf cats – just name the mutation and there will be a market for it. In addition, it’s good to know that pedigree cats come with a long list of inheritable and congenital diseases, which is not something potential owners will see on a breeder’s website. These are emotive subjects within the cat world, so avoid them. But feel free to mention the last point to those in the market for a new pedigree cat as this will enhance your ‘expert’ credentials.
AN A-Z OF CAT BREEDS
Here is a quick zip through the most common pedigree cat breeds with just enough information for you to sound reasonably well informed when they are mentioned.
Abyssinian Quite a pretty medium-sized, short-haired cat with a ‘ticked’ coat (that just means a different colour at the end of the hair shaft). The long-haired version is called a Somali, and its coat would be profoundly unsuitable in the country from which it takes its name.
Asian A Burmese (see below) but in a different colour – see how confusing this is? Short-haired but also available in semi-longhair, called a Tiffanie. A black Asian is called a Bombay.
Balinese Classified as a semi-longhair (think Siamese with more hair). It also has colour-points (dark bits at the ends – feet, head and tail).
Bengal This is a short-haired, strikingly spotted cat, bred originally as a hybrid between an Asian Leopard cat (wild) and a domestic cat. The Bengal has become extremely popular and generated the Toyger as an alternative ‘colourway’. The early generations (father, grandfather or great-grandfather was a wild cat) are referred to as F1, F2 and F3 respectively. Feel free to suck in through your teeth and shake your head if you meet anyone who proudly announces they are the owner of any of these ‘Fs’, because you will be aware that a pet Bengal should be at least four generations (F4) removed from the wild cat if you want a peaceful life. If anyone you know is considering moving house with their cat to a neighbourhood with a Bengal in it, you can demonstrate your knowledge of these things by shouting ‘NO!’ very loudly. Bengals are known for their thuggish behaviour, and one will think nothing of breaking and entering and beating up the resident cat AND owner before leaving with an evil grin on its face. Of course, to show your impartiality, you should indicate that many Bengals are an absolute delight, and leave hanging the matter of whether or not you would take the risk of owning one…
Birman A Semi-long-haired cat with blue eyes, colour-points and white feet (extra points if you refer to these as gloves, socks or gauntlets).
British Shorthair A stocky cat (always use the term ‘cobby’ rather than ‘chunky’ or ‘fat’) with a thick coat in a variety of colours. You will easily spot a BSH, as they always look like you’ve ruined their day when you walk into the room.
Burmese A well-loved short-haired cat with a loyal following. Don’t be surprised if anyone says they have a chocolate, blue, red or lilac one – these are all real colour options. This is a cat with a dual personality; it will sleep like a baby in its owner’s arms yet fight outdoors with the neighbour’s cat like a thing possessed. The Burmese can be really noisy (those in the know prefer to say ‘vocal’), but this is considered a good thing by many fans of the breed.
Burmilla This is a cross between a Burmese and a Chinchilla (the cat, not the crepuscular rodent); it could just as easily have been called a Chinese, but that would have been confusing.
Chinchilla Effectively a Persian with a white coat and black tips at the end of the hairs; used to make half a Burmilla.
Cornish Rex Bred originally from a kitten with a genetic mutation (feel free to use this term at will although genetics are dangerous territory for the bluffer) that resulted in a curly coat. These cats look like a cross between a good-looking version of Steven Spielberg’s ET and a lamb from a poorly nourished ewe. They do, however, have big characters to make up for their looks.
Devon Rex As the above although slightly less good-looking.
Egyptian Mau A spotty cat with a slightly worried expression.
Exotic Shorthair A Persian without the expensive hairdo.
Japanese Bobtail A long-legged cat with a tail like a pig’s with a pom-pom on the end. Definitely an acquired taste.
Korat With the Korat you are stuck if you don’t like the colour grey; no choice on this one.
LaPerm Exactly as the name describes, this cat looks like it’s having a bad hair day every day.
Maine Coon The Maine Coon is the largest breed of cat with semi-long hair, tufted ears, and an Elizabethan style neck ‘ruff’. It’s a real man’s cat as hunting, shooting and fishing is its speciality. You would earn a ripple of appreciation for your knowledge if you suggested that they would make excellent feline blood donors, as this is indeed the case. Since you are asking, yes, cats do need blood transfusions so others inevitably need to give it at some stage.
Manx Another breed born of a mutation, the Manx has slightly longer legs at the back and the remnants of a tail that, according to the size of the stump, are referred to as rumpies, stumpies, stubbies or longies (you couldn’t make this up).
Norwegian Forest Cat Semi-long-haired and looks like a Maine Coon, but you should never get the two confused or refer to the resemblance while in the company of a Norwegian Forest Cat or Maine Coon breeder.
Ocicat Mix a Siamese with an American Shorthair and an Abyssinian and you get a cat with spots that looks an awful lot like an ocelot, hence the name.
Oriental Longhair A semi-long-haired breed born of a coupling between a sorrel (coat colour) Abyssinian and a seal (dark brown) point Siamese.
Oriental Shorthair This is basically a Siamese with green eyes and a coat that comes in a wide variety of colours and patterns.
Persian A cat with a luxuriant coat that is extremely difficult to maintain. These cats often love to spend time outdoors but will come in with all sorts of grubs and wildlife stuck in their coat. They are bred as an ‘indoor’ cat (if that isn’t an oxymoron, but never of course even think about suggesting it may be). In order to be happy sitting doing nothing, they do not have a ‘bright’ gene. That is purely for reference and not for discussion in Persian-related company.
Ragdoll There is a common misapprehension that Ragdolls feel little pain, squeak, and go limp when picked up. This is not true. Incidentally, they look just like Birmans.
Russian Blue Easily confused with a Korat (‘blue’ means ‘grey’ in the pedigree world).
Scottish Fold Another mutation that results in the cats having pinnae (think the earless cats mentioned earlier) that are folded forward and down, rendering them prone to ear parasites and hearing difficulties, and painful degenerative joint disease. Their popularity may be a mystery to most on that basis, but a quick scan of the internet would suggest their appeal lies primarily in their ability to look fetching in hats.
Selkirk Rex Devon meets Cornwall meets LaPerm sort of cat.
Siamese The Siamese used to be a normal-shaped cat with colour-points and a slightly elongated skull shape that made it look oriental and exotic. Modern Siamese are rather more extreme with super elongated faces, skinny bodies and whippy tails. They often have neurotic natures to match, but they are one of the oldest and consistently popular breeds of all time. To compensate for the backlash against the new-style Siamese, the ‘old-fashioned’, which reverts back to the less angular Siamese of bygone days, was created. A terrible stigma was attached to the breed in the wake of the Disney cartoon Lady and the Tramp, resulting in a widespread distrust of Siamese cats.
Siberian Think Norwegian Forest Cat.
Singapura Officially the world’s smallest breed of cat; looks like a tiny, round-faced Abyssinian.
Snowshoe Birman- and Ragdoll-esque.
Sphynx A hairless breed. As previously alluded to, this cat has folds in its skin, no whiskers and looks like a Rex with no hair and depression. If you search on the Internet, you will find examples of Sphynxes that have got tattoos and body piercings. Most if not all experts (and therefore bluffers) are suitably outraged, especially given that the wee beasties are actually charming little creatures.
A quick scan of the internet would suggest the Scottish Fold’s appeal lies primarily in it ability to look fetching in hats.
Tonkinese Siamese crossed with a Burmese.
Turkish Angora The Turkish Angora has a silky, medium-length coat. Its eyes can be amber, blue or odd (one of each colour) for those who can’t make up their minds.
Turkish Van An orange and white semi-long-haired cat that swims.
Probably without exception, none of the following breeds are recognised by the Cat Fancy, some for an extremely good reason. Although there is absolutely no excuse for breeding cats that are mutations or have a congenital defect that could in some way affect their quality of life, there are always ‘niche markets’ for something different. You can freely assume airy indifference about the following: American Bobtail (very short tail), American Curl (ears curl backwards), American Shorthair (a little like the British version), American Wirehair (like the shorthair with a wirehair coat), Chausie (a large African Jungle Cat hybrid), Cymric (long-haired Manx), Kohana (a completely hairless Sphynx), Munchkin (you might say ‘a sad and immoral mutation’, but tread carefully), Peterbald (hairless), Pixie-Bob (most have extra toes) and Savannah (a hybrid between an African Serval and domestic cat).
If you do find yourself at a cat show, you need to prepare yourself for the following. Cats are kept in small cages that are dressed to a theme – for example you may see a Martian landscape next to a nineteenth-century boudoir scene. The cats generally are either screaming or catatonic. The breeders sit on small stools in front of the cages, usually knitting (both sexes). A couple of important-looking people walk round wearing white coats and gripping a bottle of hand cleanser. These are the ‘judges’. When judging begins, the cat is taken out of its cage and held up (it looks vaguely sacrificial) with the body extended and the legs splayed out. The cat is then placed in a series of unusual postures to ensure all its various bits are in the right place and of the right colour and shape. If the judge is not bitten during this process, the cat will score highly. At the end of the judging process, the winning cats are awarded rosettes and referred to as ‘Grand Champion’ and similar grandiose titles, and henceforth command impressive stud fees.
There are few reasons why a bluffer would be at a cat show by accident, if at all, but if you have been persuaded to attend and wish to demonstrate your ‘expertise’, you may also find the following tips useful:
• If you hear an announcement for an owner to return to their cat because it is in distress, do not show alarm. This is normal at a cat show.
• Never discuss inheritable diseases or the psychological drawbacks of keeping cats exclusively indoors, or you may well be verbally or physically attacked.
• Do not make eye contact with the cats (or with the breeders).
• Do not laugh at the themed cages; the cat will take it personally, as if being in there isn’t suffering enough.
• Yes, cat lovers do pay £1,000 for an indoor cat climbing frame. You need to get over that to mix in the world of cat.
• No, dressing up your cat is never acceptable unless it is for medical reasons.
• If you see anyone pushing a tartan shopping trolley, DO NOT make any enquiries regarding the contents.
• Do not stare at the stains on the breeders’ sweatshirts – try to think about Nutella and camomile tea spillages rather than dwelling on your genuine suspicions.
• You have now survived your first virtual cat show. You may or may not wish to repeat it for real, but don’t worry if your natural instinct is to decline. You are in good company.
FAMOUS CONTEMPORARY AILUROPHILES
Halle Berry, James May, Ozzy Osbourne, Ricky Gervais and Jonathan Ross.