FUTURE CAT BREEDS - A BIT OF CRYSTAL BALL GAZING
Bearing in mind current trends in cat-breeding - wild hybrids, hairless cats, ultra-typing etc - it is interesting to extrapolate those developments into future cat breeds. So cast your mind forward to some time after 2100. This is a history of cat breeding developments in the 21st and 22nd Centuries and is based on extrapolation from genetics knowledge and breeding trends during the late twentieth/very early twenty-first centuries. Thanks for ideas and information go to breeders Anthony Nichols, Terri Harris, Jacque Brown, Sue Manley, Dos, Terry Sines.
Please note - the following is a work of extrapolation based on current trends and developments at the time of writing (2002).
THE EVOLVING CAT FANCY
In an attempt to bring breeding and naming conventions into line, a worldwide cat register was finally founded in the latter part of the 21st Century. It took decades of cat fancy politics and pressure from tens of thousands of cat fanciers worldwide to establish the Global Cat Register. For many years, the internet had enabled cat fanciers to co-ordinate their efforts across national, political and geographical boundaries. Much of the groundwork had already been done and the GCR consolidated and formalised their efforts.
One of the first moves was to standardise breed names so that cat breeders around the world "spoke the same language" and to eliminate confusion when importing or exporting cats for breeding programs. In a fiercely contested battle, the British "Angora" and "Russian Angora" names vanished because of the Turkish Angora's prior claim on the name (the British Angora and American Foreign Longhairs became part of the "Mandarin" breed in line with continental Europe, the other became the Russian Longhair); while the Chartreux was finally recognised as distinct from the British Blue in the UK.
Another problem was the differing standards applied to the same breed in different countries. In some cases the breeds had diverged into very different types due to local preferences and to use of different outcross breeds. In general, where one country wished to keep its variation on a breed as distinct, it was required to add a regional prefix to the name e.g. American Burmese, European Burmese. In some cases, different breeds turned out to be essentially the same variety but with different names and these were consolidated under a single name.
Inevitably some existing registries were unhappy at losing their autonomy. A number feared slow bureaucracy, others feared the shake-up required to bring them into line (many had decades of seemingly arbitrary decisions to unravel). A number of breakaway "Independent" registries formed, but eventually became affiliated to the GCR. Many of the conventions on new breeds were adopted from American registries. Mutations occurring within an existing breed could be registered as separate breeds and not "new colour/variety" of the parent breed. This was an immense culture shock in Britain where breed development had been constrained for many years.
The trademarking of breeds and/or breed-names to circumvent/shortcut the route to breed recognition was also ended in part due to GCR rules which disallowed trademarked breeds/breed-names and in part due to the outcry over an attempt by a French couple to trademark their own children. As with other species, only breeds developed for specific laboratory use may now be trademarked. This ruling also made the creation of GM designer cats financially unrewarding.
One fly in the ointment remained - some country's own animal welfare legislation for example laws prohibiting the perpetuation of genetic defects. For example, Manx, Scottish Folds and blue-eyed whites may not be bred in certain countries. This sort of legal prohibition overrules GCR rules. Local cat fancies and registries operate as individual bodies (organising their own shows etc) affiliated to the GCR.
Some of the biggest news at the end of the 20th Century and the first few years of the 21st, was the improvement of cloning technology (see Pros and Cons of Cloning). Although by no means perfect - foetal abnormalities, high clone mortality and premature aging remaining problems - the technology is far enough advanced to permit the cloning of animals deemed to be "outstanding examples of their kind" although high costs and strict regulation still put it out of reach of most pet owners. Aimed at conservation of wild species, cat breeders took advantage of cloning technology. Even before the GCR was formed, cat fancies around the world had placed tight controls on cloning following two disastrous cases.
In the first, an outstanding Singapura stud-cat was cloned and he and the two duplicates (this being the maximum number permitted by registries) were used extensively in breeding programs in Canada/USA and Australia. His genes became so widespread in an otherwise limited gene pool that the breed suffered severe inbreeding and almost collapsed through infertility. Only careful crossing with Burmese and Abyssinians saved the breed although its looks were changed forever (it proved impossible to get suitable cats from Singapore due to massive culling of stray and feral cats). It was believed that three genetically identical animals caused a problem because they were major players in a breed with a small gene pool.
In the second, the cloned cat (again with two clones, but in a far larger gene pool) was used extensively within the Maine Coon breed. After several generations a number of defects showed up as they appeared multiple times in pedigrees. A legal wrangle ensued: did the faulty genes come from the original cat or were they due to an imperfect cloning process? If they were present in the original cat, who was responsible for propagating them - the owner who had had her cat cloned or the individuals who owned the clones? In the event, the case was "undecided" and the use of cloning prohibited by the cat fancy except on an "individual and exceptional basis" e.g. where a stud cat has somehow been rendered sterile (e.g. by FeSV, see below) or has been killed accidentally.
Some breeders have taken to banking sperm from stud cats, both as insurance against accidental sterility/death and in case an infusion of genes is needed several generations later. In countries with strict quarantine laws, banked sperm may be safely transported across borders, the female is inseminated under veterinary supervision and the offspring are registered as progeny of the donor stud. There are concerns about mix-ups and fraud, but it is a minority practice and safeguards have thus far prevented any problems.
Blood-testing has become more common and is sometimes the only way to distinguish the genotype of physically identical cats e.g. an apricot smoke from a red shaded. For many years a diminishing number of European "gene purists" bred according to genotype, not phenotype. This was reflected in their naming conventions e.g. "Red Colourpoint Shorthair" since red was not one of the original colours in Siamese cats. By the beginning of the 22nd Century, attempts at keeping breeds genotypically pure had ended (genetic bottlenecking and infertility being a prime cause) and blood testing was used to distinguish between similar colours in order to make the best match of stud and queen.
In Australia, a genetically engineered Feline Sterility Virus (FeSV) wiped out 98% of feral cats and a large percentage of unvaccinated domestic cats. Breeders were obliged to vaccinate their stock against the virus (zoos also had to vaccinate lions, tigers etc). It was intended that the virus would die out with the cats and it was extensively tested to ensure that the virus was too fragile to survive in the environment. Inevitably some feral cats proved immune and continued to breed, but a worse problem was that the virus mutated in some individuals and has become a persistent problem necessitating vaccination of breeding stock. There are fears that the virus will escape from Australia and threaten native wild cat species in other countries. Australia, one of the last countries to lift its own quarantine regulations, is now in the unaccustomed position of having all cats exported from its shores quarantined for 90 days in the recipient country until confirmed free of FeSV.
TWO MAJOR TRENDS - MINI-CATS AND WILD-LOOKING CATS
The biggest trend during the 21st Century was the production of miniature versions of popular breeds. The first "dwarf breed" was the short-legged Munchkin and crossbreeding produced a number of derivative short-legged breeds some of which were short-lived (the Kinkalow - a curl-eared Munchkin) and some of which remain with us into the 22nd. Munchkin derivatives are prohibited in a number of countries due to animal welfare laws. Dwarfism appeared in Persians at the end of the 20th Century and in Siamese at the beginning of the 21st. In some cases this was due to a distinct dwarfing gene, in other cases the cats were at the bottom of the normal size range. Where a dwarfing gene was confirmed, it could be introduced into other breeds.
Mini-Persians, Mini-Burmese and Mini-Siamese/Thai Miniatures have now become so popular in the USA, Australia (where all pet cats must live indoors by law) and Japan that there are concerns about conserving the original full sized breeds. The dwarfing trend is still fiercely resisted in countries where laws control or prohibit the breeding of "genetically defective domestic or companion animals".
During the 2060s, a number of Scottish islands were declared conservation zones and families were relocated to the mainland, bringing with them their pets. Feral animals were also cleared from those areas under the supervision of scientists looking for signs of adaptive mutations to suit island conditions. In a classic adaptation to island conditions, the Shetland Cat (now being bred from the original feral stock) was a small, rugged individual with a cobby body and thick, long, water-repellent fur. It is similar to a diminutive, short-bodied Maine Coon. Similar island dwarfs were found on one of the Orkney Islands and were found to be genetically identical to the Shetland Cat. The full breed name is the Shetland and Orkney Dwarf Cat, but it is more generally known simply as the Shetland.
The other major trend is one which began in the 20th Century - wild-cat lookalikes. With fewer and fewer surviving wildcats actually in the wild, more and more hybrids have been bred. The trend is condemned by conservationists who state that the wild cat's genes are wasted every time it produces a hybrid offspring rather than pure-bred wild offspring. Some breeders purchase and use banked sperm, providing an additional source of income to conservation societies.
The Clouded Tabby Shorthair is a chance product of multiple hybridisation of existing hybrid breeds. The clouded tabby pattern resembles that of the Clouded Leopard - large, almost rectangular, patches with coloured borders and paler central area set on a pale background colour. It is distinct from the marbled pattern seen in the Bengal and associated breeds. The background colour should be ivory or buff with charcoal grey markings. The paler "warm grey" colour inside the patches is due to admixing of buff and grey hairs. Silver Clouded Tabbies with pattern on a pale silver background are bred and proven very popular but have not yet achieved recognition. The pattern is inherited separately from classic/mackerel tabby and agouti.
Developed to look like a tiger, the distinguishing pattern of the Tigrette is the black or chocolate-brown candle-flame (braided tabby) pattern on a non-ticked golden background. The Tigrette's conformation resembles that of a tiger and it walks with a low head-carriage. Ears are rounded and are black with white ocelli markings. The stripes on the head break up into spots and there are white markings surrounding the eyes and on the whisker pads. The head carriage and shoulder set give this long-bodied cat a characteristic wildcat lope. It also has an "apron" of pendulous flesh on the belly which gives it a loose-skinned feel when handled.
The Tigrette varieties are Bengal Tigrette (short-haired orange), Siberian Tigrette (semi-longhaired orange), Royal Tigrette (shorthaired white tiger pattern), Golden Tigrette (deep golden stripes on paler background), Blue Tigrette (dark grey markings on slate blue). Not all have achieved full exhibition status. The Royal, Golden and Blue also exist in semi-longhaired varieties due to the recessive gene for long hair.
The Rusty-Spotted Cat, long believed to interbreed naturally with domestic cats in India, was used to develop a new spotted breed. The wild type has red spots on a grey background and breeders hoped to "borrow" this pattern, originally with the aim of creating tabby cats with light markings on a dark base colour. In the event, the interaction of wild and domestic genes produced a shorthaired cat with coloured spots on a pale background. The pattern resembles that of the Appaloosa horse rather than the Dalmation dog. The breed is known as the Indian Mau. Further refinement of the pattern is hoped to lead to a true "Dalmation Cat" with random black spots on a white background. The closest that has been achieved is chocolate brown on golden, but the spots are still large and sparse and there is a tendency towards a too dark base colour. Other breeders are using Orientals, Serval hybrids and other wild species to create a cat which resembles a cheetah in colour (evenly distributed round black spots on golden base) and general body type (long legs, long tail, small head).
For centuries there was debate over whether the Persian longhair owed its long coat to the wild Pallas cat. There were conflicting reports over the interfertility of domestic cats and Pallas cats. A scientific study to resolve this issue (due to concerns over genetic contamination of the Pallas cat gene pool by domestic cats) produced offspring including fertile females. The study cats and hybrid offspring were later placed with interested breeders and the Palladian is a small longhaired cat, with distinctive "flat" head and wide-set ears. Careful breeding has retained much of the type of the wild species, but with the docile temperament of a domestic.
A number of other wild x domestic hybrids were attempted, or in some cases revisited, in the 21st Century. The original Bristol, a domestic x Margay hybrid was beset by infertility problems and abandoned. In 2024 it was revived by a Dutch European Shorthair breeder who owned several rescued Margays and who worked in the Department of Genetic Diseases in The Hague. His genetics understanding meant that hybrid progeny were tested for their chromosome count. The Margay has 36 chromosomes, the domestic cat has 38 and F1 hybrids have 37 chromosomes - 18 from the Margay and 19 from the domestic. F1 females can produce eggs containing either 19 chromosomes or 18 chromosomes. F2 hybrids (F1 x domestic shorthair) have either 37 or 38 chromosomes; the 38 chromosome F2s were larger and more impressive. He selectively bred those with 38 chromosomes to produce a larger and more wild-looking domestic cat. The Dutch Bristol breed became the first domestic cat breed to have a different chromosome count than other domestic breeds. This does have the side effect of making it less inter-fertile with other cat breeds.
The diminutive Margarite (or Marguerite) resulted from crossing the Sand Cat with small domestic shorthairs. It is a small, sandy coloured cat with a soft fluffy coat. It has the peculiar trait of "freezing" (becoming totally still) if surprised, especially if picked up suddenly. When with familiar humans, it quickly relaxes, but this has been known to surprise judges unfamiliar with the breed and suddenly faced with a small, fluffy statue! It was originally developed in Germany, but fell foul of breeding laws and all breeding stock was transferred to the Netherlands where the program was supervised by the developer of the Dutch Bristol.
There remains an interest in using the Marbled Cat to produced a marbled domestic breed, but the females either failed to conceive or they miscarried suggesting some sort of fundamental mismatch or developmental abnormality. Breeders are awaiting the results of tests on aborted embryos before trying again.
THE AGOUTI BOOM
In the first half of the 21st Century there was tremendous interest in the agouti gene. This resulted from the disastrous near-loss of the Singapura breed due to excessive use of one cat's genes. Restoring the breed's vitality and genetic health had knock-on effects into other breeds and generated renewed interest in the ticked pattern. The potential of agouti in other breeds had been overlooked until then.
As a result of efforts to save the breed through outcrossing, the Singapura was expanded into Singapura Shorthair and Singapura Longhair variants. This came about following outcrossing to Abyssinians to strengthen the Singapura gene pool during a genetic bottleneck in the 2030s (following the cloning and over-use of a particular stud-cat's genes). One or more of the outcrosses evidently carried the gene for longhair. In order to re-establish the original type, Burmese and Asians were also used and a host of new colours arose, some of which were perpetuated. A particularly attractive one is the Blue Singapura which is described as "the colour of wood-ash ticked with charcoal". Some breeders argue that the restored breed is now close enough in type to the Burmese/Asian that it should be reclassified as Ivory Ticked Tabby Asian.
Some of the progeny found their way back into the Abyssinian and Somali breeds and took with them a new colour, the Ivory Abyssinian and Ivory Somali which combine the look of those breeds with the colour of the Singapura.
The Abyssinian and Somali breeds have also been extended by breeding non-ticked variants. Originally resisted and condemned by Aby and Somali breed societies, the "Self Abyssinians" and "Self Somalis" were eventually established under the breed name Ethiopian (the modern name for the Abyssinia region). Ethiopian Longhairs and Ethiopian Shorthairs are both bred, the progeny being registered according to fur length. Although called "non-ticked", the fur has a shimmering quality caused by different structures of pigment granules in bands along its length. The first of these had its roots in the Suqutranese of the 1990s and was an attempt to recreate that variety. Consequently, white Ethiopians are also known as Suquatranese Shorthair and Suqutranese Longhair. The self black variety, also revived from experimental breedings in the 1990s, is also known as the Nubian Longhair/Nubian Shorthair.
The Persian Ticked and Exotic Ticked are new colour divisions of these familiar breeds. Introduction of the agouti (ticked) pattern into Persians had been tried on several occasions since the 1950s in an attempt to create a true Red Self Persian. Working mainly with Exotics, Persians, Abyssinians and Somalis, breeders extended the colour range of the Persian Longhair into ticked and silver ticked (mirroring that of the Abyssinian and Somali breeds) and ivory (from Ivory Abyssinians). Careful breeding ensured that the Persian conformation was retained.
In addition there are "self versions" of ticked Persians. This may sound like a contradiction in terms, but the distinctive "shimmer" inherited from the Ethiopian breed set these apart from regular self Persians and they have been recognised as a separate breed- the Scintilla.
The White Scintilla is a glistening white Persian-type bred using Persian Longhairs and Somalis. The action of agouti on white results in each hair being white with shimmering bands (due to the way the pigment granules differ from normal white). The overall effect is a cat which shimmers or sparkles as the hairs move. Eyes to be green. Allowable outcross is the Suqutranese. The Black Scintilla, currently the only other recognised colour, exhibits the same effect but in black, giving a satiny look. Each hair is banded in matt black and reflective black to give the characteristic glisten. Allowable outcross is the Nubian. Progressive breeders have produced a number of other colours, but none exhibit the Scintilla pattern to its best effect. There are Scintilla Shorthairs, though these are less common.
Originally, the Scintilla was believed to be due to the "satin" gene which affects hair structure. Rather than change the colour, "satin" changes the way the hair reflects light. It is now known to be caused by alternate banding in matt and reflective pigment on each hair shaft. This was somewhat of a disappointment because the satin mutation is highly sought after. A satin-coated individual turned up in a feral cat round-up in Sydney, Australia in 2113, but was euthanized by animal control officials before its value was realised. The pelt was obtained from a furrier but had been too badly damaged by processing to allow cloning. The mutation is currently known as the Australian Satin. Chances of it arising again in the area are remote due to FeSV wiping out most of the unowned cat population.
As a side note, a semi-satin look was achieved in short-furred breeds such as Asian and Oriental, using the glitter gene from the Bengal, but the results were "undistinguished" and the breeding program was later abandoned due to lack of interest. To establish a new breed in 2100, it must be distinctive from existing breeds. Some Burmese, Asians and Orientals still exhibit the glitter gene and though not actively encouraged, it is not unduly penalised in those breeds.
Genetically distinct from the Abyssinian ticking is silver ticking. Silver-Tipped Black Longhair and Silver-Tipped Black Shorthair are by-products of the Chausie program which began at the end of the 20th Century. The silver-tipped black pattern was introduced into the Chausie breed from the Jungle Cat. Some melanistic Jungle cats exhibit this pattern which is carried as a recessive gene. Outcrossing Persians to silver-tipped Chaus hybrids resulted in black longhairs of Persian type where the hairs are tipped in white; silver-tipped black British Shorthairs also exist. This produces a shimmering effect. Work is now ongoing to create other colours in the silver-tipped range and it is expected to become more common in other breeds. Allowable outcrosses are silver tipped black Chausies. Silver Tipped Black looks set to become a colourway of existing breeds.
A single silver tipped Bombay has been bred and is known as the Cobweb Bombay because it appears to be coated in spider gossamer. At the time of writing this is a new development and the cat has not yet reached sexual maturity.
One of many hairless breeds on the showbench is the Xotibald is a hairless cat of Persian/Exotic conformation - cobby, sturdy and short-faced with small ears and round eyes. Two variants are accepted - either fully hairless or having a line of semi-long, fine hair down the spine from shoulders to tail. The latter is not shown, but forms an important part in breeding programs. Breeders chose a name beginning with "X" (derived from "Exotic Bald") to bring the extinct Mexican Hairless to mind. Hairlessness tends to be associated with an oriental body-type. While breeders hail it as a triumph of selective breeding to combine hairlessness with cobbiness, many cat owners saw it as freakish and ugly and evidence that such extremes of cat breeding should be curbed. The Xotibald comes in all colours normally seen in Persian/Exotic cats including colourpoint and mink. The colour and pattern can be seen directly on the skin.
The Spottibald is another popular hairless breed, this one developed from crossing the Bengal to Don Sphynx cats. Recognised under its own breed name by some registries, it is classed as a pattern division of Don Sphynx by others. Most hairless breeds are derivatives of either the Canadian Sphynx, Don Sphynx or Hawaiian Hairless; a few have occurred as new mutations but have proven to have the same gene as one of those breeds. A possible exception (not yet confirmed) is the Japanese Hairless Bobtail (this name is descriptive rather than a formal breed name) which would have been lost had it not been for a fortuitous chain of events.
Recently, a litter of three hairless female kittens was born to a bobtailed farm cat in Japan. The kittens were hand reared by a veterinary student after the mother was killed by a feral dog and it is intended to mate them back to their own father when they become sexually mature. They have been nicknamed piglet-cats, because the structure of the tail is visible and forms a small, tight curl like the tail of a piglet. Their survival is fortuitous. The veterinary student was accompanying the local vet to the farm to assist at a calving. The farmer had placed the kittens out ready for destruction. All three were cold and comatose, but recognising their baldness as a trait and not the result of disease (as claimed by the farmer) the student requested that he be allowed to rear them as curiosities and later acquired their semi-feral father. Preliminary results of genetic profiling suggests that the Japanese Hairless Bobtail is a new mutation.
A number of common mutations have been applied to existing breeds. The Oriental Fold and Oriental Curl, both bred in New Zealand, combine the huge "bat ears" of the Australian Siamese with the ear set of the Scottish Fold and the American Curl respectively. Both were bred by an Oriental/Siamese breed with a fascination with ear-types. The large ears of the Oriental Fold make it look almost like a Labrador dog. The Persian Bobtail, bred almost simultaneously in Japan and Russia, combines the Persian type with the pom-pom tail of the Japanese Bobtail. In Russia, it was bred using the Kuril Bobtail and is known as the Muscovite. A Muscovite Shorthair is also bred.
The Asian/Burmese group was further extended into solid white and bicolour and tricolour Asians. Several traditionally shorthaired breeds were extended into longhairs e.g. the Korat Longhair, the Nebelung Longhair and the Chartreux Longhair. A naturally-occurring blue-cream variant of the Chartreux achieved recognition.
As well as the better known Ojos Azules, a number of blue eyed mutations were identified in the 21st Century. When test-mated, there proved to be three distinct mutations causing blue eyes, all recessive and on the same locus and varying from Blue 1 (sapphire), Blue 2 (china or ice blue) through to Blue 3 (silver-blue). Most of the major breeds now incorporate blue-eyed individuals, the blue-eyed black Persian being one of the most stunning examples. The introduction of blue eyes caused an initial schism in the cat breeding world because of possible confusion with blue eyes associated with the colourpoint or white colour.
WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN ....
One fear of cat breeders was not realised in the 21st and 22nd Centuries - the widespread use of gene-splicing and genetic modification. There were a few isolated experiments. In many countries, the changed rules on the trademarking of breeds effectively killed off the market for GM breeds - it simply became financially unrewarding. Novelty-hungry cat-lovers in Japan were, for a while, able to get glow-in-the-dark cats where the white areas fluoresced due to a gene introduced into cloned cat cells from a jellyfish. One limitation of this was that the genes were not incorporated into germ-line DNA and the trait therefore did not reproduce itself. Like many such crazes, it died out and animal control were quoted as saying the abandoned cats had the advantage that you could catch them at night.
Other effects which breeders as far back as the 1980s had predicted were not realised. The coveted "broken coat" (as found in may dogs) has not yet been found in cats although several new Rex mutants arose during the course of the 21st Century. Most turned out to be identical to existing Rex genes and were carefully incorporated into breeding programs to expand gene pools. Another much hoped-for mutation was black-and-tan as seen in the black-and-tan terrier dog. This has still not been seen and it may be that the cat lacks the genetic capacity to produce this effect. The same may be true of the "rosette" fur type as seen in some cavies. Cat fanciers continue to hope that these will turn up during the 22nd Century although the huge reduction of free-breeding cats around the world (the virtual extinction of stray and feral cats in Australia due to sterility viruses) means that fewer random mutations are being seen.
Genetic modification of cats to create allergen-free cats went ahead with the labs attempting to trademark their cats under a "breed" name. The introduction of a one-time anti-allergy shot for susceptible humans proved a far more cost-effective treatment and though the allergen-free cats' genetic profiles remain banked (blood/tissue samples), they are no longer bred. As with most GM organisms, the gene has escaped into the wild population but is considered unimportant.
Please note - this has been a work of extrapolation based on current trends and developments at the time of writing (2002).