Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Shame About the Dogs. But What About the Cats?

Why are cats largely free of inherited disease, deformity and defect?

Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, says the answer is that they are not as inbred, and that most domestic cats are almost identical, in every aspect, to their wild cousins in the deserts of Libya.

A Professor Jone notes in an editorial in today's Telegraph:

The domestic cat's spirited good health turns on what Darwin called its "nocturnal rambling habits"; its interest in controlling its own sex life rather than following instructions.

At night, all cats are – to other cats – more or less grey; they mate with whom they choose and their owners can but try to sleep through it. The animals retain much of their personality, and their wellbeing, as a result.

Jonathan Ross has a dog, a pug called Mr Pickle. As I pointed out in this column in September, that breed is so inbred that the 10,000 such creatures in Britain descend from only around 50 recent ancestors.

Their flat faces lead to respiratory problems, and to scratched eyeballs when they bump into things (sometimes, those bulging orbs actually fall out). The pug, like many other breeds, needs to get out more and to find a partner outside the incestuous world in which it lives.


Anonymous said...

Within the past 2 or so decades, there have been a plethora of cat "breeds' given recognition by the Fancy. Many of them seem to show some sort of genetic mutation heralded as 'desirable' but none of them have been around long enough for word of their inherent genetic problems to spread. I am not a cat fancier ( mine are shelter cats) so I am not 'up' on what the word of mouth/Internet has to say.
But, I look at the Munchkin, the cat equivalent of a Pembroke Welsh Corgi and wonder about IVDD in this breed afflicted with dwarfism, and one that requires a 'normal' legged cat in producing desirable dwarfed offspring. What lethal gene is at work here preventing a true dd from breeding to another dd? Any???
This is why open stud books periodically are so important! We have allowed our beloved breeds to become bottle necked in our desire to accumulate titles and ribbons, and in the process condemned the dogs whose breed traits and phenotype we love.
Time for a change.

sassanik said...

I think that it is the lack of "purebred" cats in general that has lead to the larger genetic pool. Most people do not bothering trying to get a purebred cat, there are plenty of cats around without having to pay $500+ for one!

I think that this is a good thing, and will hopefully continue. My cats appear on my doorstep and expect to be adopted (I think I have a sign on my head that cats read as "sucker")

If you look at the few purebred cat types out there, think persians, you can see what the breeding has done and they now have problems that are similar to dogs like the pug and other snub nosed breeds.

Hopefully cat breeders learn from what is happening in the dog world.

PBurns said...

Cat shows with real cataogies in them are very new and for the reason stated: cats tend to randomly breed and are almost never kept in Kennels and only recently are "all indoor" cats very common.

For a picture of a Munchkin cat -- and more thoughts about "designer breeds" -- see this post entitled: "Robert Bakewell's Apartment: >>


Pai said...

Just as an aside, there is also a big difference in the Cat Fancy vs the Dog Fancy in regards to attitudes... as in, with dogs, people pick a breed and become strong fans of 'their' breed, and act very much like it's some kind of team thing, while cat show folks tend to simply love ALL cats... and there doesn't seem to be such staunch loyalism to only 'their' favorite type over all others.

Not sure what it means, but its a difference in atmosphere you can really feel when you're around them.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that Cat Fancy is much different from Dog Fancy.

For much of my life, my friends and I (from young teenagers on) would go to cat shows and talk to the owners. Since we were experienced cat owners, much of the time, those in the show had no problem letting us handle the cats (post-showing) or play with the kittens. One could sit with an owner while she brushed her cat for competition and trade cat stories the whole time -- it didn't matter that I had a Persian and she was brushing a Maine Coon.

When I was in grad school in Philly, the Nationals came to the old Civic Center. We couldn't play with the cats there, but the breeders were very kind about taking the time to explain about the different breeds that were represented -- they really enjoyed talking about their cats and sharing the stories with other people who liked cats, even though both of us were just poor grad students who didn't have the money to buy their kittens.

Given my background, I should have grown up to be a Persian breeder, but I couldn't support where Cat Fancy was taking this beautiful, once-hardy breed, so I walked away from it. But I did help friends purchase other types of pure-bred cats and it was always a lovely experience where we would all sit down over a cup of tea, admire all the cats and often have the chance to see both parents, even if they were from different breeders.

Have to say the road to getting Pepper was very, very different. Seven years ago, we had gone to the AKC show in Philly and were treated so badly that I called my vet up in tears, saying that I wasn't meant to have a dog. He'd known me for nearly 20 years with my cats and told me I'd be a wonderful owner for a dog and to get my butt back out there.

I decided then to forget about "looking to see what the different breeds look like in real life" and stuck to PetFinder until we had narrowed our search down through a local rescue to Pepper and her sister. Our final decision came down to spending time with the two of them and deciding that Pepper showed more interest in people than Shyanne, so would probably be easier to train.

My husband's mantra now with friends that are looking for dogs are "Spend the money on the training, not on the dog" We figure we spent the same amount of money on Pepper + training as we would have to get an AKC "breed" puppy.

But overall, if I had to spend time with breeders, I'd choose the cat folks over the dog ones every time. They just seem less suspicious and more open.


PBurns said...

Very good story and well written, but the prize goes to the hubby with the line "Spend the money on the training and not the dog." Right as rain. Get the right dog and avoid a lot of money and time at the vets office too.


Anonymous said...

For most of their history living alongside us humans, cats have managed their reproduction for themselves. The general good health of moggies is the result of this.

As a lover of Siamese cats (which are really just the descendants of Thai moggies), I'm really concerned about the impact that the western style of conformation shows has had on Siamese cats. The main reason that I like Siamese cats is for the sociability and humourous, talkative personalities.

Through trying to make sense of what has happened to Thai cats in the West, I've discovered a few things. One is that there are actually four Western breeds which all descend from Thai cats; the Siamese, the Burmese, the Tonkinese and the Korat. There's absolutely no need for these four to be restricted to their own breed silos. You could interbreed all four and still get cats with all the various coat and eye colours that the four current breeds have plus they would have authentic Thai cat personalities.

In Thailand the different cat types share the same moderate body type. The extreme body types associated with show Siamese and Burmese today are entirely the results of breeding for conformation shows. The development of these extreme body types seems to be associated with a decline in the healthiness of the breeds, although I've not been able to get proper survey information on this. This is particularly sad because previous generations of Siamese cats in the West seem to have been particularly long-lived and robust.

If Thai-descended cats are to survive as a distinct type in the West then they clearly need some sort of breeding arrangement which ensures that they maintain their Thai ancestry otherwise their genes would simply be absorbed into the much greater indigenous European moggy type. At the same time, if they are to be as healthy as their moggy brethren then they need a big enough healthy gene pool amongst the breeding population with a plan to ensure that this continues into the future.

At least with Thai cats, there are proper Thai cats available as a continuing resource in Thailand. I wonder what the situation is for Persian or for Abyssinian cats?


Anonymous said...

I think one thing in the favor of cats not being so manipulated as to "type"(although not having as plastic genes as dogs may also contribute to that), is that ALL cats serve a limited amount of purposes--vermin killers and pets, basically, and there has been no need to "improve" on the original blueprint, as with dogs, which have been developed for all manner of diverse jobs....L.B.