Monday, September 24, 2012

Cat Breeds: American Curl

Like many other breeds, the true origins of the American Curl cat remain a mystery. We do know that a stray kitten was found in California in 1981. This kitten had long silky hair and unique ears. The ears curled backward at the tips. No one really knows where this cat, called Shulamith, came from, but all modern American Curls can be traced back to her.

Shulamith gave birth to her first litter of kittens later that same year and two of the kittens inherited her unique ears. By 1983, breeders had started a breeding program designed to preserve and enhance the mysterious gene that gave these cats their curly ears.

But that may not have been enough to create a new recognized breed if it hadn't been for a man named Roy Robinson. An English feline geneticist of some renown, Robinson analyzed hundreds of kitten from dozens of litters. He determined that the gene for curly ears was an autosomal dominant gene. This meant that a cat with only a single copy of this gene would inherit the curly ears of its parents. But even this may not have been enough to establish the breed if he hadn't conclusively stated that he found no genetic defects in any of the cats he studied. In effect, the American Curl was a new breed, not a mutated or defective version of another breed.

Since Shulamith was found in North American, it's safe to say that the American Curl is native to that continent. American Curls are medium-sized cats with ears that curve up, out, and back. The pull of the ears gives the cat a naturally happy and alert expression. Even when irritated this breed looks like its smiling. The breed may have either long or short hair and may be of many different colors and patterns. You might have a black American Curl or a silver tabby. The defining characteristic is the ears, though the large, almond-shaped eyes are also quite distinctive.

American Curls are not born with curved ears. The ears will begin to curl after about 3-5 days, sometimes a little later. By 16 weeks of age, the ears have reached their final shape. Some cats will have more curl than others.

Because of the limited gene pool (a single cat, Shulamith), other cats without curled ears are bred to American Curls to maintain genetic diversity. Approximately half of these outcrosses will have curled ears and will be used in American Curl breeding programs. This outcrossing makes it difficult to develop a breed standard, which has limited the acceptance of the breed in associations around the world. You might think that a breed such as this would have a few genetic health problems, but American Curls are healthy creatures with a robust constitution.

American Curls are considered one of the friendlier breeds. They like to be with people and tend to follow family members from room to room. They tend to be good with children and adapt well to life with other animals. If you're looking for a vocal cat, the American Curl might not be for you. Instead of loud meows, these cats make soft cooing sounds. These sounds are made by both kittens and cats and full-grown cats act very much like kittens throughout their lives.

This breed is a good pet and companion animal. They are often sought out for their generous and sweet nature and are only rarely purchased as show cats.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cat Breeds: American Bobtail

The American Bobtail is a fairly recent breed of cat that developed from feral cats that naturally have almost no tail. Back in the 1960s, a young couple (John and Brenda Sanders, to be exact) picked up a kitten along the side of the road while driving in Arizona. This kitten had a shortened tail. When this kitten bred to the non-pedigreed cat the Sanders already had, the kittens had this same shortened tail. Charlotte Bentley and Mindi Shultz, friends of the Sanders, saw this and thought that the kittens might have some potential.

But these kittens weren't actually American Bobtails, which were not recognized around the world until 1989. The first Bobtails were born when the kittens were bred to long-haired pointed cats. Feral cats may have been the foundation stock of the American Bobtail, but they are not used in breeding programs today by reputable breeeders. However, because they are descended from wild cats, American Bobtails have very few health issues to speak of. Ask your breeder for any health problems specific to their breeding program.

The Appearance of the American Bobtail

Obviously the Bobtail has a shortened tail, the appearance of which varies from cat to cat. In fact, kittens in the same litter will have different tail lengths. This is because the genetic mutation which results in the shortened tail is a little wild. There is no way to control it and no way to breed for a specific tail length. Breed standard indicate that the tail much be at least one inch without being longer than the hock, and most American Bobtails fall within this range.

The coat of the Bobtail is either short or long and comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Any color is acceptable. It is more the short tail and the well-muscled, solid, graceful, and athletic build of this cat that is judged. But all American Bobtails require regular grooming to stay healthy and presentable. Their fur tangles easily and needs care.

These cats are medium in size with the males ranging from 12 to 16 pounds and the females ranging from 7 to 11 pounds.

The Personality of the American Bobtail

This cats are intelligent and friendly most of the time. They get along well with children and bond to their families in short order. They like attention and hate being left alone, but they're not really the kind of cat the will insist on sitting on your shoulder all day. If you're going to be away, a friend such as a dog or another cat is recommended. They tend to get along well with other animals if introduced slowly, so don't rush introductions.

These cats are neither lazy nor active. They are, in effect, both. When in motion, they're really in motion, dashing about as if being chased by whatever it is they imagine themselves being chased by. But when the American Bobtail decides it's time to laze about, nothing will move them. They're stubborn and will just lay there, often ignoring everything until they're ready to move. Still, they make wonderful and entertaining companions.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Ears of a Cat: Form and Function

A cat's ears have a specific shape that is consistent throughout all breeds of domestic cat. There is a little variation (just look at the ears of a Cornish Rex), but they all stand straight up and form a little triangular cone that naturally faces forward. This is unlike the domestic dog, which varies in ear shape and position (to a certain degree) among the different breeds. The consistency of the shape of the ears provides all cats with the same natural abilities.

The ears of a cat, like the ears of other creatures, receive auditory signals. the upper limit of a cat's hearing is higher than a dog's and almost two full octaves higher than our own. From a distance of at least three feet, cats can discriminate between sources of sound that are as little as three inches apart. This ability is enhanced by the cat's ability to rotate their ears until they are almost pointed backwards. Finding and catching prey becomes easier when you can pinpoint exactly where that mouse is simply by hearing it shift in place, so the ears are a practical tool. The cat's ability to pinpoint and identify sound also lets them ignore the sound of their owners' voices from any distance at all! Any cat owner can sympathize with this.

But the ears can also send signals and are, in fact, one of the primary means of communication for a cat. Think about a cat with its ears flattened back. You know that means kitty is not in a good mood. Relaxed ears mean a relaxed body. Ears which are pricked forward slightly mean alertness. You can tell the mood of your cat simply by looking at the ears regardless of which breed your cat happens to be.

Beyond their practical functions, the ears of a cat are just plain cute. Who can resist the urge to stroke the soft hair that grows on the backs of the ears? And if you scratch the base of the ears, most cats almost fall over in ecstasy. So the ears are decorative as well as functional and are a necessary part of the anatomy of the cat.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Cat Stories: Long-Lost Taffy

It's been months since I posted anything other than articles relating to cat breeds, cat care, and cat anatomy. So I thought I'd mix things up a bit and post a story about a cat I once had when i was a kid. Well, sort of had. Her name was Taffy and she came from a farm not far away from us. She was an excellent mouser, scared off dogs, and was sweet and affectionate with us kids. She also produced a litter of kittens every summer to our delight.

But as she got older, Taffy started to disappear. At first, she'd only be gone for a week or so. Maybe two weeks. But time marched on and she'd be gone for weeks at a time. We'd worry, but she always came back, and always in one piece.

Finally, she wandered into the field one spring just before the snow melted and this time she didn't come back. We watched for her for weeks, but as the snow faded away and the flowers began to bloom, we finally gave up hope. My two sisters and I cried over her, assuming that she'd been killed during her wanderings. Perhaps she'd been hit on the road or eaten by a coyote. Or maybe a cougar as one had been spotted in the area. Whatever had happened to her, we were sure we'd never see her again. So sure that we held a little funeral, as little girls are wont to do, attended by our others cats, our dogs, and our horses. Most of our stuffed animals were there as well. It was a moving and depressing spring afternoon.

Time moved, as it always does, and while we grieved for our lost feline friend, the summer soon washed over us. We found ourselves running in the fields and tearing through the garden without a care in the world. July melted away and August was in full bloom with a heat wave upon us as we had a picnic out in the hay field. The sun beat down as we drank lemonade and caught grasshoppers. The afternoon wore on and we eventually packed our basket so we could head back to the house.

As we gathered up the picnic blankets, a sound floated over the field. At first we thought it was one of the barn cats wandering out into the field to hunt. But my older sister happened to glance over her shoulder and she suddenly turned, focusing on the distant grasses.

"Look," she whispered to no one in particular.

My younger sister and I did, straining to see what she saw. The sound came again and a flash of beige fur caught our attention. We caught our breath as if we were one person. The sound. The flash. I was the first one to speak, though I'm sure we all recognized her.

"Taffy!" I squealed the way only a little girl can.

We all started running toward the cat who was leaping through the field, heading toward us will all possible speed. We abandoned the basket and blankets as we fell to our knees and cuddled her to us, thankful that our little sweetheart was back in our arms. But she was different, and we'd seen her in this state often enough to understand.

"She's pregnant," I stated, running my hands over her swollen belly.

"Not just pregnant," my older sister replied. "She'd having her kittens. Right now."

We didn't waste any more time. My older sister bundled her up in her sweater and we all but ran back to the house. My mother saw us coming and pulled open the door, ushering us into the house while firing questions at my older sister.

"Mom, not now," she replied quickly. "Taffy's having kittens."

"Again?" My mother rolled her eyes as she said this, for Taffy had indeed blessed us with a litter every summer for the past four years.

No one answered as Taffy squirmed in my sister's arms and finally sank her teeth into the exposed flesh of my sister's hand to gain her freedom. Without any hesitation at all, Taffy ran to the back of the house and down the stairs to the basement. We, excited little girls that we were, dashed down the stairs after her.

At the time, all three of us had cute little rooms in the basement. It was an old farmhouse and didn't have central air conditioning, so it was much cooler in the basement during the summer heat waves. Taffy, being familiar with the bedrooms that had been set up only a year before, headed straight to my bedroom. Why my room? Because I had this habit of never pushing the draws shut on my dresser.

Taffy took a flying leap into the first open drawer, the one that held my socks and underwear. She moved around for several minutes and finally settled herself on my cotton panties, fluffing them up and making herself a cozy little nest. Not five minutes later, the first of four kittens squirmed his way into the world.

We'd seen it before, this cat giving birth to anywhere from one to four kittens. But it was still  miracle, still made us shut our mouths and watch with wonder. These kittens were larger than normal and had little tuffs of fur on their ears, but they were still sweet little bundles of joy. We smiled as Taffy cleaned them up and revealed their sleek fur.

It would be the last litter of kittens Taffy had at our home. But that's another story ...