Thursday, 29 September 2011

Tabby patterns in Norwegian Forest Cats

Norwegian Forest Cats come in almost every possible colour and also almost every possible pattern, and it also doesn’t matter how much white is on their coats. (However they NEVER have a pointed coat, ie a Siamese pattern). When an NFC coat is being evaluated it is the quality of the fur (which should be waterproof on top and woolly underneath), the shape of the coat (defined ruff etc) and the quantity (taking into account the season) that counts. I have noticed that sometimes people are not sure what “tabby” means – sometimes I say “what colour is your cat?” and they say “tabby”, meaning a brown tabby perhaps, but not realising that tabby has nothing to do with colour and everything to do with pattern. Hence this article.

The opposite of tabby is “solid” meaning that the cat has no pattern on its non-white areas of fur. If you’re not sure – look around the eyes. Unless the fur is white there, on a tabby cat you will see “eye make-up” lines regardless of which pattern they are. Because breeders pay attention to coat quality (vital as part of a cat that should be able to survive out of doors) pattern is more or less ignored, so you do get some individual cats or lines of NFCs where the pattern isn’t as clear as it would be in some other breeds. In addition, by the time the cat has a long adult coat, the pattern is more difficult to distinguish anyway, so it’s always easier to make a judgement about a kitten’s pattern than that of a longer-coated adult.

NFCs come in three or four different tabby patterns:
  •    Classic- with sworls on the side, a double stripe down the back and striped legs(sometimes known as blotched tabby)
  •      Mackerel- stripey all over with rings round the tail
  •     Spotted- with spots on side and tummy, often considered to be a form of mackerel or classic tabby with the stripes broken up
  •       Ticked- clear tabby markings only appear on the face, while the body has a darker stripe down the back and each hair has bands of colour known as "ticking", giving a very wild appearance. Many feral animals are ticked, including rabbits and foxes
In some other breeds (eg Bengals) there are other sorts of tabby pattern but the above are the only ones that occur in the NFC. Some patterns are “dominant” to others, meaning that if one parent has that pattern it is more likely to occur in the offspring. I will go into tabby inheritance later down the page as it’s a bit complicated. First let me introduce you to the patterns themselves. Remember, tabby is the pattern not the colour, so you can get red classic, silver ticked, blue mackerel and so on, but for my illustrations I have mostly chosen brown tabbies (known as black tabby in FIFe) as the pattern is easier to see on darker coats.

Mackerel Tabby
I would say that brown mac tabby and white is the most common colour/pattern combination in the NFC. Below is a kitten (Vieuxtemps Henry) and an adult (Dansbjergs Pelle Halelos) showing mackerel tabby pattern.
Vieuxtemps Henry

Dansbjergs Pelle Halelos
Classic Tabby
Below is a photo of a classic tabby kitten, Vieuxtemps Beowulf, while a mature stud cat, Champion Vieuxtemps Trulsofjarrah can be seen further down in a longer coat – the pattern is much clearer in the kitten where the coat is shorter. 

Vieuxtemps Beowulf
Champion Vieuxtemps TrulsofJarrah

Ticked Tabby
Ticked tabby is a bit different – the cat has the tabby markings you expect on the face, but the body and tail has no stripes or swirls, but each hair has several alternating bands of colour giving an overall “two-tone” sort of effect. With a brown ticked cat, the bands of colour are rich lighter brown and dark black-brown, alternating with the darkest colour at the tip. With blue ticked there are grey and beige bands, with red ticked, darker and lighter orange bands. The best known ticked breeds of cat are Abyssinian and Somali. For this reason, some people look down on ticked NFCs thinking that they are a hybrid between an NFC and a Somali. This may well be true, but because NFCs only became pedigree cats in 1977, before that they could and did mix with whatever cats they came across and some of these may have been Somalis. I have looked back into the pedigrees of my own ticked tabby NFCs and feel satisfied that no purposeful outcrosses were performed. Alternatively, you should remember that the Vikings travelled as far as North Africa where the ticked cats originate, and may have bought some back many centuries ago, as they did from various other countries. In my opinion ticked NFCs are in no way inferior to any others, and I particularly like the “wild” look the ticking gives them. The important thing is that they should not have the “sweet” expression of the Somali. Type and coat quality are important, not coat pattern. To those who “disapprove” of ticked tabbies, I would say – how do you know what is in the background of your own cats prior to 1977?  Below you can see a couple of photos of ticked tabby NFCs – Vieuxtemps Pumpernickel (top, with white) and Vieuxtemps Brannet (lower down, no white).

Vieuxtemps Pumpernickel
Vieuxtemps Brannet

      Spotted tabbies are classic or mackerel patterned but with broken lines resulting in the effect of spots. I once bred a kitten that was striped on one side and spotted on the other! This would have been awful if I was working with a breed where pattern counted, but as it doesn’t matter at all in NFCs it was simply rather quirky and charming.  Below is a kitten who had proper spots on both sides – Vieuxtemps Vilanelle, who went on to join the Smylee cattery.
Vieuxtemps Vilanelle
The Inheritance of Tabby Pattern

All cats (and other animals for that matter, including us) have pairs of genes that govern every aspect of their appearance, and of each pair, one gene is donated by the cat’s father and one by the mother. There are two separate pairs of genes affecting tabby pattern (as far as I know).

  • The first is a A or a gene, which decides whether the cat is in fact a tabby cat or a solid colour (solid = non tabby, eg black and white). A stands for agouti which is another word for tabby. If a cat has two A genes it will definitely be tabby, and all its offspring will be tabby too, as A is dominant over a. If a cat has one A gene and one a gene then it will look tabby but could have non-tabby offspring with the right mate. If a cat has two a genes it will be solid, not tabby, and can only have tabby kittens with a tabby mate.
  • The second pair of genes affecting tabby pattern decides what pattern the tabby will be. It could be mackerel, classic or ticked. Spotted is decided by other genes I think or may be a random polygenetic effect. As I said earlier, ticked is dominant. So if a cat has two ticked genes then all his or her offspring will be ticked (but the ticked pattern could be masked if that cat is also “aa” meaning solid coloured, or for that matter if it is completely white which masks everything – but that is a whole other topic!) If a tabby cat has one ticked gene and one mackerel gene, then it will look ticked but could produce mackerel offspring with the right mate. If a tabby cat has two mackerel genes and is mated with a classic tabby cat, then the mackerel will dominate meaning that all offspring will be mackerel tabby. If there are two tabby cats each with one mackerel and one classic tabby pattern gene, then both cats will look mackerel but could have classic offspring together.
Of my own cats, I discovered that Magnus (blue ticked tabby without white former stud cat) was “homozygous for tabby” meaning that he had two A genes and all his offspring had to be tabby (some hid this under the white masking gene though). He carried one classic gene (he had to as his father was classic tabby). Hence if mated with a cat with two mackerel genes, then he could have ticked or mackerel offspring. If mated with a queen with one mackerel and one classic gene, he could (and did) have ticked, classic and mackerel kittens.

Champion Magnus More og Romsdal, blue ticked tabby NFC
      My lovely Pelle was a mackerel tabby with a lot of white. Some of his kittens have been classic tabby, meaning that he must have one mackerel and one classic gene. Some kittens have also been solid colour (black and white) meaning that he must have one A gene and one a gene. Obviously you do get cases where there is so much white that it’s difficult to determine pattern. This happened with Dotty – it was quite a while before I could tell that she is in fact a ticked tabby, like her mother, Ragna.

      When you get red or cream kittens they always show a tabby pattern, even if they have two a genes. In fact it’s more or less impossible to say merely based on appearance if a red or cream cat is tabby or solid. This is due to the way the red pigment works. If two solid coloured cats (ie both having two a genes) have a red kitten then that kitten must be solid even if it looks tabby. Otherwise, you just have to assume that the kitten is tabby for registration purposes, and may never know for sure.
Vieuxtemps Valentine showing his red classic tabby pattern in his short kitten coat

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Kitten update!

The kittens are all doing really well, and growing as you watch!  Sonata's girls, Kia and Sari, have had their first jabs and are due to join their new family in October.  They allowed me to take a photo of them today in between playing and eating :)

Jet's girls were four weeks old this weekend and are just beginning to explore the food bowl and the litter tray.  It won't be long before they too are racing around all over the place athletically.  I have named them after Valkyries!

This is Vieuxtemps Valkyrie, Kyrie for short.  She is staying with us:

Although Kyrie looks a smoky colour she will end up solid black like her dad, Quink.  Look at those long, strong legs and big paws!  She weighs just under 500g at the moment.  She is the laid-back one of the litter - in fact she could probably be described as a bit lazy, but very good-natured.

Then there is Vieuxtemps Rossweisse, pet name Rossi, black and white. She is going to live with Sam and Julie when she is old enough.

Rossi is the largest of the kittens having just overtaken Kyrie, and she is also the most advanced and adventurous.

Last but not least we have sweet Lindy (Vieuxtemps Ortlinde) who weighs just 350g but is perfectly strong and more than holds her own with the others.  She has a dear little personality.

Lindy is going to live with Pam and Chris when she is old enough.

The first Champion NFC

In Memory of Champion Skovmus Felis Jubatus

After having succeeded in breeding the very first Norwegian Forest Cat to gain a title in the UK - Premier Vieuxtemps Impromptu, who is thankfully still with us at age sixteen - we were overwhelmed when a cat also owned by us became the first champion.  At home, Skovmus was fondly known as “Mouse” – not because she was in any way mouse-like in character, but because her given name is Danish for field mouse. In fact she was most bold and friendly – the day she arrived, she strolled in as though she had always been here, and I have never heard her hiss at another cat, nor for that matter has she ever been hissed at. She would always greet visitors with a lick; her constant preoccupation was the need to lovingly cleanse grubby human beings.

Mouse and siblings in Denmark
Skovmus was one of the first cats to enter the UK under the “Balai Directive”, before the days of “Passports for Pets”, in order that she avoid our stringent 6 month quarantine regulations. However she was nearly ten months old by the time she could join us, having lived in Denmark with her breeders Jette Madsen and Martin Kristensen until then. I will always be so grateful to them for letting us have this wonderful girl. Not only was she a real pleasure to have around (in spite of the rather rough little pink tongue that gave us our daily wash!) but she also strengthened the bloodlines of Norwegian Forest Cats in our island. She effortlessly produced a number of large and typy Vieuxtemps offspring who gained titles here. Skovmus’ pedigree is a distinguished one; her mother was World Winner, European Champion Gwynne Vaughani Felis Jubatus, and the grandparents of her father (GIC Norsk Skogkatt Felis Jubatus) are that legendary couple, World Winner/European Champion Flatland’s Bjornstierne DM and European Champion Flatland’s Avedine DM. (DM=Distinguished Merit, an award made to cats who have many progeny with high titles.)

Mouse in Denmark as a kitten, with breeder Jette Madsen

In the UK we have had Norwegian Forest Cats since 1987 but they only gained Championship Status in 1997 in the GCCF – at that time there were no NFOs being shown in FIFe here. Imagine how proud we were when Skovmus, against stiff competition, became the very first Champion Norwegian Forest Cat in Britain. (In GCCF all colours and levels compete in the same open class and in those days, numbers competing were large.) After that we decided not to show her anymore as, having been introduced to the show bench at a comparatively advanced age, she never did enjoy it, although her behaviour was always impeccable.

When she was nine years old, we were cuddling her on the settee one day when we noticed a slight swelling underneath her tummy. It seemed nothing much, but I took her for a check-up next day. I was horrified when the vet said there might be a tumour – her stomach and intestines seemed fine and there was no sign of jaundice, so it might be her spleen or pancreas. We had to book surgery for first thing next morning. Throughout that night we couldn’t sleep because we were so worried, so we sat just watching and stroking her. Skovmus herself was unconcerned, and ate a hearty meal before we had to take the food and water bowls away in preparation for the anaesthetic. The last thing she did before leaving for the vet hospital was to give my partner Bob’s face a thorough wash, which he gladly received with tears in his eyes (she washed those away too). Next day (30thSeptember2003) she went in for an exploratory operation from which they did not bring her round, as her pancreas was riddled with cancer and it had just spread to her liver. Nothing could be done to save our beautiful Mouse. I still cannot believe I will never see her expressive blue eyes ever again. They really were the most brilliant colour. She also had a lovely long, strong body and super self-maintaining coat of excellent length and shape. In the early days, people at shows used to ask me if she was a male, which always puzzled me, as she looked so feminine in spite of her size.     

Mouse with a litter of kittens - she was always a superb mother
Just before the anaesthetic on that last day of her life, she weighed 5.85kg, with no excess fat. There are thankfully larger cats around now, including some of my own, but in mid 1990s Britain she did seem enormous. We have two other white NFCs and they bring a lump into my throat as I am reminded of Mouse. However, in the manner of cats and in particular NFCs, they bring real comfort to us, especially her green-eyed daughter, Vieuxtemps Hermione, whose mannerisms remind me of her dear mother. I cling to the fact that Skovmus didn’t know she was ill, and lived life in full to the last.

It is of interest to note that in spite of her eye colour, Mouse was BAER tested and had full hearing in both ears.  Harrison Weir wrote in 1889:  "It is a curious fact relating to the white cat of not only the long but also the short-haired breed is their deafness.  Should they have blue eyes, which is the fancy colour, these are nearly always deaf; although I have seen specimens whose hearing was as perfect as that of any other colour."  It is not true to say that blue-eyed white cats are nearly always deaf.  There is a tendency to deafness, and a proportion of them are, but many are not, and fortunately Mouse was one of these many.

She will never be forgotten by those of us who knew and loved her.

Straight profiles, strong chins

One of the defining characteristics of the Norwegian Forest Cat, and one that sets it apart from its cousins the Maine Coon and the Siberian, is the straight profile when seen from the side.  Strength of chin is also important.

The top picture is a symbol used by NFC clubs worldwide, giving an idealised view of the NFC profile. Below that is a typical Forest kitten bred here at Vieuxtemps.  You can see the resemblance in the shape of the head.

The nose should be long and straight, merging into a rounded forehead. Ideally the line from the nose to the bottom of the chin should be more or less straight, as in the symbolic drawing above. In reality very few NFCs have this strength of chin. The best NFC chin in my household was that of Honeysuckle (rest in peace dear Honey), who really did have as strong a chin as that drawing.   Jet's chin is nearly as good - maybe it is no coincidence that she is Honeysuckle's granddaughter.  


Not only should the chins be strong but they should also be quite deep. A couple of my other cats’ chins aren’t bad and some have receding chins. I have noticed that weakness in many other people’s NFCs also. Breeders should try not to lose the strong chin even though there are a lot of other more important features in the breed.

Ragna’s chin (above) wasn’t bad – maybe it recedes just a little but you can see the good depth and firm bottom corner.

Honeysuckle also had a perfectly straight profile, but she had a great deal of thick fur on her face and that has to be smoothed back in order to see the straight line. An ideal NFC would have the straight profile clearly visible, and it is a joy when you can see this, as you can with my retired stud cat Quink, below. 

Because breeders have been striving for a perfectly straight profile, as opposed to one with a distinct dip or “nosebreak”, some have gone too far the other way and sometimes nowadays you see cats with a roman profile (ie convex, bulging outwards). This in my opinion is worse than a slightly retrouss√© profile. The best profile is like the one in the symbolic drawing, so that is the one that we breeders should keep in mind.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Adult NFCs needing homes

As well as breeding NFCs I am the Welfare Officer of the Norwegian Forest Cat Club.  We have quite a lot of beautiful Forest Cats looking for forever homes at the moment, all based in the north of the country.  They vary in age from twelve down to three, are mainly females, and will all be neutered and inoculated before joining their new homes.

If you could help one of these cats in their time of need, please email me and let me know a bit about yourself and if you could take one cat or two (or more!) and if you have other cats, children, dogs etc already.  They need to move through no fault of their own, and deserve lots of love and attention, which they will repay with interest.

Visit the Welfare page on the Club website:  Norwegian Forest Cat club

Update, 27.10.11:  All of these needy cats now have good homes lined up for them.  However if you feel you could give a Forest Cat in need a permanent, safe and loving home, do please ring or email Mary-Rose to go on our waiting list.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Growing up

Today, I took some not-very-good photos of our kittens.

Here is Velcro, aged nearly five months, babysitting Kia (above) and Sari (below), who were having a snooze at the highest point they could find - on top of the six-foot scratching post.

Meanwhile, the baby litter are coming along very nicely.  Here is a family portrait of dad Quink (black), mum Jet (tortie tabby and white) and the three little girls.

Tabby girl aged three weeks:

Black and white girl aged three weeks:

It was no surprise to me that the big black and white girl is the first out of the nest, eager to explore and toddling along very strongly already.  The all-black girl, who we are keeping, is just as large but more laid-back (or lazy).  Brown tabby girl is very sweet and lively and still smaller than the others, but sturdy and bright.  I love this combination!  It will be the last of this particular pairing as dad is now neutered and Mum will be spayed later in the year.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Sad Journal of a Stud Cat

This is a fictional account; however there is more than a grain of truth in it, alas.  So if you are a kitten buyer - please make sure you aren't supporting a breeder who gives their stud cat a lonely life in a small outdoor enclosure.  And if you are a breeder, do please remember that your stud cat deserves to be part of the family too.

I am born.  I snuggle up to a big furry tummy and drink some delicious warm milk.  I hear a human voice say “that’s a very promising boy” but at the time I can’t translate humanspeak so I don’t know what it means.
I am getting very fat with all that lovely milk!  I can see fuzzy shapes which are interesting when they move, and am getting around the kittening basket at quite a speed (but my legs go wobbly every so often).  There is a plate of tasty brown stuff that I like to lick, and a bowl of yummy white stuff too.  I have learned that some of the moving fur around me belongs to my brother and sister.  We often have play fights and games.  Tails are fun to play with.  Mum’s tail has a white tip which makes it an extra good toy as she flicks it back and forth invitingly.
Today we have some visitors. There is a human lady and man who have come from a long way away. They pick me up and ooh and aaaah about me and then say I am very handsome and ask if they could buy me as their new stud cat. I wonder what that means? They seem very nice people and suitably adoring of me. My human says she will have to think about it.
Today I meet a furry stranger and jump – then the stranger jumps too, at exactly the same time! He has lots of orange hair and a white nose and white tail tip. After awhile I realise that the stranger is ME. I am in a sort of magic frame which my humans call a mirror. Now that I know what I look like I have to say I think I’m a lot better looking than my brother and sister, who are both a boring brown colour.
For the last few weeks my human has been obsessed with my neck. First of all, she takes me and my siblings in a big roaring thing she calls a car (didn’t that make me miaow!) and we arrive at a brightly-lit place with a man in a white coat. He sticks something into the back of my neck and it hurts, but I am brave and don’t make a sound. My sister whimpers a bit when it is her turn though. As if that isn’t enough, exactly the same thing happens three weeks later. Then a few days later, we are all taken to the same torture chamber and given a really sore neck when they stick in something called a “microchip”. It feels absolutely enormous. Finally, this morning our human put some nasty wet drops on the same spot. What is it with these humans? I am very disappointed in mine – I thought she loved me. Perhaps my new humans will be a bit better. They are coming to collect me tomorrow.
My new humans ARE better! For a start, they don’t keep hurting the back of my neck. Then they give me loads of new toys and let me sleep in their bed. I have to say I missed my dear Mum and brother and sister at first but now life is great. I snuggle up first to the man, then to the lady. Then I stretch a bit and they have to move over to make room for me. Although I’m just four and a half months old I am getting quite big. These new humans also give me nicer food –they open tins of tuna and give me bits of chicken off their own plates. If I pretend not to like the dry cat food (which is really quite nice) they poach some cod or salmon especially for Yours Truly. I have them wound right round my white(ish) paws! They also keep kissing me on the top of my head and on my tummy, but that’s a small price to pay for the luxuries I am enjoying in my new home.
Well, after I’ve been here for a while I realise that I am not the only cat. My new humans kept me in their bedroom for a few weeks “until I got my confidence” they said. Don’t they realise I ALWAYS have total confidence? But it’s fun to pretend to be more babyish than I really am, so as to get lots of fuss and attention. Anyway, these new cats are bigger than me and look a bit like my mum, except they don’t have white tail tips. That is just as well as they don’t like me playing with their tails and I might be tempted if they had the white tips. There are two of them and they are quite tolerant and give me lots of washes. Sometimes I curl up with the big cats in their baskets instead of in the human bed, just for a change.
One of the big cats – her name is Soraya – is acting funny this week. She keeps making yowling noises and sticking her bottom in the air, and sometimes she sticks it right in my face. I don’t know who taught her manners but they obviously didn’t do a very good job of it. I just ignore her and go to play with my other big friend, Suzi, the one with the pretty red marks on her black face. Actually I am fast approaching the same size as these girls, now that I am a whole seven months old.
My humans have been spending a lot of time outside recently, and I’ve just found out why. They have made me and my friends a nice cat garden! It is just outside the kitchen door which now has a hole in it covered by a little flap, so that we can come and go whenever we want. There are some shelves to jump up on and a big wooden tub full of this wonderful plant that makes me all happy. I go and sniff it and roll in it forages. Life is good good good! I’m so glad I live with this family and not my last human who kept hurting my neck. Sometimes I have to pay for my upkeep by going to these things called cat shows, but I don’t mind because I get lots of admiration and sometimes win pretty rosettes. I like the blue ones best as the red ones clash with my fur, but my humans prefer the red ones and sometimes become quite gushing when I win several. There’s no accounting for taste.
I embarrass myself this morning. I am waking up my humans as usual – well, it is four a.m. and I feel like a titbit – and then somehow I suddenly want to wee and have this strange feeling that I must do it on the duvet. At first they don’t notice. The man just says “give us another couple of hours, Rudolph, it’s too early to wake up yet”. That’s what they call me – Rudolph. My real name is a lot longer and posher though. Anyway, after a while my wee must have soaked through because my female human gives a sniff then a shriek, and pulls off the bedclothes. I think it smells quite nice actually – better than that stuff called Perfume that they like to spray on themselves, that makes me sneeze – but neither of them seems to appreciate my fragrance and they are quite cross. I feel upset as I hadn’t meant any harm, and I’ve never been told off by them before. In fact they always say I am perfect (which of course is true) so I don’t like this new attitude of theirs. I go to sulk in the cat garden.
Well, things have changed a lot here lately. I have been trying to train my humans to like my lovely aromatic pee by leaving little puddles around the place, but they just don’t appreciate it. On the other hand, it drives Suzi and Soraya wild. I have to admit that I recently feel more fond than ever of my girlfriends and have taken to jumping on their backs when my humans aren’t looking, which they both seem to enjoy as much as I do. In a way that makes up a bit for the fact that during the daytime I’m shut outside in the cat garden (there is a little hut thing for me in case it rains) and in the night time I’m confined to the kitchen. I find this somewhat hurtful as I am used to the nice cosy human bed, but since my duvet-christening incident they no longer allow me to snuggle up with them. Ah well, at least I can snuggle with Suzi and Soraya.
Things have taken a turn for the worse.  First, my girlfriends are no longer interested in me.  All they want to do is to eat and sleep and they are getting quite fat.  Moreover, I hardly see them as I am not allowed indoors at all any more!  It’s outrageous.  I can see them all luxuriating through the glass while I’m stuck outside in the cat garden.  They have locked the special cat door and enlarged my hut but it doesn’t have any television or armchairs or duvets to pee on and I hardly think it befits my status.   Most days I chase a few leaves and insects and count the minutes until my humans come out to give me a cuddle and a treat.  Some days, if it’s raining or if they are particularly busy, they only spend a few minutes with me though.  What have I done to deserve this?
It’s my birthday! I’m one year old. I got an extra portion of fish as an indulgence and it was delicious, but it would have been much nicer if I could have eaten it in the kitchen with the rest of the family. I’ve not been allowed in there for weeks and weeks, since the Incident of the Saucepan Mistaken for the Litter Tray. I did know it wasn’t a litter tray really, but sometimes I just feel the urge to pee and there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t understand why they get so upset. Most of the talk I hear is of my human man’s Promotion whatever that is – it means we will have more of this stuff called money but he will be away from home a lot. Our human lady only disappears for a few hours each day but sometimes we hardly see the human man and when we do, it’s only for a second or two because he says he’s tired. One day he does come out though to tell me that I should be proud because I’ve become a Dadtwiceover. I wonder what that is? It seems to be something good as he is smiling, so I rub up against him until he tells me not to put hairs on his suit.
There seems to be a lot more darkness and less sunshine recently. My humans have bought me a new bed for my little hut (I pee on it immediately!), and put in a thing called a Heater that keeps me nice and warm. I spend quite a lot of time sleeping as there’s only so much you can do by yourself. The girls are never seen nowadays – they spend most of their time upstairs for some reason. Maybe they are on a diet – they certainly needed it because they were both so fat last time I saw them. Me, I’m not fat. I’m not really all that interested in food. Don’t get me wrong – I get plenty, and a nice variety too, but really I only enjoy eating if I have my humans around to give me a bit of a fuss. They seem so busy and when they come to see me, after a few minutes they say “it’s getting chilly, so see you tomorrow old boy!” and off they go again. Old boy indeed.
Excitement! I have a visitor! It’s a very pretty female called Poppy who has lovely silver stripes and smart white paws. She smells delicious and I flatter myself that she thinks I do, too. In fact I did a few extra sprays just for her benefit and she really seemed to appreciate it. I wonder if she’s going to live with me for ever? That would be lovely! Company at last!
Well, Poppy only stayed for a few days and then she was off home again. We did have fun whilst it lasted though, and she promised to try and come again sometime. I am very disappointed when my new humans take me to the bright place where they hurt your neck, but it isn’t quite as bad as that time when I was a baby. I put on a brave face as always and am told how handsome I am, which is always nice to hear. In fact that is the highlight of my month as not much else seems to be happening and, to tell the truth, I’m a bit lonely.
Now I have only the wind and rain for company. A welcome change of scene comes when my humans take me indoors for something called a Bath. I get given one of these now and again. I don’t like Baths but I put up with them because it means I am allowed into the Inner Sanctum, which is more companionable than my hut. The only thing is, I always smell really funny afterwards. I think this bath is connected with the fact that my humans want me to become a Champion at a cat show. I wonder if being a Champion is better than being a Dadtwiceover? What do all these words mean? I’ve not been to a cat show for quite a while so it feels weird travelling in the big noisy car thing again. We seem to go on forages. My human man is driving and my human lady is looking at a picture book, and getting shouted at. They keep peering worriedly at things called road signs in the dark of the early morning. The car keeps lurching this way and that and at one point I fear that last night’s supper is going to reappear, but luckily I manage to hold on to my dignity. To comfort myself I do a nice little pee in my cat carrier and roll in it. This however does nothing to calm the humans. When we get to the show hall it is horribly bright and noisy with all sorts of strange odours. Some of the other cats there smell delicious, but others make me feel angry or – I have to confess – even slightly nervous. A man in a white coat looks at my mouth and then actually touches my rear end in a very coarse way and I growl at him. How would he like it if I did the same to him? I feel tempted, and stretch my claws, but decide better of it. He looks similar to the man who hurt the back of my neck a couple of weeks ago. I don’t like him at all. My humans put me in my show pen and give me a litter tray, blanket and water. As there are no toys I play with the litter a bit to lessen the boredom. It is fun trying to spread it around as much as possible. After a while, two strangers – a man and a woman - come up to my pen, smelling of the smells I don’t like. The man, who is wearing a white coat, puts his hands into my pen and tries to pick me up. It occurs to me that he might be going to do the same thing as the other man in the white coat. I’m not having any of that! As the big pink hand reaches towards me, I try to hide but there is nowhere to go in the small stark cage, and I am suddenly gripped by panic. I do the only thing left open to me. I give a good hard bite to the hand. It is worth it! The yell that the human emits is strangely satisfying. I hold on for a good few seconds, just so they get the message, then let go and do a nice smelly spray to calm myself down.  There are some bright red splashes from the human’s blood on my blanket. I have never seen human blood before and it does worry me a bit. Later on, my humans come and I am so relieved to see them that I rub and purr and am surprised that they don’t seem as pleased to see me as they usually are at shows. Maybe it is because the silly show people have forgotten to give me my usual red or blue rosette. My humans mutter something about a “biting certificate”. That sounds stupid –who needs a certificate in order to bite? I can do it any time! I know how it works now! I get left alone by the nasty smelly strangers when I bite. I am used to being alone now. I prefer it. I am a stud cat.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Health matters

One of the reasons I became interested in Norwegian Forest Cats eighteen years ago was that they are said to be a very healthy breed.  Although this continues to be true in comparison with many other breeds of cat, as our veterinary knowledge increases it has become clear that the breed does suffer from some serious hereditary diseases.  The good news is that there are increasingly reliable tests available so that it is possible for breeders to do their best to ensure that their cats are not passing on these illnesses.  The bad news is that (possibly due to the fact that they are very expensive) very few breeders in the UK take advantage of these health tests which can save heartache as well as protecting our breed.  Of course, whist awaiting test results it is nerve-wracking wondering if a treasured breeding cat will have to be neutered in the case of a positive result; but this is outweighed by the relief of knowing that inherited problems are not being passed on.

Why do so many breeders not health-test their cats?

The only reasons I can think of are:
1 – They would rather spend their money on something else
2 – They put their heads in the sand and do not really care if they pass on inherited problems
3 – They are afraid of being morally obliged to neuter one of their valued breeding cats, possibly a show winner
4 – They might feel there is a stigma attached to admitting there are health problems in one’s breeding lines.

My answer to the latter point would be that no-one buys or sells a cat with health problems on purpose; people who discover a defect or disease in their cats are to be sympathised with, and applauded that they have taken the trouble to find out.  Only if people knowingly breed from unhealthy cats, or choose not to check out the health of their breeding stock, do they deserve censure.

What are the main diseases to worry about in the Norwegian Forest Cat of the 21st Century?

I have had my own cats tested for Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) and my studs x-rayed for Hip Displasia  It is also wise to test for Glycogen Storage Disease (GSD IV) although this can only affect kittens if BOTH parents pass on the problem.  It does not affect cats that only ‘carry’ it.  But the most serious known threat to our breed is the hereditary disease Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM).

First and foremost we should be careful to exclude HCM from our breed. A number of Norwegian Forest Cats across the world have died of or are sick from HCM and some of these were exported from the UK. The only way to eradicate this problem from our breed is to test all breeding cats before they are mated, and to neuter those who test positive.  The way they are tested is via an ECG (echocardiogram) and there are a number of specialists across the UK - a list is available from the Feline Advisory Bureau.  HCM is a terminal condition where the left ventricle thickens and becomes enlarged over time. This is due to an abnormality of some of the cells in the heart, an abnormality that means that the cells won’t work as they should in the heart muscle and thus the normal heart cells will compensate for the abnormal cells by making more normal cells, thus causing a thickening which can be fatal. Death can be sudden, and symptoms may be mild or nonexistent. The cat can also develop a blood clot and this clot will then be carried around in the blood vessels and cause paralysis if it is carried along the large vein that runs along the back and gets split into each leg.  In this case the blood clot can’t pass and will get stuck! This is an extremely painful situation for the cat and in most cases the cat will be euthanised. The disease is thought to be caused by a mutation in one gene (this is what is believed right now, but research continues) and passed down to offspring by autosomal dominant inheritance.  (i.e. if one parent has the disease it can be passed on.  It cannot be ‘carried’ although it can be hidden for a few years.)  I have heard of several Norwegian Forest Cats in Britain suddenly dropping dead over the years.  In some cases their owners did not even carry out an autopsy.  It is possible that some of these cats were victims of HCM, as we were not fully aware of this disease here until the last few years.  Some very famous British Maine Coons have also died at an early age due to HCM.  In Europe and America there is an extensive testing programme so as to eradicate this problem, but in the UK not many breeders test their cats.  Because of this, it is not known how many cats actually suffer from HCM in the UK.  However results abroad suggest that some UK cats definitely have this disease in their lines.  It is up to us to get our breeding cats tested as that way we can eradicate HCM once and for all.

It is recommended that Norwegian Forest cats intended for breeding be tested for HCM when the cat is at least one year old but before being bred from, and then repeated annually until age 5, and once again when the cat reaches eight years, or older if something indicates that it should be done later on, for instance family history or if something looks suspicious at the last scan.  It is important to use one of the specialists listed by FAB as a great deal of training and experience is needed for a correct interpretation.  It is also important to have your cat microchipped first, so that the results can be verified and recorded by FAB.
The cost of having an echocardiogram is substantial (I paid nearly £300 per cat) – especially when you consider it has to be repeated annually.  However if you live further north the charges may be cheaper so shop around if possible.  The cats do not need to be anaesthetised unless they are very excitable, but they are shaved.  To pay that much sounds a lot; but isn’t it worth it to save the breed from being decimated by this inherited, incurable disease?  Personally I chose to ensure that my cats were healthy rather than indulging in a holiday for us humans, and it is a decision I do not regret, even though I had to have one of my most treasured queens spayed as she was given an ‘equivocal’ report from the vet, due to an enlarged papillary muscle which, whilst it probably does not indicate incipient HCM, is nonetheless an abnormality.  Luckily all my other cats were given a clean bill of health.

If buying a new cat or kitten, do ensure that the parents have tested negative within the last year and ask for copies of the test results for your records.  It is also wise to look at the health record of their ancestors, if possible, to see if HCM is in the pedigrees - this can be done by consulting various pedigree databases such as PawPeds.  Unfortunately a negative test does not mean that a cat will not be affected in the future or pass on the gene that causes HCM to his or her progeny whilst appearing unaffected, but testing together with examination of pedigrees and removal of affected cats from breeding lines is the only route we have at present.
It should be noted that HCM is something that affects many breeds of cat, and non-pedigrees too, and it is certainly not confined to Norwegian Forest Cats, which are still amongst the most healthy of all breeds.  There is currently a research project underway at the Royal Veterinary School at South Mimms with the aim of helping to eradicate HCM from Norwegian Forest Cats.  If you would like to learn more about HCM, please visit the websites below:

FAB information about HCM


Advice from the Winn Foundation

(This article first appeared in the Norwegian Forest Cat Club Newsletter, 2008, and has been updated since)