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

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