Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Ears of the Norwegian Forest Cat

In the Standard of Points for the Norwegian Forest Cat the ears are given 10% of the total. Although this isn’t a huge proportion of the overall points, if an otherwise near-perfect NFC has ears that are noticeably too small or the wrong shape or set it can “throw” the whole look of that cat. Looking back I realise that when I became involved with NFCs the best part of two decades ago my cats tended to have ears that were too small, and sometimes wrongly placed too. This was partly due to the fact that the GCCF Standard used to say that “the width between the ears should be no greater than the width at the base of one ear”. This encouraged breeders to concentrate on that factor at the expense of others and the phrase has now been removed, in accordance with the FIFe standard that is used in Norway and elsewhere.
Sonata's ears looked sufficiently large when she was young

Sonata as an adult, with full coat - the ears are only just
big enough and perhaps could be a little larger for balance
The ears should be large – in particular, wide at the base, and also tall. Kittens need to have absolutely HUGE ears as they will inevitably become smaller in relation to the rest of the head as the cat matures.  The Standard says that small ears are a with-holding fault.

I've heard some people argue that cats from cold climates should have small ears to preserve heat.  I guess it's equally important that they hear well in order to help them catch the sparse prey.  And just think of tigers and lions - although they originate from hot countries they have tiny ears!

Above is Sonata, aged 6 months where her ears look good, and again at maturity when they are only just large enough - or, rather, they stayed the same while the rest of her grew.  Remember that NFCs continue to develop for around four years.  She does have nice little tufts on top - I always think it spoils a Forest Cat if there are no tufts at all.  But some nowadays are developing huge tufts that are extreme in the opposite direction and can look almost comical!  Moderation is the key.

Ragna's ears were too rounded at the top, although they had good 'furnishings'
The ears should be triangular in shape, ending in a pointed tip – NOT a rounded tip.  Most of my cats have nice ear-tops but Ragna, above, had ears that were too rounded (of course she had other nice qualities that made up for this and allowed her to easily reach GCCF Champion status.)

As well has having tufts at the tip the ears should also have long hairs coming out of the ears. I have noticed that some people seem to confuse tufts with ear furnishings – no, tufts are not hair coming out of the ears, they are the tips on top that just give a nice wild-looking finish to the cat.  Proper ear furnishings will help to keep the cat's ears warm in the cold Scandinavian winters and now that our cats are often kept indoors or in southern climates we must ensure they don't lose this beautiful trait.
Velcro has appropriately extravagant ear furnishings

The ears should be so placed that they follow the sidelines of the head, which is also a triangular shape. They should not sag down at the side of the head, nor be pointing too upright, but should be a continuation of the triangle.  Often a cat's head will widen (particularly in entire males) meaning that ears can end up too low on the sides of the head.  Much worse than this is when you get ears that are too upright, called 'rabbit ears'.  Sometimes kittens have 'rabbit ears' which then become correctly positioned as they mature.  It's a case of knowing the lines - see what the ancestors' ears are like.
Vieuxtemps Avedine was a very beautiful kitten, but at the stage above her ears are a little too upright - can you see how the outer line of the ears doesn't follow the sidelines of her head, thus spoiling that all-important 'triangle' effect?
I consider my ex-stud cat Pelle’s ears to be near perfect and they continued to look good right into his senior years, although his furnishings were sparse:
Pelle greatly helped improve the ears of the Vieuxtemps line
both in terms of size, shape and position
All these little details add up to a cat that has the correct look of an alert and capable hunter – which indeed the Norwegian Forest Cat is.

You can read the full Standard of Points here

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The kittens aged nine weeks

These little girls really are characters - dashing around very boldly, eating with enthusiasm, climbing everywhere, then suddenly dropping off to sleep.  Sometimes I wish I were a kitten.
Kyrie aged nine weeks
pictured by WhiteSquirrel Photography

Lindy aged nine weeks
pictured by WhiteSquirrel Photography

Rossi aged nine weeks
pictured by WhiteSquirrel Photography
They are due to have their inoculations against flu, enteritis and leukaemia in a few days' time.

Monday, 24 October 2011

The Vieuxtemps Cats meet a White Squirrel!

Or rather, WhiteSquirrel Photography visited yesterday to take some photos of the cats and kittens.  I was delighted with the results and would recommend these photographers to all cat-lovers in the Essex area/home counties.  They also photograph other animals (and even human babies on occasion!)  You won't be disappointed.

Hermione, aged eleven, photographed by WhiteSquirrel

Quink, aged five, photographed by WhiteSquirrel

Here are just a couple of the lovely pictures they produced.  I'll post more later.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

What is Line Breeding?

To answer this question in one word, it is inbreeding. However the word inbreeding has unpleasant connotations, particularly to the layman, so line breeding is a phrase used by breeders who practice this. Basically any cat that is mated to a relative is being line bred. A lot of people – especially novice breeders– shy away from this idea. This may be because, in human terms, any mating between close family members is frowned upon and indeed seems slightly horrific. Some of this distaste may rub off onto our views about cat breeding. However it can be a useful tool when used intelligently. Moreover, cats have no such compunction and mums are happy to mate with sons, grandfathers with granddaughters and so on. Obviously what cats are happy to do and what is in the breed’s interest does not always coincide. In the following article I will use the term “inbreeding” rather than line breeding as I feel it is more honest.  I'm not into inbreeding my cats in a big way myself and use frequent outcrosses, but sometimes having a really good ancestor on both sides of the pedigree can produce wonderful kittens, so long as health is always top of the list of priorities.
Quink as a 'teenager'
Let us look at Quink's pedigree as an example.  His pedigree name is Quil Gyldenloeve.  Because he has a very short pedigree he is on the 'reference register' for GCCF.  You only have to go back three generations to find a 'novice' - ie a cat from the forest (Champion Putte), of unknown ancestry.
So we don't know if Putte is inbred or not.  We can but hope!  The rest of the pedigree looks as though there are no other cats appearing more than once - so he seems to have no inbreeding at all.  However if you go back... and back... and back to the ends of all the lines in his pedigree, you can see that a few cats do appear more than once after all.   It's very slight though.  

So what happens if you avoid inbreeding?

Well, for a start, in the world of Norwegian Forest Cats it is very difficult to avoid some measure of inbreeding as some cats (particularly well-used stud cats) appear in pedigrees time and time again, albeit possibly so far back in the pedigree that the breeder may not realise without special research. This is in spite of NFCs having one of the widest gene pools of all breeds. In my opinion, some of the early breeders of Forest Cats in Norway did repeated matings of very closely related cats, to an extreme extent, and that is not something I would like to see happen again. A certain amount of diluted inbreeding is seen in many breeds and so long as the common ancestor(s) do not have health or temperament problems then it is harmless. However if one tries to have little or no inbreeding in a pedigree then what happens is that the results of a mating are very unpredictable. That is why there are huge variations within the NFCs in this country and indeed worldwide. There are also enormous variations within individual litters. Experienced breeders are often pleased when they have some sort of uniformity within a litter and within litters of repeat matings. Sometimes they are fooled when the kittens are all one colour and pattern however! Otherwise breeding NFCs amounts to little more than a lottery. I have seen (both in my own cattery and in others) cases of large parents producing small offspring; small parents producing good-sized offspring; two cats with dipped profiles producing kittens with straight profiles; and vice versa, and so on. It always amazes me how variable NFCs are, after I bred Abyssinians for some years with very predictable and consistent results. The latter is probably due to a much smaller gene pool in the breed as a whole – something that has its advantages and disadvantages.

Vieuxtemps Indigo

We once had an 'oops' mating that resulted in father-daughter progeny!  This was when Magnus had been neutered but was still fertile.  He was mistakenly allowed to reach his daughter and, sod's law, they mated.  The result was two lovely and very similar blue tabby kittens, Indigo and Indiana.  

Champion Magnus More og Romsdal, father of Indigo

A father-daughter mating certainly wasn't what I had had in mind, but the kittens were robust and beautiful so no harm was done on that occasion.  

What happens if you avoid inbreeding to a large extent, is inconsistency and unpredictable type. Resulting litters are likely to be healthy and large but may have hidden recessive defects.

We are fortunate to have a large gene-pool for the NFC breed, worldwide and also within the UK. This means that we have a wide choice from which to pick and choose the best of the cats available to breed on from. Of course this doesn’t always happen as some breeders use cats for breeding merely for reasons of convenience or sentimentality. However we are in a better position than many breeds when it comes to diversity of breeding stock. So should we make a point of capitalising on this fact and doing as many outcrosses as possible in our breeding? To answer this question we need to know the answer to another:

What happens if you do practice inbreeding (and probably call it line breeding)? 
There are some good things to be said for inbreeding. The obvious one is that litters become more consistent. If a cat is “doubled up” in a pedigree then that cat’s characteristics will have a doubly strong influence. When a cat is considered a particularly brilliant example of a breed then sometimes it appears in a cat’s pedigree many times. I counted the repetition of one such “super cat” in a UK pedigree and it appeared 13 times in just a few generations! Before you drawback in horror let me also say that the cat whose pedigree I mention is actually a reasonable size (as far as I can tell from looking as I haven’t handled him), healthy and very successful for a number of years both on the show-bench and as a stud. Hence in this instance the inbreeding cannot really be faulted even if most of us would avoid such extreme practice.

Another benefit of inbreeding is that, if there is a recessive genetic fault in a cat, then it will very likely be revealed in the inbred offspring. I remarked above that a cat who is doubled up in a pedigree will have double influence on the genes (depending on how far back the doubling up occurs, of course). Let us take as an example the father-daughter mating I had many years ago, by mistake. The father had no known genetic defects and was a healthy, good-looking cat. However he may have had a recessive fault. If that had been the case then that fault would only “show up” if his mate carried the same fault. With unrelated mates this would be unlikely. Some genetic defects can be secretly carried for generations just because the cat with the recessive (hidden) defect has never been mated with a cat also carrying the same recessive defect. If you have a doubt whether or not a cat is carrying a recessive defect then you can check it out by repeating the suspected carrier in a pedigree. If no kittens in the resulting litter have that defect it is very likely that the suspected cat is free from the defect.  That is fortunately what happened with my “oops” mating mentioned above.

So, with inbreeding, the faults but also the good points are doubled up in the progeny. Hence if a cat with a very strong chin, for instance, is repeated within a pedigree twice or more times, then that strong chin is more and more likely to appear in the kittens. Something happens that we call “fixing” a characteristic; and if intelligent line-breeding has taken place over a number of generations with the breeding stock carefully selected from each generation, then the “look” of that line is firmly entrenched and is likely to be passed on even to the offspring of an outcross mating.

This Vieuxtemps  litter brother and sister, from completely
unrelated parents, are inconsistent in type
To sum up, the benefits of inbreeding are discovery and hence elimination of any hidden genetic defects, together with a consistent and distinctive “look”.
 If inbreeding has been carried out then it is wise to use outcrosses frequently also. An outcross is a mate with very few or no shared ancestors. Repeated inbreeding can cause “inbreeding depression” meaning not that the cats go moping around miserably, but that individual kittens and also numbers in litters decrease in size. If you mate two very closely related parents, even if those parents are huge cats, offspring are likely to be smaller.  Conversely, an outcross can immediately restore the size of the individual and the size of the litter (assuming that the individuals concerned are large and fertile of course). This phenomenon is known as “hybrid vigour”.

If you look at the pedigrees of famous and successful breeders here and abroad (for example, the Pan’s cats of Norway and Jette Madsen’s world-winning Felis Jubatus lines from Denmark) you will see that they have carried out inbreeding but also included plenty of healthy outcrosses. If a cat has been extensively used and repeated in pedigrees – Pan’s Polaris is perhaps the most famous example – then it is fairly certain that that cat has no genetic health problems if these have not shown up in multiple progeny.

My previous stud cat, Dansbjergs Pelle Halelos as a youngster.Pelle had been purposely line bred to 'fix' some excellent characteristics
and as a result his litters were very predictable and beautiful.
Vieuxtemps Vantage Vroom, Pelle's son, was from a complete outcross mating yet looks very like his father due to Pelle's specially bred 'fixed' look.Vroom has done very well on the showbench.
So what should breeders do? My own experience of this is that I have done both inbreeding and complete outcrosses. With the inbreeding I have immediately seen a particular “look” which more or less replicates the look of the cat that was repeated in the pedigree. Naturally I have used cats that I really like as “repeats” so the resulting look is therefore one that pleases me. When I imported my stud Pelle (above, now retired) I chose him because he comes from completely different lines from my existing cats. It was time for a thorough outcross. However he came from a breeder who has, over many years, performed careful and intelligent inbreeding so that her cats have a distinct “look” incorporating the features she considers important in the Norwegian Forest Cat. This has been done so effectively that I find that kittens from that stud, resulting from unrelated females of mine and other people’s, tend to carry on his distinctive and predictable “look”. This is because the stud has fixed characteristics due to the way his pedigree was planned. Of course, his bad as well as his good points are likely to be fixed – fortunately he appears to have no genetic defects. I feel my own way forward would be to continue to combine inbreeding with outcrosses in an attempt to maintain the “look” whilst at the same time achieving hybrid vigour. Of course breeding high quality cats is easier said than done, which is all part of the fun.  I am writing this article to clarify what the good and bad sides of inbreeding are, and to dispel the myth that all inbreeding is a bad thing. It can be a good thing too – in moderation.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The kittens are nearly two months old already

Lindy is naughty but nice!

How time flies.  It is nearly two months since these kittens were born.  During that time they have learned to eat, use the litter tray, wash, hunt and kill toys and climb to the top of the climbing frame....

Rossi explores the cat climbing frame
... and sometimes, fall in the bath and chase each other round and round the room.  No wonder they are such good athletes already!
Then she poses to show off her profile
Several people have asked me about Kyrie's coat - is she really black?  
Kyrie just coming up to two months
Sometimes she looks chocolate, and sometimes smoke.  The answer is - yes, she is definitely solid black, just like her Dad.  Quink also was this funny colour at her age, but he's a proper black cat now as you can see. 
The kittens' dad, Quink (Quil Gyldenloeve) as a kitten

As an adult, Quink is very black!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Velcro's first show

Well, Velcro competed at her first cat show yesterday and it was the first show for a very long time for me, too.  I've not had any free Saturdays for literally years, but sadly my mother has recently gone into Care so I can now get out and about to some shows again.

Velcro at her very first cat show

When taking kittens to shows I'm not too bothered about results, because I know my lines take a couple of years at least to develop.  I aim to breed cats that just get better and better as they get older.  The important thing about showing kittens is simply to get them used to the process.  Velcro looked lovely in her pen, but she had almost no coat and the pretty kitten that beat her in her open was a bit older and much fluffier!  I was happy that Velcro came home with one first prize at least, from a large side class.

The main thing is that Velcro took to showing in a confident manner and really seemed to enjoy her day out, so she will be going to more shows next year, hopefully accompanied by her little sister Kyrie. I'm looking forward to reading her judges' reports to see what they have to say about her.

The show itself was in the Lockmeadow Market Hall in Maidstone.  What a lovely venue! I never realised what an attractive place Maidstone is. The hall was right by the river, and the day being brilliantly sunny meant for a beautiful walk during the time the cats were being judged in their Open Classes, when we all have to leave the hall.

The River Medway at Maidstone
Then I went to the shops - there were lots of lovely little streets and arcades. I was thrilled to find a branch of Lush where I stocked up on bath products!  Back at the show, I met old acquaintances and new ones, and had lots of catch-up chats.  I bought some of the best cat toys ever from Tracey Wood's stall - she makes them from feathers from her neighbour's pheasants.  All my cats were enchanted with them when I got home!  So all in all an excellent day out was had by all.

21.10.11: Velcro's show report from the Open judge, John Hansson, has now been published:
DOUGLAS' VIEUXTEMPS VELCRO.  67 31.15-04-11.  Black Bi-Coloured, higher on her white & very attractive young miss.  Her head is marginally narrow which detracts from the triangular shape, profile not quite straight, chin runs back a little, bite good in spite of her swollen gums.  Ears large, pricked high, good inner furnishings.  Eyes slightly more rounded & could be a little more oblique, green in colour.  Her body has good length, well-proportioned legs &paws, her tail was quite a good length, the bushy appearance still to be achieved.  Coat is at present still very baby soft & fine, requires a little more density, wispy fringes round the base of the ears, fluffy knickerbockers.  Beautifully prepared clean white, with smaller patches of black on her lower back & sides, black head markings & tail with white tip.Lovely condition, excellent temperament.
I would say this is a fair description of Velcro on the day.  As you can tell, she was teething.  I am not worried about the width of her head because it's good for NFC kittens to have heads longer than they are wide; they will widen with age, ending up well-balanced.  She is still very much a baby.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The eyes of the Norwegian Forest Cat

In the Standard of Points for the Norwegian Forest Cat the eyes are given 10% of the total points. This doesn’t sound a lot, but of course there are so many other things to take into account when assessing the overall cat. However if an otherwise near-perfect NFC has round or over-dominant eyes the whole appearance of the cat is spoilt and just doesn’t look “right”. Maybe this is because the eyes are one of the first things you notice about any cat. Maybe it is because the eyes are the window to the soul! 

The Norwegian Forest Cat’s eyes should be slightly oblique in set, and the effect should be that of an alert and capable hunter. The standard describes them as large and well-opened, but in my experience they should not be over-large or they will look too sweet.  I'd say Hermione's eyes (above) are just right.

The males in particular should never have a sweet look – these cats should have an air of wildness about them, even though their natures are anything but wild. The females do have a different expression sometimes – I would say that my best girls’ eyes have a noble and intelligent look.

Kohinoor's eyes, whilst a beautiful colour ('odd eyed') are perhaps a little deep-set.
It is easier to disguise eye shape in a tabby cat, and more difficult to get the eyes to look good in a solid coloured cat. I am lucky in that my white cats, although they have no eye make-up at all to “help” the shape of their eyes, without exception have beautiful expressions. White cats’ eyes come in several different colours: blue, green, gold, or (my favourite) odd-eyed meaning one blue and one green or gold.  Very often as kittens the green-eyed white NFC will look as if he or she is going to end up yellow or orange-eyed, but then they change at around one or even two years of age, so I generally register my gold-eyed-looking white kittens as green-eyed.  I have seen several novice breeders make a mistake because they do not expect the change, and then they might have to re-register the cat later.

Eye colour in the NFC doesn’t really matter at all – it is the shape and expression that counts. You even occasionally get blue eyes in a cat that isn’t solid white (for example, this handsome boy below). 

Photo of Dansbjergs Ringo by Carli Haekkerup
Mostly NFC eyes are of a colour that blends happily with the cat’s coat colour – ranging from soft hazel to bright green.  But I reiterate - it is the expression, not the colour, that counts.
Jet has particularly vivid and beautiful eyes

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Introducing our Airedale terrier, Butz

Butz at two months, soon after we got him
We had always admired Airedales but were not in a position to share our life with one until MR found herself able to work from home from year 2000.  After much searching we found just the breeder to suit us - Kate Sibley who had a wonderful bunch of ten pups being lovingly brought up, inside their bustling family home near Woburn. MR explained that we did not want a "show" dog so much as an intelligent companion, who could possibly be trained for obedience competitions.  (Ha ha!) Kate selected the pup she thought would be most suitable - Butz was quite thoughtful and easily handled, and also happened to be the biggest.  He was born in May 2000.
Airedales are born black and the tan develops
gradually during the first few months.
Butz's mother was called Chloe and was a beautiful, typy sunny natured blonde, whilst his dad Buzz was a huge (28ins) rough working-type dog.  His pedigree background has the famous Stargus lines on one side and equally illustrious Glentops lines on the other. Butz himself has one ear sticking up and the other sticking down!  This is quite common with Airedale pups and you are meant to glue the errant ear down in place in the early months. However we made a conscious decision not to do this, being worried about discomfort and maybe even infection, and anyway we love Butz's funny ears even though other doggy people have been heard muttering such things as "spoiling a handsome dog"...
Butz is pronounced to rhyme with "puts".  It's short for "Butzel", a south German term of endearment. 

We feed Butz on a BARF diet – Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, which consists of raw meaty bones supplemented with fruit and veggies and a little pasta.  His teeth are perfect even now he is eleven, and although he has slowed down he still has plenty of energy and joie de vivre.  For the last couple of years MR has been out working all day and Butz is left alone with his friends the cats, but being an elderly gentleman now he simply sleeps more.

Butzel has certainly brought lots of fun and new friends to the Vieuxtemps household, not to speak of Extra Loud Woofs!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Now we are six (weeks old)

These three girl kittens are all extra adorable, they really are.  And so sturdy and sweet-natured.  I am so happy that I get to keep one.  Here are photos taken at age six weeks.

Rossi is a bold, brave, clever kitten!
Lindy is feminine and pretty, but also has a mind of her own!
Kyrie reminds me of her dad, Quink, not just in looks but character.  She's just lovely.
The kittens are growing really well, full of health and fun.  They switched to eating food and using their litter tray seemingly overnight at four weeks of age with no need of help from me.  Jet's such a good mother, all I need to do is enjoy!

All these kittens have homes waiting for them, so no enquiries please, although you can go on my waiting list if you like.  Next kittens will be Uku's, due towards the end of the year.

Overview of the Norwegian Forest Cat

The Cats from the Woods

I guess that most cats would enjoy a prowl round the woods, should they get the chance. None more so however than the Norwegian Forest Cat, whose development in the harsh natural surroundings of Scandinavia literally took place in the woods and farmlands over a number of centuries, resulting in the rugged cat we know and love today. This breed is really the “moggie” of Norway and Sweden, being a mixture of all the variegated cats that arrived there over many hundreds of years, brought by travellers going back to the Vikings. Their origins probably spread as far as Russia, Turkey and North Africa, but only the sturdiest, most self-sufficient individuals would survive the Scandinavian winters.

The Norwegian Forest Cat’s history has equipped them with keen hunting skills and a robust constitution that ensures they can cope with anything that life throws at them.   Rain and cold do not usually bother the NFC, who will often prefer to lie in a cool spot indoors instead of in front of the fire.  Their coats are self-maintaining and waterproof, with a unique duvet-like undercoat to keep them warm in winter covered in a glossy, oily overcoat to protect them from rain and snow.
In fact coat quality is perhaps the single most important feature of the breed. Soft, silky coats are not allowed in the Standard of Points. Another feature of the coat is its shape - in winter, a fully developed cat will have a large ruff, shirtfront and breeches, with shorter fur on the shoulder blades which defines the ruff. In summer however the woolly undercoat is shed (suddenly one’s house is covered in cotton-wool like balls of fluff, but fortunately this happens for only a couple of weeks). The result is that for a few months the shiny guard hairs lie flat against the body, and it is only the plumed tail that gives a hint of the cat’s winter glory. Colour is not important and this breed comes in almost every colour and pattern.
Another important feature of the breed is its body - size and shape.  This is a large breed, like many in the Semi Long Hair group, and the legs are tall with big round paws so as to help the cat when wading across snow.  However perhaps the first thing you notice about a Forest Cat is its head shape and expression - the cat has an alert, intelligent look with a triangular head shape, long straight profile and large tufted ears.
Although these cats have been around in their native country for longer than we have had pet cats in Britain, it is comparatively recently that they actually became a pedigree breed. In 1977 the National Cat of Norway made front page news when it gained formal acceptance as a breed in its own right. The Norwegians had fought for pedigree status in order to protect the breed, as by the mid twentieth century conditions in Scandinavia were changing and the spread of population, together with the import of many other breeds, endangered the integrity of the NFC. You might think that with such a “wild” background NFCs are a little untamed, but that is not the case at all. In fact their adaptability and companionable nature has meant that they have now spread all over the world, from Europe to America, Australia and Africa.
A Norwegian Forest Cat can as easily make him or herself at home in an apartment as in the forest, and so long as they have plenty of food and company the NFCs really don’t mind where they live.  Companionship really is a key thing - the NFC actively wants to become part of your life, sharing everything you do and even sitting on the edge of the tub whilst you bathe.

This irresistible combination of being laid-back and being interested in human activities, being intelligent without any neuroses, and looking beautiful without a lot of special care, has meant that the NFC’s popularity has soared with people who have got to know the breed. They love to live in groups and rarely show either aggression or fear. When I have introduced new NFCs to my multi cat household (not to mention the dog) they usually just stroll in and say hallo to everyone. This is even the case when introducing adults, and I have known several full males to live together in gentle companionship without so much as a growl. In the UK the NFC was comparatively rare until recently (having been introduced in 1987, with a tiny handful of breeding cats). Since then it has deservedly risen to the top ten of the pedigree cat world here.  However in Northern Europe it is one of the most popular breeds of all. For example, when I visited the World Cat Show in Copenhagen in 2003, there were well over 300 Norwegian Forest Cats entered - meaning that around one in five cats at the show was an NFC. With personalities like that, and with the aristocratic long heads and impressive grace of the breed, it is only a matter of time before they become just as sought-after in the UK.

If you would like to learn even more about Forest Cats, please visit the website of the Norwegian Forest Cat Club.

Photos –the cats in this post are all Vieuxtemps cats.  Thanks to Heather Bird for the second photo, Joanne Santillo for the third and Shirley Fullarton for the last one.  A version of this article first appeared in the Semi Long Hair Cat Association Magazine, November 2004

Monday, 3 October 2011

Keeping a Norwegian Forest Stud Cat

In an island such as ours, stud cats are particularly important to their breed.  Although it is much easier now than when I started, bringing in new breeding cats still isn't easy or cheap.  A few good quality NFC studs – by which I mean of excellent type, health and temperament – can have a far-reaching effect over many years as their beneficial genes gradually spread throughout the Forest Cat population which is still relatively small here (though rapidly growing). Likewise, a stud cat with poor type, temperament or health can have a disproportionately adverse effect on the breed as a whole within the UK. Hence it is very important indeed that stud owners are careful to use only the highest-quality males for breeding. Obviously the same applies to females, but to a much lesser extent. If a healthy queen is bred every year for six years and averages five in a litter, then she will introduce thirty kittens to the world during her active life. A stud cat on the other hand may father that many kittens, or more, every single year!

Kyrrekatt Kistrand as a baby - he was the first NFC stud cat we had, and an absolute darling.
He also managed to kill the 'indestructible' aspidistra plant that he's sitting on in the picture.

My personal view is always that the health and happiness of the individual cats is even more important than the welfare of the breed, and very much more vital than the satisfaction of the relevant humans (though these things are often linked). So if there is a really super stud cat who isn’t happy and thriving in his lifestyle, he should be neutered in order to lead life as a happy pet rather than kept entire for the convenience of his owners. What one person considers a satisfactory life for a cat may be considered cruelty by others, of course. In fact I sometimes think that there are as many ways of keeping cats as there are breeders. In some countries studs are kept in isolation in small indoor cages, which would be considered unacceptable by most animal-lovers and certainly by the cats themselves. At the other extreme, some kind owners have sacrificed their own comfort in order to give their cats the best possible life; I have been to homes where the males are allowed to live as part of the family, indoors, but with access to a safe outside enclosure when they want. These homes usually smell overwhelmingly of stud cat to the point where a visitor would reel back at the fumes; for very few studs do not spray and even if they never deviate from the litter tray, the reek of their urine is incredibly strong. If someone could invent a pleasant perfume with as much staying-power as tomcat spray, their fortune would be made! Some novice stud owners have been heard to say “my boy doesn’t spray” but very often this is when the stud is very young – spraying sometimes begins as late as 18months of age. Of course, there do exist a few entire males who are compatible with a home life but then the owner has to be extremely careful that there are no mis-matings; keeping a female and male cat together will almost certainly result in unintentional kittens, for the male will know that the female is on heat before any human could guess, and if there is a stud right there, the queen doesn’t even need to waste energy in calling aloud if she doesn’t want to. 
This is International Champion David Austin av Boxerhaven, a wonderful Norwegian boy who was imported to Denmark.  Carli of Gyldenloeve cattery allowed us to borrow him for a few months during which time he fathered some kittens in the UK, including our own Valentine.  This was a great opportunity for improving the blood lines in Britain.
In the UK I have seen many stud cats because I started breeding a quarter of a century ago (eek!) and for many of my litters, used outside studs. (I only got my own boys once I had the time, space and number of mates they deserved. It isn’t kind to buy a male if you have only one or two females – they will inevitably become frustrated if they do not have a large enough harem.) So I have seen good and bad conditions for numerous boys, and have tried to work out a life that I feel is kind to my own studs. Often people do not intend to be cruel, but are simply unaware of their cats’ needs. Apart from the basics of food and shelter, Forest Cats need space and company. I think if a cat is kept in a “run” it should literally be able to run; a few paces in either direction is simply not enough, and they should have trees or wooden shelves to climb and scratch as well as human and feline company on a frequent basis. Even from a selfish point of view, it makes sense to ensure the contentment of your stud; a frustrated male cat can become irritable (and dangerous); noisy; lose weight; and even refuse to “perform”. 

International Champion Tilia Nova's Ingjalf, another magnificent stud we were kindly lent by Carli of Gyldenloeve.  Ingjalf has his own post in the September 2011 section of this blog.  He was one of my favourite cats, ever.
I remember once having a conversation with an exhibitor at a cat show who was describing how impressed she was at the premises of the breeder of her show neuter (not an NFC as it happens). Apparently the breeder kept all her cats in spotless white plastic pens in the garden, and it was all so very hygienic. But during our conversation it became apparent that there was not a blade of grass or natural log in existence – just a couple of metres of white plastic for each cat, kept separate from the others for “health reasons”. What a lonely life those poor cats must have had.

Father, Quink, likes to help bring up his kittens and teach them how to be Forest Cats 
In the countryside, a free-range male cat will roam over a huge distance looking for mates, and studies have shown that a typical patrol area will measure 7 miles in diameter. By means of territorial marking the cat will attempt to keep out other entire males, and if he comes across a male intruder a fight will almost certainly ensue. Sometimes these sound worse than they are; a few chunks of fur will fly, the inferior combatant will retreat and no real harm will be done. At other times there will be genuine injuries, and even a small bite will usually lead to an abscess, which of course can become quite serious in the case of feral toms without access to antibiotics. If two mature entire males come face to face inside a restricted space, such as a breeder’s home or cat-garden, the fight is likely to be bloodier as there is little opportunity for the weaker male to escape. So when I say that stud cats should not live alone, it is not generally a good idea to keep two studs within sight, sound or smell, let alone reach, of each other. Many novice breeders will purchase two good-natured young males and think that they can share a living space, but it is almost inevitable that at some point there will be a nasty fight. I have met one Danish breeder who has several studs sharing the same area in her large home, but this is extremely unusual. It is in the nature of even the most laid-back Forest Cat stud to become aggressive towards other males, and usually one will be the bully whilst the other is dominated and miserable.  However I have had some success with having two studs enjoy each other’s company – and they are both from the lines of the Danish breeder I mentioned, Carli of Gyldenloeve.  Quink is now neutered but this photo was taken while he was still entire.  Valentine is still a stud cat here at Vieuxtemps.
Valentine and Quink chilling out in each other's company
I have heard of some Scandinavian breeders who allow their stud cats to roam free out of doors; I believe that the famous Pan’s Truls was one of these and one day he simply didn’t return home. However in Britain this is hardly practical nor indeed ethical, as your stud will be actively increasing the population of unwanted moggy kittens, and probably picking up nasty diseases into the bargain, not to speak of possible injuries. However this is one instance where your stud cat, if he had his way, would disagree with me in his choice of lifestyle!

Another thing I feel is important for the quality of life of a stud cat is to ensure that he isn’t active for too long. He deserves an early retirement especially if he has been confined away from the household and kept outdoors, so he can mellow into becoming a beloved pet or show neuter, with time spent on the sofa with the rest of the family, without the stress of being stopped from spraying or mating when he shouldn’t. It isn’t fair to keep a cat for many years in the inevitably constricted lifestyle that is the lot of a pedigree stud. Comparatively early neutering also helps to ensure that a stud isn’t over-used within the breed as a whole within the UK. The wider the gene pool, the better it is for the health of the breed.
Champion Magnus More og Romsdal, one of our previous NFC studs caring for one of his kittens.  Magnus was a big gentle blue ticked tabby boy we imported from the Netherlands.
My impetus for writing this article is that there are quite a lot of new breeders of Forest Cats lately – it is great to see the breed growing in strength within our country. I’m sure some people will disagree with my points of view, and they are welcome to put their own thoughts forward. But new breeders sometimes simply don’t realise the needs of a stud cat. It really isn’t a good idea to get a stud until you have had a few years’ experience as a breeder using outside stud cats, and have had a chance to build up the required number of queens for his use. If you are intending to allow outside females to use your stud, you need to be sufficiently experienced to be able to predict what kittens can be produced by a particular mating, and to be able to take responsibility for someone else’s cat staying with you for a few days or even weeks. Cat mating is quite a complex ritual and requires sensitivity and experience on the part of the humans. Of course is it convenient to have two studs– many people like to do this, or indeed have even more, so as to have alternative mates for their own queens and for queens they have sold to other breeders. Inviting sold female kittens back for a mating can be quite a money-spinner in fact! If visiting queens are accepted, you need to have separate quarters so the two cats can get to know each other through wire mesh before being allowed to mix freely. It is also necessary for the stud cat to have an escape shelf on which to spring should the female attack him after mating – which can happen sometimes due to discomfort from the male’s barbed penis. 

Breeders, please ask yourselves – will your studs really have enough mates, company, interesting activities and human attention? If the answer is “no” to any of these, then think twice before embarking on getting a stud. It can be more problematic than it seems.
Dansbjerg's Pelle Halelos, whom we imported from Denmark for his lovely type, size, health and temperament.  Here he is snuggling up with his friend Champion Ragna More og Romsdal.