Published in 'Cats' - August 21st, 1992.
THE ORIENTAL MINEFIELD
by John S Harrison
The GCCF Breed Standards for the Oriental Tabbies contain, in some detail, the essential requirements of the varieties, they present a picture in words of the desired cat. The Breed Standard should be referred to, with some regularity, by all involved with the varieties. In contrast to some other Breed Standards those for the Oriental are quite specific and contain much valuable detail and information, yet all to often it appears that the Standards are misinterpreted or ignored.
A fundamental requirement of all Oriental varieties is that they shall be of what is now recognised as "Oriental type". In the Self varieties the only other basic requirement is that they are of correct, sound and even colour. In the Non-Selfs there are however other essential requirements, noteably pattern. Without correct pattern and correct type the Non-Selfs are doomed to failute. A balance must be struck between these two essential elements, yet it appears that to many Breeders and Judges pattern is secondary to type. Patterned cats must conform to the Breed Standard both in pattern and type.
The Tabby Cat is the result of the action of two genes, the agouti gene and the pattern gene. The agouti gene (A), produces banding or ticking on the hair, so that unlike the non-agouti (aa) or Self coloured cats; where the hair is the same colour from the skin to the tip of the hair; in the the agouti cat the hair is banded along its length. This agouti hair is also seen in the rabbit and other small mammals. However in the Cat the agouti gene does not affect all parts of the coat equally and some areas of the coat remain a solid colour with no ticking thus creating the Tabby markings, or Pattern.
There appears to be considerable confusion amongst many breeders and exhibitors and it is worth stressing that the solid areas which form the pattern must not show any agouti hairs. The area between the pattern must be agouti and is usually referred to as the 'ground colour'.
The four Tabby Patterns recognized in the Oriental Shorthair are:
Ticked Tabby .............. Ta_
Spotted Tabby...............T _
Mackerel Tabby............T _
Classic Tabby ................tbtb
The patterns are listed in order of genetic dominance. Therefore a Ticked Tabby can 'carry' Spotted, Mackerel, or Classic; a Spotted can only 'carry' Mackerel or Classic; and a Classic cannot carry any other form of pattern. Whether the Mackerel and the Spotted patterns exist as seperate genes is unclear; there seems to be considerable weight for the view that they are selectively derived versions of the same form. Even today there is still a fairly widespread view among the British Shorthair breeders and exhibitors that 'Spotteds' are not tabbies, and many Abyssinian breeders do not regard Abys as being tabby either! Everyone accepts that the Classic is a tabby!
THE TICKED TABBY - Breed No 45
The Ticked Tabby has not yet achieved full Championship status, and is one of our newest varieties. The gene responsible for the pattern is the same as that producing the pattern in the Abyssinian cat, and it is from that breed the gene was introduced. All British lines of quality Ticked Tabbies can trace their ancestry to a common origin with the Oriental Cinnamon, that is the Abyssinian!
The entire body coat consists of ticked or agouti hairs, and the tabby barring appears only on the head, legs, and tail. The body fur itself is true agouti, consisting solely of evenly banded hairs. The ideal cat would have two or three bands of both the ground colour and the pattern colour, but in reality in the very short Oriental hair eveness of ticking is deemed more important.
The Breed Standard asks for the tail to "... show distinct tabby striping" and does not ask for a "ringed tail" as required for other Tabby Patterns. The Breed Standard recognises the character of the Ticked gene, and accepts that a fully ringed tail is not a realistic requirement in the Ticked Tabby, and also accepts that the necklaces, of which there must be at least one, may be broken, in other words not completely joined on the chest.
The Ticked Tabby is a peculiar variety in that it has two forms depending on the genotype. Because the Ticked gene [Ta] is incompletely dominant to the other alleles in the series the heterozygous form [Ta_] shows a greater degree of head, leg and tail markings than the homozygous form [TaTa] which has a remarkable absence of barring on the limbs, both having an evenly ticked body. Abyssinian breeders have, over very many years, selected for the homozygous form and animals showing any barring are severely penalised. The only vestiges of 'tabby pattern' which remain in the Abyssinian are a solid tail tip, dark fur to the back of the feet, and 'eye liner'. An incomplete or broken necklet is also accepted. In the Oriental Ticked Tabby however the partial tabby markings of the heterozygote are seen as desireable, and so leg barring, tail markings, necklaces and facial markings are demanded by the Breed Standard.
For this reason, it is not generally recommended to mate Ticked to Ticked. Some of the kittens will be homozygous and will not therefore conform to the SOP. No matter how superb they may look they should not win at shows. However having said this, they will be a tremendous asset to the breeder of the Ticked Tabby for all their Tabby offspring will be Ticked. In the breeding of Ticked Tabbies the most valuable breeding animal will be the homozygote [AATaTa] for both Agouti and Ticked Pattern. The animal will produce 100% Ticked Tabby kittens no matter what it is mated to! Very few matings of Ticked to Ticked have been carried out and many breeders have difficulty in accepting that some cats/kittens in this case the homozygote [TaTa] with an almost total absence of tabby barring are non show cats! At birth a good Ticked Tabby is almost solid in colour with only minimal markings visible on the face and tail. As the kittens develop the ticking begins to show through and at three month old the kittens are miniature Ticked Tabbies with ticking showing all over the body. As the kittens grow to adulthood the ticking becomes more distinct. Other 'Ticked' kittens are born as patterned or spotted kittens, and the markings fade as the kittens grow. In the majority of cases these body markings do not totally disappear even in adulthood but are visible as ghost markings. It is questionable whether these are 'pseudo-ticked', and in reality may be 'standard shaded' and not Ticked Tabbies. From a recent conversation with an American breeder, I understand that many of their Ticked Tabbies are in fact most definitely standard shaded!
Unfortunately whilst the Ticked Tabby as a variety has overall excellent quality there are only a few breeders and the variety is numerically small. The variety currently has 'Provisional Status'. in the past 5 or 6 years the Ticked Tabby has developed well and several outstanding specimens have been exhibited excelling not only in coat pattern but also in type.
THE SPOTTED TABBY - Breed No 38
The Spotted Tabby in the very best form is a cat of outstanding beauty. The pattern should consist of spots of solid colour on an agouti background. The spots may vary in size, but ideally should be round in shape, elongated spots resembling broken bars are not acceptable. The spine line must be broken into spots and a solid spine line in an adult is severely penalised. In many Spotties three lines of spots are seen along the spine. The majority of Spotted Tabbies have barred legs, but occasionally one with spotted legs is seen, either of course is acceptable. The leg markings should extend as far down to the feet as possible. The tail must have a solid coloured tip, and should have solid coloured rings along its entire length.
The pattern of a Spotted Tabby should be in sharp contrast to the ground colour and the spots should be sound to the roots, showing neither lighter roots nor ticked hairs. Many Spotteds today show an excessive and unacceptable degree of ticking in the pattern area, and this obviously reduces the contrast with the ground colour (which is of course ticked). The pattern should be immediatly visible. If you have to look for the spots on the body then the pattern is incorrect. All parts of the pattern should match in colour, the spots on the body should be the same colour as the tip of the tail. Unfortunately many are prepared to accept less than the best and over the past few years many cats with poor pattern have won. Too many people have been blinded by type and overlooked poor pattern, with the result that many of todays winners fail very badly on pattern and fall very far short of the Standard.
THE MACKEREL TABBY - Breed No 44
Feral and domestic cats of Mackerel pattern certainly exist, but those I have seen have always had white feet and bibs as well. There is considerable speculation whether the Mackerel Tabby and the Spotted Tabby are only different expressions of the same pattern. In other words is the Spotted Tabby a Mackerel with broken bars and/or a Mackerel Tabby a Spotted with narrow linked spots? We have all seen the indeterminate cat jokingly called the "Spackerel"!
The Breed Standard for the Mackerel Tabby asks for narrow unbroken lines running vertically down the body from the spine line, and asks that "these lines should be as narrow and numerous as possible". All the so-called Mackerel Tabbies I have handled have been nothing more than Spotted Tabbies with elongated linked spots, thus forming bars on the body. The one exception was a four month old kitten showing relatively narrow unbroken bars running down the body at right angles to the spine. This kitten has not been shown since and I have often wondered whether with age the bars would break up and form long spots.........most of us have bred Spotties which in early kittenhood show a rather linked pattern.
The Mackerel Tabby is recognised only at Preliminary level, I cannot see any indication that the Mackerel Tabby will achieve advancement and to my knowledge no breeder is actively attempting to breed the variety in GCCF.
THE CLASSIC TABBY - Breed No 41
The Classic Tabby is sometimes known as the 'Marbled Tabby' or the 'Blotched Tabby' and is the lowest in order of dominance. The Classic Tabby is homozygous for pattern [tbtb] and therefore when mated together two Classics will only produce Classic pattern, any Self-coloured kittens will be non-agouti Classics, and will show very heavy ghost markings as kittens. Almost all the Havanas of my breeding have been of Classic pattern. Any kitten with a Classic pattern parent will carry the Classic pattern, and mated together two such cats will produce 25% kittens with Classic Pattern - though some may be non-agouti.
The Classic Pattern gene [tb] has existed in the domestic cat since the earliest of times. It was this pattern that cat breeders first accepted as being 'Tabby'. Possibly because the pattern is that of the ordinary domestic moggy it has received limited attention from Oriental breeders. I well remember a potential buyer in the mid 1970's commenting that she could obtain a kitten 'like that' from any farm! The kitten in question was a rather attractive young Oriental Classic Tabby! Today there is renewed interest in the variety and it is seen as most shows.
The Classic Pattern is the most variable of the Tabby patterns, and is also visually the "heaviest". The pattern consists of wide stripes and whorls covering more than 50% of the body and so there is less agouti hair (ground colour) than in any other pattern.
The markings of the Classic Tabby are very distinctive and because of this various parts have been named. On the shoulders 'the butterfly' is a series of markings which should be shaped like a butterfly, though because of the slender shoulders of the Oriental this may never be as well defined as in a British Shorthair or a Persian. The spine line which runs from the butterfly to the tail is broad and must be solid and unbroken; to either side and parallel with the spine line is another solid line which drops down onto the flanks. Here there must be a large solid 'blotch' or 'oyster' which is surrounded by solid broad unbroken rings. The area between these markings is of ticked hairs, the pattern however must show no ticked or agouti hairs. It is very difficult to breed Classics which are totally symmetrical, but this must be the aim.
The pattern of the Classic Tabby is extremely variable, and though many Classic kittens may be produced it is only with selective breeding that kittens of consistent pattern form will be produced.
Unfortunately whilst Classic Tabbies are numerically ready for advancement to Championship status, the majority show a totally unacceptable level of ticked or agouti hair in the pattern, and many have a dark agouti pattern on a light agouti ground, this is totally incorrect. Should the variety achieve status before the problem is overcome then I fear we can say 'goodbye' to cats of correct form.
CONCERNING ALL PATTERNS
There are many problems which are common to all Tabby varieties regardless of the pattern and it is therefore appropriate to deal with these in an extra-varietal manner. Before looking more closely at the pattern we must be aware of two points:
Firstly, the pattern (or markings) is/are the solid coloured area of the coat, in other words the spots, bars, stripes & whorls (according to variety). The pattern must be solid in colour and sound to the roots, and must show as little invasion of agouti hairs as possible. In other words the pattern should not show any ticked or banded hairs, and neither should it show light roots.
Secondly, the ground colour is the area of the coat which is made up of agouti hairs, that is the hairs which are ticked or banded.
It is essential that there is a sharp contrast between the pattern and the ground colour, and this can only be achieved when the pattern is solid in colour and free from ticking. The body markings must be as deep and free from ticking as possible and must be the same intensity and depth of colour as the facial and leg markings and the tail tip. If there is ticking in the pattern then there will be visual blurring, the contrast will be diminished and the pattern will have reduced clarity of definition - in short it will become smudged. The GCCF Breed Standards clearly state that "There should be no speckling of agouti hairs in the markings" and further specifies that "Lack of pattern contrast and clarity (except in Ticked Tabbies)" is a fault for which Judges must withhold Challenge Certificates and First Prizes in Kitten classes.
© John S Harrison, 1992
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