Published in 'Cats' - August 26th, 1992.
THE ORIENTAL MINEFIELD
by John S Harrison
The colour in Tabbies is a major part of their beauty. If the colours are poor then the whole effect, no matter how well defined or well formed the pattern may be, will be spoiled. The Breed Standard for the Oriental Tabbies clearly defines the colouring required.
BROWN : Dense BLACK markings on a warm toned coppery brown ground of agouti hairs. No cold grey tones in ground colour. The markings should be black to the roots showing good contrast with the ground colour.
BLUE : Light to medium blue markings on a cool toned beige ground of agouti hairs. No hot gingery tones in ground colour. The markings should be blue to the roots and contrasting as much as possible with the ground colour.
CHOCOLATE : Rich warm toned chocolate brown markings on a warm toned bronze ground of agouti hairs. No cold fawn tones in ground colour or near black chocolate tones in the markings. Lighter chocolate marking colour preferred. The markings should be chocolate brown to the roots showing good contrast with the ground colour.
CINNAMON : Rich warm toned cinnamon brown markings on a warm toned burnt orange ground of agouti hairs. The markings should be cinnamon brown to the roots.
LILAC : Lilac markings on a cool toned beige ground of agouti hairs. No hot gingery tones in the ground colour. The markings should be lilac to the roots and contrasting as much as possible with the ground colour.
FAWN : Warm toned rosy mushroom markings on a warm toned pale mushroom ground of agouti hairs. The markings should be rosy mushroom to the roots.
CARAMEL : Cool toned bluish fawn markings on a cool toned beige agouti ground. The markings to be bluish fawn to the roots.
RED : Rich warm toned red markings on a ground of bright apricot hairs. No dull tones in markings or ground colour. The markings should be red to the roots showing a good contrast with the ground colour.
CREAM : Rich cream markings on a cool toned paler cream ground. No hot gingery tones in markings or ground colour. The markings should be cream to the roots and contrasting as much as possible with the ground colour.
Correct colour is most important, a richly coloured Brown Tabby is most attractive, whereas the poorly coloured version of black markings on a greyish ground most certainly is not. One fault which is often seen, particularily in Oriental Spotteds, is grey roots in the ground colour, a problem frequently encountered in the Abyssinian and Somali.
One of the quirks of the Tabbies is the tendency to reduced pigmentation on the chin and lips, sometimes being so pale as to appear white. Whilst Tabbies have a predisposition to pale chins it is essential that breeders positively select for colouring, and select against those animals showing white on throat and muzzle. Unfortunately the effect of the Ticked Tabby gene [Ta] does result in a paler chin and both Breeders and Judges should show a greater tolerance in this particular variety.
In all Tabby patterns the leg markings should ideally extend well down the leg and onto the toes. It is worth remembering that these will be better defined in the Classic Tabby than in the Spotted and the Ticked. The Breed Standards reflect this, for the Classic Tabby Standard states "Legs barred evenly with bracelets going down from the body markings to the toes", whilst the Spotted Standard asks for the legs to be " .... barred and/or spotted.", and the Ticked Standard simply states that the legs must show " ..... distinct tabby striping."
Tail markings are also required in all Tabby varieties, and it is interesting to note how the tail rings differ in each variety. One common factor is that in all Patterns there must be a solid coloured tail tip. In the Classic the tail has wide rather irregular tail rings along the full length of the tail. The rings should join on the underside of the tail. The Spotted again has a ringed tail, though the rings are far more even in width and spacing, again they must join on the underside of the tail. The Mackerel (at least in the Feral cat) has very many narrow rings evenly spaced along the tail, and of course they are joined. The Ticked Tabby Standard differs from those for other patterns and simply asks that the tail shows " ... distinct tabby striping ..." in recognition of the nature of the pattern. To find a Ticked Tabby with a fully ringed tail along its entire length AND NO body markings would be something of a miracle! [Would that miracles happen!!]
Unfortunately while the Ticked Tabby Standard accepts and recognises that Ticked Tabbies will not show fully ringed tails or even barred legs NOT ONE of the Tabby Standards make any allowance for incomplete dark tail tips in Reds and Creams. It seems that these two colours are doomed to failure because it is almost impossible to breed Red or Cream tail tips! Some cats show a partial ring at the tip of the tail, but 99 out of every 100 Red and Cream Tabbies will have light tips. In the feral cat population one will occasionally see a solid tail tip, but always on cats with white markings! I personally believe that the Standard should be changed, it seems totally unjust to penalise a colour by seeking a supposed attribute which may be genetically impossible to achieve.
THE SILVER TABBY
Silvers are caused by the action of a dominant gene [I], called the Melanin Inhibitor, which prevents the full development of pigmentation in the hair. Contrary to the view held by some 'Silver' is dominant and cannot be carried by either stud or queen. To produce Silver, or Smoke, kittens one of the parents must be either Silver or Smoke. In the non-agouti cat the gene produces the white undercoat of the Smoke, this is markedly different to the 'unsound' coat. In the agouti cat the gene is more selective and a greater effect is seen on the agouti hairs than in the pattern. The pattern in effect becomes light at the roots as in the Smoke, while in the agouti hairs some of the lower coloured bands may be removed, the colour of the lighter bands is reduced significantly. This produces a very light ground colour, where the agouti banding is noticeably less than in the non-silver cat, and the hairs consist of a smaller number of coloured bands with almost white in between.
The Silver versions of the Tabbies are most attractive cats, and there are some differences which must be remembered when looking at the coats of Silvers. Whilst the pattern must conform to the description of the Standard colours, it must be remembered that the pattern will not be sound to the roots, there will be a definite whitish section towards the skin. The Silvers also lack the warmth of colour of the standard colours, and for example one would never expect to find a Chocolate Silver Spotted with rich deep Havana coloured spots! Would that it were possible! The Melanin Inhibitor reduces the ammount of pigmentation in both pattern and ground colour.
The ground colour in the Silver shows a very noticeable difference to the standard Tabby of equivalent colour. The ground colour is near-white, or white with limited coloured ticking. The less ticking the lighter the ground colour and the greater the contrast. Those cats which show a greater degree of ticking (or banding) show more colour in the ground and do not have the desired contrast. These latter coats are sometimes described as being 'muddy' or 'cloudy'.
One common failing in Silvers is that they frequently show yellowing especially to the face and legs. This is often referred to as 'tarnishing' or being 'brassy', and clearly detracts from the bright sparkling effect one is looking for in a Silver. This 'tarnishing' is caused by polygenes which enhance the richness of colour in standard varieties and is usualy referred to as 'Rufism'. In Silvers rufism is selected against, and so again there will be a reduction in the 'warmth' of the pattern colour. An offshoot of this is that standard coloured cats bred from Silvers frequently also lack warmth and richness of colour.
As already mentioned all Tabbies are prone to a lightening of colour on the lips, chin and throat. In Silvers the reduced pigmentation produces very light coloured, or white, chins, throats and muzzles - this is NOT a fault.
THE WIDE-BAND GENE
Unfortunately the original mating between the Chocolate Point Siamese, Marisarni Dandino, and the Chinchilla, Marisarni Retara, also introduced a problem into the Oriental Tabbies, for hand-in-hand with Silver came 'Wide-band'. The gene tentatively recognised as 'Wide-band' and designated Wb is the gene which turns the Silver Tabby into the Shaded Silver, Tipped, or Chinchilla. The basic effect of the gene is that it greatly increases the width of bands of ticking on the hairs and effectively breaks up and distorts the pattern. Needless to sat in the Silver Shaded and Tipped this is highly desireable and results in the desired cat. In the Chinchilla this has been taken to its limit and present day Chinchillas appear to be almost totally white coated.
For many years the Chinchilla was regarded almost as an independent variety, and it was some years before it was generally recognised that there was a standard or non-silver version of the Chinchilla - of course today we all recognise the 'Golden' Longhair. In the Oriental World it has taken just that little bit longer for breeders to accept the concept of a standard or non-silver Shaded or Tipped - we too have 'Goldens' in every possible recognised colour! Unfortunately because of the coat length of the Oriental many breeders, exhibitors and Judges DO NOT RECOGNISE them when they see them!
The Standard Shaded does look remarkably like a very poor Tabby cat, but one which appears to have more ground colour than the normal form. Though the tabby pattern may well be totally recogniseable it will be rather less distinct than desired in a Tabby, and it will not be sound to the roots - it will only extend into the upper portion of the hair. Unfortunately on close examination these cats are rather reminiscent of a Ticked Tabby with very heavy ghost markings! They are however distinguishable from the Tabbies and breeders should look closely at their tabby lines. If the above seems to fit then perhaps they should investigate the possibility that they have the elusive or insidious (depending on ones viewpoint!) 'Wide-band' gene in their cats.
It is of course vitally important that breeders, exhibitors and judges do not romp away with the view that all tabbies with poor pattern definition, agouti invasion of the pattern, and unsound pattern are Shaded. Many tabbies of course do have straight forward common-or-garden pattern faults! If however certain breeding lines consistently produce hazy pattern, AND the pedigree permits, then the possibility of the presence of 'Wide-band' cannot be ignored.
It seems apparent from breeding results to date that the gene is incompletely dominant, and accordingly there is a vast difference between the homozygous cat [WbWb] and the heterozygote [Wbwb]. The perfected Shaded is the homozygote and it will show minimal or preferably NO tabby markings to any part of the bodt excepting perhaps the face. Such perfection cannot be achieved overnight and of course the early specimens, the heterozygotes, will show very poor quality tabby patterning which will be of a totally recogniseable tabby pattern.
Unfortunatly unless breeders and judges are rigorous in their examination of cats then they may well assume that the cats in question are conventional tabbies. Clearly this is happening with great regularity and a high percentage of Silver Tabbies seen on the showbench are in fact Silver Shaded. That they win as AOC Spotted Tabby clearly indicates that breeders and judges do not recognise them. This is also equally true in the non-silver tabbies, and there are certainly more than one or two Tabbies around which are in reality Standard Shaded of the undeveloped form.
The highly developed or perfected form of Shaded and Tipped non-silver colours, will only result from selectively breeding together cats in posession of 'wide-band'. It is seemingly the case that the true Shaded and Tipped will be of genotype WbWb and it is the intermediate stage Wbwb which is causing confusion. Some lines of cats are most certainly in possession of this fascinating gene.
Of course the gene is not exclusive to agouti cats, and the Selfs may well inherit the gene. It may well be responsible for many unsound coats seen in some lines of Orientals. In consequence Tabby breeders should pay very close regard to the soundness of coat of self-coloured studs they may consider using on their Tabby females.
The Oriental Tabbies in the recognised patterns, available colours and Silvers are potentially the most attractive section of the Oriental Shorthair. Bred selectively for enhanced pattern and colour they are amongst the most beautiful of creatures - in their poorer forms they are rather dull and drab. It is up to ALL breeders and ALL judges to look for correct pattern and correct colour and promote the breeding of the finest Tabby cats. The acceptance of incorrect coat colour and pattern will lead to the ruination of these varieties.
A good head and body type does nopt make a good Oriental Tabby, equally so a good coat colour and patttern does not male a good Oriental Tabby. AN ORIENTAL TABBY MUST HAVE BOTH CORRECT HEAD & BODY TYPE AND CORRECT COAT COLOUR & PATTERN. Let us cast aside this nonsence that 'type is paramount' for it most certainly is not. The Tabbies, of all the Orientals, are the most difficult to breed and the most difficult to judge. They present a challenge to both breeder and judge alike, and those perverse individuals who try to both breed and judge are indeed few in number!
© John S Harrison, 1992
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