In analysing the differences between the cat breeds using DNA testing, I am compelled to come to the conclusion that it’s all a mashup. Nothing is what it seems. Everything is blurred and grey without clean distinctions. The breeds, themselves, have a different and distinct appearance – they have to, to be a cat breed – but at a DNA level there are some strange groupings and overlaps, but not much in the way of distinctive traits. I have written about the Persian which has no connection with Persia. This page goes a bit further.

I am using information from Sarah Hartwell’s site which in turn is based on scientific studies – all good sources. Ms Hartwell summarises information from the studies. When you read her article everything becomes a blur. If you try to find a handle on the subject, a pattern or some sense, you fail.

Cat Breed Mashup. Photos of cats are copyright Helmi Flick. The mash potatoes are from iStockphoto (bought).

So, other than the Persian, what examples of a “cat breed mashup” are there? Below is a selection. I’ll start with a breed that is more or less how I like it.

Sokoke

One cat breed at least makes a bit of sense: the Sokoke. This is a rare cat breed that breeders say comes from the region of the Sokoke Forest in Kenya, Africa. Well, surprise, surprise, this breed is closely related to moggies (random bred cats) from the Kenyan islands of “Lamu and Pate group”. Where are these?  Well Lamu is an island that is about 150 kilometers north of the Arabuko Sokoke Forest. I find that interesting because at least it is somewhere near the forest but why isn’t it the Sokoke Forest itself? At least we are near Kenya. That is a result. Another scientist, Kurushima et al (2012), says the Sokoke cat is associated with the region around the Indian/Arabian Sea. That would include Kenya, it seems to me, but it also includes many other countries and places. It is vague.

Egyptian Mau

There is a lot of folklore surrounding this cat breed. It is said to be related to ancient Egypt.

The Egyptian Mau was worshipped by pharaohs and kings.. (CFA breed profile)

Yet DNA testing concludes that the Egyptian Mau is related to Turkish and Tunisian random-bred cats, with European influences. It is a bit like a recipe from the kitchen. This breed has been grouped with the Russian Blue, Siamese, Korat and Abyssinian cats and “clustered” with American Turkish Angoras and Turkish Vans, but not a sign of anything ancient or Egyptian. Where is that ancient, exotic blood; the connection with the pharaohs that we crave? If you want to see an Egyptian Mau go to Cairo and look at a grubby, spotted, persecuted street cat instead.

Birman

This cat breed has a tenuous connection with Burma. I doubt whether you’ll find a Birman in Burma. We are told that the Birman was imported into France in 1920 or thereabouts, in the form of one male and one female, but after than things become grey, very grey. The male cat died, which left things up in the air. The surviving female and her daughter were mated with other cat breeds such as the Siamese.  Then along came WWII which meant the breed had to be recreated again. In America, a couple of “Tibetan temple cats” were imported into the country. We’re told they were Birmans. They were crossed with other breeds. It’s another mashup. The Birman is meant to be a Burmese cat but is no longer.

Japanese Bobtail

I’ll end on the famous Japanese Bobtail. This is another cat with a long history, supposedly, of evolution within Japan and a long standing connection with the country. We are told that it has been in Japan for over a thousand years, being imported from China in the 6th century.

Well, put your preconceptions aside, the modern Japanese Bobtail is more closely related to European and American cats than the cats of Southeast Asia. This is because of that wonderful process called “selective breeding“.

Conclusions?

These are personal views and I could be wrong. The desire to create new cat breeds – there are too many, in my opinion – from a domestic cat that looks pretty much the same throughout the world has resulted in losing what distinctions there were between cats of certain regions.

However, what has happened is to be expected. Little attention and respect has been paid to the origins of the modern cat breeds. It has all been about what breeders fancied. There are many other examples in addition to the ones I have selected.

The overwhelming conclusion, for me, is that the cat breeds are a mashup, to use modern parlance; modern breeding and modern concepts coming together to erase what history and distinctions there were amongst the “natural cat breeds”. I think it is a shame from a purely commercial standpoint. The cat fancy would have done better financially and gained more respect, if it had been more honest and respectful of the domestic cat.


Note: if someone wants me to address some more breeds just ask.

Please comment here using either Facebook or WordPress (when available).
Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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    • Nice photo. Matata looks like a lion! He is more purebred than the Persians in America, believe me.

      Thanks for taking the time to resize the photo. It was worth it.

  • I was thinking of creating a new traditional Persian cat breed called "MUMBAI PERSIAN CAT" but sadly my male stud cat "Matata" has proved to be the costliest "Stud cat Failure"!He just doesn't know the method of mating and is now playing the role of the "Joker" in my house.Hilarious but true. Real life can be more bizarre than fiction.Seems every cat breeder of some repute is trying to create a new cat breed and i wonder where, when and how this craze would end.In India , the recently formed "Indian cat Federation" affiliated to the "World cat Federation" of Germany has plans to create a new local Indian breed called the "BILI( means cat in Hindi language)" from the local stray Indian cat.Below is a photo of handsome 5 year old tomcat "Matata", the super flop stud cat.

    • Rudolph, have you tried mating him with another purebred cat from a different line? His behavior as an unnuetered tomcat must be more "male" and does it present problems?

      • Michael, he is a major headache for the house. At times he marks his territory in the house by spraying in his favourite places.Sometimes he also yowls at night.In fact he has become a nuisance and i do find difficulty in maintaining him in the house.My other cat, his dam "Matahari" is absolutely peaceful and a typical Persian cat in behaviour and character, docile, quiet.

  • These fine differences are however very important. Without them we would not have been able to determine that the cat fancy Angora is unrelated to the original Turkish Angoras from the Ankara Zoo and Turkey. The pronounced physical differences are now backed up by genetic proof. Don't underestimate these small genetic differences. They are crucial to our campaign to restore the genuine Turkish Angora. We all know that pedigrees can be and are used to legitimise fakes. The cat registries do not make enough effort to verify the information supplied to them when registering litters and new cats. If the information re Turkish Angoras were correct then the breed would suffer from very high inbreeding factor due to all being descended from very few foundation cats, but this is not the case. This alone should raise a red flag.

    • They are crucial to our campaign to restore the genuine Turkish Angora

      I am totally for what you are for ;) The real TA is far better and "real". I support all that you do. In a different world, though, with different attitudes or turning the clock back 170 years there would be no cat breeds at all. The idea of cat breeds is a relatively modern concept and it has led to a cat fancy that has been self-indulgent and short-sighted at the expense of the cat.

  • There are fine DNA differences between some breeds (it appears) but these are insufficient to make them a different cat species. As the classification of the species is a far more scientific process based on DNA analysis than comparing cat breeds we have to agree that all the domestic cats from whatever region or background are effectively the same from a scientifically accurate point of view.

  • Hi Valley Girl. They are genetically identical in that they all belong to the same breed group, the W European group. They don't go deep enough to distinguish one individual from another, only that they belong to the same group. My cat from the Ankara Zoo and many others from Cyprus and Turkey were reported to be genetically identical because they have the same genetic markers. Would it be more useful to say very closely related like mother and son when dam and sire are also closely related ? You can see all my tribe on Facebook if you type-in vancats1938 Harvey Harrison on FB and send a friend request

  • Hi Harvey,

    I tried to click on your name, hoping it would tell me more about your efforts. Alas..

    But, good for you. Have you written at PoC giving the details of your efforts?

    I am minor league compared to you. I rescued one cat. I do come from a "cat family" however. Always "moggies" ? ;). Always strays. Tootsie is the first "purebred" in the family lineage! I have to confess that I got fascinated by the silly personalities of MCs that I saw, looking at lots of YouTubes. I was not going to have another cat, ever, b/c of kitty loss grief, but then...

  • Hi Valley Girl. Yes it is often very unpleasant to learn what other people get up to, and pets are considered disposable items without importance or feelings. Yes, a person in ill health must first take care of him or herself, but don't they say having a pet is healthy? I have heard that excuse before and it goes down very well in most cases. I have 30 cats to look after so i am not much impressed by people who can't take care of just one or two despite some health problems. This is a natural "breed' conservation effort on my part. I keep them away from mad spaying societies who have no understanding of rare cat conservation, or the difference between a Turkish Van and a furniture van.

  • Hi Valley Girl. Ha Ha. That genetic difference is nothing to do with just memory. It means that we share 97% of our genes with chimps but we have 3% that they don't have. That 3% covers a wide range of differences from reasoning ability and general IQ to muscular strength, etc.
    The genetic difference between cats certainly must be very small but it is detectable and very useful in determining in which geographic area(s) a certain cat originated. Genetics can detect the difference between children from the same mother but different fathers. This is used with 100% certainty to settle paternity cases.

    • I meant that you knew the number 3%, and I that was what I remembered w/o doing the google.

      I see now that your comment wasn't meant as snark, but I was confused because in a comment above you had said that MCs, NFCs and Siberians were genetically identical. Rereading your comment, let me try to unwrap this. Maybe you weren't saying that the three "breeds" are genetically identical with each other, rather that each "breed" in and of itself is genetically identical. Still can't be so, and reading your other comments I suspect you would agree.

  • Hi Michael. Yes theory are all sub-species of certain small wildcats, but due to geographic isolation genetic differences have crept in and any genetic analysis will show clear difference. This enable cats from Turkey to be identified as such and other cats that may be registered as Turkish to be of non-Turkish origin. The fake Turkish Angoras are identified in the Kurushima study as being predominantly W European, and in the Ascent of Cat breeds as an Egyptian Mau and Tunisian street cat mix. The problem is that E Maus are not Egyptian, they are W European and the Tunisian cats are probably from France, so both studies coincide. Turkish cats have a distinct genetic marker which coincides with random bred cats in that specific geographic area. The science of genetics has caught up with those frauds. They can kick and squeal for all they want but they will not be let off the hook.

  • Hi Valley Girl. Yes they have been recognised as natural breeds for many years but what I meant was that the cat fancy will soon or has already started to work on them and change then into non-natural breeds. I have seen Maine Coons with close -set erect ears rather like the fake American Angora. Sadly the cat registries don't seem to give a damn about any manipulation or even check that breeding is as stated. Who knows what they will end up like. probably the same will happen to them like the TA, so changed that the original genuine ones are no longer accepted as representative of the breed. Your rescued Coonie finally had a lucky break. Too many people want everything too easy and looking after a cat would take them away from more important things like watching soap operas and eating doughnuts.

    • p.s. Sorry, I wasn't clear- what I meant was I don't know why she was put up for adoption, rather than being returned to the local cattery.

      But, "cats as furniture" and get rid of them if they behave like cats has been a frequent topic of discussion at PoC.

    • In fairness to the person who put my girl up for adoption, I gather that she was in ill health, and could no longer care for her two MCs.

      What really shocked me was my interaction with the rescue agency. Ms. Cat had been stated to be FIV FeLV negative on the petfinder ad. At the very end of the adoption process the rescue person (actually the person who was in charge of the rescue place) said, ~ "oh, and we said she was FIV FeLV negative because she's always been an indoor cat, but we actually haven't had her tested. When you take her to the vet, if you find out she is FIV or FeLV positive, you can return her."

      You cannot image (or probably you can) how pissed off I was, although I didn't confront the person. I just wanted to get Tootsie home asap. Like I would return her, like she was a faulty lampshade or something? She was not FIV or FeLV positive, but the whole episode still makes me very angry. As a result, I concluded that there is a dark side to the "cat rescue business" as well.

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