"I think I'll start a blog about what it's like to raise cats for a living! Yes that's a great idea, I'll just sit down and..."
*jumps up quickly and detaches kitten from curtains before major damage can ensue*
"...now, where was I?"
Yep that's pretty much life as a Meowmy to cats. There is always a crisis to avert, a mess to clean, a hungry "meow" to silence with the dispensation of food. Being a pet owner is one thing, but raising and breeding show cats can sometimes be a whole different ballgame.
*stops typing to take video of cats being cute*
As anyone who's ever owned one will tell you, Ragdolls are a pretty awesome breed of cat. Until we shared our home with one I really didn't believe they were any different from all the other cats we've ever been owned by. But there truly is a difference between "CAT: Unknown Origin" and a pedigreed cat whose entire disposition has been very carefully curated over many years to enhance particular desirable traits. Don't get me wrong, I am ALL for the adoption of shelter cats and rescue of cats from the side of the road and barn cats who are too cute to stay in the barn and end up sleeping in your bed instead. I've been there done that with many cats!
*launches across the room to break up a squabble over a catnip toy*
So while I totally will advocate for any cat who really needs a home (some cats are feral and quite happy remaining so, but trap/spay/release efforts should still be made to help control the population) I'm not likely to back down if someone takes issue with responsible breeders. (The subject of backyard breeders is for another day.)
I've had several people ask lately through our Instagram account, what does it mean when a breeder says their goal is to always be improving the breed, according to the written "Breed Standard?" Can a kitty be a pet and also meet the breed standard, or is that just for show cats? They're all so cute, what do you mean they're not good enough?
These are all super valid questions and could take a loooooong post to explain, but I'll just choose one example for the moment. The process of determining an animal's overall quality starts before the breed's standards even come into play. Especially with cats, it can be an issue as the standards for cats rarely include things like strong structural conformation (like standards for dogs and horses generally do), but are more geared towards head type, coat color, texture, and length, eye color, etc. This can cause a lot of breeders to overlook important factors like breeding for straight legs, which is the example we will use today.
See the image below:
On the left you have a cat with a "normal" stance - on the right you have a cat who is "cow-hocked" - meaning the knees draw together, causing the feet to splay out to the sides. This can cause damage to the joints and spine, especially in an animal as physically active as a cat (normally) is. Since this is fairly common in cats, it does take some effort to find bloodlines that do not display this trait. Then it takes some finesse to continue putting together the right combinations of genes to maintain straight legs - sometimes by balancing out some acceptable degree of cow-hockedness or maybe a cat that's a little bit bow-legged, combining them with a cat whose legs are straight. Because this trait can affect the overall health of the animal, it would be irresponsible to ignore it in one's breeding program. Some traits can be bred out over a few generations, whereas others can linger for a long time.
Ouch...*detaches cat's mouth from pinky finger* (apparently typing fingers are tempting to bite?!)
If you watch a really experienced judge at a cat show, they'll look at structure first -before- applying the breed standard. This is how I learned that structure is so important in cat breeding too, not just horses and dogs (which I already knew from our experience here at the ranch).
So to those who have asked why Dusty (my first ever Ragdoll!!) is being retired next year
after only 3 litters, this is a big reason why. She is noticeably (beyond my humble opinion of an acceptable margin) cow-hocked and has been since she was a kitten. Unfortunately even after breeding her to a male with very nice straight legs, she does have a tendency to sometimes pass this trait on to her babies - so in the interests of continuing to "improve the breed" I've decided not to keep passing on a trait that could potentially create joint pain or spine problems down the line for her kittens. This doesn't necessarily happen often, and obviously being cow-hocked does not affect a kitten's companionship abilities - they still make awesome pets - but personally I would rather breed with stock that has nice, straight legs if possible. Will all my cats be perfect? No, of course not. But it's worth it to me to continue to improve where I see room for improvement in my program.
*pauses to remove kitten from behind TV*
As for Aspen (many of you know he's a Dusty kitten from her first litter) - his legs are a *tiny* bit cow-hocked, but not significantly enough to really be an issue, I hope. We have to wait and see what he produces. I'm optimistic that he will be balanced out well by Konah's /perfectly straight/ legs and make some really lovely kittens - pets and breeding quality both.
What do you think? Is breeding for structure a responsible decision? Was this subject well explained?