By their very nature, cats are free-ranging animals. Mature males especially, are wanderers. Before the concept of selective breeding about 150 years ago, this wanderlust in domestic cats provided plenty of opportunity for the intermingling of genes. If there were teo distinct races of cat in any region, they blended over a period of time, so we cannot be sure of the origin of many of our modern domestic breeds.
Nevertheless, studies of the skeletal structure, body type and hair length of modern breeds enable us to make an informed guess. The spread of pedigree cats – and also the development of new breeds or colour varieties – continues throughout the world. There are now dozens of different breeds and hundreds of different colour varieties.
The heavier, more thickset body type, found in British Shorthairs and Persians, shows the influence of the European wild cat. The foreign and Oriental breeds retain the lithe body of the African wild cat. By the late 19th century, exports and imports of pedigree cats were starting in earnest, and by the end of that century the Siamese, Russian Blue and Abyssinian had already reached Britain.
There are no evidence for the claim that some domestic breeds (such as the Angora, Chinese cat and Siamese) have an Asiatic origin and may be descended from Pallas’s cat or its close relatives, because the skulls of these cats show no similarity to the Asiatic species.
It was not until the middle of the 19th century that the idea of selective breeding and recording of pedigree cats took hold in Britain and Europe. Some breeders started their breeding programmes using ordinary shorthaired ‘moggies’, selecting them for their body shape and coat colour. From these humble ancestors, over the years and through selective breeding, today’s British and European Shorthair breeds were created.
In America the foundation stock for short-hairs also came from local cats, but these were the descendants of the cats taken over by the early settlers 200 years earlier, and they had developed quite distinctive characteristics of their own. These are now reflected in the American Shorthair. During early days of cat breeding ‘there were already longhaired domestic cats, but the main development of the pedigree longhair breeds came initially from the Angora cat, which had originated in Turkey, and later from other longhair breeds imported from Persia and Afghanistan. Both the latter types wuickly became known as Persians. Their popularity grew at the expense of the Angora, which almost disappeared from teh breeding scene.
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