Theophanes is a New-England-based blogger, traveler, writer, photographer, sculptor, and lover of cats.
I went to an emergency vet recently who took the time to yell at me for calling my seizing dog a Maltipoo, as “Maltipoo is not a breed! He's a MUTT!” Well thank you ma’am! I have been to this vet twice and got this same response both times. This leads me to believe that this vet has shit for people skills and is woefully uninformed in what mutt and purebred means. I will never go back there, but I would like to illustrate where dog and cat breeds come from as many people seem confused about this. Most people know dogs are from wolves but how do you get a pug from that? I will be using cats to illustrate this article but this works for all domestic animals. Please enjoy.
Purebreeds from Purebreeds
To start my story I’d like to make up a breed. It’ll be a cat breed and I am going to call it Indigo. Now for the sake of simplicity we’ll just say Indigos have been around for a long time and are a very beloved breed. So beloved in fact that I would like to breed my pair of Indigo cats. In the vast majority of cases when these two cats are bred together they produce kittens that are 100% like themselves. This is what most people expect – when you breed two Persian cats together you generally get all Persians, and the same things goes for breeding two German Shepards or two Arabian horses. No surprises there… However that is not the whole story.
Now let’s say I am a long-time breeder of Indigo cats. I have had lots of litters and they’ve all looked like their mom and dad but one day I breed a pair of Indigos and they have a single kitten in the litter that’s different from all its siblings. In this case the kitten it is a different color, it’s green. This is called genetic mutation. It happens in all animals wild and domestic and it happens when something goes a little awry with the genes. If this were a wild animal this mutation would either be beneficial or harmful. If it’s harmful it probably wouldn’t grow up to have kittens of its own but if it’s beneficial it could potentially sire all sorts of green kittens when it grows up. Now in this case the kitten was born in a domestic setting and I give it the benefit of the doubt. It doesn’t appear unhealthy, as some genetic mutations are, and it’s very pretty. So I decide to keep this kitten and see if she can make more with his coloration.
Reproducing the Genetic Mutation
Now that my green kitten is grown I am going to try and see if his green gene is dominant or recessive. First I will breed him to an unrelated cat and see if he sires any green kittens. If he does then his genes are dominant, if he doesn’t that means his genes are recessive. Recessive genes are genes that are only shown physically when the baby animal in question has a copy of it from each parent. Now I realize the green kitten’s best chance of making more of himself is to breed him back to either his mother or sister. I know, it’s sort of nasty but breeders do it all the time in order to make the characteristics and traits they’re breeding for more vivid. Later on we can breed unrelated cats into the line to open up the gene pool a bit, but of course in doing this we’ll only get a green kitten every two generations.
How Mutations Become Breeds
So some time has passed and I am breeding Green Cats pretty regularly and I want to make it a breed. There are only a few things that are required to make it an official new breed. The first thing is that is must be from at least three successive generations of Green Cats. The second is it has to have the popularity for people to want to make into a breed. If there are no people wanting to bring this Green Cat breed to shows it isn't ever going to make it to be an official breed. However let’s just say that once the Green Cat first hit the market it became wildly popular and now there are several dozen breeders and all sorts of people who want to make it into an official breed. In this case some of the show people and some of the breeders will get together and write up a standard - this is what the cat should look like, behave like, and other traits it can be judged upon. From here pedigrees will start to be written up and the Green Cat will start it's career as an official show breed.
So You Created One Breed, How Do You Create All Breeds?
I used color as an example in my story because it's very easy to illustrate, but most breeds aren't based on color, they're based on some unique characteristic. Persian cats have flat faces, Manx have almost no tails, Devon Rexes have curly hair, Hemingway cats have extra toes, Sphynx have no fur, Munchkins have dwarfed legs. Dogs are an even more brilliant example. Bull Terriers have egg-shaped heads, pit bulls have very wide opening mouths, Pugs have flat faces, Chihuahuas have upright standing ears, Afghan Hounds have long hair, etc etc. These animals are all originally bred because they have these odd traits that make them different from the breed they came from originally. And then perhaps somewhere down the line another puppy or kitten is born with an even more peculiar mutation and yet another breed is born.
But What Happens When I Cross Two Different Breeds?
Good question! I started off this article complaining about a Maltipoo. Maltipoos are a mix between Maltese and Poodles. Now this is where politics come in pretty hard. You'll have people on one side saying Maltipoos are a breed and people on another side saying they're just fancy mutts. What is known right now is that Maltipoos are not a recognized breed in any show rings, therefore technically they're not a breed. However that's not the full truth because people have started breeding Maltipoos beyond the first generation and are starting to breed for specific qualities. Instead of breeding a Maltese to a Poodle some breeders are breeding two Maltipoos together and I have heard of at least one breeder doing this for eight generations. This means that they do technically qualify as a breed. The only thing they are lacking is the political power to enter the show rings and a defining standard. Right now Maltipoos can all look very different from each other. These things are always subject to change. I know of at least one poodle cross breed that has been around since at least the 1960's which is applying for this status, and that would be labradoodles. I know, crazy isn't it?
Are all Breeds Man-Made?
Absolutely not! Some breeds develop on their own. Maine Coons are a good example of this. They are a very large breed of cat, often with extra toes, who bred in feral populations outside of barns in New England. They grew thick luscious hair to protect them from the elements, a large size, and extra toes to act as snowshoes. They may have been in existence since ships and their cats first started landing in the area, however they only became a breed when a few individuals started to gather and breed them on purpose. They applied to be a breed and the show people eventually agreed that they should be considered such. This has also happened with many different kinds of livestock as well as a few dog breeds.
In conclusion we've learned that not all breeds of animals have been around forever and that human politics play a larger role in what constitutes a breed than anything else. I hope I have answered some questions and illustrated the process in an easy to understand way. If you have any additional questions feel free to leave a comment or send an e-mail.
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