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LMF: About those colours: Discussion of of x-colors in the Norwegian Forest Cat

La Maison Forte

21 May 2004 

FIFé World Show Reports
Poznan World Show meeting      Copenhagen report 2004
The International Skogkatt Secretary page
The Norwegian Forest Cat: description of the breed
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About those colors.....!

Paula Swepston, NFO Breed Council Secretary

21 May update: After much online discussion, the FIFé NFO Breed Council has taken a poll concerning the German proposal to recognize the new colors. The results, which have been transmitted to the Judges & L.O. Commission are 26 votes (89%) against adopting the proposal this year, and 3 votes (10.34%) in favor. The essence of the discussion has been that we do not reject the colors, but feel that more test matings and research are necessary before they are recognized officially.

There will be several members of the BC present at the General Assembly, including some x-color breeders with their cats.

You may read the text of the proposal, in either German, English, or French, by clicking HERE.

I will let you know more when I get back from Albufeira.

NFO Breed Council discussion</b>s below.

At the Copenhagen World Show meeting last November, we discussed a German project to have the NFO x-colors recognized. This was detailed in a report by Dr. Frank Langewische. and is described in the Copenhagen report 2004. A recognition show for the x-colors was held on 18 January 2004 in Wiesbaden-Neuenhausen, Germany. I'd like to pass along some of my impressions here, for those of you who may not be familiar with the proposal.

Since I wrote this in January the NFO Breed Council has gained four new members from Germany, all of whom were involved in the x-color recognition show. I am confident that this will facilitate the exchange of information and opinions among the breeders who do and those who do not support the proposal to have the colors accepted.

S*Wildwood's Imer, NFO-x

In 1998 there was widespread debate, largely over the Internet, on the possible acceptance of certain 'new' colors, thought at first to be lilac and chocolate, later fawn and cinnamon, that had turned up in a Forest Cat litter in Sweden (S*Wildwood's Cattery, in June 1993). Traditionally, these colors, along with the mask factor are not permitted in the Norwegian. Now there was a movement to have the colors (but not 'masked' or 'pointed' cats) recognized, and the regional club Dalälvskatten in Sweden had presented a proposal to SVERAK to this effect. This was voted down at SVERAK's annual meeting, so the subject did not come up at that year's FIFé General Assembly.

However, much ink was spilled and many bytes spent in discussion, especially leading up to and during the NFO Breeders' Meeting at the World Show in Poznan. Opinions from all over the world were overwhelmingly against the introduction of these colors into the Skogkatt palette, mostly because of a general conviction that they must be the result of hybridization, i.e., some outcross, accidental or intentional, to another breed. It was feared that in accepting the colors of another breed we might import genetic defects as well.

It is fortunate this proposal was defeated, because it is soon became apparent from examination of individual hairs under an electronic microsope that the colors are definitely NOT chocolate and lilac. And a test mating between a fawn Somali male (S*Walkabout's Gibson Hot, SOM-p) and a so-called 'cinnamon' Forest Cat (S*Kattbossens Ludmilla, still registered as NFO-xb-24), proved that the Forest Cat was not cinnamon, as the 2 resulting kittens, born in September 2000 were black ticked and blue ticked tabbies.

S*Wildwood's Imer, NFO x (called lilac at the time this photo was taken)

Kløfterhagen's Babuschka (Torvmyra's Edvard Erobreren x Mjavo's Säure) is the cat to whom the 'new' colors were supposedly traced. Her descendants figure in many pedigrees where the colors have never occurred, but it does seem that the line in question may originate with her. Babushka's mate for the litter thought to be the carriers was Niros Dunder, who sired many other offspring, including the great Pan's Polaris, who have not transmitted the x-colors.

There have been various theories about what to call the colors. One of the problems seems to be that they change quite a lot from birth to adulthood. As you can see from these pictures of S*Wildwood's Imer, it isn't easy. Imer was called 'blue mackerel tabby' at first - but he obviously doesn't look like a traditional blue; later he was re-registered as 'lilac', and he is now called 'blue golden' so that he may compete for certificates in a recognized color division. His litter mate Iros ran the gamut from 'black blotched tabby' through 'golden' to 'chocolate'.

In the paper he wrote requesting the recognition show, Dr. Langewische explains that the kittens are born as blacks or blues, but begin shortly afterwards to display a reddish hue in the case of blacks or yellowish in the case of blues. As the cats get older, the background colors continue to lighten, until the cats look reddish-cinnamon or fawn-like as adults. Traces of the original birth color remain visible along the back and tail, which helps to distinguish one color from another. The name 'fox', proposed to describe the colors, reflects the reddish tinge conferred on all black and blue colors by the x-color gene.

The presentation in Neuenhausen was serious and well-organized, and I was happy to get a first look at the cats and to speak in person to Dr. Langewische and Christa Utescheny, who collaborated with him in writing the proposal and who carried out two of the test matings described in it.

Twenty-eight x-color cats were presented, from several catteries, including the following: av. Arlesbrunnen, Icecat's, Magic Starlight, Tailor Hill, Baltimoor, Grüntal, av Trulla, fra Drommeskogen, Born Castle, av Haithabu, Porfyrgarden, and Broetzingen. No non-agoutis were shown officially to the panel, although Aragon aus Broetzingen, thought to be non-agouti, was present in the hall. (See below.) There were three silvers and one tortie; the rest of the cats were black or blue tabbies.

The breeders were eager to talk about their cats, of course, and generous in letting me take them out of their cages for a closer look.

My first reaction was to a red-looking male. 'Why is that cat not red?' I asked Christa (cattery 'av. Arlesbrunnen'). 'Well, genetics,' she answered. 'His parents are black tabby and blue tabby.'

Okay - what distinguishes him to the eye from a red tabby? I didn't see it until she took him out of the cage, but along the spine, and down the tail, the guard hairs were black, and the bottoms of his feet were black, something you would never see in a true red cat.

Then we moved on to a 'dilute' cat, and even I could see that this color was a whole 'nother thing. I wouldn't have mistaken this for blue, but it reminded me of some blue-cream-tortoiseshells - only, the 'cream' parts were more beige than cream. Other 'diluted' cats looked a bit like creams, but with the dark paw pads.

The handsome cat shown here below is named Valentin av Arlesbrunnen. He is one of the 'dilute' cats, and was called in the recognition show presentation material 'blue-fox-tabby-classic + white'. In the updated, final version of the proposal he would be called 'Light Amber Tabby with white'. Nope - doesn't look blue; the idea is that the gene, which is called now in the proposal 'black modifier', acts on the blue (or the black in a dense-colored cat) to change it gradually into this reddish color. Traces of the original blue are visible on the stripes of the forelegs and on the forehead, giving a bit of a tortie look. Valentin, by the way, was named Best Male NFO X-cat at the show.

Valentin av Arlesbrunnen, would be called Light Amber Tabby with white under the proposed registration system

Lovely types for the most part - I certainly sympathize with the breeders' desire to 'legitimize' such fine-looking litters. As to liking or not liking the colors personally, I don't think this is really a consideration. After all, some people don't care for whites, silvers, or whatever, and one of the most attractive things about our breed is that there is pretty much something in the color repertoire to suit every taste. Christa emphasized that it is imperative to see the colors properly recorded, so breeders can make up their own minds whether or not to use certain lines in their breeding programs. She notes that in Germany there are 'independent' associations which still register the colors as 'cinnamon'. This nomenclature needs to be cleared up in FIFé, she says, and passed along to the other registries.

In the past, most of us were concerned that if the colors had come to us by way of some unsanctioned outcross, they might be associated with genetic problems or vagaries of type from another breed. Dr. Langewische mentions the Somali in his report on the test matings - and I recall that we also worried about Colorpoint Persians (we know that Persian blood did get into some of the old lines) and semi-longhaired Oriental cats like the Javanese. There was an overwhelming consensus that the colors should not be admitted until they were properly identified. (See the Poznan World Show meeting report for more details of this discussion.)

Patience is its own reward, they say. An 1. DEKZV e.V.- approved test mating involving a chocolate point Birman male named Orlando vom Dürrleberg (SBI-b) with Forest Cat Kalahari v. Arlesbrunnen (NFO-xo-24) in the so-called color 'cinnamon spotted' produced only black and blue mackerel and blotched tabby kittens. It was felt that this result gave definite proof that the new NFO colors could not come from the recessive B-alleles (lilac, chocolate, cinnamon, fawn).

It's fascinating to read about the test-matings, and reassuring to have some scientific reference. All the same, some feel that further trials are still in order, and would like to know not only what the colors are NOT but also more fully what they ARE.

dilute x-color cat, showing dark paw pads

In any case, our gratitude and a tip of the hat is due those breeders who have contributed their time and expertise to these projects. The offspring of test matings like those described in Christa's cattery cannot be sold as purebred Norwegians or as Sacred Birmans; the breeder loses a whole reproductive season of the mother cat, without being able to recuperate costs through kitten sales. In addition it must be discouraging to attend show after show with your cats, and to pay out entrance fees and travel expenses, without ever being able to win a certificate. Obviously, this is one reason we have not seen the new-colored cats much outside of Germany. (Most of my friends in the Swiss and French clubs have never seen them at all.) So - all credit where credit is due!

As noted above, X-color breeders say the new colors are caused by a recessive gene that acts on black and blue hairs. As the I gene (inhibition) affects the hair by depriving it of color at the base (the cause of our colors silver and smoke), this 'x' gene gives the black and blue hairs a reddish tinge.

Many of us were unhappy with the term 'fox' when we saw Dr. Langewische's draft proposal at the World Show, but it must be admitted that it's difficult to think of anything really appropriate. I heard one of the judges say of a 'dilute' cat, 'I just don't know HOW I would describe it. Beige maybe? Tan?'

[N.B. Please see the full text of the proposal to see how the name and EMS designation have been altered. Everybody seems to be quite happy withe the new designation, "Amber".]

The use of the letter 'u' as the proposed EMS designation has also met with skepticism. The justification for this choice was that so far the colors were thought to be 'unique' to the Forest Cat breed. However, there have been recent messages on the FIFé e-mail list to the effect that this color phenomenon also seems to exist in some Bengals and Ocicats, with the cats being registered simply as black and blue tabbies. Without seeing the cats in question, it is difficult to know whether we are talking about the same thing - (and of course, at least in my part of the world, one sees few Bengals or Ocicats of ANY color) - but it would be interesting to delve into this more closely before claiming an NFO exclusivity. Perhaps comparing notes with these other breeders could shed more light on the NFO situation - why not open the door to a dialogue with them before making a definitive proposal?

It is proposed to adopt the new colors in all all the already existing NFO colors and combinations, e.g. with silver, golden, tortie - excepting dominant white and red cats, as the gene only acts on the colors black and blue. (Tortoiseshells are included because they are partially black or blue.)

I found the few 'silver foxes' I saw a bit confusing. As we all know, it's sometimes difficult to be sure of traditional silvers, especially the diluted colors - the addition of the new element does not make it easier. I agree with what Jette Eva Madsen suggested earlier (see the Copenhagen report 2004): if these colors are to be accepted it might be wise to start slowly, beginning with those that are easiest to identify - both for the breeders and the judges - before moving on to the more complicated ones.

As for the 'goldens' - it's been debated often whether or not the golden color, caused as it is by a polygenetic transformation, really deserves its place in the NFO palette, but of course it's already there in the FIFé standard, designated by the symbol 'y', and to remain consistent the x-color proposal does take it into account. I expect it will always be up to the individual breeder's taste whether to call his cat 'black golden' or 'warm brown' tabby. I didn't notice any cats at the recognition show that were called 'golden', so didn't think to ask how you can see what is the golden part of the color and what is the fox - but I'm starting to wonder now. You may remember that some 'x-colored' cats were actually registered as goldens in order that they might compete for certificates; Dr. Langewische writes that while some of the 'x' cats may indeed be golden as well as 'fox', the new colors themselves cannot be identified as 'golden'.

Dr. Langewische tells in his report of a test-mating, also 'chez Christa', that dealt with non-agouti x-colored cats. He says that although the new colors had only been observed in tabbies, there had been rumors of kittens born to x-color parents but having a different look. Either they were not shown, or they were sold as pets, described as bad silvers. Actually, he says, their color at birth could be easily mistaken for silver, and there is a tabby pattern, a 'ghost pattern', which fades away in time, as the basic fur color brightens. In the end, he says, these cats have 'a very bright, red brown color, with dark brown colored noses without surroundings [i.e., borders], and dark brown paws. A third test-mating was performed to show that these animals may be non-agouti animals in the new colors.'

I did meet the father of this test mating, Aragon aus Broetzingen (parents: CH Icecats Grampus, NFO ns, x La-Luna av Arlesbrunnen, NFO x p 23), who had a rich rusty-hued coat. Apparently he was registered originally as a black-silver-mackerel-tabby, and he truly bears no resemblance at all to that color! In the list accompanying the written proposal he is listed as black-fox-smoke. Born 9 June 2002, he still bears strong traces of the aforementioned ghost striping. In general discussion on the NFO Breed Coundil list, it is felt by most that several more test matings are necessary to establish with any certainty whether this cat is really non-agouti or not.

Summing up, I would say we stand like this concerning the proposal.

On the one hand, new-color breeders have worked hard and in good conscience. They have spent much time and money and would like, understandably, to see their work validated and their extremely handsome cats legitimized. They make the perfectly reasonable argument that for those breeders who do NOT like the x-colors, there is at this point no way to look at a pedigree and be sure whether or not they are hiding in the background. With proper documentation it would be possible to avoid the colors if one wished.

It may be argued that research on the colors can be continued after recognition takes place, but many of us would prefer to have certainty first and recognition afterwards. (Thank goodness, they weren't recognized in 1998 as chocolate, lilac, fawn, and cinnamon!) Still, 12 years is a long time to work without any obvious reward, and I think everybody can understand the breeders' impatience.

On the other hand, there is considerable resentment in the rest of the Forest Cat community because of an impression that the German proposal has been sprung on us unexpectedly. Of course, no country is obliged to consult any other before making a proposal to the General Assembly, but this is a topic we have been discussing on the international level for the past 10 years. It concerns all of us, and there is a strong feeling that international dialogue should have been sought on the drafting of the proposal. (I can't help remembering the extraordinary effort made by Jörgen Frithioff to involve breeders from all over the world in deciding what should go into the proposal for the updated NFO standard.)

It is upsetting that the convenient timing of the proposal and the recognition show has made it impossible for the new NFO Breed Council to comment on them officially. It is unlikely that the next few years will bring any matter of similar importance before the council, and in all correctness they should have been given the opportunity to express their opinion.

I was told in Neuenhausen that the new-color breeders had been quite open all along, and that all the news and pictures of kittens from the test matings were available online. Well, that's fine if someone tells you about it so you can go have a look at the web site, but no one did; in fact, the site of the breeder who told me this did not show up at all when I 'googled' it. I have over 170 breeders on my newsletter mailing list - including some who have worked with the x-colors - but the first I knew of this proposal was when a draft copy was handed to me ten minutes before the World Show NFO meeting. I was also told that these cats have been showing in Germany for some time now. That's fine too, for people who go regularly to German shows. I myself last showed there in 1997.

So I think the sentiment many breeders and certainly the BC members have of having been kept in the dark is not unfair.

The Breed Council problem is as follows, and affects the councils for all breeds in this first year. In order to make a proposal to the General Assembly, the council must vote on it among themselves by the end of December; if there is a majority in favor, the proposal is presented to FIFé in the three FIFé languages by the end of January. That's the rule. The glitch is that no provision was made for this year, and the councils were only just being formed at the end of December. For this reason, none of the councils is in a 'legal' position to comment on proposals put forward concerning their breeds.

We are most distressed by this, but are waiting to see what develops. There is a lot of discussion on the FIFé and the BC Secretaries' lists. I spoke at some length with FIFé president Eric Reijers about the problem, and some of you have probably read his comments to the FIFé list. He says the rules cannot be changed at this point, but that he is hoping there will be no proposals accepted concerning standard or colors for any breed before the pertinent councils have had a chance to review them.

Update: Some subjects being discussed in the NFO Breed Council list.

According to the official protocol of the recognition show, sent to me as NFO BC secretary, the panel from the Judges' & L.O. Commission felt that 'the genetics of these colours was not clear to us, we believe that it needs to be studied even more. The opinion of the Norwegian Forest Cat BC must be heard too before taking any further steps in recognition of these colours.'

Note on the Dilute Modifier from
Robinson's Genetics for Cat Breeders & Veterinarians:

The dilute modifier is a dominant gene Dm that affects the coat color of dilute (dd)cats. The gene is considered a modifier because it has no effect on dense colored animals. Blue under the influence of this mutation takes on a brownish cast, but does not become as light in tone as the lilac. This color is known as caramel. With dilute chocolate (lilac), the coloration becomes a little paler and is known as taupe. The cream is also paler than usual and has been called apricot....

The colors and their respective genotypes can be represented as follows:

Black: aaBBDD (DM- or dmdm)
Brown (chocolate) aabbDD (Dm- or dmdm)
Blue: aaBBdd dmdm
Lilac: aabbdd dmdm
Caramel: aaBBddDm-
Taupe: aabbddDm-
Red: D-OO (Dm or dm)
Cream: ddOOdmdm</i><i>Apricot: ddOODm-

Fourth edition, ISBN 0 7506 4069 3,©
Reed Educational & Professional Publishing, Ltd. 1999

Many of us on the council are still intrigued by some of the theories that have cropped up in the past couple of years, and are not ready to abandon them until more research has been done. For instance, the proposal claims that the color deviation in question is specific only to the NFO, but stories of other breeds showing similar characteristics has led to the suggestion that NFOs be test-mated with Bengals and Ocicats in an effort to determine whether the new-color gene might be one we share with those breeds. In addition, especially in light of the big question mark concerning non-agouti 'Ambers', there is still interest in the dilution modifier theory. See Jette's site: X-colors: a new Theory for more on this subject.

Three other subjects of particular concern are the effect of the 'new' gene on red, on silver and on non-agouti.

The proposal requests the acceptance of the 'Black Modifier', as it is now being called (see the proposal text for the new nomenclature), 'within the existing colors of the Norwegian Forest Cats (with the exception of red and epistatic white).'

It seems that some new-color breeders have chosen not to use red cats in their current breeding programs. However, there was one 'NFO x gu 22 09, Baltimoor's Mette -Marit (black-fox-tortie-tabby-classic) among the 28 cats judged in Wiesbaden-Neuenhausen. Present but not judged was a blue-fox-tortie-tabby-classic + white named Porfyrgardens Yeni. So tortie 'Ambers' are already out there. It has been explained that they are allowed in the proposal because the new gene acts only on the blue and black parts of the coat; it does not affect (or is not SEEN to affect) the red or cream parts. That aside, when they are bred, sooner or later they are going to give red and cream kittens. How is this meant to work? Would there be a rule forbidding matings between red cats and amber-coloured cats ? If so, it does not appear in the proposal as we see it today. When those litters appear and grow up past the color-changing stage of development, how will it be possible for judges to distinguish with certainty the RED red cats from the AMBER ones? It has been pointed out that looking at the bottoms of the feet would not always help, as many Norwegians have white paws, on which the genetic color would not be visible.

Some of our members wish to know with more certainty what a silver amber cat should look like; the combination of the gradually brightening effect of the new gene with the lightening at the base of the hair caused by the inhibition gene could make for confusion, especially at the beginning, before breeders and judges are accustomed to the colors. One suggestion has been to carry out the following test matings: a black silver with an amber, and a blue silver with a light amber; emphasis is placed on the importance of picking a silver parent that is homozygotic for the silver gene, assuring that all the resulting kittens would be silver.

For most of us, the biggest problem - at least, this is the topic that has received the most comment - is the question of the so-called "non-agouti" Ambers: so far we do not really have 100% proof that they exist. Various BC members are on the outlook for X-color cats with the dark noses supposed to be characteristic of non-agoutis, in order to check what kind of kittens they are giving, but it seems that not many have been found. There were no "non-agoutis" judged at the recognition show, though two thought to be non-agouti were present hors concours; these cats still showed strong tabby "ghost markings" even as adults. Several people on the BC have said they feel the non-agoutis should not be included in any proposal for recognition until it established with certainty that they do exist and until they have been formally judged.

dilute x-color cat, showing dark paw pads

Dr. Frank Langewische, who has done so much work on the project, speculates that in the new colors, the non-agouti protein may not be able to express itself sufficiently, so that we find ourselves with a situation similar to that in sex-linked red cats. Perhaps the new-color non-agoutis will never lose their ghost markings completely.

At the Wiesbaden show, I photographed one cat being judged as a silver tabby. In combination with the agouti "M" on the forehead, it had the pronounced dark "non-agouti" nose.. When I asked if this animal were indeed one of the possible non-agoutis, I was told that it was not a "typical" example; it seems there is some inconsistency in how the various colors are supposed to look.

General consensus within the council is that the one reported test-mating with Aragon aus Broetzingen is far from enough to establish his being non-agouti, and that even though other evidence may be available before the FIFé General Assembly, this should have been settled before, not after, the drafting of the proposal. As it stands at the moment, this single cat, who was not even presented for judgement at the recognition show, has not offered us enough proof of what the x-color should look like on a non-agouti animal. More test matings are in order, and the Breed Ring of the Danish NFO Breed Club, Norsk Skovkattering Danmark has suggested the following:

An internet search will give you numerous sites where you can see photos of the new-colored cats. To begin with, I suggest these two:

World Show Reports & related articles
The International Secretary page
Skogkatt Online: NFO links page
The Norwegian Forest Cat: description of the breed

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