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The Art of Registering a Blue Silver Tortie Mackerel Tabby Male Cat

by Carina Olofsson ©

Yes, it really is true... he is gs22, and he is a male cat, my S*Tigressan's Ulton.

When Ulton was born he was cream, but he did have a little blue spot on his left forepaw. At first I thought it was a pigment defect. Gradually, as he grew, the spots grew too, and both blue fur and more spots appeared. Now I began to speculate seriously that I might have a tortoiseshell. I don't know how many times I turned poor Ulton upside down to be sure he was really a male - but he was and he still is.

By the time he was about 1½ months old I was no longer in any doubt; then the time came to apply for the pedigrees. How am I going to do this? I thought. In fact, I did as usual - I sent the papers in to SVERAK, and also enclosed several pictures of Ulton and his forepaw.

It was clear to me that his 'pedigree' would come up for discussion in the breed commission, so I asked them in my letter to send back the papers of the other kittens in th litter, as a few of them had been sold to breeders outside the country.

I had already begun a discussion with a member of the breed commission, and realized that I was not going to get much help from that quarter. This made me feel somewhat frustrated; what good is a breed commission if they can't help us when something unusual happens? The breed commission was of the opinion that Ulton had what is known as a somatic mutation. I could have accepted this if there had been only one spot, but when there are several it was hard to believe - how many mutations can occur in a single cat? (According to the publication Våra Katter, #3-99, a somatic mutation is one that occurs in the body cells but not in the gametes, the sex cells.) If an injury were to occur in the skin cells' color locus, the result could be a spot in a deviant color.

At the same time I turned to the breed commission, I also contacted a professor of pet animal genetics at SLU in Uppsala. Fortunately he was willing to carry out a chromosome test on Ulton. I knew there was at least one earlier incident of a tortie male in this line, and that this same professor had tested the cat in question and found him to have all 38 chromosomes.

I contacted the breeder of this other male cat, and it emerged that she had not yet received her pedigrees, although her kitten would soon be a young cat. So that wasn't much help.

I didn't receive my own pedigrees until the kittens were almost four months old. And they had changed Ulton to NFO es 22. I could even have accepted that if they had added that his phenotype was NFO gs 22. (Editor's note: It is possible to register genotype as well as phenotype in a pedigree; that way, the cat may be shown in a different color group from the one he belongs to on purely genetic grounds.) But they had not done this. And so one begins to wonder - first of all it appears clear in both parents' pedigrees that, from the genetic point of view it would be fully possible for them to get a tortie male. The pedigree would then read: 'line with abnormal inheritance - sex-linked red/black pigment'. At the moment of writing, SVERAK has removed this clause from its rules, but it still existed at the time I sent in my pedigree requests, and it seems to me that my request should be accepted on the basis of the rules which were valid at that time.Then we come to paragraph 15 of SVERAK's regulations, which states: 'A cat may compete in accordance with its phenotype, if that is different from its genotype. In such cases both genotype and phenotype should be noted in the cat's pedigree according to the system of EMS rules, and should be entered in parentheses.' We all know that we lose a cat's certificates if it has been shown in the wrong color group. And I promise you: nobody could possibly overlook Ulton's spots!

In other words, I could not accept this, and sent a letter to the office for complaints with my arguments, together with yet more pictures of Ulton and his left forepaw, which was now clearly tortoiseshell from the knee down. Now he had a big blue spot under his paw as well. In my letter I mentioned that, even though we didn't actually know what his genotype was, I could accept their recording it as es 22, but they should also list his phenotype as gs 22.

Meanwhile, I was still in discussion with the aforementioned member of the breed commission, to the effect that neither he nor I could really be sure of Ulton's true genetic makeup until we had the test results. I was also wondering if they knew of any test that could decide whether this was really a question of somatic mutation. Without such a test, how could they be so certain?

So, finally it was time to do the tests at SLU. This had been somewhat delayed because of the summer vacation period. The next few weeks dragged on until the professor finally rang up, as I sat waiting for kittens to be born - and it appeared that Ulton has his 38 chromosomes. I tell you, I did a war dance!

It felt wonderful to have this tense situation cleared up. We agreed that more tests should be done to determine Ulton's true genetic color - and to see whether he might be able to pass on the black /blue color. But at least I knew now that he had every chance of being normal and fertile (presumably, Mother Nature just likes to tease us).

According to the professor from SLU, Ulton is probably the result of a fusion of two foetuses in the embryo stage - an occurrence which is more frequent than a faulty chromosome. I asked if there were anything I should be concerned about in breeding Ulton, or if I could use him in the usual way. The answer was that there was no problem at all - he is as normal as a cat can be! A week later I received a written report from SLU, stating that the blood test indicated the presence of a normal male chromosome composition (38, XY), and that they were willing to undertake further examinations.

Just like his brothers from the same parents, Ulton, at 6 months, is already screaming for females, so we are starting to make plans - probably for the beginning of 2000. It should be exciting to see if he can become a father, and if he can pass on his black/blue color. We shall see if Mother Nature is with us - and we will also need a bit of luck.

There is one other thing I have been wondering about: Why is it that, as a rule, tortoiseshell females are mostly black or blue with a little bit of red or cream, while tortie males (at least those that I know) are mostly red or cream with just a little black or blue?

Genetics note: The red color is linked to the x-chromosome, and since a normal male cat has one x-chromosome, the cat will be red if this x-chromosome is carrying red. Our females, on the other hand, have two x-chromosomes, and this gives rise to the possibility for tortoiseshell, in that there can be one x-chromosome that is carrying red and one that it is not. Therefore, it is exceptional to find a male like Ulton that is tortoiseshell in spite of having only one one x-chromosome. It has usually been supposed that male torties have a chromosome fault, that is, that they have two x-chromosomes.

[note from Paula: Just as a reminder, the EMS codes mentioned here are as follows:

gs 22 = blue cream, silver, mackerel tabby
es 22 = cream, silver, mackerel tabby

A cat's phenotype is what he looks like. His genotype is what he is genetically. So the argument with the breed commission over Ulton's color is that he looks like a blue tortie silver, but might be a cream silver genetically. Ms Olofsson wants to make sure that both are indicated in his pedigree.]

The Art of Registering a Tortie Male - part 2

The story of my tortie boy, continued:

I believe it was the 21 November 1999 that I finally received an answer from SVERAK's breed commission, saying they had changed Ulton's color to genotype es 22 AND phenotype gs 22. At last! After that, everything went beautifully. I sent Ulton's old pedigree back, and shortly afterwards received the new one in return.

Since my last article, Ulton has been mated with a cream-silver girl named Emma, and we are now expecting kittens the beginning of March. Since both cats are cream, we have a bit of a chance to see whether or not Ulton's blue color is hereditary. We hope luck will be with us....

So, another tortie male has been born, now about three weeks old. We will certainly have to go through the same procedure as with the other cat. The most interesting thing is that he was born in a cattery which has already produced a tortie male. And the parents are NOT the same, even though they come from the same line.

This article (separate from the last one) was printed in one of the club newsletters and then sent in to Våra Katter, which has not yet published it , though I hope that it will appear in the next edition, with commentary from the breed commission.

Since the publication of my original article, I have received a number of inquiries, both positive and negative. Most people were enormously pleased that this was "coming out", as the saying goes. Several told me about other tortie males who were 'hidden away' or even put to sleep!! That kind of thing really makes me 'flip out'.... How can you kill off a sweet, wonderful kitten just because of its color!?! What are we coming to?

Others asked how I could bring myself to breed with a cat that is genetically 'sick'. According to them, most tortie males have a 'chromosome defect'. But as far as I know, cats with chromosome defects are sterile. According to the professor at SLU (corresponding to the Landbohøjskolen , national school for agriculture), the fact is, that a fusion of two or more foetuses took place during the early embryo stage, and that genetically speaking, this is a completely normal occurrence. You know, we actually have a cat with five colors!! This must be a combination of a twin egg with a normal egg, according to the professor, though he had not examined the cat himself.

Still other people report that they have spoken out about their own tortie males, only to be pressured by other breeders to keep quiet, for fear of finding themselves frozen out. Some of them are sitting around today, feeling frightened and not knowing what to do, so they just keep their mouths shut.

Is this really what we want? Are SVERAK and FIFé really going to step aside on this, or isn't it time to seek professional guidance?

In any case, I myself plan to keep track of this matter, taking advantage of the possibility of backmating Ulton to his mother, to find ny of the possible genetic defects so many people claim there must be. I have already undertaken an inbred mating between Ulton and Emma, where Ulton's maternal grandfather is also Emma's father. As stated earlier, the results of this mating will be known the beginning of March.

We got this boy without either asking for him or trying on purpose to breed him. He came to us int the same way as all the other wonderful kittens. Why should he need a special permit to exist? He comes from a line which has been used a lot for breeding, so I cannot see a big risk for genetic faults. Anyway, in the case of such faults it would be better to come out in the open right away - or should these defects also be 'hidden away'? This is perhaps the most frightening aspect of breeding - the uncertainty as to whether you are going to discover some hidden defect in your line. Think what a relief it would be if we could all know what we would find or not find!

We are really special, those of us who are willing to accept a little punishment for coming out in the open about raising tortie boys. We are open for discussion and would be happy to hear about your experiences.

We do not think that this wonderful cat should be either hidden away or put down, just because he has a color he isn't supposed to have. The thing I find most frightening is that we all know this happens in all breeds. Among the breeders I have talked with, those who have been active for a few years, there is not one who has not encountered at least one tortie male. Can this really, then, be such a rare phenomenon?

With warmest greetings,
Carina of S*Tigressan's
& Mia of S*Engaholm's
Tigressan's web site: http://www.welcome.to/tigressan

translation from Swedish by Paula Swepston ©

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Last modified on 13 February 2004