by Jette Eva Madsen.

This article is triggered by a question from a Norwegian attending the Meeting among Forest Cat Enthusiast at the World Show in Budapest.

Some background information

First I have to explain that Norway and Sweden because of the quarantaine restrictions has had the unique situation that they until recently had no Maine Coons in the countries. Also there vere no Turkish Angoras and Sibirian cats. This has ment that the Forest Cat has been the only so called "natural cat" on the show bench. At the same time it has been the largest cat at the show bench in those countries.

Today the fame of the Maine Coon grow rapidly in those two countries. This means that the Forest Cat exhibitors from Norway and Sweden have to get used to the situation where their cats loose some Best in Shows to the best looking Maine Coons. At the same time the exhibitors are also suddenly confronted with judges that blame some of their Forest Cats for traits that earlier were believed to be a natural part of the variation of the NFO's.

The question

The present question that was posed to a judge at the above mentioned meeting was: why do judges suddenly start to penalise NFO's with pinched and square muzzles?

The explanation

The most obvious explanation to this question is that exactly the squareness or triangularity of the muzzle is a breed dividing trait between Maine Coons and Forest Cats. But why werent judges so eager to penalise the NFO's in Norway and Sweden for squareness of muzzel at an earlier state? Why now?

I have tried to figure out what is the explanation for this change. Knowing that it is a change that the rest of Europe has come trough from '83-'91 when the other natural semilong hair breeds grew in popularity on the European show bench I think I found the answer.

If you have only one breed to fill out the morfological space left to the nature cats you will automatically allow a vide variance of the morfological expression. A variance that has exactly the same size as the space in question. When a new breed is recognised that breed will come inn and take a part of that morfological space. A third breed will take yet another part, etc. This means that of the morfological range once allowed to the forest cat in now only about 33% left. When FIFe probably some time in the future recognise the Sibirean cat there will be around 25% left.

The reaction

For the breeders of the original breeds that are present before the recognition of a breed compeeting for morfological space it is never a good feeling when they realise that part of their breeding stock suddenly become useless. With an easy meaningless phrase we call it that the cats become "old fashioned". The real reason is that they resemble the new compeeting breed so much that we have dificulty to tell wich breed the cat belong to. This is probably also the reason why the owners of close lying breeds usually are the strongest oponents when new breeds are to be recognised. And the reason that the discussion born by this question at the meeting was closed by the Norwegian claiming: "this is not fair the cats with square muzzles are big and strong and come out of fine families of NFO's."

The morfological range

When we look at the longhair cats we se around 10 breeds. At the same time the shorthair group includes around 25 diferent breeds (the number of breeds differ great from organisation to organisation). This surely opens for the posibility that we in the future will see a large number of new breeds comming into the longhair group. If we do not manage to breed away the genetic mecanism that controll the size of the cats it could seem as if the morfological range for the shorthair breeds have reaced the saturation point.

The regulation of the morfological range of size

It is known that also dogs manny centuries ago had a genetic mechanism controlling the size of the dog. That mechanism was lost and that is the reason for the great variance of the size of todays dog. Such a size controlling mechanism is present in most species - and is actually a very practical thing that ensure that two specimens of the same species are able to breed and live under the same conditions.

When we look at cats there have been several attempts to breed large cats. The Maine Coons, the Forest Cats and the RagDolls are perhaps the best known examples. However no matter how manny times we breed the two largest NFO's to each other we do not get the cat much larger. Our cats have not lost the size regulation mechanism yet. If suddenly this size mechanism was lost we would probably see a boom in the development of new breeds untill we had a situation where we had nearly as manny breeds of cats as we have today breeds of dogs. Knowing the nature of the cat and it's hunting abilities I don't know however if it would not be too dangerous with a cat of the size of a Great Dane?