The first modern cat show took place in 1871. Of the more than 150 feline entrants, only a few were of recognizable breeds. These shows would go on to attempt to categorize the vast array of furry phenotypes; it began with simple sectioning between color and coat length. From here, specialty cat groups sprung up, with fanciers drawing even more precise lines between breeds.
Of these, only 16 are considered ‘natural’ or ‘foundational,’ with all others formed as some hybrid. Therefore, many breeds have only been around for about 100 years or less; Bengals and Ragdolls are some of the most recent to be developed.
Compared to dogs, there is much less interest in determining your cat’s heritage, with the funding and research to match. However, there are some diseases, shared between humans and their feline companions, that drive research on cats. Asthma, certain eye diseases, and polycystic kidney disease develop through similar pathways in both species.
Unfortunately, while physical features and disease predisposition can be reliably determined from genetics in some cases, temperament is still a mystery when it comes to cats. The breeding of dogs was driven by the creation of domestic companions and working colleagues, with a personality to match. However, cat breeds have been a primarily aesthetic pursuit; even cloning a feline friend doesn’t guarantee a matching mood.
Modern cat breeding has been shifting the focus to temperament and predictability. The relatively recent craze of ‘wild’ cats - Bengals, Ocicats, Savannah - has forced the issue. Additionally, the natural characteristics of these wild cats must be bred away; otherwise sharing a living space would be impossible, with incessant pacing and territorial marking.
Recently, genetics and at-home DNA testing have allowed breeders to make informed decisions to avoid the inevitable negative outcomes of in-breeding. In addition, these technologies are now available to the general public, allowing you to understand the making and history of your feline friend.
Like children, analyzing the DNA of your domestic companion can help you make educated lifestyle and health decisions on their behalf. Thankfully, many of the privacy- and ethics-related concerns are waived when dealing with your pet; a full genetic profiling is only ever in their best interest.
For the proud owners of rescued or stray cats, their genetic makeup may be a complete mystery. When, or if a breed is assigned at the receiving SPCA or rescue operation, it’s usually based solely on visuals alone.
Each test can provide you with a breakdown of the genetic makeup of your favorite friend. As a result, you may be surprised to find that your kitty is a purebred, or your 1:1 mix is a combination of a dozen different breeds.
Many of these tests provide you with details on the percentage of wild DNA that exists within your domestic companion. This isn’t the ancestral history or origin of your cat; it assesses more recent incursions from nature. This kind of test is more applicable to larger, spotted, or ambiguous kitties than your average tabby. Although, the results may be surprising if they’re included in the kit you choose.
Like 23andMe, many cat DNA tests provide insight on potentially inherited health risks. For some tests, this is included in the base price; for others, it’s an optional add-on.
Some diseases and illnesses are more likely among certain breeds, underlying many of the health-related results these tests provide. However, some take it a step farther by scanning for specific disease-causing variants outside of breed analysis. These insights may allow you to take proactive measures to prevent the onset of illness; they may also help you prepare for unpreventable outcomes, like blindness or deafness.
Like human DNA tests, there is always a margin for error in the estimates they provide, especially for health-related markers. However, the recent nature of cat evolution has made tracking their ancestry much more reliable than that of humans.
Each test is quite different, with specific goals, options, and strengths. Therefore they’re not listed in any particular order, choose the best one for you and your cat.
Unless you’re a breeder or veterinarian, BasePaws is probably the best bet for the most actionable and useful information. It requires no knowledge of your cat’s history upfront and provides you with a full genome picture of your feline friend. However, while that may not be completely useful at the moment, outside a few instances, this will only become more helpful as research proceeds.
Finally, there are many reasons to give your cat the same attention that a family member would deserve. You can avoid surprises when it comes to illness that may manifest. You can also get confirmation on the components of your kitty’s mix. A test like these can give you a new appreciation for the heritage of your furry friend.