Choosing a cat breed, Part 4 – Purebreds vs Shelter Cats

I never expected to get a purebred cat, and I agonized over it for a lot of reasons. I listed some common issues and statements associated with both choices that I’ll attempt to debunk. However, I am NOT advocating for either type. I know what was right for me based on what I wanted, but that is not necessarily right for everyone!

I think saving a cat from the sad living environment of a shelter is a wonderful thing. However, I also think that you shouldn’t feel guilty about getting a cat from a breeder.

Shelter Cats Need Homes

It’s true. Many shelters are overflowing with unwanted animals, and they euthanize cats, dogs, kittens, and puppies due to injury, overcrowding, or an over-extended stay. I went to a shelter while deciding on my at and found it to be a depressing place. I wanted to take some of them home just to keep them safe and free them from their cages.

Some people attack people who buy pets from stores or breeders because that’s one less animal removed from the unpleasant environment of a shelter, one less pet saved from the risk of death.

I understand the emotional attachment to this issue. I don’t disagree that in buying a cat from a breeder, I did not rescue one from a shelter. However, is it true that I am responsible for the death of this hypothetical cat, or whatever cat was killed due to lack of space? Maybe in an indirect way, yes. The bigger responsibility lies with those who put them there – the people who get rid of a cat when they could have simply trained it not to claw things, the ones who don’t spay or neuter.

It’s like saying you contribute to the death of a homeless human being every time you spend a dollar that’s not for charity. Are we responsible for the things we didn’t do, the dollar we didn’t give? I suppose so. Are we murderers? No. We don’t castigate people not contributing to charity to save other people, so I am not sure why we castigate people not saving animals.

Get a cat you’ll love. If it comes from a loving home, or a shelter, it doesn’t matter. If you’re not sure you can love it and keep it and care for it – claws, litter box training, veterinarian costs – then don’t get any cat, from anywhere.

Purebred Cats Have Issues

People often state that the inbreeding that happens when creating desirable traits in pets also leads to genetic issues. This is also true. For instance, 60% of golden retrievers die of cancer. The breed has only existed since the 1860s, and it was perfected with a lot of selective breeding – including inbreeding. This is common in purebred dogs in general. Inescapable, in some cases. If the genes that lead to increased cancer risk were introduced in the first generations of this breed, it will be hard to breed that back out.

This is a buyer-beware issue. You need to understand the risks of your particular breed, and then you need to aggressively ask your breeder about how they have mitigated this issue.

In the case of Egyptian Maus, there were four cats brought over to the U.S. that made up its modern parentage, via what became known as the Fatima Cattery. Inbreeding occurred, and other cats were introduced into the breeding because, by the 1950s, the issues of inbreeding were well-known. After that, they also found additional Maus in Egypt, and, I believe, India to add genetic variation.

So, you want a Mau. I just told you that there was inbreeding. What do you do?

You’re getting a purebred. That’s not just a pretty, expensive cat. That’s a cat with guaranteed lineage. “Yes, yes, I know,” you say. “More purebreds. Probably a champion somewhere. My breeder told me the uncle of my cat won something once but whatever.” Well, exactly. It’s not just trivia. With known parents, grandparents, and so on, you can begin to ask if those cats are dead, what they died of, and when. That information will go a long way to figuring out if there are issues with the animal.

I have to admit that I know Win’s mother but not her father. My breeder told me a bit about her lineage – I think she’s 3 generations from a Fatima cat of the Princess’s – but I wasn’t listening because I was busy petting the cat. Ultimately, I believe my breeder when she tells me that the cat is genetically sound. She also put this in writing in the contract – if there is a congenital defect that kills my pet in its first year, then Things Happen.

I also believe her when she tells me that she breeds to improve the breed. That’s important. Someone who is just breeding cats to output kittens and sell them is probably going to create random pairings that lead to problems. They don’t keep track of parents, and they may skimp on tests to keep their profit margins up. On the other hand, someone who has a track record of turning out winning show cats is obviously breeding selectively, testing rigorously, and doing something right. Can show cats have congenital defects? Yes. More so than a shelter cat with lots of genetic variation? I just don’t know.

So, what have I told you here? Yes, there is inbreeding. Yes, this may predispose a cat to some problems. However, the nature of purebreds means you have a lot of insight into the cat’s background. The genetic variation of a shelter cat comes with the risk that you don’t know if that variety was good or bad. Basically, you run a risk either way.

People Want Purebreds For the Wrong Reasons

I don’t think anyone wants a purebred cat because they want ‘papers’ with it. There are no papers in some cases. The only paperwork I got with my cat was the contract I signed to ensure her well-being (medical care, no outdoor exposure, no giving her away) and guarantee her against those pesky genetic defects mentioned above.

People get a purebred cat for three reasons: temperament, beauty, or physical attributes.

Let’s knock physical attributes out of the way – by that, I mean you bought a hairless or hypoallergenic cat because of allergies. It’ be nice if you could find those in a shelter but you often can’t.

Onto temperament. Cats are full of unknowns. The personality of a kitten is many times not the personality of the eventual adult. Shelter cats are full of more unknowns than purebred cats in this area, because, with the purebred:

  1. You have information on the temperament of the breed
  2. The parents and ancestors of the purebred cat give you insight into that adult personality
  3. The person who raised the cat and contributed to its kitten personality is right in front of you.

Egyptian Maus as a breed are loyal and dog-like. I have not known them to be described as aloof, ever. That’s a data point. I know my breeder breeds for temperament because some Egyptian Maus have been aggressive and a little mean in the past. I’ve seen her other cats in the show ring, and they were well-behaved (imagine a show cat that was a terror? It wouldn’t even stay on the table). Basically, I learned a lot about the potential personality of my future pet before I even met her. With a shelter cat, you basically play the lottery and hope you get what you want.

Last we get to beauty. Shelter cats can be very lovely just by luck. Purebreds are often created to exhibit whatever the breeder thinks is most appealing, so these cats are usually good-looking, too. Bold coloring, nice bone-structure, etc. I think buying a cat as a beautiful ornament or a house decoration or status symbol is wrong. You’re not buying it to love it, you’re buying it like its an object. To those people -please go get a statue instead. It requires less care and feeding.

I don’t doubt those people exist, but I don’t think you are automatically in that group just by valuing the beauty of an animal. I don’t think it is inherently shallow to value aesthetics. If a cat that looks a certain way is more soothing to you than one than looks another way, what do I care as long as you treat it well? What does the cat care?

Basically, unless you are getting a PET for the wrong reason, choosing a purebred pet is not going to send you to a special hell where the internet is always slow and the coffee always decaf.

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