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The Chinchilla Cat

| March 17, 2013
The Chinchilla Cat

The Chinchilla Cat

Ask any Chinchilla enthusiast to describe this lovely variety and they will often use adjectives such as ‘ethereal’ and ‘fairy-like’.  In truth, though Chinchillas may look like exquisite porcelain cats, they are hardy, healthy cats who, given half a chance, will happily climb trees, catch mice and generally get up to all the usual cat capers.  Those fine looks don’t mean that they are only fit to lie around on silk cushions.

The GCCF Standards of Points for the Chinchilla describes a Persian cat with a round, broad head, with breadth between small, well-furnished ears, wide at the muzzle and snub nose.  They eyes should be large and round and most expressive, emerald or blue-green in colour.  The body should be cobby with short, thick legs and a short, bushy tail.  The coat should be long, dense, silky and fine in texture and extra long on the frill.  The undercoat is pure white, the coat on the back, flanks, head, ears and tail tipped with black.  The tipping should be evenly distributed to give the characteristic sparkling silver appearance.  The legs may be very slightly shaded with the tipping, but the chin, ear furnishings, stomach and chest must be pure white.  Any tabby markings or brown or cream tinge are defects.  The nose leather should be brick red, and the visible skin on the eyelids, lips and paw pads black or dark brown.

This standard describes very well the exhibition Chinchilla we see today, but photographs of the early Chinchillas show them with tabby markings and heavy shading, long noses and large ears.  A great deal of careful selective breeding for over a century has produced the beautiful cat we now see at shows, and Chinchillas have often taken top honours, winning Best in Show and Champion of Champion classes.

The recorded hisory of the breed is well documented, and all Chinchilla cats have been ultimately developed from one cat, a female called ‘Chinnie’ born in 1882. ‘Chinnie’ was described by Miss Simpson in ‘The Book of the Cat’ as “the mother of Chinchillas – a very pure silver with undecided tabby markings”.  The colour of her parents is not known and no photographs of her survive, but she was bred by Mrs Hurt of Sandal Mayner near Wakefield and bought by Mrs Vallance.  She was mated to Fluffy I (parents unknown) in 1885 and produced a male, Vezzoso, and a female, Beauty, later known as Beauty of Bridgeyate.  Vezzoso became a Best in Show winner at the Albert Palace in 1885 before disappearing in 1886.  Beauty was bought as a kitten by Miss Howe of Bridgeyate near Bath and produced three litters of kittens.  Her mating with Mrs Shearman’s Smoke, Champion Perso, produced Champion Silver Lamblin, who is considered to be the first Chinchilla, and who had an enormous influence on the development of the breed, especially through his offspring, Lord Argent and Champion Lord Southampton.  Lord Argent eventually went to America with his owner, Mrs F Champion.  Mrs Champion was  a famous breeder of the day and founder of the Silver Society in 1900.  She emigrated to the USA where she continued to be a prominent breeder.  Her daughter, Miss Ethel Champion, became the first CFA Recorder.  Champion Lord Southampton was eventually bought by Lady Decies for the enormous sum (at the time) of sixty guineas.  If you trace back any Chinchilla line far enough, you will encounter their sire, Champion Silver Lambkin.

To breed a good Chinchilla is a great challenge for there is much to consider, not only the exquisite coat colour which breeders strive to keep as light and evenly tipped as possible, but also the pigmentation which gives these cats their beautiful ‘kohl-rimmed’ eyes.  The eye colour should be as deep and vibrant as possible; pale eye colour or two-toned eyes greatly detract from the overall effect of the ‘true Chinchilla expression’.  In order to maintain the true coat colour, it is wise to breed only Chinchilla (breed 10) to Chinchilla, though many of today’s pedigrees also contain Shaded Silver (breed 55) and Golden Persian (breed 54), the green-eyed cousins of the Chinchilla introduced through American imports over the past 30 years or so.  The American imports have enabled Chinchillas to greatly widen the gene pool, which became dangerously small after World War II when the number of pedigree cats fell because of the problems of keeping domestic pets.

Today’s breeders owe a great debt of gratitude to a few dedicated breed enthusiasts who managed to keep their cats, despite the problems of rationing and lack of veterinary care.  The late Peggy Chapman, a well known Longhair breeder and judge, told illuminating tales of cycling through London during the Blitz with a bucket on her handlebars.  She collected fish-heads from the market which she boiled and, removing the flesh, mixed with her rice and bread rations to feed her cats.

Coat Care and Showing

The show cat, of course, does need care to maintain its pristine appearance.  In particular the coat, which is fine and soft, should be carefully groomed.  It is wisest to use a wide-toothed metal comb for most of the body, tail and frill, and a smaller comb for the legs, underarms, face and around the ears.  To maintain your Chinchilla’s coat in good condition year round, it should bre groomed daily, thoughthis should not be an onerous task and should take only a few minutes.  It not only serves the purpose of separating the coat and removing any small tackets or knots, but prevents felting of the coat next to ths skin which is impossible to remove with a comb without hurting the cat.  By carefully examining your cat as your groom, you will also discover any problems that may be arising before they become a crisis, such as soiled trousers, parasites or skin problems.  The eyes may be wiped with cotton wool dampened with wam water (I like to use water from the kettle when it has cooled), and ears cleaned if necessary, remembering never to insert anything into the ear such as a cotton bud.

To prepare a Chinchilla for a show, you will have to be prepared to spend time bathing your cat about a week prior to the show, and carrying out more thorough grooming each day up to the show.  It is best to get somebody experienced top show you how to bath a cat intially, and you must acclimatise your cat to the hair dryer.  The coat must be dried completely, which can take a couple of hours or more with a large adult male in full coat.  You will need patience, but the result will be worth it.

If you are going to show seriously, you must have a plan of campaign, decide which shows you would like to attend, and probably think of the first few shows as a preparation for a special show such as the National, Supreme or your Breed Club show.  Showing kittens can be great fun, but young adults can then find it hard to beat more mature cats.  Chinchillas really come into their own at around four years of age and, because they mature later, can often be shown into late middle age.  I have certainly shown (and won) with very good older cats.

Breeding

There can be few prettier sights than a litter of Chinchilla kittens, but the raising of Chinchillas does take skill and care.  Generally speaking, they do need special care when weaning as their digestions don’t seem as tolerant as some other breeds.  Starting at four weeks, introduce them gradually to good quality fresh meat and fish, together with a good proprietary kitten weaning food such as Royal Canin’s Babycat Instrinctive, aiming to have them fully weaned from their mum by eight to nine weeks.  I certainly don’ start them on milky foods or scrambled eggs etc. Chinchillas are generally smaller than other colours of Persians and don’t seem to gain weight as rapidly as other kittens.  It is essential, therefore, that weaning is a stable process, as dehydration from diarrhoea or sickness quickly sets them back.

On the question of size, Chinchillas are sometimes criticised for being too small, and it is certainly maddening to find your best kitten is invariably the smallest one, whilst the huge sibling is a loveable “pet”.  However, it is true to say that Chinchillas as a breed are smaller than other Persians.  This is so not only in the UK, but also true of those I have seen and handled in the USA, Scandanavia and Europe.

AC Jude in his book ‘Cat Genetics’ (in the chapter on ‘Dominance and Selection’) writes “So far as ‘colour’ and ‘size’ is concerned in cats, it is found that the ‘brown’ gene tends to an increase in size.  An example of ‘brown’ and increase in size is the Brown Tabby, which may become a really hefty fellow under suitable conditions.  Other ‘colour’ genes tend to increase size in other animals, but so far no other instance is found in cats, but the presence of a ‘silver’ gene has effect for smaller size, as noted in Silver Tabby, Chinchilla and (probably) the Siamese.  It would seem, therefore, that there is a connection between ‘colour’ and bone structure, for whereas the Brown Tabby is heavily boned, the Silver Tabby, Chinchilla and Siamese are more lightly boned.  Sex also has effect on bone structure so that usually the female is more lightly boned than the male.  It has been shown that size genes act by altering the development rate.  Cleavage of eggs of a genetically larger-bodied race is more rapid than in the case of a small-bodied race, and this causes a larger embryonic disc to be formed, and consequently larger-bodied young are born.  A more rapid rate of growth is continued up to maturity.”

You don’t need to be a geneticist to breed Chinchillas, or any other breed of cat for that matter, but the Chinchilla is a very interesting cat genetically speaking.  The beautiful coat appears white at a distance, but close to it can be seen that the soft undercoat is white in appearance but the overlying guard hairs are tipped with black.  This is caused by the ‘Inhibitor’ gene ‘I’, which inhibits the yellow pigment in the shaft of the hair leaving just the black tips.  This interesting coat pattern has been introduced into other breeds of cat via the Chinchilla and has led to the development of beautiful varieties such as the Burmilla, British Tipped and Exotic Shorthair.

For the earliest history of the Chinchilla breed, please click here for the chapter on Silver or Chinchilla Persians from The Book of the Cat, written by Miss Frances Simpson, published in 1903.  A wonderful insight into the early days of the Fancy, including photographs of the ancestors of today’s cats.

Copyright & Credit:
Breed Profile: Rosemary Fisher, Owletts – Chinchilla Persian & Exotic Shorthair –www.owletts.com
The Chinchilla, Silver Tabby & Smoke Cat Society –www.cat-society-chinchilla.org.uk
Photos copyright & courtesy:
Petra Dippenaar – Zambili Cattery

Category: Feline Resources

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