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Tetsu Yamazaki, Animal Photography
Alan Robinson, Animal Photography
Who doesn’t love a spotted cat? Random spots in tawny, chocolate, cinnamon, blue, lavender or fawn dot the Ocicat’s coat, which has a silver or nonsilver background. The wild look is just a façade, though. The Ocicat is a playful, sociable pet.
Thanks to his spots, the Ocicat looks wild, but he is all domestic cat. The breed was developed using Abyssinian, Siamese, and American Shorthair cats.
A cat lover’s favorite daydream is to have a wild cat as a companion. Their grace, power, size and beauty are almost irresistible, even though sensible people know they would be impossible to live with. The Ocicat was created to be an answer to that desire. He isn’t wild at all — he’s the result of crosses of Abyssinians, Siamese and American Shorthairs — but his spots lend him an exotic air that is difficult to resist.
Like the cats who came together to create him, the Ocicat is self-confident, talkative and highly active. He enjoys greeting visitors and can get along well with children, dogs and other cats. It’s not unusual for him to learn to walk on a leash or to play active games such as fetch, but he also has a reputation as a lap cat. The Ocicat loves attention, so do not get one if you don’t have the time or desire to interact with him frequently. He will want to be involved in everything you do.
Brush the Ocicat weekly to keep his thick coat shiny and healthy. The only other grooming he needs is regular nail trimming, ear cleaning, and teeth brushing.
The Ocicat is well suited to any home with people who will love him and care for him. Keep him indoors to protect him from cars, diseases spread by other cats and attacks from other animals.
The Ocicat was a happy accident, the surprise result of a cross in 1964 between a ruddy Abyssinian male and a seal point Siamese female, with the goal of developing a Siamese with Abylike points. Breeder Virginia Daly kept a female from the litter—all of which resembled Abyssinians—and bred her to a chocolate point Siamese. That time she got the hoped-for Siamese with Abyssinian points and repeated the breeding. The next litter contained something new: an ivory kitten with gold spots. Daly’s daughter remarked on the kitten’s resemblance to an Ocelot and said he should be called an Ocicat. The kitten, named Tonga, was beautiful, but he wasn’t what Daly was looking for, so he was neutered and sold as a pet.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. In a letter to geneticist Clyde Keeler, Daly described Tonga in passing. Keeler, who was interested in reproducing the now-extinct Egyptian Spotted Fishing Cat, suggested breeding Tonga back to his mother. That wasn’t possible, of course, but Daly repeated the breeding and another such kitten was born. American Shorthairs were then added to the “recipe” to bring in substance as well as silver coloring.
Eventually, other breeders became interested in the spotted cats and began their own breeding programs. The Cat Fanciers Association began registering the cats in 1966, but did not grant them full recognition until 1987. The International Cat Association recognized the Ocicat in 1986.
If you know someone who thinks that cats are unfriendly and independent, just introduce him to the Ocicat. This is a confident, outgoing cat who loves his family and likes meeting other people, too. He walks right up to guests in hopes of finding a good lap to sit in or someone to play with him.
A busy family with lots of activity — activity that involves him whenever possible — is right up the Ocicat’s alley. He has an adaptable nature that makes him a good travel companion for people who like to travel in an RV or take their pets on vacation with them. The Ocicat is so sociable, in fact, that he’s not best suited to a home where he will be left alone all day. If this will be the case, he should have other pets — cat-friendly dogs are fine with him — to keep him company.
The Ocicat is highly intelligent. Challenge his brain and keep him interested in life by teaching him tricks and providing him with puzzle toys that will reward him with kibble or treats when he learns how to manipulate them. He likes to play fetch, will come when called and perform other behaviors, and may willingly learn to walk on a leash. If you show him what you want—for instance, that you don’t want him jumping on the kitchen counter—he’s likely to comply, especially if you give him an alternative, such as a stool to sit on where he can supervise food prep.
Not surprisingly, he’s capable of reaching the highest points in your home, and that is often where you will find him, keeping watch over his family. When he’s not perched on high, he’s busy playing with his toys. Don’t be surprised if he becomes possessive of them and tries to play keep-away when you want to put them up.
Always choose a kitten from a breeder who raises litters in the home and handles them from an early age. Meet at least one and ideally both of the parents to ensure that they have nice temperaments.
All cats have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Any breeder who claims that her breed has no health or genetic problems is either lying or is not knowledgeable about the breed. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on kittens, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her kittens are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons.
The Ocicat is generally healthy and has a long lifespan, but he may inherit some of the health problems that affect his parent breeds. They include liver or renal amyloidosis, pyruvate kinase deficiency and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He may also be prone to periodontal disease.
Amyloidosis is a possibly hereditary disease that occurs when a substance called amyloid, an insoluble protein, is deposited in organs such as the kidneys or liver. It results in lesions, dysfunction and, eventually, organ failure.
Pyruvate kinase is a key regulatory enzyme in the energy metabolism of red blood cells. Cats deficient in PK can develop anemia. The hereditary condition is caused by a recessive gene and is easily removed from the gene pool through DNA testing. Testing for PK deficiency and breeding away from it will eventually help to eliminate the disease from the breed.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common form of heart disease in cats. It causes thickening (hypertrophy) of the heart muscle. An echocardiogram can confirm whether a cat has HCM. Avoid breeders who claim to have HCM-free lines. No one can guarantee that their cats will never develop HCM. Ocicats that will be bred should be screened for HCM, and cats identified with HCM should be removed from breeding programs.
Ask the breeder to show evidence that an Ocicat kitten’s parents are checked annually for heart murmurs. It is always wise to buy from a breeder who provides a written health guarantee.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new kitten into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping an Ocicat at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to protect his overall health. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier cat for life.
The Ocicat’s short coat is simple to groom. Go over it with a rubber curry brush weekly to remove dead hair and distribute skin oils. Give it a little shine with a chamois (not the same one you use on your car -- and make sure it is not treated with any chemicals).
Baths are rarely necessary unless you will be showing your Ocicat, but if you do decide to bathe him, look for a cat shampoo that will enhance his gorgeous coat color: bronze-tone for brown, chocolate and cinnamon spotted tabbies; pearl-tone for blue, lilac and fawn cats; and a whitening shampoo for silver Ocicats.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually weekly. Check the ears every week for redness or a bad smell that could indicate an infection. If the ears look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball dampened with a gentle ear cleanser recommended by your veterinarian. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath and schedule veterinary cleanings as needed. Start brushing, nail trimming and teeth brushing early so your kitten becomes accepting of this activity.
You want your Ocicat to be happy and healthy so you can enjoy your time with him, so do your homework before you bring him home. For more information on the history, personality and looks of the Ocicat, or to find breeders, visit the websites of the Cat Fanciers Association, Cats Center Stage, the Fanciers Breeder Referral List, and The International Cat Association.
A reputable breeder will abide by a code of ethics that prohibits sales to pet stores and wholesalers and outlines the breeder’s responsibilities to their cats and to buyers. Choose a breeder who has performed the health certifications necessary to screen out genetic health problems to the extent that is possible, as well as one who raises kittens in the home. Kittens who are isolated can become fearful and skittish and may be difficult to socialize later in life.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include kittens always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any kitten, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your feline friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and unhealthy catteries can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick kitten, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy kittens. Put at least as much effort into researching your kitten as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Be patient. Depending on what you are looking for, you may have to wait six months or more for the right kitten to be available. Many breeders won’t release kittens to new homes until they are between 12 and 16 weeks of age.
Before you buy a kitten, consider whether an adult Ocicat might be a better choice for your lifestyle. Kittens are loads of fun, but they’re also a lot of work and can be destructive until they reach a somewhat more sedate adulthood. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health. If you are interested in acquiring an adult cat instead of a kitten, ask breeders about purchasing a retired show or breeding cat or if they know of an adult cat who needs a new home.
The Ocicat is an unusual and uncommon breed. It is unlikely that you will find one in a shelter or through a rescue group, but it doesn’t hurt to look. Sometimes pedigreed cats end up at the shelter after losing their home to an owner’s death, divorce or change in economic situation. Check the listings on Petfinder, Adopt-a-Pet.com or the Fanciers Breeder Referral List, and ask breeders if they know of an Ocicat who is in need of a new home.
Here are some tips to help you find and adopt the right cat from a rescue group or shelter:
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com can have you searching for an Ocicat in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (color, for example) or very general (all the Ocicats available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a cat. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for an Ocicat. That includes vets, cat sitters, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a cat, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a cat that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Ocicats love all Ocicats. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless cats. The Ocicat Breed Council's rescue network can help you find a cat that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for Ocicat rescues in your area.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a cat. These include:
Wherever you acquire your Ocicat, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a cat from a shelter. In states with “pet lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the cat from both understand your rights and recourses.
Kitten or adult, take your Ocicat to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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