As you can see, the Thai Burmese-Burmilla hybrids are really stunning cats. Though my intention was to enhance my Burmese line by adding burmilla genetics, I ending up becoming fascinated with the burmillas' silver gene. And here comes the detour. I decided to create a separate breeding track that would focus on the silver gene. I researched and researched the silver gene and learned a lot about its history and that which was known scientifically about it.
The silver gene popped up in long haired cats in England 100 years ago. Since then, the silver gene has been added to a variety of breeds. It was used to create the burmilla breed, it was used to create the silver British Shorthair, American shorthair, and even the silver Egyptian Mau.
If you would like to know more about the silver gene, I will defer to one of my favorite cat researcher/writer. Sarah Hartwell. This woman has spent untold hours creating the most useful cat genetics websites in the world. I honestly don't know how she manages to put together such a detail oriented website. Its just astonishing. In any event, click on the link below to read Sarah's very comprehensive words on the silver gene in cats.
So, I started out looking to add some new genetics to my Burmese lines, and have ended up decided to work on the silver gene as separate activity entirely.
It is my personal belief that inbreeding results in disease, suffering and premature death in cats, and I oppose it in all cases. We have seen naturally occurring breeds(like Siamese, Tonkinese, Burmese, Norwegian Forest cats, etc.) and mutations in cats(the silver gene, the white gene, the long hair gene) turned into breeds, and in turn the breeds are inbred to the point they become a quagmire of genetic diseases and vulnerabilities to infectious disease.
I place a lot of kittens in homes and I meet a lot of people. In the last ten years, I have kitten buyers that are replacing Burmese cats that die at age 2, 8, and 12. And they are sick for much of their life. Rotting teeth, blindness, kidney disease, heart disease to name a few of the treats found in inbred Burmese cats. Inbreeding does not work. Well, not for the cats. The line, which I have heard many times from many breeders, "yes but inbreeding results in such pretty cats" I find repulsive. But, I get to hear the really sad stories of people broken hearted when their cat dies young of some horrible death. These people are seriously wounded emotionally by their cats passing, and, I will not contribute sick cats to the world.
While working with the Burmillas, I discovered they were descend from a fairly small gene pool. I don't like small gene pools and decided that if I wanted to continue working with the silver gene, I would be best to get a new source of the silver gene.
I would need to reach out to the breeders of other silver cats. I contacted silver Persian breeders and silver British short hair breeders. A luck would have it, I met a fantastic breeder and person, Jody of Sasszkcats. She knew so much about the silver gene she was beyond helpful in my silver gene education. She was so kind and helpful I cannot thank her enough. She agreed to sell me a male silver British shorthair, Baxter to broaden my silver gene gene pool.
Jody has stunning silver British Shorthair's and breeds for health and personality. And, I can say from personal experience, her cats have both! If you want to know more about Jody, visit her website. You will be astonished.
I was and am pretty busy with my work with the Burmese and thought it best to bring in one of my breed partners to help with the project. One of my satellite breeders, Resha Lockwood, expressed an interest in the silver cats and agreed to work with me on the project. We went through all my Thai Burmese- Burmilla hybrids and selected the three best girls we could find to be the mate for Baxter.
Below you will see our Thai Burmese x Burmilla x Silver British Shorthair hybrids
Resha Lockwood, who is working on this project with me, has a Facebook page, where you can see more of the cats. I am not a Facebook person so good luck with finding her and all of her many postings. Just search Hidden Magnolia on Facebook and you will find more pictures of our latest cats and kittens.
Resha and I have been really working on the silver gene project and have been producing some really pretty cats, that are healthy, have great personalities, and have zero inbreeding in their background . For the time being, we will be breeding the silver gene cats back to unrelated Thai Burmese hybrids. At some point in time, we will need to bring in more unrelated silver genes.
We are thinking that there is room for a new breed. The Silver and to register it as an experimental breed in TICA. The beauty of the silver gene is that you can paint it onto any cat. I say the beauty because this means you never have to inbreed. You can always use a cat from an unrelated gene pool and produce silver cats.
I personally feel that as vet costs spiral, people will not be able to afford to have cats with chronic or genetic diseases. I am already dealing with kitten buyers who are very concerned about buying a cat that will become a financial or emotional liability. Week after week, I encounter kitten buyers who have spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to keep their precious cat alive. Our current thinking is that there will be an ever increasing demand for breeds of cats that are healthy and long lived.
But, it must be said, I have written in depth on how one ought breed "a natural breed". Thai cats have been healthy cats for thousands of years in Thailand. They have been in America for less than 100 years and most of the Thai descent cats are riddled with genetic diseases. We are doing it wrong. The Thais are doing it right. I have modeled my Burmese program on the Thai way of breeding. I see our work with the silvers in a similar light. There is a way to breed a particular mutation cat, say a silver cat, and keep that line of cats healthy.
Our work has just begun.
As I said, I started out looking for a way to improve my line of Burmese cats, and have ended up with a whole new project.
The Silver Cat Project
As ever with me, I start working on a project, with one thing in mind, and I end up in a very different place. As you read my "Silver Cat Project" you will see exactly what I mean.
As most of you know, some years ago I decided to work on the inbreeding problem with the American Burmese. I decided to create a genetically diverse line Burmese cats. I loved Burmese cats, came to understand inbreeding was threatening the breeds survival, and hatched a plan to do something about it. I would import cats from Thailand and use them to reverse the inbreeding problem. And that is exactly what I did. I imported Thai cats and bred them to my American Burmese cats. The concept worked, healthy kittens, healthy cats, all was right with the world.
But, one of the things that I quickly discovered was.... the imported Thai cats were not exactly like my American Burmese cats. They were similar in personality, but, the body was sleeker, the faces more angular, the hair much much shorter, and the eye color was all over the place.
Visiting with Burmese cats in Thailand made it clear to me, even with a lot of selective breeding, my American Burmese had traits that were not to be found in Thailand. You can bring traits out in a natural breed, but, you can't put them in. Being a medical researcher, I was intrigued. I suspected my American Burmese had more in their genetic mix than the recorded parents of the breed, Wong Mau and Tai Mau, and assundry Siamese cats used to develop the breed. So what really went into making the American Burmese? That became my question.
Through genetic testing and interviewing a lot of old breeders, I got my question answered. It seems my "American Burmese" were primarily of Thai descent, but they also had a touch of Persian and British shorthair in their ancestory. When did Persians and British shorthairs get bred into the American Burmese breed? Old breeders told me it went on in the sixties, and I was told of a few particular catteries that were known to have done. Some did it to make bigger eyes, some did it to shorten the face of the cats, some did it to make the coat more plush. The thick coat of the American Burmese cat did not come from Thailand, nor did the big Persian eyes, nor the chunky body type. These traits came from other breeds.
More over, I do a lot of genetic testing, and my genetic testing bore out my theory that the cats had some genetics that did not come from Thailand.
Oh and by the way, my "American Burmese" were all CFA registered Burmese from well established catteries with excellent pedigrees. They were standard issue "traditional" Burmese which you could find at any cat show. None of the pedigrees showed the matings with Persians or British shorthairs, but, genetic testing doesn't lie. Its kind of like paternity testing. When you are the daddy, you are the daddy.
So this was just "learning" I came across on the adventure called "improving the genetics of American Burmese cats". While breeding my American Burmese to Thai Burmese did correct the health defects found in the inbred American Burmese, the resultant cat did not look exactly like my American cats I adored.... other than in personality. Once I had the health issue corrected, I began thinking about making the cats heftier and add a little plush to the coat.
To pull this off, I began to think about how to get some Persian and British shorthair into my mix.
At about that time, I became aware of the Burmilla breed. This breed came into existence in the 1970's when a Chinchilla Persian and a European Burmese had some unsanctioned sexy time and produced a litter of stunning silver shorthaired kittens. The kittens had the short coat of the Burmese and the white coat of the Cinchilla Persian. (The white undercoat is actually caused by a silver gene. But, more on that later.) So appealing were these accidental kittens, that a few breeders in England decided to "create" a new HYBRID breed and decided to call them Burmillas. (Burmese x Chinchilla Persian).
Honestly, when I first came across the breed, I was mostly impressed by their beauty. Some mixes work, some don't. This mix worked really well and produced a cat that can only be described as stunning. Somehow it draws from both parent breeds and comes together into a beguiling combination.
As I studied and thought about the Burmilla, several things came to mind. My primary thought was that as a breed, their mix was very similar to mix that went into my American Burmese.
Firstly, the breed was created with a European Burmese cat. How is that significant? The European Burmese are slightly different to American Burmese in that they have some indigenous British cat in them. Some time ago there was another "accidental" mating between a sable Burmese girl and a British Shorthair. It seems a sable Burmese girl went out on the town, and had herself a good time with a red coated British tom, and came home a girl in trouble. Once again, the kittens were cute, and another breed, the European Burmese breed came into existence. This breed is quite similar to the American Burmese, but, that red father added some new color genetics to the mix. So, European Burmese include Tortie's and reds, which you don't find in the American Burmese color line up.
So, the founding mother cat cat of the Burmilla breed was... mostly Thai with a touch of British shorthair. The founding father was a Chinchilla Persian. So genetically the Burmilla is Burmese, plus British Shorthair, plus Persian. Does that sound familiar? Oh... that is exactly like the genetic make of my American Burmese! These facts, combined with the breeds beauty, intrigued me.
I decided to get a Burmilla and do some experimenting. I decided to breed my Thai Burmese - American Burmese hybrids to a few Burmilla's.
Now, this became an interesting proposition BECAUSE the Chinchilla Persian that was and is used to create Burmillas, carries a coat color gene not found in the Burmese. The new gene is the silver gene. This is the gene that gives the burmilla its white appearance. The gene results in the loss of pigment of a certain portion of the lower hair shaft. The normal pigment is replaced with white. So the Burmilla carries a silver gene that causes a white undercoat.
So, when you breed a Thai Burmese to a Burmilla, the result is kittens coated in all the Burmese coat colors(Sable, Blue, Champagne, and Platinum) PLUS kittens with a white undercoat. As you know, my Thai-American Burmese hybrids already come in a host of colors not usually seen, owing to their complicated Thai ancestry. When you add the silver gene to the mix, you get a whole new range of interesting coat colors.
So, here are some of the cats that have resulted from mating Burmilla's to my Thai-American hybrids. As you will see, they range in coat color but are quite beautiful.
I ended up keeping one kitten from the litter Big Head and Fleur litter, Astrid. Here you see Astrid and her mother Fleur. They are genetically identical, meaning they are both natural mink Tonkinese. The only difference is Astrid inherited a copy of the silver gene from her father. So, this is a really good example of what happens when you add the silver gene to a Thai Burmese.
The experiment went fairly well, and I had a fair number of Burmilla-Thai Burmese-American Burmese Hybrids. Below you can see more of the kittens that came out the Burmilla-Thai Burmese/American Burmese matings.
The Kittens a little more grown up.
Big Head and Fleurs Babies
Fleur and her daughter Astrid...... one of her kittens with Big Head All Grown Up
More Burmilla-Thai Burmese Hybrids
Big Head (Dad) Fleur(Mom)
For those interested in the science behind this mating, here are some further details. Big Head, genetically, is Ii Aa Bb cbcs DD. That translates to mean he carries the silver gene, the Agouti gene, the chocolate gene, the burmese gene, and the siamese gene. Fleur is ii aa Bb cbcs Dd. That translates to mean she is a non-agouti cat, she carries the chocolate gene, the burmese gene, the siamese gene, and the blue gene. To put it mildly, these two cats carry a whole lot of color genes. Before the litter was born, I had no idea what to expect. And when it was born, the litter was all over the place in color.