by Jeanne Singer
From the 1979 CFA Yearbook, posted with permission from CFA
Nature invented Siamese cats, not breeders. Nature also outlined the Siamese show standard before it was explicitly defined by breeders. It is common knowledge that Siamese cats were first discovered in Siam (Thailand) and that several of them were brought to England and America at the turn of the century by certain distinguished ladies and gentlemen who had received them as gifts from royal Siamese personages. Thus the early owners of Siamese tended to be upper-class and literate.
The written descriptions of those early cats are more fascinating and informative than the few rather unflattering photos that exist. These cats, all apparently seal points, were generally described as being smaller and finer-boned than domestic cats and having distinctive "marten-like" faces or "fox-like" faces with larger than normal ears, plus vivid blue eyes that appeared slanted or Oriental. They had point color variously described as dark brown, black, or chocolate (not today's chocolate point color). The body color descriptions range from our ideal of even, cream bodies to darkish chocolate bodies - obviously influenced by age and other factors.
The show standard evolved from these early cats, first in England, then in America. These early Siamese obviously suggested the standard. The Siamese standard has never been an outlandish fantasy imposed on living creatures in defiance of nature. "Fox-face" or "marten-face" is now called a long wedge. Fine bones and refined size were there from the start, along with big ears and slanted vivid blue eyes. There is nothing unnatural about today's show standard. It is merely a refinement on the original ingredients supplied by nature. Likewise, there is nothing new about the appearance of today's winning Siamese.
Breeders who have health problems complain that today's "extreme" standard for Siamese type is ruining health and stamina. Uninformed breeders tend to think that there is a very recent "modern" Siamese style which wins, and an "old-fashioned" Siamese style which used to win, but couldn't compete today.
Both of these notions are false. I'll discuss each separately.
The Standard Versus Health
Breeders, using the term "extreme", usually mean a Siamese with a very long head. Sometimes they also mean very fine bones. Occasionally they mean very long bodies and tails. However, long heads, fine bones, long bodies and tails should all go together to meet the standard. A totally good Siamese, in fact, is so well balanced that no single feature looks more "extreme" than another. Thus the word is not used in the standard. The total well-proportioned animal looks "extremely" beautiful to both judges and laymen.
No Siamese was ever weak and unhealthy because it met the requirements of the standard. Some winning Siamese have indeed been pathetic weaklings; so have "pet-type" Siamese. Don't blame this on the standard. It's the fault of the breeder, and sometimes the judges' who don't penalize, as required by the standard, for evidence of poor health. There are certainly many top-winning Siamese who are strong and healthy.
Some charge that the long head with a straight profile causes sinus problems and possibly a lack of brains. Most Siamese, including top show cats, are remarkably intelligent. Others blame malocclusions and "undershot" jaws on head length. These charges are untrue. There's may a long nosed Siamese that never had a sniffle, a poor bite, or an undershot jaw. However, short-headed cats of other breeds are known to have these problems. Short-nosed pet Siamese can have them too.
Look at the King of the Beasts. The lion has a long straight profile plus most of the other requirements of a good Siamese head. In fact, young Siamese kittens of promise often resemble lion cubs, except for their big ears. Lions have small ears, but many wild cat species have strikingly large ears, like good Siamese. Every feature of the Siamese show standard can be found on naturally occurring wild species which must survive the rigors of the jungle, desert or forest. Most wild cat species have long bodies. Their heads, too, are inclined to be longer than domestic cats. Long bodies are good for carrying litters of kittens and long narrow head sand bodies make the kittens easier for the mother to deliver.
As for the fine bones of the Siamese, that is a matter of proportion and illusion. The cheetah, renowned for its running speed, appears fine-boned compared to a lion. Siamese cats are notoriously agile and, by nature, leapers and jumpers. Their athletic inclinations and body build go together. They are lithe and springy and enjoy outlandish body contortions. They are the ballet dancers of the cat world. Human ballet dancers also give the illusion of daintiness and delicacy, but we all know how strong they really are! The chunky type of human, with a body-build best suited for wrestling or weight-lifting, can never be a great ballet dancer. The "dainty" appearance and fine bones required of Siamese do not make for a weak cat. Man small dainty queens are great breeders. A large course-boned structure does not make a healthy sturdy cat or a good breeding female. Health and breeding capacity are independent factors; not the result of size. Poor health and lack of stamina result from poor breeding practices. More of this later.
The word "dainty" in the Siamese standard is defined by Funk and Wagnall's College Standard Dictionary as meaning: "delicate and elegant in appearance, refined in manner." It is an aesthetic description, not a functional one. It should not be construed to mean frail and weak.
Siamese Styles of Yesterday, Today, …. And Tomorrow?
The last major revision of the CFA Siamese standard occurred in 1966. This revised standard was eventually adopted by virtually all associations in the US. I prepared this standard, basing it on all previous Siamese standards. I was appointed chairperson of the Siamese Standard Committee by then CFA president, Louise Sample. My original draft was modified and approved by Marge Naples, my co-chairperson. It was then submitted to the CFA Board for detailed consideration. The CFA Board, after a few minor changes, accepted this standard as presented. Since then, only a few details have been added or subtracted.
The 1966 standard, in essence, did not change the type and color requirements of previous standards. The traditional ideals for Siamese style and color have been accepted, world-wide, for most of this century. The new merely builds on the old. The purpose of revising the standard was to tighten up the descriptive language, to help eliminate squabbles over details. CFA also wanted all standards to emphasize the positive. It was thought that a clear and detailed description of what was desirable would eliminate the need for the long list of "undesirable" features that burdened the old standard. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, the mere presentation of the positive was not enough. Breeders apparently love to see the faults spelled out, so the Siamese standard is again accumulating a list of "no-nos".
Nevertheless, the basic concept of the ideal Siamese has not changed. Only emphasis on certain features will probably continue to shift. Fads and fashions come and go.
A really good Siamese of the 40's or 50's would still be a good Siamese today. There have always been outstanding Siamese with heads as fine as any today with bodies to match. There have always been Siamese with exceptional eye-color and body color.
The quantity of show winners, in any period, displaying certain features depends a great deal on fashion and fad. In other words, what judges will "put up" is what breeders will breed and bring to shows.
In the 40's and early 50's, good color was a fetish. The Siamese with perfect color would always beat the typey cat with color faults. Hence, winning cats had good color, but often did not have great heads or bodies. I saw several "extreme" heads that never could make champion, even with repeated showing, because their body color was too dark or blotchy. Even a belly spot would eliminate an otherwise fine specimen. Yes, there were a few lovely colored cats that also had head type and body type. They won then, and they'd win today.
In those days, very few breeders would dare to exhibit a cat with poor color, no matter how "typey" it was. Then new judges and new breeders came along and "heads" were "in", regardless of color. Consequently, more "heads" began to appear at shows. Eye-slant was a fad with some judges. Then came chins. The greatest sin became a weak chin, and the greatest virtue a strong chin. This led to a grotesque "bull dog" type of chin that had its vogue in the show ring. In the 50's, the dainty appearance was re-discovered, only to be lost again in the late 60's and early 70's.
All through the years, though, there have been well-balanced cats bred so close to the standard that they would win in any period. Those are the cats whose genes are kept alive in the bloodlines of cats that have won not only today, but will win tomorrow.
Today, color is not as critical. That's too bad. It's the striking Siamese color pattern that first catches the eye. Today's pet owners are startled to see a really good colored Siamese. They ask why their pet Siamese at home is so dark, etc. It used to be the opposite. The pet owners visiting shows used to brag about the superior color of their own pets. This merely indicates that breeders are breeding poor color in greater quantity than previously, and selling the less typey ones for pets.
It takes many generations of breeding good color to good color to attain any sort of consistency. Are today's Siamese breeders going to throw away this lovely gift from nature? Isn't it more fun and more challenging to try for the "perfect Siamese" that has both type and color?
Breeding Practices And Health
Twenty five years of Siamese breeding have led me to the following observations. The greatest enemies of the Siamese breed, are breeders who are impatient, or irresponsible.
The breed, as a whole, is strong, healthy, and long-lived. The average Siamese should live at least 15 trouble-free years, and usually does. They often live twenty years and sometimes more. The queens are excellent breeders and mothers. They seem created to propagate! They come "in season" more often and more strenuously than ay of the other breeds. They often have large litters (up to 13 recorded!). Five seems to be average. They have plenty of milk and usually want to nurse their kittens to 12 weeks of age. The normal queen thrives on motherhood. She eats huge quantities of food and often grows sleek and fat while nursing kittens, not emaciated or worn out. Once she has weaned the kittens herself, she naturally resumes her lithe, svelte body type without deliberate "starving" by the breeder. In fact, good show-quality queens will have even better bodies after kittens.
Normal Siamese queens will bear healthy, normal kittens up to 10 or 11 years. After this age, nature seems to taper off the reproductive function. The queen may stop coming into season completely; or have less frequent and less intense seasons until she no longer "calls". Eventually she seems to become a "natural spay" and lives out her remaining years in peace and good health.
Good Siamese studs never seem to quit. Many well known Siamese studs have sired up to 16 and even 18 years of age. The foregoing is the normal pattern for Siamese and their lifespan.
Poor breeding practices have ruined all this in some lines of Siamese. It has nothing to do with the standard per se, only the greed of some short-sighted breeders who seek instant wins in defiance of nature's warnings.
I have worked with only one basic Siamese line for 6 years. They are still winning and are as healthy as ever.
A number of years ago, a scientific group in Bar Harbor, Maine, tried to do controlled genetic studies on cats. They chose Siamese because Siamese are already naturally selected "recessive" cats, thus "pure" for some things. Scientific genetic studies require intensive in-breeding over many generations. ("Pure" strains of laboratory mice are sometimes inbred, brother to sister, for up to 30 generations). The Siamese cat genetic project failed because after 5 generations of consecutive in-breeding, the Siamese became sterile, despite repeated attempts with different bloodlines.
Therein is a lesson for breeders. I've seen several prominent Siamese lines of the past vanish because sterility became a problem after several generations of inbreeding. Sterility, of course, doesn't affect the individual cat. It can still lead a healthy and happy life. The real crime that breeders perpetrate are certain genetically determined illnesses that cause pain and suffering and shorten lives.
There is one particularly ominous genetically transmitted disease that started with one strain of Siamese back in the 50's and has spread around the country. These cats have a strange metabolic problem as yet undefined. They apparently don't assimilate food properly and have poor muscle-tone with a "mushy" feel. Their back-bones and hips protrude and their bellies sometimes hang down like that of an old dray horse. Sometimes they have sway backs and weak hind legs. They tend to have poor resistance to everything, and easily die from minor infections that a normal cat would throw off. They rarely live more than 5 years; often they fade away as kittens. Some never breed; while others barely or never make it through a pregnancy. Their deaths are then attributed to any number of immediate causes but the underlying cause is a genetic one. Pancreatitis, kidney disease, chronic respiratory infection, pneumonia, and premature loss of teeth are a few of the con-commitants.
These poor creatures frequently have extremely loving dispositions, which adds to the misery of the loving owners who try desperately to save them at great, but futile cost.
This genetic malady, born in America, has spread because some cats from the lines carrying it also have very long heads. Had this mutation struck a family of "apple-heads", it would have quickly died out long ago. Irresponsible breeders, although aware of its existence in a bloodline, will take a chance, hoping to get that one big show-stopper. Looking for one "super winner" at the expense of the other kittens is the epitome of bad breeding.
There are many log-headed, typey, healthy, robust Siamese strains around. Breeders do not need to use lines with known weaknesses. Unfortunately, instead of sticking with healthy lines, some will cross these with the problem ones, thus committing a compound felony to perpetuate the weakness, which is sometimes masked by the healthy lines; and to contaminate the previously healthy strain for the future. For even seemingly healthy offspring can mask walking time bombs. It requires only one parent as a carrier to produce kittens with this disease.
All the recent hoopla and emphasis in the Siamese standard and Siamese judging about good muscle tone and hard bodies and the penalizing of mushy bodies is an attempt to eliminate this problem via the show ring. Did the show ring encourage this menace in the first place? Will it be powerless to stop it? Our standard has been distorted by an over-emphasis of what should be normal. All healthy cats of all breeds have good muscle tone, including Siamese.
It is an error to think that the outstanding feature of a Siamese is a hard body. Mostly present in the mature specimen, it is elusive in queens in season, and still to come in youngsters.
There are no real genetic studies on Siamese. At best we can practice educated guess work. But experience and intelligence can help a breeder to "guess" correctly at what is inherited versus what is merely congenital or environmental.
Good Breeding and In-Breeding
By selective breeding, we try to select the good and eliminate the bad. Health is the only route to prolonged success. With it you can create beauty; and without it, only vet bills and misery are created. The aim of good breeding is consistent quality, generation after generation. This can be accomplished with patience, careful planning, and judicious inbreeding, out-crossing and line-breeding.
All Siamese breeders eventually, if not immediately, become "head-hunters". The Siamese head style is truly striking and beautiful, but only if all the requirements are met. Besides length, there must be a good smooth wedge, flat profile, firm chin, proper width between the eyes, proper eye-slant, all crowned by large well-set ears that emphasize the whole wedge.
It's relatively easy to get head length. Many studs regularly throw long heads even with short headed queens. The perfectly proportioned head, ears, and eyes is a perpetual challenge to attain, and then to keep in future generations without sacrificing either health or other desirable qualities. Consistent, refined body type is also not easily achieved, often taking two or three generations to get the right size and bone structure. Color is the hardest of all. It takes many generations to get consistently good color, and even then it can go off.
Desirable qualities can be achieved by breeding together related cats having that quality, or sharing ancestors having that quality. As a general rule, never double up on a fault. Out-crossing to known healthy lines on alternate generations is a safe rule of thumb. Even if the results are mediocre, you bring in new genes for health and vigor. Breed the results back to the chosen line and you will again pick up and intensify your desired traits. As consecutive generations of inbreeding can lead to sterility or worse, I avoid son to mother, father to daughter, or brother to sister breedings. The results don't justify the risks. I prefer uncle to niece and vice-versa; cousin to cousin, half-brother to half0sister, grandson to grandmother, and vice-versa. Great-granddaughter to great-grandfather can be very successful - illustrating the advantage of having a long-lived line to work with. Always bring in some "extra blood" along the way to avoid intensive doubling on some possible unknown recessives that might endanger health.
This kind of breeding program is long-range and takes patience, but the quality of your Siamese will consistently improve. I have seen constant in-breeding lead right back to pale-eyed apple heads, even though the original cats were the opposite. In this case, health was not impaired, but beauty was lost.
Take your cues from nature. Don't try to force breedings out of weak animals. If the generations don't improve, try different lines. But don't mix bad blood with good blood. One show-stopper among dozens of inferior or weak kittens is not successful breeding. Stick with healthy and successful lines, repeating good combinations as often as you can. Don't just mix every winning bloodline together; two unrelated grands bred together often produce kittens inferior to either parent.
Some cats, usually from generations of line-breeding, are called pre-potent. No matter what they are bred with, they produce cats resembling themselves. A fine quality stud or queen in this category can make your lie. Other cats produce different kittens with different mates. These cats usually have a large mix of many lines behind them.
A study of the pedigree can give you some idea of what a cat is capable of throwing. Many cats from the same family reasonably assures kittens resembling these ancestors. A so-so cat with a fine pedigree is a better investment for breeding than a flashy cat with lots of unrelated or undesirable lines. To quote Jane Martinke, "the litter mate of a grand often produces the better kittens".
It is fashionable to think you can put a winning Siamese line together the way you build a house. The foundation will stay put while you add the upper floors. It is sometimes said that you build a house before painting it, meaning you set type before color. But it doesn't work. The foundation keeps shifting and your whole edifice can tumble while you're wielding that last brush stroke.
Don't be fooled by flashy youngsters. Siamese change more than other breeds as they mature. A winning 9 month old can become a 2 year old dud and an undeveloped 9 month old can blossom into a 2 year old beauty. Be patient. The test of a really good Siamese is its staying power. These are the ones to use for breeding. No cat is fully developed until well past 1 ½ years. How many 4 or 5 year old Siamese do you see in the ring? Some judges will favor the older cats but this is fair only if the older Siamese has maintained its beauty. Mere survival is not enough.
Aim for balance rather than extremes. A perfectly balanced animal has eternal appeal. And try to breed for what the standard requires. Your cats will never go out of style if you breed to the standard rather than some current fad.
Some breeders seem to have a magic touch. Others, even working with the same lines, have endless problems. This is not the fault of genetics; but breeder intuition. A good Siamese breeder establishes a subtle rapport with the cats and senses their moods. Siamese are emotional and sensitive and form deep attachments to their owners. One must respect their psychological make-up as well as their everyday needs. Never subject a breeding female, for instance, to unnecessary stress; this includes shipping for stud service. I have never shipped a queen and do not accept them shipped in for breeding.
Starting A Long-Range Breeding Program
The basic background of Singa cats was good English bloodlines of the 30's and 40's. I merely continued and combined the results of my predecessors.
Having read a great deal about animal breeding in general, I knew the first principle was always rigorous selection. I chose only a few kittens from my early litters to use as the foundation of my line; namely the ones with the least faults and best balance and, of course, health. Many flashy, more extreme kits with faults such as ghost tabby markings, eyes too round, or feet too big, were sold as pets. I never bred from cats with poor eye color. Some of my discards later appeared in other breeders' pedigrees - so did their faults.
My first breeding cat was Astra's Margie, an exquisite seal point female bred by Agnes Bradley. Margie's sire was the All-American seal male, Dbl. Ch. Morris Lindex, imported by Agnes from England. He was sired by the famous English stud, Lindale Simon Pie. Agnes advised breeding Margie to another import, Silken Pedro of Bridle Trail; and that produced my first big winner: Tr. Ch. Singa Lindette, a seal female. Besides being All-Eastern Shorthair, Lindette had the rare distinction of winning Best Cat in an All Breed show. This was unheard of in those days, but times have changed.
Lindette was bred to another English import, Holmesdale Caraban of Wu, which shocked some breeders. This seal male, Caraban, had not been shown and was unknown; whereas the latest All-American winner was practically in my backyard. But I was following the principles of line-breeding and doubling on the English ancestors. It worked. Lindette and Caraban gave me two beautiful grand champion litter sisters, both All-Eastern for many years: Singa Penelope, a seal, and Singa Delphine, a blue. This breeding also produced my first stud, Dbl. Ch. Singa Rondo, and his littermate, Ch. Singa Godiva of Bridle Trail, who in turn produced the first grand champions to come from the Bridle Trail Cattery.
All of these early cats were exceptionally long-lived and healthy, living happily from 17 to 20 years. The present Singa cats are all line-bred descendants from various combinations of these few original cats. For example, Singa Lindette appears up to 15 times in the extended pedigrees of many winning Singa cats today.
My original breeding stock all had deep eye color and good eye set, large ears, fine bones, and clean, light body color with dense point color. The challenge has been to keep all of these qualities going while adding to them; the hardest struggle has een to maintain good color because I've repeatedly had to outcross to inferior color even though the other qualities were good or superior.
On final observation: I have found that if you "clarify" the color on your typey seals, the blue and dilute genes these seals can carry recessively will also produce excellent color on your blues and dilutes, both in body and points, as well as retain good type.
About Jeanne Singer
Purchased her first registered Siamese in 1952 and has been actively breeding Siamese since 1953. Was appointed chairman of CFA Siamese Standard committee in 1966. Member of National Siamese Cat Club since 1956; president for 18 years (1960-78), also a member and past president of the Long Island Cat Club.
Jeanne Singer has been appointed National Music Chairwoman for the National League of American Pen Women, Inc. She is listed in:
JEANNE is also a composer, concert pianist; born NYC, August 4, 1924; daughter of Harold Vandervoort and Helen (Loucks) Walsh; B.A. magna cum laude, Barnard College, 1944; artist diploma, National Guild of Piano Teachers, 1954; student in piano, Nadia Reisenberg, 1945-60, composition, Seth Bingham and Douglass More, 1942-44; married Richard B. Singer, February 24, 1945, deceased; 1 son, Richard V. Teacher, piano; lecturer in field. Recipeient of special award of merit and various national awards. Performed Lincoln Center, Radio, TV.
Home Office: 64 Stuart Place, Manhasset, NY 11030