This breed evokes images of a wild jungle cat with its short coat, striking spots and powerful appearance. The Ocicat is a medium to large cat with substantial bone structure and muscle development. The powerful legs are well-muscled, medium-long, and in good proportion to the body. The feet are oval and compact. The torso is solid and hard, and the cat has surprising weight for its size. The tail is fairly long and medium-slim, with a slight taper and a dark tip. Like its Abyssinian kin, the Ocicat is athletic and lithe, but the breed owes its brawn to the American Shorthair. Adult males range from 10 to 15 pounds; adult females range from 7 to 12 pounds.
The head is neither the long, tapering wedge of the Siamese nor the slightly rounded wedge of the Abyssinian, but rather, a modified wedge showing a slight curve from muzzle to cheek, with a visible but gentle rise from the bridge of the nose to the brow. The muzzle is broad and well defined with a suggestion of squareness. In profile it shows good length, a strong chin and firm jaw—a clearly different look than any of the three parent breeds. The ears are alert, moderately large and set so they corner the upper, outside dimensions of the head. Tufting and lynx tips are a bonus. The wide-set eyes are large, almond-shaped and angle slightly upward toward the ears. All eye colors except blue are accepted; eye color has no relation to coat color. Depth of color is preferred.
The close-lying, short coat is long enough to carry several bands of ticking. It is lustrous, smooth and satiny with no suggestion of wooliness. The Ocicat is an agouti breed, like the Abyssinian; if you look closely at the spots, you’ll see each hair has bands of alternating color. All hairs are ticked except the tip of the tail.
Ideally, the rows of spots run along the spine from shoulder blades to tail. In addition, the spots are scattered across the shoulders and hindquarters and extend as far as possible down the legs. Large thumbprint-shaped spots on the sides of the torso give the subtle suggestion of the classic tabby bull’s eye pattern. The belly is well spotted. A tabby “M” decorates the forehead, and there should be broken bracelets on the lower legs and broken necklaces at the throat. The contrast between the spots and the background color adds to the striking appearance of the Ocicat.
The accepted coat colors are tawny spotted, cinnamon spotted, chocolate spotted, blue spotted, fawn spotted, lavender spotted, ebony silver spotted, cinnamon silver spotted, chocolate silver spotted, blue silver spotted, fawn silver spotted and lavender silver spotted. All colors should be clear and pleasing. The lightest color is found on the face around the eyes, and usually also on the chin and lower jaw. The darkest colors are found on the tip of the tail.
In 1986, CFA closed the gene pool to Siamese and American Shorthair outcrosses. However, to help keep the gene pool open and large, Abyssinians are allowed in Ocicat litters born on or before January 1, 2015. TICA permits Siamese as well as Abyssinian outcrosses.
The Ocicat’s creation was a happy accident. In the early 1960s, breeder Virginia Daly of Michigan set out to breed a Siamese with Abyssinian-colored points. Daly developed a breeding plan that called for a close encounter between a ruddy Abyssinian male and a large seal point Siamese female. Since the Abyssinian pattern and coloration is dominant over the Siamese pattern, the subsequent kittens all looked like Abyssinians but carried the recessive gene for the Siamese pointed pattern . Daly then bred one of the female kittens to a champion chocolate point Siamese male. This litter produced Daly’s objective-Aby-pointed Siamese kittens.
The next litter, however, produced something entirely unexpected: an ivory male with golden spots and striking copper-colored eyes. Daly named this handsome youngster Tonga, and Daly’s daughter labeled the cat an “Ocicat” because with his vivid spots reminded her of a baby ocelot.
Tonga was lovely and unique, but Daly’s goal was to create Aby-pointed Siamese, so she sold Tonga as a pet. Later, however, Daly mentioned Tonga to geneticist Clyde Keeler of Georgia University, who was thrilled about her accidental discovery because he wanted to recreate the extinct Egyptian spotted fishing cat. Keeler sent Daly a detailed breeding plan that prominently featured the already-neutered Tonga as the sire of the new breed. Of course, the plan was impossible to implement. However, Tonga’s parents produced another spotted male, Dalai Dotson, and the Ocicat breed was officially launched.
The first Ocicat (Tonga) was exhibited at a CFA show in 1965, and in 1966 CFA accepted the Ocicat for registration. Daly registered Dalai Dotson with CFA and began a breeding program to produce more spotted kittens. Being accepted for registration doesn’t guarantee a breed will go on to become an accepted new breed-many requirements must be met along the way-but Daly was hopeful since the Ocicat was striking and unique. Other breeders, captivated by the spotted wonders, joined forces with Virginia Daly and began their own breeding programs.
In the minutes of the CFA annual meeting recognizing the Ocicat for registration, the breed was described as a cross between the Abyssinian and the American Shorthair. When the error was brought to their attention, “Siamese” was added to the wording. This error turned out to be a boon for the breed; Ocicat breeders added American Shorthairs into their Ocicat lines, and the beautiful silver colors of the American Shorthair were added to the gene pool. The American Shorthair influence also added size and musculature to a breed that at first resembled the lithe Abyssinian and the svelte Siamese.
The Ocicat was off to a great start, but the breed didn’t get far-at least not immediately. In the late 1960s, Daly took an 11-year break from cat breeding to care for an ailing family member. At the time, she was the driving force behind the breed, so the Ocicat developed slowly for the next decade. In the early 1980s, however, Daly returned to breeding Ocicats, and her efforts and those of other Ocicat breeders and enthusiasts brought the breed full recognition. In May of 1986, the Ocicat achieved CFA provisional status, and was granted championship status only one year later. Today, all North American cat associations recognize the Ocicat for championship except for the Traditional Cat Association (because no traditional version of the Ocicat exists.).
The Ocicat is ordinarily a very robust, healthy breed; Ocis can live 15 to 18 years if kept inside, and sometimes longer. However, keep in mind that the Ocicat was created by crossing three pedigreed breeds, all of which have inheritable health problems. Most Ocicat breeders have been very careful to choose outcrosses for their health as well as their conformation, and when possible to screen them for hereditary diseases to keep their Ocicat lines healthy.
However, genetic weaknesses can be concentrated through years of selective breeding. Since Abyssinians are still used as outcrosses in CFA, and both Abys and Siamese are allowable outcrosses in TICA, it’s possible that some Ocicat lines have inherited certain hereditary conditions and diseases, such as renal amyloidosis, a progressive hereditary disease that often leads to chronic kidney failure and is known to exist in some Aby lines. PK deficiency, which typically causes intermittent anemia, has been found in Aby lines as well.
In some Siamese lines, liver amyloidosis has been reported which causes lesions, dysfunction, and eventual liver failure (amyloidosis can affect different organs depending upon the inherited genes). More seriously, the inherited heart disease feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) has been found in some Siamese lines. The most common feline heart disease, HCM’s first symptom is often sudden death at a relatively early age.
In addition, both the Siamese and the Aby are prone to plaque, tartar, and gingivitis. Gingivitis can lead to the dental disease periodontitis (an inflammatory disease affecting the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth), which can cause tissue, tooth and bone loss. Untreated, dental disease can undermine a cat’s overall health. Ocicats prone to dental problems need dental exams during their annual veterinary checkups, periodic teeth cleaning by a veterinarian and, if the cats will tolerate it, regular tooth brushing using cat toothpaste and a cat toothbrush or a soft child’s size toothbrush.
This is not to say your Ocicat will develop all or any of these conditions and diseases. However, it’s wise to talk to your potential breeder about them and ask her how carefully she screens her breeding stock and outcrosses. Be sure to choose your cat’s breeder carefully and buy from one who provides a written health guarantee.
Did you know?
The Ocicat is named after the ocelot ( Leopardus pardalis) a 20- to 30-pound spotted wildcat that generally ranges from southwestern Texas to northern Argentina. However, no ocelots were used in the breed’s creation. The Ocicat is 100 percent domestic.
The Oci, as the breed is affectionately called, will drive you wild with its enchanting personality. They may look like a mini wildcats, but their behavior, while perhaps not quite civilized, is as domesticated as any other breed. Active, intelligent and talkative, Ocicats are perfect for those who love interactive cats. They’re loyal and loving, and display a deep affection for their human companions. They usually bond to one member of the family and become completely devoted to that person. That’s not to say they aren’t fond of the rest of the household, including other companion animals. It’s just that they develop a special attachment to the human of their choice (it’s always their choice), and that loyalty makes Ocicats very special family members.
Hard to intimidate, Ocis are more confident than most other breeds. They are rambunctious extroverts who entertain you with their comic antics. Outgoing and people-oriented, most Ocicats won’t hide under the bed when the doorbell rings or party guests fill the room.
Like their Siamese ancestors, Ocicats can be vocal when they’re not getting enough attention or their food dishes are empty, but they don’t have the raspy yowl of their Siamese relatives. They do enjoy schmoozing with their human family, though. If you talk back they tend to get more chatty.
Most of them fetch and some will drop their favorite toy on your face at 3:00 a.m. if they think it’s playtime. Highly intelligent, Ocicats quickly learn their names (even if they pretend not to know when it suits them), and with time and patience can be taught a variety of tricks usually reserved for the canine set. Prospective owners should be aware that Ocicats have a talent for teaching themselves tricks, too, like opening doors and the lids of containers that have their favorite cat treats. Acrobatic, curious and clever (maybe too clever), Ocicats will find a way if it’s something they really want. They can be hard on household possessions, and fragile valuables should be locked away because no shelf is too high. Nothing is out of reach of the mischievous Oci, say fanciers, not even ceiling fans.
Like Siamese and Abyssinians, Ocicats are very dependent on their human companions and don’t prosper in isolation. Generally, Ocis are not good pets for people who work 60-hour weeks, so if you spend most of your time away from home, another breed might be a better choice. However, if they are provided with the company of other companion animals, Ocicats can make do while waiting for their favorite human to come home, as long as you spend some quality time with your Oci when you get there. Just remember, two Ocicats can cause as much mischief as one.