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DNA Testing for Our Wild Child

In a previous post, we introduced our new kitty, Henna, who had been rehomed several times for being too much to handle. I can understand why an inexperienced cat person would be overwhelmed, as she is quite a handful and different from any cat I've ever known. She is an endless ball of energy, always alert- jumping up like a Meerkat with every little sound she hears. She is beyond mischievous and even as I am typing this, the stinker managed to pull a patch of microgreens right out of its growing tray. Everything is a play toy and breaking her habit of attacking hands and feet has been challenging. She makes a lot of funny sounds ranging from sighs, huffs, and coos to low growls and this crazy wild cat scream when she is mad. Her Vet refers to her as The Wild Child, and requires Henna to be slightly sedated prior to bringing her in. 

The rescue group that we adopted her from thought that Henna was part Bengal, which may explain her energy levels. I reached out to several Bengal owners and breeders to learn more, but all I got was conflicting information. Someone suggested she may be part Savanah because her head shape, hooded eyes and ears looked more Serval-like, but Savannah breeders all scoffed at that. Then there was the Sokoke theory. Someone sent me a video saying “this looks just like your cat!”. She certainly fits the color, markings and personality traits to a T, but there are so few Sokoke cats in the world that it seems highly unlikely. During my research, many health-related topics came up in discussions that made me even more determined to find out what her breed mix is to avoid any unnecessary tragedies. It was time to consider DNA testing. 

I decided to see if there were any new advancements in the field of feline genetic testing. In the past, the tests that were available all seemed geared towards breeders looking for a handful of inherited diseases. Since that time, some amazing advances have developed thanks to the efforts of Dr. Leslie Lions, who initiated a study on cat breeds while she was a Professor at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. She now runs The Lyons Lab at the University of Missouri and is the coordinator of the 99 Lives Cat Genome Sequencing Initiative. Founded in 2015, the purpose was to build an in-depth, accessible genetic database of domestic and wild cat species that researchers could use to investigate inherited diseases. Universities, Veterinarians, Breeders and Zoos from all around the world contribute to the database, as well as use their data. Since certain inherited diseases are linked to certain breeds, the database is collecting and identifying more breed data with every sample they collect. 

I was fascinated by some of the reports on their website. Did you know that the Bengal glitter gene is a mutation that came from a single domestic cat? Yes, a homeless cat in India named Millwood Tory of Delhi was bred with an Asian Leopard to create the first Bengal cat, is to thank for one of the most beautiful and unique traits of the Bengal breed!

So back to getting a breed test for Henna… With all of this DNA research being done and data being collected, determining a cats breed mix is still very complicated. They can only provide general information and speak in similarities and probabilities. Why? Well historically, animals were only bred to serve a purpose to man. Dogs, for example, have been selectively bred for hundreds of years for their ability to perform certain tasks like sledding, hunting, or herding, so we have long lines of purebred DNA to reference against when doing a canine DNA test. Cats on the other hand, were only domesticated to keep rodent populations under control, and since all cats instinctively hunted mice, cats were left to breed freely. That means that cats quickly became Heinz 57 varieties. The breeding of cats for physical appearance only started to develop about 100 years ago. That’s not a long time genetically speaking. Even cats that are now recognized as purebreds were bred from mixed cats until a desirable breed standard was reached, so their DNA sequence still contains a mixed bag of recessive genes, making it hard to decipher the origins and meanings of some markers.

What they do know is that cat species originated from 8 primary regions: Western Europe, Egypt, East Mediterranean, Iran/Iraq, Arabian Sea, India, South Asia and East Asia. Cats from these regions had distinct DNA markers, so they can tell us which of these regions our cat has ancestry from, just like a human DNA test does. They also compare your cats DNA against their database of recognized cat breeds to help narrow down the possible breeds your cat is a mix of.

Of all the companies I researched, I settled on a test kit from a company called Basepaws. Their website was informative, easy to understand, and they are dedicated to building world's largest feline genomics database. They more data they collect and DNA they sequence, the more they will learn and share. The test includes lifetime breed and health discovery updates, so I felt like I had nothing to lose. 

They currently offer 3 kits, priced $99/$149/$599, and they do advertise promo codes all the time. I ordered their Breed and Health DNA Test kit, which arrived in the mail a few days later. The kit is compact and efficient and is already set with a pre-paid return label on the box. 

      

The process is super easy: Register your kit online, collect the sample by swabbing the inside cheek in your kitty’s mouth with the provided swab, put the swab into the bottle, close tightly and shake it up. Then place the tube in the plastic bag and seal, place the bag in the box, seal it with the seal strip and pop it back in the mail!

We assumed that getting Henna to sit still and remain calm while trying to swab the inside of her cheek for a full 5 seconds would be a challenge, but the instant we showed her the swab she chomped down on it to play…so we wiggled it around in her mouth and got our sample! (She looked so sad when we took it away from her!)

We completed the process and mailed the kit in. Now we wait for the results which will be emailed to us in approximately 4-6 weeks. We will share the results in a follow up post as soon as we get them! Can't wait!!!

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