Blue eyes in cats are usually associated with white coats or colorpoint patterns, those worn by Siamese, Birman or Siberian Neva masquerade, for example.
However, the Altai cat has the particularity of wearing a traditional dress with blue eyes. Find out what this cat is and its possible contributions to purebred cats.
What Is An Altai Cat?
The Altai cat (still written Altay) is an alley cat that appeared in the late 1990s in the Altai mountains, hence its name. This massif is located between Mongolia, China, Russia and Kazakhstan.
This very special animal has a single gene which gives the blue color to his eyes despite a dress almost without white. What is rare is that this gene is dominant. This means that when a carrier cat is mated to a non-carrier cat, the cubs are much more likely to take on the azure gaze, in turn. If there was already a “blue eyes” gene in the Ojos Azules, it was associated with birth defects. Indeed, when the kittens took up the 2 alleles of this gene, they were either stillborn or deformed.
One of the first cats with this characteristic was found on the street in 1998 in Kazakhstan, in its capital, the city of Astana. the breeder, Zikeevoy Lubov Borisovna, who crossed paths with this cat named Fyodor, asked its owner to work with his cat to create the Altai breed. Then was born the first subject, named Ariel, considered the founder of the Altai.
The breeder had to stop abruptly for health reasons and all the knowledge she had acquired about this rare specimen was lost. However, she had obtained in 1999 that a pedigree was accepted with the code “ALT”.
In 2016, 2 breeders, Elena Lobasova from Russia and Anna Kalinichenko from Ukraine, take over and obtain the recognition of the WCF (World Cat Federation). In 2022, without given reasons, the federation ceases the recognition of this cat.
Today, however, Altai fascinates breeders of different breeds, including British shorthair and longhair, Sphynx and Siberians, because they dream of cats with traditional coats and azure eyes.
Altai cats therefore have blue eyes associated with colored dresses (plain or striped) and very little white. They just have a locket (a small piece of white hind leg as well as the tip of the tail) and a white area under the throat and muzzle, the variegations. It is via these variegations that blue (or odd) eyes are transmitted. It happens, however, that some descendants wear green and gold, but they can transmit the blue.
What Is The Altai Cat Interesting In Breeding?
To put it simply, so far the blue eye gene is associated with the albinism gene (on colourpoint cats) or at white hair gene. Moreover, a recessive gene never stands out in the presence of a dominant gene if the latter is not itself a carrier of the recessive gene.
Take the example of humans. In them, brown eyes are dominant and blue eyes are recessive. When a person has brown eyes, they can be MM (homozygous brown) or Mb (brown with blue). If she is MM and marries a bb person (blue eyes), the children have no chance of having blue eyes because they will always be Mb (brown bearer of blue). Only blue-eyed or brown-eyed Mb parents (carriers of blue) can give birth to blue-eyed children by marrying either another Mb person or a blue-eyed person.
In the case of our cats, the dominant blue eyes gene, called DBE for Dominant Blue Eyespaves the way for kittens with blue eyes (even heterochromic that is to say odd) which was not possible until then with cats with traditional coats whose eyes were either green or gold.
So, integrating an Altai into a breed means opening up to a new eye color, regardless of the other breed of cat, when it is without white. This is why some breeders are very interested in it. However, this gene is not yet detectable by DNA testing.
The recommendations, to avoid any risk to the health of the cats, is, as with the Celeste, to never marry 2 cats carrying the gene. It is also recommended never to cross an Altai with another cat with blue eyes (Siamese, Birman, etc.). Since the mode of transmission of the gene is not the same and the gene is not detectablewe could no longer know if it is present or not in the lines.
The Controversy Surrounding The Introduction Of Altai Into Existing Breeds
Several breeders, in France in particular, began to dream of obtaining brown, gray or ginger cats with blue eyes rather than green or gold.
The professionals are then divided into 2 clans: those who see the integration of a cat with a magnetic look and those who see in it the contribution of new genes, without hindsight on the diseases which can be associated with it, and the “destruction” of a breed already very slow to found as well as a risk of drift. Indeed, by introducing a new gene into the lines without having enough perspective on health, it will then be very difficult to eradicate it if it turns out that it poses long-term problems. These last breeders therefore defend the precautionary principle.
When the Céleste project was started, for example, the breeder Sophie Guittonneau wanted her favorite breed, the British, to be able to integrate this eye color into the lines. The British associations having refused, the Celestial has become a race in its own rightdistinct, with its own standard.
With the Siberian, the difficulty is different. This breed of cat is one of the most hypoallergenic that is. By integrating Altaï, cats that seem “classic” in terms of the production of Fel D1 protein at the origin of allergies, the whole Siberian breed risks losing its main characteristic. However, these cats are almost the only chance, for people allergic to cats, to be able to share their daily life with a small feline without suffering from reactions.
Moreover, the Siberian already exists with blue eyesbut in the colorpoint pattern, that is to say with a light coat and darker areas at the level of the tail, the legs and the mask: it is the Neva masquerade.
The question of Siberians with traditional dresses and blue eyes is therefore at the origin of controversies which take on their full meaning, when we know that a new eye color could jeopardize all the contributions of the breed.
The Altai cat therefore tends to be developed in 2 directions: as a pure breed, because it has its own characteristics and beauty, but also as a breeding aid to obtain a new look among existing pure breeds. At the same time at the origin of dreams, fantasies and legitimate fears, the cat ‘Altaï has not finished talking about him. It offers the unique opportunity to bring an azure look to cats which, traditionally, do not carry this possibility in their genetics, but it is essential that their gene remains under control.