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What Colour is your Russian?

Roses are red
Russians are blue,
or White or Black
but there are only a few!

Roses are red
Russians are blue
or white or black
So one for me and one for you.

People think they know what a Russian Blue is but do they?

After all they only come in blue - don’t they?

“Only blue” is like saying how long is a piece of string.... after all they come in many shades of blue ranging from the very pale, silvery blue through to a dark, dull slate blue to looking almost black.

What about the white and black versions – how do they fit in?

Many questions are asked and statements made about these colours:

“Are they “proper” Russians?”

“Did the mother mate with the local tom cat?”

“They are “just moggies” not pedigrees..”

“If your queen/stud cat has been with another colour or breed it will contaminate them and they will never breed true again.”

“You can’t mate a Russian Blue to a Russian Blue that has a Russian White or Russian Black parent because they and their kittens will produce Russian White or Russian Black kittens.”

So many myths and misconceptions!!

Contrary to popular belief Russian Blues are not actually blue and have never, ever been purely blue. If we go back in history and the time of the fledgling beginnings of the “cat fancy” all blue cats, regardless of their ancestry, were shown in one class. However as people began to breed with purpose it was apparent that there were differences in the look of the cats. Some being round headed with heavy bone structure and others who were altogether finer in head and bone and with differing eye colours and coat lengths so it was eventually decided to separate them. The Persian, British Shorthaired and Chartreuse gradually developed from the first group and the Russian Blue from the second.

It would appear that the “Russian” breeders in those very early days followed a blue to blue regime of mating but they also used blue cats with unknown or mixed colour ancestry especially if the cat had the required “look” to their head or admired coat qualities. During the second World War, to ensure the survival of the breed, they used blue point Siamese – given this background there is no way we can say that today’s Russian Blues are “pure”! Since then we have learnt much more about colour inheritance and genes so that we now know that the Russian Blue is, in fact, genetically, actually a black cat!

Russian Blacks and Russian Whites first appeared in the UK during the early 1960’s when the registration policy still allowed outcrosses to unregistered cats whose background was unknown.

Today we have stringent breeding and registration policies that are backed up by known genetic information to ensure the continued well being and development of the Russian breed as we know it.

Val Anderson has written two excellent scientific articles on the in and outs of Russian Genetics which I recommend any Russian breeder to read and my intention in this article is not to undermine these. When I first started to be interested in breeding Russian Blacks and Russian Whites they were my first “port of call” but I don’t have a scientific mind and it took me some time to comprehend the information within them.

I needed a way of explaining, to myself, in simple terms the basis of the information in Val’s articles that I could work with. It soon became apparent from some of the comments made to me that many breeders, even those who do not want to breed Russian Blacks and Russian Whites, also found it all rather confusing. So this is an attempt to explain, in VERY SIMPLE terms, the basic rudiments involved in breeding Russian Whites and Russian Blacks!

So how is it that when we mate a Russian Blue to another Russian Blue we always get blue kittens?

It’s all down to the behaviour of the “Blue Jeans” they are wearing!

How we look, the colour of our eyes, some of the way we behave, our sex and the colour of our skin are governed by the genes we inherit from our parents and cats are the same.

Genes are little things that work in pairs. One is inherited from the mother and the other from the father. When they meet with the right partner they join up and work together in developing the aspect of you that they have responsibility for. Some of these genes are very strong and dominate others which have earned them the name DOMINANT, others are quiet, hiding away and receding into the background and are called RECESSIVE.

Dominant genes are so powerful that they, generally, never hide themselves - they usually always insist on being seen unlike recessive genes that are frequently quite happy to hide away until it meets a like-minded friend.
Recessive genes are not able to live with or “carry” a dominant gene but a dominant gene is happy to live with or “carry” a recessive gene.

When we consider the genes responsible for colour, if the dominant gene wins the race the cat/kitten will be the colour the winning gene is responsible for. As you can see the colour of the coat that gene has produced we call the cat or kitten bearing this colour - “a visual” example.

The gene responsible for the blue colour in Russian Blues is a recessive, dilute gene. What the dilute gene, in effect does, is spread the colour granules out along the hair shaft so visually weakening or “diluting” the colour so black becomes grey (or blue!). Therefore when you mate a Russian Blue to another Russian Blue it will always produce Russians Blues even if one or both of them have a Russian Black or Russian White parent. This is because the recessive, dilute gene that produces the visually blue cat, being at the end of the line, cannot “carry” the dominant genes.

Therefore to produce a Russian Black or Russian White, one of the parents MUST be a visual – in other words, it must be black or white to look at.

Now it starts to get a little more complicated when we talk about the dominant black and white genes – remember they both can “carry” the blue gene but the black gene can’t “carry” the white gene yet the white gene can “carry” both the black and the blue gene!

If you mate a Russian Black to a Russian Blue you will only get Russian Black or Russian Blue kittens because neither the black nor the blue gene “carries” the white gene.

However if you mate a Russian White to a Russian Blue you could get all three colours! This is because the dominant white gene “masks” the other colours – in other words the cat is wearing a white overcoat to hide the fact it is wearing either black or blue underwear! Now if a Russian White is “masking” blue underwear then it will only produce Russian Blue or Russian White kittens however if it is “masking” black underwear it could produce either Russian Blue, Russian Black or Russian White kittens. The majority of the Russian Whites in the UK that have been DNA tested to date, are hiding black underwear.

In a nutshell:

Russian Blue to Russian Blue will always produce Russian Blues.

Russian Blue to Russian Black could produce Russian Blues or Russian Blacks.

Russian Blue to Russian White could produce Russian Blues, Russian Blacks and Russian whites.

NB: our breeding policy does not encourage Russian White to Russian White matings

Mrs CM Kaye