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The Snowshoe is a medium size shorthaired cat of 'foreign' type originating in America, with dramatic markings that derive from a Siamese crossed with an American Shorthair, and is so named because the markings include white feet, although they were originally named 'Silver Laces'. This variety comes in a wide variety of colours and patterns but is still quite rare as it is difficult to breed the desired colours and patterns to meet the required breed standards. It is now recognised by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) as a Preliminary breed, and can be shown in assessment classes at GCCF shows. There were 140 new registrations of Snowshoes in 2010, an increase of 50% on the previous year indicating a growth in popularity in the UK.
In the 1960s an American Siamese breeder named Dorothy Hinds-Daugherty, living in Philadelphia, started to cross her seal point Siamese cats with Bicolour American Shorthairs, which initially concerned the pure Siamese breeders for fear of introducing faults into the Siamese lines. It also caused concern because the pointed markings were somewhat of a Siamese 'trademark' in those days, although nowadays many breeds have pointed varieties. The resulting kittens had spectacular markings as would be expected from this cross, although they lacked Siamese type, and so they were initially bred back to seal point Siamese until the gene pool was large enough to support pure breeding. The Snowshoe was bred on a very small scale in these early days, and eventually the Snowshoe baton was taken up first by another American breeder, Vikki Olander (who wrote the first Standard), and then gradually other breeders joined the programme. The UK breeding programme began in 1998 although progress has been very slow with only a small number of breeders involved, and UK Snowshoe breeders have introduced new lines from mainland Europe and the USA to increase the gene pool. It is permitted to outcross to all colour Siamese, bi-colour British Shorthairs and Ragdolls to help improve the pattern, which is proving difficult to achieve.
The GCCF Standard recognises a variety of Snowshoe patterns with Siamese 'pointed' markings, although the most popular are those currently accepted for showing: Classic (or Preferred) with white mittens on the front paws and boots on the hind legs, and a distinctive white inverted 'vee' on the face pointing up between the eyes; Mitted, as for the Classic but without the facial 'vee'; Bicolour, showing varying degrees of white, which may included extend white on the legs; and Harlequin, where the white can cover as much as two thirds of the body. If choosing a cat for showing, the GCCF recommends one with symmetrical marks. It is also possible to get tortie pointed, tabby pointed and tortie-tabby pointed Snowshoes, where all the points (including the leg markings) will be tortie and/or tabby. All patterns come in the normal recognised Siamese colours - seal, blue, chocolate, lilac, red, cream, cinnamon, caramel, fawn and apricot, although like other pointed varieties, Snowshoe kittens are born pure white, with the colour starting to develop after a few days. Their type (shape) is described as 'foreign' and they do not have the extreme angular build of the Siamese, with the head being a 'broad wedge' with the ears being set more on top, rather than the triangular shape of the Siamese. Like the Siamese, the eyes are always blue, but have less of an oriental shape being described as 'walnut' in shape. They are of medium size, with males sometimes reaching about 12lb, and the females weighing slightly less.
Snowshoes are described as being 'bombproof' and do not seem to be fazed by anything much at all. They are very sociable cats and get on well with other family pets, as well as being able to cope well with small children. They need company and should not be left alone for long periods, but will be happy with the companionship of another cat, ideally another extrovert breed. They love climbing and will particularly enjoy a tall climbing frame for cats, especially if you would prefer that they don't treat your house as a game of 'jungle escape'! Like the Siamese, they will want to be involved in everything that you are doing, lending a helping paw whenever possible, and will investigate closed cupboards and rooms, often able to open door handles for themselves. They are very vocal, but their voices are not quite as strident as that of the Siamese.
The Snowshoe is not known to have any breed-specific health problems and many live to around their mid teens. In common with other cats, they need annual vaccination boosters against the common feline ailments of flu and enteritis, as well as against Feline Leukaemia if they go outdoors.
This breed is not known to be a fussy eater and it will eat most good quality proprietary brands of cat food. They will also enjoy treats of cooked chicken, ham and even grated cheese, although cows' milk will probably give them a stomach upset, and a bowl of water should always be available. The Snowshoe will be happy to lead an existence as an indoor cat so long as it is kept fully occupied and entertained. The coat is short, smooth and sleek and will not need much grooming, although stroking will help to remove any loose hairs that could give rise to furballs. Using damp hands to groom this kind of coat, followed by a buffing with a dry chamois cloth, will give a wonderful sheen. It is as well to have kittens neutered as soon as is recommended by the vet, as, like the Siamese they mature sexually at an early age and entire males may spray and un-neutered females will call loudly for a mate as well as making every attempt to escape.