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 a 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 and 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. Reds, creams, and torbies (spotted patched tabbies) are disqualified, as are any cats with white lockets or spotting, or white anywhere other than around eyes, nostrils, chin, and upper throat.
In 1986, CFA closed the gene pool to Siamese and American Shorthair outcrosses. However, to help keep the gene pool healthy and large, Abyssinians are allowed in Ocicat litters born on or before January 1, 2015. TICA permits Siamese as well as Abyssinian outcrosses with no cutoff date for either as yet.
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. Because the Abyssinian pattern and coloration are 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 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 re-create the extinct Egyptian spotted fishing cat. Keeler sent Daly a detailed breeding plan that prominently featured Tonga as the sire of the new breed. Unfortunately, the plan was impossible to implement because Tonga had already been neutered. However, Tonga’s parents produced another spotted male, Dalai Dotson, and the Ocicat breed was officially launched, using Clyde Keeler’s detailed breeding plan with Dalai, not Tonga, as the father of the new breed.
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 the 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 because 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. The Ocicat ranks 21st out of the 41 breeds CFA recognizes for championship, according to CFA’s 2014 registration totals.