Ten to twenty weeks
The “gangly awfuls”
This is a time when kittens seem to change day to day. Yesterday (s)he was the most gorgeous and perfect ASH kitten that has ever been born. Today (s)he is long-bodied, fine-boned, spiky-coated and has ears that would make a donkey proud. My suggestion is to take out all the pictures you have been taking in the previous weeks and remind yourself that this is just a stage In addition, referring to pictures of kittens from previous generations/litters will also provide reassurance about this developmental stage.
Because this time period is important for the owner’s decision process (1. pet for sale, 2. breeder-show for sale or, 3. candidate for addition to your breeding program), take your time in deciding what you want to do. Especially for categories 1 & 2. This is especially critical if you believe in early altering prior to placement. With a kitten you are thinking of keeping for your breeding program, you can watch development to be sure the kitten has the features you need. If you are unsure of how the kitten is developing, apply some “tincture of time” and see what happens as the kitten matures.
A good friend-accomplished breeder-judge and friend told me very early in my cat-breeding career “when in doubt, don’t (keep)”. You rarely (if ever) are in doubt about the truly great kitten. That rare kitten is so spectacular from the time of it’s first breath you will have no doubts about quality and disposition. Good but lesser quality kittens often have stages where you have doubts. To advance the breed, only the very best should be used for breeding. Enough preaching...
The shape of the head should continue to be “slightly longer than wide”, but during this middle kitten period any narrowness of the muzzle will begin to become apparent. Remembering to line-up the outer edge of the muzzle with the outer corner of the eye will provide a guide to this important feature. You should feel for the underlying bone structure, since it is easy to mistake full whisker pads for a broad muzzle. In addition, look for a somewhat short and broad muzzle, at least as wide or wider than long so that your final proportion fits the “matchbox” description commonly used. The muzzle begins to be clearly defined as separate from the curve of the skull. Some bloodlines have a sharp angle between the line of the skull and the muzzle, where other bloodlines have a more gentle smooth juncture. Either are correct.
The skull will be rounded at this stage as this is a period of rapid growth. Although you don’t want a tall or high-rounded tophead or “dome-shaped”, a gently rounded broad skull ( “moderately convex continuous curve”) is a very desirable feature. The gentle curve of the profile is more clearly defined with the passing of weeks, with the gentle “silver fork” curve easily seen. It should not be necessary for the judge to manually “test” the gentle curve. I personally prefer a less prominent brow-ridge (bony prominence above the eye) and believe that a very prominent brow-ridge gives a “scowley look” and detracts from the sweet expression of the American.
The ears should be wide set (“twice the distance between the eyes”) and positioned at the outer corner of the skull and tilted slightly outward. Ears that don’t have this tilt will often be narrow and upright as an older kitten. This is especially important in males, since the jowling that will come with maturation will make the ears appear to be higher and more closely placed.
The muzzle and jaw when viewed from the side should be sufficiently deep for good function as a hunter. The chin should be clearly defined and at a right angle to the line of the jaw as well as “a perpendicular line with the upper lip”. I like to see the lower face/head nearly as deep from nose to chinline as from nose to tophead.
The eyes should dominate the face when viewed from the front, and be set well apart with good size and an almost squarish shape. The upper-outer edge should be tilted slightly. Although very large, when viewed from the side the eyes should not be sunken in the orbits or protrude significantly beyond the orbital rim. You are looking for an open look, not a Persian-ey look.
At this time, the shape and proportion of the body will start to become apparent as a predictor of the adult body shape. You are looking for a sturdy, broad chest and mid-piece but not a cobby body. The body of an ASH is designed for strength but with flexibility and speed to be able to catch it’s prey. The standard calls for the front, mid and rear sections to each be approximately 1/3 body length. During this phase of development, these proportions begins to be apparent. The body is well muscled and ample good nutrition should be apparent.
The coat begins to lose it’s baby fuzz and fluff and the pattern, if any begins to be sharp and clearly defined. In patterned cats, the ground color is becoming clearly defined between the swirls and lines of the pattern and the intensity and clarity of the color becomes reliable. These changes continue through the next phase, adolescence (future installment).
Each part individually can/should be evaluated as a measure of your success in breeding, but more importantly, the way various parts fit together in harmony to produce the “balanced” cat.