Monday 14 March 2011

Cat Breeds

There is a full list of top quality cat breed descriptions that are illustrated by the best photographs on this website. To see them you can use the navigation bar on the left of this page for all the mainstream cat breeds (about 60) or start here: Page one of illustrated cat breeds.

You can also see over 50 links to non-mainstream cat breeds on this page: Fringe Breeds. Phew...they are all here. By the way, here is a video showing 77 cat breeds:


I would like to discuss cat breeds generally in this article. In effect, to introduce the subject of cat breeds because although it might seem a straight forward subject it really isn't that simple. And I am doing it from what I think is a different perspective. This is not a regurgitation of the usual stuff. Rightly or wrongly, this comes direct from me not from a book or another website. It is critical and it also praises. I hope I keep a fair balance.

The first point of note is that all the cat breeds are a single species of cat. One species - over 100 breeds. This diagram might assist in visualizing that:


So we start with the African and European wildcats. The African wildcats were in Egypt when they were first domesticated. And the European wildcats were further north in Cyprus perhaps. This was some 5 to 9 thousand years ago. We are still completely clear on how domestication of the cat commenced. See Cat History for a full discussion and opinion.

From 9,000 years ago to about 1870 all the cats of the world were moggies! "Moggies" is a British word meaning random bred cat (sometimes referred to as "mixed breed cat" but the former description is more accurate because there is no breed of cat present in a moggie).

Nearly all of the world's domestic cats are still moggies. By my reckoning the percentage of cats that are part of a cat breed to the total number is about 0.02%. There are about half a billion domestic cats in all and about 100k purebred cats at a very general guess. If you have better figures please leave a comment.

So, what happened in about 1870? This was the date when cat breeding in earnest started. It happened first in England, UK. Until then people deliberately breeding cats must have happened but it was ad hoc, unstructured and relatively uncommon.

In the last part of the 19th century selective cat breeding began in earnest in the UK because exotic cat "types" such as the Persian and Siamese were imported into the west and people wanted more of them. At that time they were considered exotic cats. Now the world "exotic" in the cat world, more often means wildcat hybrids.

The first interesting thought on cat breeds is the question, "Were the Siamese cats and Persian cats of this time 'cat breeds' or were they just 'cat types?". This is a point that people probably haven't given much thought about and why should they! But it is interesting to people in the cat fancy (people who breed and show cats).

For a cat to be a cat breed it has to have a recorded parentage and be registered with a cat association. The early Siamese and Persians had neither. They were therefore "de facto" cat breeds or simply cat types but they were not cat breeds as we understand or use the phrase today.

OK, back to the first days of the cat fancy; the late 1800s in England. Here we have the first cat breeds. At that time the Siamese was rare in the west and considered exotic. The longhaired cats were called "Angoras" and there are references to the Turkish Angora and ancient cat breeds like the Siamese. Lets pause there. The Turkish Angora and Turkish Van, two fancy cat breeds in the USA today are still moggie cats in Turkey. They are still wandering around the streets semi-feral I suspect. The same can be said about the Egyptian Mau. This is probably the earliest domestic cat being a domesticated African wildcat.

The Egyptian Mau is a persecuted feral cat in Egypt. I am sure many were killed or left to starve in the recent revolution there. The Egyptian Mau is not a cat breed in Egypt because there are no cat breeds in Egypt. There is no cat fancy there. Cats are not shown at cat shows or bred. OK, there may be the odd cat breeder and purebred cat but that is it.

By contrast in the west, particularly in the United States the Egyptian Mau has been developed and refined through long term selective cat breeding into a svelte and sophisticated looking domestic cat breed with gooseberry green eyes and a high contrast spotted coat.

An interesting point about the Egyptian Mau is whether the feral cats on the streets of Cairo are more truly the Egyptian Mau cat breed than the highly developed Egyptian Maus of America and Canada. I think they are at a genetic (DNA level). The Eygptian Maus of Egypt are the genuine article. They come from the original domesticated African wildcats and the evolution has been uninterrupted. It has been continuous. I would doubt that many domestic cats have been imported into Egypt to dilute that pure Egyptian cat bloodline. Whereas cat breeders do all sorts of weird things when breeding. They have to inbreed to refine the cat's appearance; make it more outstanding and saleable. And to win competitions. This can lead to overbreeding and to extreme appearances - this is human nature, I am afraid.

Sometimes breeders have to outcross cats to cats of a different breed or moggies to widen the gene pool for genetic health. This is all artificial breeding whereas the cats of Cairo are genuine descendants of the African wildcat it could be argued. They are more purebred than the purebred cats of America despite the fact that they are not actually seen as purebred cats of the Egyptian Mau cat breed.

The same sort of argument can be made for other cat breeds. One that comes to mind immediately is the Norwegian Forest cat. Before 1930 this cat was a moggie in Norway. It still is. Someone decided to refine the Norwegian moggie cat, call it the "Norwegian Forest Cat" and show it at cat shows etc..There are a good number of cats breeds that started out as moggies and became, through selective breeding, (deliberate human managed cat breeding) a cat breed.

One quite well known cat that is a de facto cat breed, a breed to be and yet to be recognised is the Bahraini Dilmun. This cat is probably a wildcat hybrid. It has distinct characteristics in terms of appearance. This can might never become a cat breed. It will if a cat breeder intervenes. If not it will remain a feral or sem-domestic cat in Bahrain, which is the way things were in London, England before the invention of the cat fancy.

As you can see, therefore, cat breeds are all a human invention. We created the idea of the cat breed. It is an artificial construction. Nature would not have created cat breeds.

One obvious reason why nature would not have developed the cat breed is because they are inbreed. Inbreeding runs counter to genetic health. This is where I briefly introduce the wildcats. The Siberian tiger, the world's largest cat species, is so inbreed that the actual population of about 400 - 500 equates to about 14 breeding adult cats! Inbreeding reduces sperm quality and creates sterility.

Cheetahs are also heavily inbreed. The South China tiger is officially extinct in the wild and the South China tigers in cages are hybrids! They are not genetically pure. It is therefore totally extinct as a subspecies of tiger.

The same goes for the cat breeds. The Egyptian Mau is purer at a DNA level in the backstreets of Cairo than at the cat shows in the US.

Another reason why nature would not have created the cat breeds (through natural selection - Darwin's theory of evolution) is because the cat breed coats have to be attractive to us, the people who buy the cats. The cat breed coats are outstanding to look at and aesthetically pleasing to us but in nature and in terms of survival (as camouflagea) forget it. They are hopeless. The classic spotted tabby or mackerel tabby (joined up spots) is what you see in the wild. I say the blotched or classic tabby is man made by the way because you don't see it in the wild as far as I can remember.

The same goes for the body conformation. Some breeds have been bred to extreme affecting health and survivability e.g. Modern Siamese and Ultra Persian. And in some cases genetically mutated cats have been made into a cat breed. These cats would not be seen in the wild because the mutation lessens the chances of survival and that is the opposite to how nature works. Classic examples are the hairless Sphynx (near hairless actually), the Scottish Fold and the dwarf cats.

Lets look at what the phrase "cat breed" means. For a cat to be part of a cat breed, it has to be a purebred cat. That might sound obvious but it needs to be said.

A purebred cat has to be registered with a cat association or cat registry (the same thing). The phrase "cat registry" says it. A cat that is called a purebred cat has to be registered as such. And it has to show a documented history of parentage of other purebred cats that tells us that this individual cat has pure blood of that breed.

Without that precious written evidence - a certificate on purchase perhaps - it is not strictly speaking, possible to say a cat is purebred and part of a certain cat breed.


Click on the following link for a unique map showing the places of origin of the major cat breeds: Places of Origin.

How Many Cat Breeds?

How many cat breeds are there? This is a tricky question, really. We don't know exactly how many cat breeds there are but we know how many cat species there are: 36.

Why is this? Well it's tricky as I said. Firstly, I may be incorrect in saying that we know how many cat species there are because the classification of the wildcats is constantly evolving due to advances in DNA profiling. The number of subspecies has shrunk because of this.

As to cat breeds, as mentioned these are man made "domestic cat types". People are creating new breeds all the time or planning to do so. There may be someone out there now who has created a new cat breed, playing God. Also a good number of fringe - non-mainstream - cat breeds are so small in number that they are hardly a breed at all. They are unrecognised by the associations. Are they cat breeds, therefore? You can see how it gets a bit tricky.

The most sensible cat association (it could be argued), the CFA, recognise 41 cat breeds, which is considerably less that TICA, who accept 64 at my last count. The IPCBA (International Progressive Cat Breeders Alliance) recognizes 73. As I said there are a number of unrecognised "cat breeds". These are cat breeds to be or potential cat breeds, no more. And example of a fringe cat breed might be the Jambi and Habari cats or the Cheetoh catThere are many more examples.

It is arguable that saturation has been reached on the number of cat breeds. The 1960s was time of greatest expansion of the breeds.


What do purebred cats cost. The Bengal is a popular cat breed and has a typical price. I think that you will find prices for most purebred cats in the order of $300 to $1000 depending on quality. For the UK it's the number but £s in front.

Some breeds are rare and difficult to breed. The wildcats hybrids also have a price that is linked to the generation from the wild. First generation cats (F1) are more expensive that second generation and so on. Once you get to fourth generation (SBT) and fifth generation the prices are the same as for non-wildcat hybrids. Top end prices go to over $20,000.


What about health. Continual selective breeding, inbreeding, allows hidden and detrimental recessive genes to manifest themselves in terms of health problems. The longer standing cat breeds such as the Siamese and Persian have more genetically linked health issues than more modern cats and the cats that are genetically speaking healthiest of all are the random bred cats because they come from the biggest gene pool.

This page covers the topic in detail: Genetic Diseases in Purebred Cats.

In addition to breeding issues affecting genetics there is also the breeding of cats to an extreme that directly affects the health of the cat breed concerned (see how this came about). The most famous example is the flat faced Persian ("Ultra Persian, meaning bred to ultra type or extreme type - type meaning standard appearance). The health issues are well known and covered here: Persian Cat Health Problems.

Even the most popular cat breeds suffer health problems. Think Maine Coon. This is the largest cat registered by the CFA and the largest non-wildcat hyhrid domestic cat and it is prone to hip dysplasia (Hip Dysplasia in Cats) probably due to its weight and breeding. See also Maine Coon Health Problems.

A "hidden" health problem amongst a well known cat breed, the Bengal is the heart disease HCM. Read about it here.


Talking about cat breed popularity, what are the most popular? A long standing poll collecting thousands of votes produces this list...

Looking to acquire a purebred cat on the cheap. You can get lucky. Sometimes, rarely, they are found in rescue centers. But generally speaking looking for Free Maine Coon Kittens is a misconception.


And when you buy from a breeder you really should visit the breeder. Helmi Flick considers this vital and so do I. It is the only way to check on the health of the cats by observing the arrangements and behavior of the breeder. Also cats choose people. You need to be with all the cats for one to choose you.

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