What’s the Right Cat Breed for Me?

Most people are familiar with the vast variety of dog breeds — from Yorkie to Mastiff, from Bassett Hound to Wolf Hound. Dogs of every size and conformation are seen on sidewalks and in parks. But pedigreed cats? You are unlikely to see pedigreed cats hanging around in your neighbor’s yard. And they are relatively rare in our society. In fact, currently pedigreed cats only represent approximately 3.5 percent of the estimated 88 million cats living in U.S. households.

However, thanks to popular Animal Planet or Discovery Channel programs on cat shows or cat breeds, word is spreading and people are discovering the many fascinating, loveable breeds of cats with very distinct personality traits, as well as unique looks. Registering bodies such as the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) and The International Cat Association (TICA) are also working diligently to spread the news about the endearing personalities and singular beauty of pedigreed cats.

Pedigreed vs. Purebred

Cat breeding is a relatively new idea. Although there are some ancient breeds, such as the Persian, noted in hieroglyphics as early as 1684 B.C., the Chartreux, known since the 16th century in France, the Turkish Angora or the Russian Siberian, and certainly many legends and non-documented controversies of ancient lineage, most cat breeds are relatively new — within 120 years or less. In addition, during the hardships of the World Wars, to keep breeding programs going, influx of other breeds or even domestic cats were included, often clandestinely, with the parent breed. So “pure” is not what is important in cat breeds — it is the pedigree and the conformation, which has since been carefully maintained and fine tuned to improve the unique qualities of the breeds in grace, beauty — and give them their individual personality characteristics.

What’s in a Breed?

Everyone who has a pedigreed cat (or any cat, for that matter) will tell you that theirs is the best, smartest, most beautiful and cutest of all. And certainly, they are right! However, where to go and what to believe if you want to get a pedigreed cat? First of all, the cat breeds are grouped into body types: Cobby (short, round, like a Persian, British Shorthair, Scottish Fold, Manx, Burmese), Semi-foreign (medium length body like an Abyssinian, Japanese Bobtail, Ocicat, Russian Blue, American Curl, Egyptian Mau), or Foreign (Siamese, Oriental Shorthair or Longhair, Turkish Angora, Balinese, Cornish Rex)

These basic body styles also come with some general types of personality traits — but with some exceptions. Cobby cats are relatively laid back, calm, quiet and gentle. Semi-foreign cats are generally athletic, active, playful and curious. Foreign-bodied cats are active, playful, intelligent, talkative.

As a guideline but not a hard and fast rule, longhaired cats can be calmer, less active, than shorthaired cats. The “gentle giants” of the cat breeds, such as the native American Maine Coons or the semi-longhaired Ragdolls, a breed developed during the 1960’s by Ann Baker in Riverside, California, tend to be mellow and mature slowly. They get along well with and tolerate children. Contrary to myth, however, Ragdolls do not go “limp” when picked up. The semi-longhaired Siberian, the national cat of Russia and a relatively new arrival to the U.S. has been known to convert “dog people” into “cat people” with their zany combination of fly-through-the-air agility and devotion. Although they are longhaired, Siberians are said to be tolerated by people with allergies.

The gentle Persian, with its flat face (the ones with longer “noses” are not derivative of a show-breeding quality program) and glorious coat are calm, sedentary, affectionate and quiet. It is said they were used to create the white-socked Birman and the British Shorthair. Their relatively shorthaired cousin, the Exotic Shorthair, has a similar personality and is known as the “lazy man’s Persian.” Although their semi-short and very plushy coats do need grooming, it is a snap compared to the obligatory daily grooming and face-washing requirements of the longhaired Persian.

At the other end of the spectrum are Orientals, both ultra short coated and longhaired (silky, non-shedding). With their uncanny sensitivity to the moods of their owners, “lap kitty” and “sleep under the covers” personalities, they keep their owners entertained with their quick intelligence, fetching of toys, impossible leaps and singularly devoted affection. Similar in personality is the Siamese, known for their lively conversations with their owners and bonding very strongly and lovingly with their “person.” They tend to be more emotional and sensitive than the Orientals.

Although Burmese are in the cobby body group and Tonkinese are in the semi-foreign group (Tonkinese are a man-made hybrid of Siamese and Burmese), their roots are similar to the Orientals and Siamese and they have the same type of playful and devoted personalities. Balinese and Colorpoint Shorthairs have similarly loving and gentle spirits. As sensitive and social creatures, these cats get lonely if they do not have a companion or are left alone for long hours.

Semi-Foreign body type Abyssinians, Bengals, Ocicats and Cornish Rexes are high energy, extremely curious cats with amazing athletic and acrobatic ability. They love high places and can be entertained by just about anything. They are social, playful, entertaining, busy and enthusiastic. Although the Cornish Rexes are definitely lap cats, the other breeds mentioned don’t have time to sit still in your lap — a waste of good time, to their way of thinking. Grooming requirements are minimal for these cats.

Hairless cats, such as the Sphynx, are known as affectionate “Velcro kitties” for their desire to be on you at all times. However, in spite of being virtually hairless, they are not hypoallergenic. And surprisingly, they require a lot of bathing, due to their lack of absorbent coat.

With 40 breeds currently recognized by the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) and 55 breeds recognized by The International Cat Association (TICA), these brief descriptions just barely scratch the surface of getting to know the breeds. Check www.cfa.org and www.tica.org for more information. The best way to understand if a breed is for you is to visit several local cat shows and talk to the breeders, handle and interact with the cats. Finding the right pedigreed cat for you takes a bit of research and thought — but with what rewards — years of love, excitement and pleasure! 


Marva Marrow

7th Heaven Orientals