Some cat lovers seem to overly focus on breeds and are not happy until their cat is classified neatly within a certain breed. For years I have received emailed photos with the question "what breed is my cat?" I finally published Feline Breeds, Domestic Cats, and Color Patterns, to provide a handy reference guide to help readers recognize the difference.
What Is a Purebred Cat?
The Cat Fanciers Glossary defines purebred as, "purebred: A cat whose ancestors are all of the same breeds, or whose ancestry includes crossbreeding that is allowed in the breed standard. For example, a purebred Bombay may also have Burmese cats in its background." Generally, a cat's pedigree (list of ancestry) must be certified by the registry, before it can rightfully be called a "purebred."
"If It Walks Like a Maine Coon..."
"Purebred" is sort of a lazy lay term used by those of us outside the cat fancy to describe a cat of a given breed. More commonly, however, people will subscribe to the "if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it must be a duck" theory. A very common example is the Maine Coon cat, with its distinctive ear tufts, ruff, a bushy tail, and a sweet voice. I've received many photos over the years for my Maine Coon gallery, of beautiful Maine Coon look-alikes. Then, upon reading the story behind the cat, we find that the cat was adopted from a shelter, or found wandering on the street. It rightfully could be claimed as a Maine Coon mix since it lacks the necessary documentation for a full-fledged Maine Coon. The first two photos illustrating this article show a registered, pedigreed Maine Coon, and my Billy, a possible Maine Coon mix, but more properly known as a DLH (Domestic Longhair cat).
The same goes for the American Shorthair breed, which, like the Maine Coon, is indigenous to North America. Virtually every DSH (Domestic Shorthair cat) tabby cat could be called an "American Shorthair," were it not for that important document. I'm sure ASH breeders could readily tell the difference, but most of us laypeople could not.
Breed Rescue Groups
Most of the major cat breeds have breed rescue groups, dedicated to saving and protecting their breeds. They generally have two methods of rescuing cats:
- From Shelters
Most of the cats breed rescue groups take in are breed "look-alikes," and will be subsequently be offered for adoption as mixed-breed cats, e.g. "Maine Coon mix." Occasionally they will be called in when animal control has shut down a breeder for overcrowding, unhealthy conditions, or upon the death of a breeder with no known family.
- Directly From Breeders
At times a reputable breeder may contact a breed rescue group because of illness, or another emergency, such as a death in the family, to ensure that good homes will be found for his or her cats. The same will also apply upon the death of a breeder, whose heirs have either no means or intentions of carrying on.
Breed rescue groups provide a valuable service to the breeds they represent and are an integral part of the cat fancy.
So -- What Breed is my Cat?
Do your homework. Familiarize yourself with the various cat breeds. Then ask yourself two questions:
- What breed does he most resemble?
- Do I have a registry and pedigree for this cat?
If your answer to question number 2 is "no," then you can only legitimately call him a "mixed (choose your breed)" Or, you could save yourself a lot of time and trouble by calling him your domestic cat (or "Moggie", as I often call mine.)
The most important thing, of course, that no matter what you call him, you love him unconditionally, regardless of his breed or heritage.