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Is my cat a purebred?

You've adopted a cat from a friend, a shelter, your veterinarian. Looking at your cat, it's so beautiful that you think it must be a purebred. Looking at a chart on the wall or at pictures in a book, you're sure you found the cat. It must be a purebred . . . or is it?

While this is possible you found a "shelter purebred", there are many reasons why this is very unlikely. Let me explain a bit about the meaning of breeds . . . at least where cats are concerned.

According to the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA), fewer than 3% of all owned cats worldwide are pedigreed. Note that they say "owned". This does not count for the millions of homeless stray and feral domestic cats worldwide. If these estimates were factored in, fewer than 1% of all domestic cats are the result of a purebred breeding program.

Out of all registered purebred cats, more than half are Persians. Some colors of Persians account for more litters each year than some entire breeds. In 2004, CFA registered 21,014 Persian kittens born that year, the most popular breed for registrations. In the same year, the second most popular breed in CFA was Maine Coon, with 4,162 kittens registered worldwide, and the tenth most popular, Cornish Rex, registered only 717 kittens worldwide. And there are currently more than 50 breeds of cats recognized by the registries worldwide.

There is a crucial difference between breeds and traits. A particular breed of cat may almost always have a particular trait, but not every cat with that trait is a member of that breed.

For example, the trait of solid blue coloration is common to four breeds: Korat, Russian Blue, Chartreux, and British Shorthair. However, these four breeds are very, very different from one another -- in body type, boning, facial structure, eye shape and color, and general conformation. They are also very rare breeds, particularly in the United States (the British Blue is not that uncommon in Britain, and the Russian Blue is more common in Scandanavia. The Chartreux and Korat are particularly rare; CFA registered only 222 Chartreux kittens and 85 Korat kittens WORLDWIDE in 1998).

Blue coloration is also very common in the mixed-breed cat population at large. Genetically, it is the "dilute" form of black: a "blue" is a solid black cat with one gene that changes the look of the color in such a way that the cat appears an attractive shade of blue-gray. Black is the most common genetic color in cats. In other words, more than 99% of all blue cats are from the general (non-pedigreed) cat population.

Another common trait that is mistaken for a purebred is the so-called Manx trait, or complete to partial taillessness. This dominant trait is found in the random-bred population as well as the purebred Manx population (My sister's mother-in-law has a colony of tailless barn cats at her Northern New York dairy farm. They aren't purebreds at all).

Taillessness can also occur from accidents. Your vet should be able to tell you if the taillessness is from an accident or if the cat was born that way.

Just over 700 pedigreed Manx kittens were registered in 1998. Again, that's worldwide. There are far more tailless cats than can be accounted for in this fashion.

Breed is not about traits as much as it is about pedigree. A cat is a member of a breed because its parents were registered members of that breed. Without papers to say that a cat is a member of a breed, there is absolutely no way to say for certain that a cat is a member of a breed. The most accurate thing you can say about them is that they are a breed look-alike.

Breed is also an artificial distinction, and one that has only been present when talking about cats for a little over a century. Some breeds' existences can be traced back fewer than ten years. Unlike dog breeds, cat breeds are a relatively new concept and phenomenon. Many are imports from other countries. It's only been in the last 20 years we've seen the diversity that makes up most of our cat breeds today.

One thing that's also important to note is that almost every breed of purebred cat started from domestic populations. It was a desire to create a breed of cat that would be predictable in looks and temperament that led people to search the domestic cat populations for selective breeding. For example, many people think that every large longhaired cat is a Maine Coon, but those who actually have pedigrees are few and far between. However, the Maine Coon was created from hardy longhaired *mixed-breed* cats several decades ago, so the chances are that large longhaired mixed-breed cats and today's fancy show cats shared common ancestors. (Hey, I'm a direct descendent of Charlemagne. It can happen!)

So . . . chances are that your cat isn't a purebred. Without papers, there is no way to prove your cat is a member of a breed. I hope you aren't disappointed by this information. But I think that it's one of the things that makes cats special -- most of them are their own, unique creations.



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