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
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
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
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.