The number of recognized show breeds that have defined, inherited characteristics has increased dramatically since the late 1950s as cats have become more popular home companions. The 30 to 40 distinctive breeds can be grouped into two general categories: the long-haired Persian and the domestic shorthair.

Almost everyone recognizes the words Siamese, Manx, and Persian as the names for certain breeds of cats. Until about a century ago, however, these terms had little meaning. Domestic cats bred freely as they spread through various parts of the world. As a result, cats of almost infinite varieties of sizes, shapes, and colors came into being. Some cat owners liked the qualities of certain strains and wanted to perpetuate them. They interbred the cats with the desired qualities, and, when these qualities continued to appear in generation after generation of cats (that is, when they bred true or pure), a new breed was established.

Cat breeders today follow essentially the same pattern. They consider a strain that breeds true for four generations a purebred, and proof of this true breeding is necessary before a new breed becomes accepted. Full-color illustrations show the breeds most widely accepted in the United States. Cat fanciers in other parts of the world may recognize different breeds.

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Differences in Body Type

Perhaps the most easily identifiable differences among the various breeds of domestic cats are in the length and color of the coat and in the variations of eye color. The majority of cats that are not purebred have short hair. Those with long hair have acquired it as the result of the crossbreeding of their ancestors with purebred long-haired cats. The body form of nonpurebreds varies from slender, rangy types with somewhat elongated heads to stocky, thickset animals with short heads that are somewhat like those of the Persian cats. These differences in body type are most pronounced among the various pure breeds, ranging from slender Siamese to stocky longhairs.

Breed Colors

Among the cats that are not purebreds, the brown striped and blotched cats most closely resemble their wild African and European ancestors. This striped and blotched pattern--properly called tabby, but popularly known as tiger--occurs in various shades. Among these are red (orange), cream, blue (gray), brown, silver, and smoke. Solid white is the rarest, though genetically it is dominant over other colors. Solid black and solid blue are relatively rare. Almost without exception, the solid blacks have a few white hairs under the throat and shoulder. The solid colors occasionally show faint striping on the legs and tail. Many cats have white markings. Some of these are handsomely symmetrical, but others are distributed irregularly and sometimes create a quaint or even comical effect.

Black-and-orange cats are called tortoiseshells. Blue-creams are a "diluted" version of black and orange. When white markings are also present, the cats are said to be tricolors, calicoes, or "money cats." The black-orange (or blue-cream) color-determining genes are linked to the female sex chromosomes. For this reason tortoiseshell males and tricolor males are produced only as the result of abnormal chromosome arrangements that occurred in one or both parents. Such abnormal arrangements often lead to infertility, and the males may not be able to reproduce. In other words, tortoiseshells and tricolors of breed standards are very difficult to produce by controlled breeding.

Breed Organizations

Recognition and acceptance of a breed usually must come from an established group of cat fanciers. Groups of breeders and other persons interested in showing cats have formed organizations to establish rules for shows and standards by which cats can be judged at the shows. They also keep stud books and validate the registration papers needed for purebred cats. In most countries there is only one organization that acts as the governing body. In the United States there are many, each of which sets its own judging standards and rules. The two largest of these are The Cat Fanciers' Association and the American Cat Fanciers Association. The International Cat Association has headquarters in the United States.

In most parts of the United States there are many organizations to which persons interested in cats may belong. Some of these are affiliated with national associations, but many are strictly local clubs that invite the participation of anyone in the neighborhood. Membership in the large clubs usually consists chiefly of breeders and owners of purebred cats. Such organizations serve as clearinghouses for disseminating information about specific breeds, giving members advice about breeding methods, and helping establish standards for breeds. Most of the organizations conduct shows in which competitions for championships are held. Cat fanciers take their animals to vie with others in their breed or class for top honors. Nonpurebred cats may also be shown in the household-pet class. These cat shows are extremely popular, and in a large one there may be more than a thousand cats entered for competition.

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