Cat Breed Standards Have Changed

In 1903, the cat fancy in England – probably the only cat fancy of the time – considered that the purebred, pedigree cat had a standard set of anatomical features that applied across the board. It made no difference if the cat was short or long haired or whatever cat breed. They all had more or less the same anatomy. This is revelationary because, today, the breed standards are important cat fancy documents, which ensure that the cat breeds look different. But in 1903 there were far less cat breeds and the differences between them were small and fine. In fact there were almost no cat breeds. The distinctions were between coat types and colours. The body conformation was more or less consistent between all cats.

Today cat breed standards list the anatomical features of each cat breed. Breeders are guided by them. The standards ensure that the breeds can be distinguished, one from the other. Without them there would be fewer or no cat breeds because people would be unable to tell the difference between them. This tells us how artificial the cat breeds are in respect of appearance because, in truth, they are much more similar in appearance than the cat fancy desires. The cat breeds have been artificially separated in appearance through breed standards and selective breeding.

Cat breed standards discussion

Photo of modern Siamese copyright Helmi Flick. The others bar the modern Persian are probably in the public domain and if I am wrong please tell me in a comment. Modern Persian: Stockxpert (bought) and copyright protected.

Modern Breed Standard – Two Examples

I’ll briefly take two modern extracts from examples of the breed standard that are more or less at the opposite ends of the spectrum, the Persian and the Siamese and then present some information about the general breed standard of 1903.

Persian Head: “Round and massive, with great breadth of skull. Round face with round underlying bone structure…..When viewed in profile…the forehead, nose and chin appear to be in vertical alignment.” Ears: Small, round tipped. Nose: short, snub…

Siamese Ears: Strikingly large. Head: Wedge, created by straight lines extending from the nose to the tips of the ears forming a triangle…Forehead is flat. Profile: Straight line from forehead to nose.

You can see how particular and different these standards are. The Persian must have a flat face attached to a round head (see picture) while the Siamese face is triangular all the way up to the tips of his super-sized ears and the profile should be straight (see picture).

1903 “General Breed Standard”

This term “general breed standard” is mine. It is described by Miss Frances Simpson who writes of “the general contour of the animal, whether long or short haired” in her celebrated book, “The Book of the Cat”.

She refers to the “points” of a cat. This word is still used today and refers to aspects of anatomy, not a score in points. Whoever devised that word should be criticized because it is very misleading.

I will select some examples of “the general contour of the animal” as described by Miss Simpson:

Ears: These should be small and rounded at the tops…In the Persian varieties especially the inner surface should be hidden by a growth of fur….termed ear tufts. Skull: Should be broad with width between the eyes and ears. Face and nose: These should be short..Paw: A large broad paw…Eyes: These ought to be round, large and full. (see collage above)

What Miss Simpson is describing is the standard moggie – random bred cat. That is the important point. The cat breeds from various parts of the world (or created through hybridization or mutation) are similar in appearance and all were and still are moggies in their countries of origin.

The Turkish Angora is a classic example of modifying the original. The original is as described in general terms by Miss Simpson. The American Angora (now described as the Turkish Angora) is a slender cat and quite different in general conformation.

Conclusion

During the 20th century, the cat fancy expanded. The number of cat breeds increased dramatically. This presented problems of distinguishing one breed from the other. This lead to breed standards that encouraged breeders to create cats that were extreme in appearance to ensure they were distinguishable. This is not the only reason why some cats were bred to extreme. I have to conclude that there are too many cat breeds. The cat fancy should revert to what it was like about 80+ years ago.

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Cat Breed Standards Have Changed — 4 Comments

  1. I agree however I believe money and ego are not something that will ever be easily toppled or even toppled at all. There is too much of both invested in the ‘industry’ (I won’t say hobby – therein lies the point). It’s a shame because I find the more traditional cats look nicer. The modern cat breeds are an aquired taste but they shouldn’t be – they should just look like normal cats when you first look at them, and not like slightly freakish cat prototypes. It’s hard not to pick on the whole subject of breeding.

    I know Ruth will agree with me when I say that until the beautiful cats in shelters throughout the world are living free and normal lives I don’t believe there is a place for producing more. Furthermore to produce unhealthy and extreme looking cats in some sort of experimental kind of way is just completely morally reprehensible.

    • I know I have a friend and supporter in you, Marc. I was intrigued to find this general standard from 1903, which of course is common sense really. There are some fine differences between natural breeds. Breeders should stick to those differences and as you say should stop until breeding cat be justified (if ever).

  2. You are both SO right! No animal should be stuck living in a shelter ever! The ONLY benefit to living in a shelter is that they are fed, something, not well or sufficiently! I’m not even sure if they get ALL of the proper shots.

  3. What? “This is revelationary because, today, the breed standards are important cat fancy documents, which ensure that the cat breeds look different.”

    Because of the Cat Fanciers, you are writing about such standards, that we on your website really are not that hotly concerned with? [speaking for myself, of course] Thank you, Michael, for bringing this to the forefront. When you said that it might be 3013, before they get it, I don’t know… hopefully, sooner. Sooner.

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