If you really know the cat breeds you can tell from the way a cat looks what breed it belongs to. A cat that belongs to one cat breed looks different to a cat from another cat breed. The differences are in things like the cat’s: size and shape, the way the face and head looks, the size and shape of the ears, the shape and color of the eyes and the color of the coat and coat patterns etc.
The first point to make about the cat breeds is that they look different. That is important. Cats that do not belong to a cat breed look alike except for their coats which can have different colors and patterns. Cats that do not belong to a cat breed are called, “random bred cats”. This means that the mating between cats that creates new cats has happened randomly or without any involvement from people. If this happens to a large number of cats in a large area you get cats that are normal, regular looking cats. These are natural cats. Nature designed them.
On the other hand, if cats from a small area, perhaps a small island, mate with each other, over time you can get cats that start to look different from other random bred cats. This is because of the way the genes of an animal work. The genes of an animal are what makes it what it is and genes control the way the cat looks. An example is the Manx cat. The Manx comes from a small island in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland called the “Isle of Man”. Over time cats on this island began to have shorter tails or no tails at all. The cats from the Isle of Man began to look different from other cats. These cats became a cat breed because they looked different. They were ‘purebred’ because the parents and grandparents of the kittens were also cats of the same breed.
As people noticed that the cats from the Isle of Man looked different, they gave them a name: the Manx Cat. The name comes from the word “Manx” which is the old language of the people who lived on the Isle of Man.
Then people who liked cats and who had formed a group called a cat club, decided that they liked the Manx cat so much they wanted more of them. These people started to own Manx cats, one female and one male. They made sure that these cats mated. People in this club started to control the mating of Manx cats. And they started to record in a book what they were doing. They listed the names of their cats and the names of the kittens. They did that for a long time. Over time you were able to tell who was the parent, grandparent and great grandparent of a kitten. These kittens had what is called a “pedigree”. This is a family tree. And because these kittens had parents and grandparents that were all Manx cats the kitten could be called a “purebred cat”. Because of these things the kitten was also a cat of a particular cat breed: the Manx cat. The process of the creation of the Manx cat is called “selective breeding“. This means breeding from cats that have been picked or selected by the people who own them and who want to create more cats of the same type.
Then some of the people who were involved in creating Manx cats decided that they would like see the same cat with longer fur. The Manx cat has short dense fur but sometimes a kitten is born with longer fur. So what they did was to make sure that the rare longer haired cat was mated with another longer haired cat and so created long haired Manx cats. They called these cats: Cymric cats.
The story of the Manx cat is typical of many cat breeds. That is why I told it. It is an example. Other examples include the Siamese, Japanese Bobtail, Abyssinian, Norwegian Forest Cat and the well known and popular Maine Coon. These are all cats that evolved naturally before people got involved. Not all the cat breeds started in the same way.
Sometimes people who like cats, like to create a new cat breed from nothing. They decide that they would like to see a certain sort of cat and then figure how to create it. You could call these cat breeds “man made” or “woman made”. A typical example of a man made cat breed is the Ragdoll. The history of the Ragdoll is strange. A woman, Ann Baker, found two cats that she liked. They looked interesting and had nice calm characters. She came to own them and then made sure that they mated. And then she made sure the kittens mated with other family members and so gradually created a new cat breed. The Ragdoll is one example of a “created cat breed”. There are many other examples including the: Oriental Shorthair, Exotic Shorthair and RagaMuffin. The RagaMuffin, by the way, is very much like a Ragdoll.
For a cat breed to be a cat breed it has to accepted by what is called a cat association. Cat associations are basically cat clubs – a group of people who like cats and who breed cats. A cat association records the names of all the cats of all cat breeds that they think should be cat breeds. They also show off their cats at cats shows. Cat shows are a great way to show off cat breeds and have helped to make purebred cats popular. People who are not part of the association can come and look at the cats. Real cats shows have been around since 1871 in England and since 1895 in America. Although there were some cat shows of a sort before that.
Unfortunately there are many different cat associations and they all have slightly different ideas about what cats should be a cat breed and what these cats should look like. That makes it more difficult to explain what a cat breed is! They also have different ways of naming the breeds.
Cats that belong to a cat breed are still rare. About 10 out of 100 cats in America are cats of a cat breed – a purebred cat. While in other countries about 2 in 100 cats are purebred. Most cats in the world are random bred.
At the beginning of the page I wrote that cat breeds should look different. There is one last point to make. Cats of different cat breeds can have slightly different personalities. The difference in personality between a cat of one cat breed and a cat of another cat breed is less clear than the differences in the way they look. But some cat breeds are quite famous for their personalities. Two cat breeds come to mind.
The Siamese cat likes to talk and has a loud voice. The Ragdoll cat likes to be floppy when picked up. The Ragdoll is a calm cat.