Glossary of Cat Terms

An old Himalayan Cat
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Above: An adorable old and distinguished Himalayan cat (pointed Persian). Photo ©copyright Helmi Flick. Please respect copyright, thanks.  He looks like a grumpy old man!

This is what I might call a cat fancy dictionary. There are numerous words that are used in the cat fancy that are unknown to most of us outside. They might relate to health, genetics, breeding and cat showing, for example. Or they are commonly used words but have a particular meaning within the cat fancy community. When you read the information that is on this site it might pay dividends to return here if the meaning of a word needs clarifying. This will be an expanding page as I return to it myself to add new words. They are listed alphabetically with a contents section for ease of reference. Finally, it could be much longer but I have deliberately limited it.

Glossary of Cat Terms – Contents – words beginning with:


A –

Adult: at the time of a cat show, a cat is adult if at least 8 months old.
Agenisis: Failure of a body part to form.
Agouti: this is the famous agouti gene that causes the banding on individual hairs that creates the tabby cat.
Ailurophile: A person who loves cats.
Albino: A cat devoid of pigment. The eyes are pink or red (we can see the blood).
Allele: Employed as an alternative term for a gene (this, according to Robinson’s Genetics, is an incorrect use). See Cat Genetics.
Alopecia: Hair loss
Alter: Refers to a class of show cat that have been neutered (male) or spayed (female).
Anestrus: Interval between successive estruses or the period of time when the female is not in season.
Ataxia: Difficulty in walking.
Autosomal gene: See Cat Genetics .
Awn hair: See Cat Hair .

B –

Backcross: The mating of the F1 (son or daughter) to one of the parents. The chosen parent will usually carry the recessive gene that is of interest.
Bicolor: A color and white.
Blaze: White on the face in an inverted “V” (Snowshoe cat). Also refers to a vertical division of two colors (usually half red and half black) in the middle of the face of a tortoiseshell cat. It is also used to refer to a break.
Bloodline: This is a breeder term referring to offspring from a famous and/or remote ancestor.
Blotched Tabby: Classic Tabby cat in which the markings are neither spots nor stripes but showing swirls.
Brachycephalic: Shortened muzzle and face.
Breed: An group individual cats with uniform and distinctive characteristics. Cat Breeds.
Breed Standard: This is a document that sets out the desirable appearance of a particular breed of cat and which provides guidance to breeders and show hall judges.
Breeder Quality (cat): A cat breeder’s cat that is used in the breeding program and which conforms to the breed standard for that breed but would not win competitions.

C –

Calling: A female’s calling during estrus.
Cat Fancy: The people involved in breeding and showing cats.
Cat Federation: Another name for a cat association. A group of people and cat clubs managing cat shows and registration of cats.
Cattery: A cat breeders business.
CFA: Cat Fanciers Association.
Congenital: existing at birth but not acquired by hereditary.
Cyanosis: Blue coloration of gums.
Chromosome: See Cat Genetics.
Cobby: Stocky body conformation (see Cat Body Types)
Coefficient of inbreeding: The degree of inbreeding presented numerically.
Coitus: The act of mating.
Colostrum: Mother’s milk also known as “beestings” or “first milk” or “immune milk”. It delivers its nutrients in a very concentrated low volume form.
Conformation: The shape of a cat. The cat’s physical appearance.
Crossbreed: A cat from the mating of cats from two different breeds.
Culling: The spaying or neutering of cats in a breeding program because they are not of sufficient quality per the breed standard or the breeder’s standard. I presume it can also refer to spaying and neutering of cats that carry defective gene(s).

D –

Dam: Female parent.
Dermatitis: Inflammation or disease of the skin.
Dilute: Solid coloration rendered paler – see Cat Genetics.
Dilute Calico: See article – faded appearance to calico cat (tortoiseshell and white).
DNA: Stands for deoxyribonucleic acid.
Domestic (cat): Non purebred, non pedigreed cat.
Dominant Gene: This gene can be expressed (show up) when carried by one pair of homologous chromosomes – see Cat Genetics.
Double Coat: Awn hairs are as long as the guard hairs. (src: Medical, Genetic & Behavioral Aspects Of Purebred Cats). – See Cat Hair.
Dysplasia: Non-normal development.
Dyspnea: Difficulty breathing.

E –

Ear Furnishings: Ear hair inside the ear and tufts of hair on tips of ears.
The formation of blood clots inside blood vessels.
Entire: A cat that has not been neutered (male) or spayed (female).
Entropion: Eyelids that roll inwards, which causes the lashes to rub against the eye.
Estrus: Period during which the female accepts mating.
Expression: This concerns genetics referring to the variation of the phenotype of a gene.
Eumelanin: The name for a type of color pigment in individual hair strands that is brown or black.

F –

F1: Stands for first filial generation offspring. The first offspring from a mating usually in regard to cross breeds and particularly wildcat hybrids.
F2: As above except second filial generation.
Fecund: Highly fertile.
Feral: A cat that is not domesticated. Rarely used, though, to refer to wildcats. Normal used to refer to cats that should be domestic cats but which have become or were born feral.
Fine: means very thin or slender. Can refer to hair as well.
Fixation: This refers in this instance to the fixing of a cat’s characteristics usually by inbreeding.
Foster: Offspring from one parent are transferred to another (foster mother) for parenting.
Founder Principle: This refers to the creation of a cat breed from a few individual cats (founding cats or founders).
Full: Rounded in shape or of generous proportions.

G –

Gene: See Cat Genetics.
Gestation: Pregnancy.
Ghost Pattern: Vestigial tabby pattern on solid colored cats. The tabby pattern is masked by the non-agouti gene.
Gingivitis: Inflammation of the gums.
Gonads: Organs that produce the germ cells or gametes.
Grading Up: A rapid improvement of the quality of breeding stock by mating inferior with superior strain.
Ground Color: The color on the hair shaft that is closest to the body (src: Medical, Genetic & Behavioral Aspects Of Purebred Cats).
Guard Hair: See Cat Hair. Long bristly hairs of outer coat.

H –

Heart Murmur: A faulty valve in the heart that doesn’t fully close causing blood to flow the wrong way.
Heat: The time during which a female will accept mating.
Heredity: The transmission of individual characteristics from parent to offspring.
Heterozygous: See Cat Genetics. (same for Homozygous).
Hepatic: About the liver.
Hybrid: a cat created from the mating of cats from 2 different breeds.
Hybrid Vigor: Also called heterosis and outbreeding enhancement, which describes the increased strength of different characteristics in hybrids; the possibility to obtain a genetically superior individual by combining the virtues of its parents (src: Wikipedia)
Household Pet: A term used by cat association to describe a non-pedigree cat that is being shown in competition.

I –

Impenetrance: A genetic term describing the expression of a gene that fails to manifest itself.
Inbreeding: The mating of closely related cats, which does not introduce any new genetic material e.g. mother mating with son.
Inbreeding depression: The reduction in health (“decline of vigor and vitality” Robinson’s) due to inbreeding.
Incomplete Dominance: See Cat Genetics.
Infertile: The cat can’t produce viable offspring.

K –

Karotype: The constitution of the chromosomes of the cell nucleus.
Kindle: Group of young cats.
Keratin: Substance that forms the hair and nails (people), claws (cats).

L –

Lactation in action – Wikipedia user AirIntake

Lactation: The production of milk by the mother (queen). Lactation describes the secretion of milk from the mammary glands, the process of providing that milk to the young, and the period of time that a mother lactates to feed her young (src: Wikipedia)
Lethal Gene: A gene that when carried by a cat, it causes the cat to be killed.
Line Breeding: A breeding term. Mating between cats that have a common ancestor. A form of inbreeding with the intention of concentrating the genes.
Litter: The offspring of one birth.
Lordosis: A medical term to describe a condition causing the abnormal curvature of the spine in the lumbar region.

M –

Mackerel Tabby: See Cat Coats Tabby.
Masking: A genetic term to describe the actions of a gene such as the affect of dominant white that masks other genes, thus concealing the genotype (see Cat Genetics).
Melanin: Colored pigment found in the hair, iris of eye and the skin.
Melanism: This is an increased amount of black or nearly black pigmentation (of skin, feathers, or hair) of an organism, resulting from the presence of melanin (src: Wikipedia).
Mendelian Inheritance: characteristics passed from parent organisms to their children; it underlies much of genetics (also Mendelian genetics or Mendelism). This is a set of primary tenets relating to the transmission of hereditary genetics (src: Wikipedia).
Metastasis: The spread of cancerous tumor cells to other parts of the body.
Mismating: An accidental mating.
Mitosis: Cell division producing tissue and organs.
Mongrel: Same as the better known term, “moggie” meaning a cat of indeterminate pedigree.
Mutation: Mutations are changes to the nucleotide sequence of the genetic material of an organism (src: Wikipedia).
Myopathy: Muscle disease.

N –

Neonatal: About newborn offspring.
In the cat fancy it means castrating a male cat.
Neurologic: Relating to the nervous system.


Obligate Carnivore: The cat is an obligate carnivore as he/she must eat the flesh of other animals.
Odd-Eyes: What it says; odd colored eyes (normally one yellow and one blue) due to the presence of the piebald gene (see Cat Genetics).
Outbreeding: Inbreeding is deliberately avoided.
Outcrossing: The mating of two cats that do not have common ancestors for at least three generations.
Overshot: Upper jaw protrudes excessively over the lower jaw.


Parturition: Refers to the moment of birth.
Partial Dominance: A genetic term meaning incomplete dominance.
Pedigree: When the lineage of a purebred animal is recorded, that animal is said to be pedigreed. A document showing the cat’s lineage, parentage for a number of years. In the cat fancy a pedigree provides details such as names, colors, show titles and registration numbers.
Pedigree Cat: A cat whose parentage is known and recorded for several years.
Pet Quality:  This is a cat that is “owned” by a breeder that is not sufficiently in line with the breed standard to show and/or breed from so he or she will become a pet for someone else.
Phaeomelanin: Yellow colored pigment in individual hairs.
Phenotype: The appearance of the cat based on a gene(s) (“the expression of a gene”).
Piebald: The well known white spotting gene that produces white patches.
Pointed: A cat with darker colored hair on the “points” (extremities) of the body.
Polygenes: See (yes, you guessed) Cat Genetics.
Progeny: Offspring.
Purebred: Refers to a “purebred” cat, which means a cat of a recognized breed, which will normally have a pedigree.


Queen: Mother cat in (usually) a breeder’s cattery.


Recessive Gene: See Cat Genetics.
Registered Cat: A cat that is registered (and therefore, accepted) by one of the cat associations.
Registry: Another name for a cat association.
Retinal Atrophy: Deterioration of the retina causing blindness.
Rufinism: The amount of the expression of yellow/orange pigment.


Selective Breeding: To select cats for best breeding purposes.
Self: A solid colored cat whose parents are of the same solid color.
Sex Chromosomes: Chromosomes that determine the cat’s gender. In mammals: male heterozygote XY, female: homozygote XX is female.
Show Quality: A cat that is top quality in reference to the breed standard.
Sire: Male parent.
Spaying: The same as neutering for males but removing the ovaries, in this instance.
Spotted Tabby: When the tabby cat has spots against a lighter background. The other forms of tabby are classic (blotches) and mackerel (stripes).
Striped Tabby: Mackerel tabby.
Stud: Male breeding cat.


Tabby Pattern: The distinctive and commonly occurring cat coat that features spots or swirls or stripes against a lighter background.
Ticked Tabby: The same individually striped hair shafts but lacking the tabby pattern (e.g. Abyssinian cat).
Tom: Male cat.
Tortie: Short for tortoiseshell cats.


Variable Expression: Genes expressing themselves differently in different cats.


Whole: Male cat that has not been castrated (neutered).


  • Robinson’s Genetics for Cat Breeders & Veterinarians 4th Ed.
  • Medical, Genetic & Behavioral Aspects Of Purebred Cats
  • The author, Michael
  • Wikipedia

Picture of mother and kittens: published under Wikipedia License.

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