Do you have a purebred cat? What's the best way to tell?

Photo of Brother and Sister Maine Coons

Some cat owners tend to obsess about breeds and aren't satisfied unless their cat is properly categorised inside one. I've been being emailed images with the query "what breed is my cat?" for years. To assist readers distinguish between feline breeds, domestic cats, and color patterns, I eventually wrote Feline Breeds, Domestic Cats, and Color Patterns.

What Is a Purebred Cat?

Purebred is defined by the Cat Fanciers Glossary as, "A cat whose ancestors are all of the same breeds, or whose lineage includes crossbreeding permitted by the breed standard. A purebred Bombay, for example, might have Burmese cats in its pedigree." Before a cat may be designated a "purebred," its pedigree (history of ancestors) must be confirmed by the registry.

"If It Walks Like a Maine Coon..."

"Purebred" is a phrase coined by those of us outside the cat world to designate a cat of a certain breed. Most people, on the other hand, believe that "if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it must be a duck." The Maine Coon cat, with its characteristic ear tufts, ruff, bushy tail, and lovely voice, is a popular example. Over the years, I've received numerous images of stunning Maine Coon look-alikes for my Maine Coon collection. Then, after reading the animal's backstory, we learn that the cat was either adopted from a shelter or discovered wandering the streets. Because it lacks the proper papers for a full-fledged Maine Coon, it might legitimately be called a Maine Coon hybrid. The first two photographs in this post depict a registered, pedigreed Maine Coon, as well as my Billy, a probable Maine Coon mix who is better known as a DLH (Domestic Longhair cat).

The same may be said about the American Shorthair, which, like the Maine Coon, is a North American breed. If it weren't for that significant paper, nearly any DSH (Domestic Shorthair cat) tabby cat might be labeled a "American Shorthair." I'm sure ASH breeders could spot the difference, but the most of us couldn't.

Breed Rescue Groups

Most of the major cat breeds have breed rescue groups, dedicated to saving and protecting their breeds. They generally have two methods of rescuing cats:

  • From Shelters
    Most of the cats breed rescue groups take in are breed "look-alikes," and will be subsequently be offered for adoption as mixed-breed cats, e.g. "Maine Coon mix." Occasionally they will be called in when animal control has shut down a breeder for overcrowding, unhealthy conditions, or upon the death of a breeder with no known family.
  • Directly From Breeders
    At times a reputable breeder may contact a breed rescue group because of illness, or another emergency, such as a death in the family, to ensure that good homes will be found for his or her cats. The same will also apply upon the death of a breeder, whose heirs have either no means or intentions of carrying on.

Breed rescue groups provide a valuable service to the breeds they represent and are an integral part of the cat fancy.

So -- What Breed is my Cat?

Do your homework. Familiarize yourself with the various cat breeds. Then ask yourself two questions:

  1. What breed does he most resemble?
  2. Do I have a registry and pedigree for this cat?

If you answered "no" to question 2, you can only refer to him as a "mixed (choose your breed)" dog. You might also save yourself a lot of time and effort by referring to him as your domestic cat (or " ", as I often call mine.)

The most important thing, of course, that no matter what you call him, you love him unconditionally, regardless of his breed or heritage.