Vinaya knows a lot about cats and likes to test himself by identifying the breeds of all the cats he meets.
Why Identifying a Cat's Breed Is Important
Each cat breed is unique in its own way, with special features and habits. If you are a cat owner or want to own a cat, you should definitely be able to distinguish the differences between breeds. Knowing the breed of your pet will provide you with the necessary information to take the best care of your feline companion for many years.
Visual Cues to Determine a Cat's Breed
A cat's breed can be recognized by analyzing these three categories:
- Facial features
- Color and texture of the coat
- Body shape and size
The main difference between cat breeds is the variation of color and texture of the coat. This is also the easiest to spot.
How to Identify Your Pet's Lineage
Using the following sections and corresponding shorthair/longhair breed graphs, you'll be equipped with everything you need to find your pet's lineage.
- The History of Cat Domestication
- Family Classification
- Ancestry of Different Breeds
- Longhair Cats
- Shorthair Cats
- Common House Cats
Comparing the variables included, such as family classification and ancestry factoids, you can feel confident that you are providing the best life for your current or soon-to-be pet.
Commercial cat breeding is very difficult because mating can be controlled only when the male and the Queen (breeding female) are confined. Cats are genetically rigid, therefore there are few opportunities for commercial breeders. Data regarding characteristics and features inherited by breeding is scarce, as there has been little scientific breeding performed.
Most cat breeds can be grouped into two different categories:
Note: Aside from coat length, there are no major distinctions between these two categories.
Based on the color of the coat, both longhair and shorthairs have different breed subcategories. Some colors and patterns can be genetically linked with the sex or condition of the cat. These visual traits are also used to identify potential birth defects and genetic quirks in cats.
The History of Cat Breeding and Domestication
Domestication and religious cat cults evolved in ancient Egypt. In the 5th and 6th Pharaoh dynasties (2465–2150 BCE), cats were proclaimed as sacred animals; however, Egyptians did not begin to domesticate cats until 1500 BCE.
Civilizations That Owned Domesticated Cats
- China: Religious art from the 5th century BCE depicts domesticated cats.
- Greece: In the 1st century BCE, they appeared in plays for comic effect.
- India: Sanskrit texts written around the 1st century BCE mention domestic cats.
- Japan: They were considered guardians in the 7th century CE.
- Britain: Cat protection laws existed in 936 CE.
Cats were domesticated because they were sacred animals that were very useful in protecting granaries and crops from rodents. These days, this purpose is no longer as relevant for most, so owning cats is mainly for companionship and show.
Classification of Cat Family
- Family Felidae: There are 37 species in 18 genera belonging to 3 subfamilies; found worldwide, excluding Antarctica. They evolved in the Late Eocene Era— about 37 million years ago.
- Subfamily Felinae: There are 29 species found worldwide; excluding Antarctica. They evolved about 10 million years ago.
- Genus Felis (Small Cats): There are six old species, including the wildcat and domestic cat; found worldwide. They evolved in the Pliocene Era—about 5.3 to 3.6 million years ago.
The Ancestry of Different Cat Breeds
About 40 distinct cat breeds have been recognized. Ancestry of some of these breeds goes back to the time of antiquity. The ancestry of individual cat breeds can be traced to cat mummies, as well as ancient statues and drawings available in different cultures.
The Origins of Well-Known Breeds
- The Tabby and Abyssinian are the descendants of the sacred Egyptian cat. The present-day tabby and Abyssinian look similar to the cat mummies, statues, and drawings in Egypt.
- The Persian, whose exact origin is unknown (with Iran being the best guess), is believed to be a mixed-breed cat.
- The tailless Manx, the hairless Sphynx, and the curly-coated Devon Rex all have mutant genes. The ancestors of all Egyptian cats come from Africa.
- The Siamese cat is believed to have Asian ancestry, even though no living species of Asian cats have been found.
- The history of the Japanese Bobtail goes back more than 1,000 years. This cat breed, which was very common in medieval Japan, is quite rare these days.
Longhair cats are distinguished by their long, flowing coat. Their coat colors can be solid or bicolored, in addition to various patterns.
- White with black streaks
- Silver and black
- Silver blotches
- Blue-gray and cream
- Cream, red, and black
Long, slender body; sapphire-blue eyes
Siamese mutant, sways tail when walking
Bushy tail, white paws, deep blue eyes
Known as sacred cat of Burma
Stout, heavy chest, no tail
Also called longhair Manx
Himalayan, or Colorpoint Longhair
Short, full tail, sapphire-blue eyes
Siamese and Persian cross
Long and flexible body, silky coat
Balinese and Colourpoint Shorthair cross
Large and well-muscled, hairy coat
Oldest American breed
Full-bodied, muscular, double coat
Featured prominently in Nordic fables
Sturdy, massive head
Having many variations, one of the oldest and most popular breed
Heavy and powerful, blue eyes
Resembles a limp rag doll, relaxes muscles when picked up
Flexible and muscular, full brush tail, green or golden eyes
Distinguished as a longhair Abyssinian
Long, feathery tail; large, pointed ears
One of the first longhair cats in introduced in Europe
Shorthair breeds consist of British Shorthair, American Shorthair, Bombay (pitch-black colored) Bengal (gray-white stripes), Manx (tailless), Sphynx (hairless), etc. A shorthair cat has a round head, round eyes, ears rounded at the tips, a sturdy build, and strong-boned legs.
The coats of shorthair cats are often similar to those of longhair breeds. However, the most common coat colors include those found in tabbies:
Note: The blue-cream color is rare in Shorthairs. Cream is simply the diluted version of red, and is rather rare to encounter. To be mixed with blue is even rarer.
Majestic, flexible body; long, slender legs
Sacred cat of Egypt
Big, muscular body; thick, dense fur
Varies in sizes, from medium to large; curly coat
Rare outside U.S.
Spotted coat; forelimbs bigger than hind limbs
Cross between Asian leopard cat and American Shorthair tabby
Resembles black panther
Cross between Burmese and black American Shorthair
Short, muscular, short legs, thick tail
Oldest natural English breed
Medium-size; shiny, thick coat
Related to Siamese
One of the oldest natural breeds
Short, curly hair; large ears
Named after the Rex rabbit
Slightly rough coat than Cornish Rex; pixie face
Nicknamed "poodle cat"
Graceful, distinct spot pattern, banded tail
Mau is Egyptian word for cat
Triangular head, large ears, rabbit like tail
Symbol of good luck
Silver-blue coat, heart-shaped face
Native name is "Si-Sawat," symbol of good luck
Cream colored coat with dark or light brown spots
Cross between Abyssinian and Siamese
Long, flexible body; vibrant green eyes
Specialized with numerous colors unique to the breed
Muscular, fine-boned, double coat; blue in color with the streaks of silver
Symbol of good luck
Short, round, well-padded body; folded ears
May be born crippled due to genetic vulnerability
Thin, long body; sapphire-blue eyes
Intelligent, unpredictable behavior
Hairless, large ears
Rare outside North America
Medium-sized, blue-green eyes
Cross between Siamese and Burmese
Isle of Man
Tailless or with stump; double coat
If two tailless gene cats are breed, there might be stillbirths or skeletal defects
Common House Cats
To help you with your identification journey, I have outlined the specifications and characteristics of three of the most easily recognized house cats that you may encounter:
- The Siamese
- The Persian
- The Tabby
The Siamese cat is small and agile. It is regarded as the most intelligent house cat. It is affectionate and loyal, but can be destructive sometimes. The Siamese cat is highly vocal.
Even though Siamese cats are named after Siam (the old name of Thailand), its origin as a breed is unknown. The Siamese cat is a popular breed of cats. They have been domesticated in Thailand and some parts of Asia for a long time; however, they did not reach Europe until the late 19th century.
The British took Siamese cats as gifts to England. From England, these cats made their way to America. According to a widely held belief in Thailand, Siamese cats protect royal palaces and monasteries from evil spirits. This exotic feline creature is believed to bring good fortune to its owner.
A Partly Albino Breed
The Siamese cat is partially albino. When kittens are born, they are white or cream colored, but later develop dark points such as dark brown (seal point), blue-gray (blue point), milk-chocolate brown (chocolate point), pinkish gray (lilac point), or reddish orange (red point) on ears, face, legs, and tail.
Characteristics of Siamese Cats
- Light color in the body and dark color around the feet, tail, legs, and face
- Slanted blue eyes
- Round head
- Flexible, long body
- Slim, long tail
- Slim legs
- Color points
- Social, communicative, noisy, playful
- Attention seeking
- Emotionally high maintenance
- Short hair
- Weighs between 6–16 pounds
- Has a lifespan of 15–20 years
Based on the color of their coat, Persian cats are grouped in seven categories, including solid, silver and gold, tabby, shaded and smoke, particolor, bicolor, and Himalayan. The Persian cat is identifiable by its long, flowing coat.
A Delicate, Indoor Animal
Persian cats are loving companions. They don’t climb and jump much, they are not destructive, they love to hang with humans, and they really love to bask in the sun. Persian cats are indoor cats, which mean they are prone to coat damage and disease when they roam outside. They can live up to 20 years.
The Persian cat has long and dense fur. In order to protect the coat, frequent bathing and combing is necessary for a Persian cat. They also must be kept indoors so their majestic coat is preserved.
Characteristics of Persian Cats
- Gentle and sweet
- Long hair
- Great companion
- Not very demanding
- Big eyes
- Pleasant voice
- Easy to keep
- Needs too much grooming
- Playful, affectionate, defensive, languid
Contrary to popular belief, tabbies are not categorized as a breed. Cats with grey or tawny (a light brown to brownish orange color) streaks, patterns, or patchy coloring can be considered a tabby.
Tabbies can also be identified by the signature "M" shape found on their forehead.
Tabby is one of the most common cat coat colors. It is seen in pure-breed cats as well as mixed-breed cats.
Characteristics of Tabby Cats
- Love to be the center of attention
- Thrive as indoor/outdoor cats
- "M" mark on the forehead
- Common patterns include: swirls, mackerel, ticked, and spotted
Now, Go Get to Know Some Cats!
Now that you know all there is about cat breeds and their characteristics, you are more than prepared to go identify some cats on your own! Regardless of whether you wanted to get to know your own companion a little better, do some research before adopting a pet, or just learn something new about the species, I hope that using this guide as a reference served you well.
© 2013 Vinaya Ghimire
Lucy on May 17, 2020:
This was helpful as we are trying to figure out what breed our new rescue cats are, they have bushy tails and one looks like a raccoon, any ideas?
Alexa Evans on April 06, 2020:
this was very helpful since i have got a cat of my own which extremely playful
Jessica on March 17, 2020:
Kinda of hard to figure out but otherwise i still could not find out what type of cat my cat is and I would really like to know he is very special to me and I love him very much.He also has a brother and he is a tabby but my other cat is not and I can tell he isn't.
Dovile on February 29, 2020:
I dont know if any of these match up. Can you help me identify which breed my cat is? Mine is light green eyes,medium sized ears, dark around the body, back, ears and tail but not stomach, around the nose arms and legs but thighs is dark. also the colour is white and grey not thick, but not very thin either it between, no really pattern on her fur except her neck one white line or anything just blended. I honestly think she like being outside and indoor. Can be aggresive to other people but friendly to us, doesnt like being pick up. So what cat breed is she? Also she a female
trip on December 24, 2019:
none of what seem to be near the breed of my kitten
Ella Race on August 03, 2019:
I have a Grey & Peach Diluted Tortie, her face is darker Grey. Tail her coat is like a brimble Greys snd Peach, she is moody
EeenieB on March 27, 2019:
I have a orange tabby cat. But id like to know what breed he came from. He has a small head and long front legs. He is a small cat. Does anyone know what beed ha may have come from?
Savannah on March 08, 2019:
I have a small cat named roe and she is super fluffy and creamy colored what type is she someone tell me
Allyssa on May 29, 2017:
I have a Minx cat!! Anyone know if they are rare?
Suzie from Carson City on December 04, 2014:
Vinaya......I have always loved cats and am sure to have one, sometimes two as my babies. Like so many others here, I had no idea there are so many different breeds. Are you a cat expert of sorts? Or just very fond of cats?
Have you ever had the chance to see a TV program called, "My Cat from Hell?".....Jackson Galaxy is known as the "Cat Whisperer" and is able to solve any kind of issue people may be having with their pet cat. I love that show. If you can, you should watch it.
Very informative hub. I appreciate the lesson.....UP+++
Olgacat on December 01, 2014:
Group oriental cats includes a large number of breeds. http://cataristocrat.com/en/oriental-body-type-cat...
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on August 13, 2014:
I had no idea there were that many different cat breeds. You sure did do a great job here. Very informative!
Audrey Howitt from California on August 13, 2014:
Cats are beautiful!!!
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on February 15, 2014:
What a great article! I do love cats. (We have "only" 7 of them!--LOL)
Ours are all mixed breeds, and they are all sweet, but still with their own personality quirks.
Voted up ++ and pinned.
Audrey Howitt from California on February 15, 2014:
So many different kinds of cats--wow! Great hub Vinaya!
Eiddwen from Wales on January 30, 2014:
Interesting and so useful Vinaya.
Voted up for sure.
Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on November 30, 2013:
What a fabulous amount of information, presented in a variety of methods. I also loved the tables of information. The video was one of the coolest I have seen...I never had seen curly cats; a long haired Manx; the adorable elf cats...really a video to come back to as it is so packed with kitty cats.
No matter what the readers' felines are about felines, you are a master writer! Voted UP and UABI. Hugs, Maria
Dianna Mendez on November 29, 2013:
I have had a variety of cats over the years: siamese, persian, tabby, etc. and everyone has filled my life with joy. Your table chart is a great resource.
FlourishAnyway from USA on November 29, 2013:
Since I was a child I have loved plain ones, fancy ones, ugly ones, scruffy ones, elegant ones, tiny ones, large ones, healthy ones and disabled ones. I simply adore their attitudes, their vibrancy and the way they are slow to warm. The cat in the lead photo looks very content. Beautiful.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on November 29, 2013:
Very interesting about identifying cat breeds you know more than I do about cats but never too late to learn. always a good write from you. Informative, useful interesting and most helpful to cat lovers.
Frank Atanacio from Shelton on November 29, 2013:
I've never owned a cat, but nevertheless this little cat series is useful and informative :)
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 28, 2013:
I'm just not a cat person, Vinaya, but great information.
Marie Hurt from New Orleans, LA on November 28, 2013:
So many cat breeds nicely done.