From Ear Tufts to Fluffy Tails: How to Identify Your Pet Cat's Breed

Updated on June 25, 2019
Vinaya Ghimire profile image

Vinaya knows a lot about cats and likes to test himself by identifying the breeds of all the cats he meets.

Knowing the breed of your companion equips you with the knowledge necessary to take care of it.
Knowing the breed of your companion equips you with the knowledge necessary to take care of it. | Source

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:

  1. Facial features
  2. Color and texture of the coat
  3. 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.

Did You Know?

There are three basic face shapes: round, square, and triangle. Knowing your cat's face shape is the first step necessary to identify its breed.

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.

Buying a Bengal cat will cost you between $400 and $10,000!
Buying a Bengal cat will cost you between $400 and $10,000! | Source

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:

  • Longhair
  • Shorthair

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.

Did You Know?

You can often tell if a cat is predisposed to a genetically linked quirk. For example; calicos, tortoiseshells, and blue-cream cats are usually female.

A white cat with mixed-colored eyes is most likely to be deaf on the blue-eyed side.
A white cat with mixed-colored eyes is most likely to be deaf on the blue-eyed side. | Source

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.

The Abyssinian can be recognized by its "ticked" tabby coat.
The Abyssinian can be recognized by its "ticked" tabby coat. | Source

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.

People believe that Russian blue cats originate from northern Russia, hence their name.
People believe that Russian blue cats originate from northern Russia, hence their name.

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.

Male Sealpoint Himalayan Cat
Male Sealpoint Himalayan Cat | Source

Longhair Cats

Longhair cats are distinguished by their long, flowing coat. Their coat colors can be solid or bicolored, in addition to various patterns.

Solid Coats

  • White
  • Black
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Cream

Patterned Coats

  • White with black streaks
  • Silver and black
  • Tabby
  • Calico
  • Silver blotches
  • Blue-gray and cream
  • Blue-cream
  • Tortoiseshell
  • Cream, red, and black

Longhair cats need to be combed often to prevent knots and hairballs.
Longhair cats need to be combed often to prevent knots and hairballs. | Source

Longhair Breeds

Name
Origin
Features
Specialty
Balinese
U.S.
Long, slender body; sapphire-blue eyes
Siamese mutant, sways tail when walking
Birman
Burma
Bushy tail, white paws, deep blue eyes
Known as sacred cat of Burma
Cymric
Canada
Stout, heavy chest, no tail
Also called longhair Manx
Himalayan, or Colorpoint Longhair
U.S./Europe
Short, full tail, sapphire-blue eyes
Siamese and Persian cross
Javanese
U.S.
Long and flexible body, silky coat
Balinese and Colourpoint Shorthair cross
Maine Coon
U.S.
Large and well-muscled, hairy coat
Oldest American breed
Norwegian Forest
Norway
Full-bodied, muscular, double coat
Featured prominently in Nordic fables
Persian
Iran
Sturdy, massive head
Having many variations, one of the oldest and most popular breed
Ragdoll
U.S.
Heavy and powerful, blue eyes
Resembles a limp rag doll, relaxes muscles when picked up
Somali
U.S.
Flexible and muscular, full brush tail, green or golden eyes
Distinguished as a longhair Abyssinian
Turkish Angora
Turkey
Long, feathery tail; large, pointed ears
One of the first longhair cats in introduced in Europe
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

Shorthair Cats

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:

  • Brown
  • Silver
  • Blue
  • Red

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.

A plus of owning a shorthair cat is that less maintenance and grooming is required to keep your pet clean.
A plus of owning a shorthair cat is that less maintenance and grooming is required to keep your pet clean. | Source

Shorthair Breeds

Name
Origin
Features
Specialty
Abyssinian
Egypt
Majestic, flexible body; long, slender legs
Sacred cat of Egypt
American Shorthair
U.S.
Big, muscular body; thick, dense fur
Natural hunter
American Wirehair
U.S.
Varies in sizes, from medium to large; curly coat
Rare outside U.S.
Bengal
U.S.
Spotted coat; forelimbs bigger than hind limbs
Cross between Asian leopard cat and American Shorthair tabby
Bombay
U.S.
Resembles black panther
Cross between Burmese and black American Shorthair
British shorthair
England
Short, muscular, short legs, thick tail
Oldest natural English breed
Burmese
Burma
Medium-size; shiny, thick coat
Related to Siamese
Chartreux
France
Full-bodied; blue-gray
One of the oldest natural breeds
Cornish Rex
England
Short, curly hair; large ears
Named after the Rex rabbit
Devon Rex
England
Slightly rough coat than Cornish Rex; pixie face
Nicknamed "poodle cat"
Egyptian Mau
Egypt
Graceful, distinct spot pattern, banded tail
Mau is Egyptian word for cat
Japanese Bobtail
Japan
Triangular head, large ears, rabbit like tail
Symbol of good luck
Korat
Thailand
Silver-blue coat, heart-shaped face
Native name is "Si-Sawat," symbol of good luck
Ocicat
U.S.
Cream colored coat with dark or light brown spots
Cross between Abyssinian and Siamese
Oriental Shorthair
U.S./U.K.
Long, flexible body; vibrant green eyes
Specialized with numerous colors unique to the breed
Russian Blue
Russia
Muscular, fine-boned, double coat; blue in color with the streaks of silver
Symbol of good luck
Scottish Fold
Scotland
Short, round, well-padded body; folded ears
May be born crippled due to genetic vulnerability
Siamese
Thailand
Thin, long body; sapphire-blue eyes
Intelligent, unpredictable behavior
Sphynx
Canada
Hairless, large ears
Rare outside North America
Tonkinese
U.S.
Medium-sized, blue-green eyes
Cross between Siamese and Burmese
Manx
Isle of Man
Tailless or with stump; double coat
If two tailless gene cats are breed, there might be stillbirths or skeletal defects
Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

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

Siamese cats are very vocal, so if you choose to own one, be prepared for noise!
Siamese cats are very vocal, so if you choose to own one, be prepared for noise! | Source

The Siamese

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.

Breed Origins

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.

Variations in Siamese Cats

Some Siamese may have crossed eyes, curly tails, or muscular bodies.

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
  • Muscular
  • 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

Owning a persian cat is a great idea is you want a companion to lounge about with.
Owning a persian cat is a great idea is you want a companion to lounge about with. | Source

The Persian

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.

Persian Cat Variations

Normally, the Persian cat is white in color. Albeit rare, black and red Persians have also been recorded.

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
  • Communicative
  • Passive
  • Easy to keep
  • Needs too much grooming
  • Expensive
  • Playful, affectionate, defensive, languid

The term "Tabby" or "Tabby Cat" is used to refer to the Queen.
The term "Tabby" or "Tabby Cat" is used to refer to the Queen. | Source

The Tabby

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.

Did You Know?

Due to genetics, orange tabbies are usually male, lazy, and docile.

Characteristics of Tabby Cats

  • Friendly
  • Loving
  • Cuddly
  • Intelligent
  • Playful
  • 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.

What is your favorite cat breed?

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Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Vinaya Ghimire

    Comments

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      • profile image

        EeenieB 

        3 months ago

        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?

      • profile image

        Savannah 

        3 months ago

        I have a small cat named roe and she is super fluffy and creamy colored what type is she someone tell me

      • profile image

        Allyssa 

        2 years ago

        I have a Minx cat!! Anyone know if they are rare?

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        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+++

      • profile image

        Olgacat 

        4 years ago

        Group oriental cats includes a large number of breeds. http://cataristocrat.com/en/oriental-body-type-cat...

      • rebeccamealey profile image

        Rebecca Mealey 

        4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

        I had no idea there were that many different cat breeds. You sure did do a great job here. Very informative!

      • AudreyHowitt profile image

        Audrey Howitt 

        4 years ago from California

        Cats are beautiful!!!

      • DzyMsLizzy profile image

        Liz Elias 

        5 years ago from Oakley, CA

        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.

      • AudreyHowitt profile image

        Audrey Howitt 

        5 years ago from California

        So many different kinds of cats--wow! Great hub Vinaya!

      • Eiddwen profile image

        Eiddwen 

        5 years ago from Wales

        Interesting and so useful Vinaya.

        Voted up for sure.

        Eddy.

      • marcoujor profile image

        Maria Jordan 

        5 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

        Dear Vinaya,

        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

      • teaches12345 profile image

        Dianna Mendez 

        5 years ago

        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 profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        5 years ago from USA

        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.

      • DDE profile image

        Devika Primić 

        5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

        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 profile image

        Frank Atanacio 

        5 years ago from Shelton

        I've never owned a cat, but nevertheless this little cat series is useful and informative :)

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        5 years ago from Olympia, WA

        I'm just not a cat person, Vinaya, but great information.

      • truthfornow profile image

        Marie Hurt 

        5 years ago from New Orleans, LA

        So many cat breeds nicely done.

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