At cat shows, cats are judged according to a particular standard. While non-pedigrees are simply judged on presentation, temperament, and personality, each pedigree cat has to conform to a particular standard for its breed. If you are planning on showing a pedigree cat, it is a good idea to know something about all of this. So what are these standards all about, how are they decided, and how does it all work?
By and large, cat breed standards are basically about aesthetics. Dogs have been bred to hunt, herd, retrieve, retrieve, or guard. Horses have to race, pull and carry, and cattle have been bred to provide milk and meat. These practical requirements have affected what the different breeds of these animals look like, and how people want them to look, and this is reflected in their show standards too. But all that anyone has ever required of a pedigree cat is that it should look beautiful. So the breed standards for cats are largely based on what is considered beautiful for that particular breed.
Some requirements of breed standards are common across all breeds and almost all associations. The common traits that will lead to a cat being disqualified are undescended testicles in male cats, and abnormal number of toes (polydactyl cats), kinked tails, and crossed eyes. Other disqualifications are more idiosyncratic; for instance, CFA usually disallows white lockets or buttons.
Breed standards set out the maximum number of points that can be awarded for each area of a cat's appearance, which will then be added up to give a total score out of 100. The allocation of points is not the same in all breeds, because different traits are more or less important in each. The traits that are required in the breed are described under specific headings of head, eyes, ears, body, legs, colour, tail and so on. The descriptions can be quite lyrical, although they tend to be less open to individual interpretation nowadays than they were in the past.
Breed standards emphasise health and general conformity. General requirements, such as cleanness of eyes, ears, and nose, should mean that only a healthy cat can win prizes and thereby influence the future of the breed. Other requirements, such as a normal number of toes and a kink-free tail, aim to breed out any physical deformities lurking in the genes for that particular breed.
Breeds with traits that may inherently harm the cat's welfare remain contentious. The best known example is the Manx cat, which in its completely tailless show form is prone to several serious congenital defects. This is a very old breed, but it is often said that if it were a new breed today, it would not be accepted on health grounds. Similarly, the Scottish Fold and the Munchkin are not accepted by all registries.
The Maine Coon is a very popular breed, and becoming more so. Here is a description of the Maine Coon's breed standard. It starts with a general description of the breed...
“The Maine Coon is a semi-longhaired cat of medium foreign type and is distinguished by its large size, bone structure, rectngular appearance, and flowing coat. It evolved as a working domestic cat in a rural environment; this role is reflected in a muscular cat of rugged outdoor appearance with a characteristic weatherproof coat and the demeanour of an alert capable hunter.”
A detailed description then follows of the Maine Coon's ideal head, muzzle, ears, eyes, body and neck, legs and paws, tail, and coat. Then it is stated what colours are allowed. This is followed by the Scale of Points...
“Head: including general shape and proportions – shape, size and ear set, shape, size, set and colour of eyes, nose length and profile, cheeks, muzzle and chin.....35 points
Body: including shape and proportions – size, bone structure, muscularity and condition, height and thickness of legs, shape and size of paws, shape and length of paws, shape and length of tail....30 points
Coat: including length and texture – frontal ruff, ear feathering and tufting, tail furnishings, paw furnishings....20 points
Colour and Pattern: 15 points”
All awards are withheld for the following...
Wrongly registered adults, kittens or neuters
Blue or odd eyes in cats of a colour other than white
Van patterned cats
Certificates or First Prizes are withheld in Kitten Open Classes for the following....
Cobby body shape and/or fine bone structure
Bi-Colour or Parti-Colour cats that do not exhibit some white on all four paws, belly, and chest
Definite nose break or stop
Straight profile or pronounced nose bump
Overall even coat length
Persian like coat texture
Serious colour or pattern faults
The following are considered to be faults...
Unsound base coat in solid or toitoiseshell coloured cats
Tabby markings in adult smoke coloured cats
Heavy tabby markings in shaded coloured cats
White extending beyond the throat in non-silver Tabby cats registered without white
Tarnishing in silver series cats
Heavily brindled coat in tabby cats
A detailed description of all the permitted colours for Maine Coons then follows. In general everything is allowed except Siamese coat patterns, but it is not quite that simple.
The breed standards for all other breeds are detailed similarly, although obviously the exact requirements will vary depending on the breed. Judges mark each cat according to this standard. Standards vary slightly in each registry, although not to any great extent.
If you are planning on showing a cat, it is quite useful to be familiar with its breed standard. But of course, if you simply wish to keep the cat as a pet, the breed standard is irrelevant. Indeed, the finer points of the breed standard are rarely obvious to anyone except experienced judges anyway. So if is perfectly possible to have a very beautiful pedigree cat which will never win any prizes according to the breed standard, and unless the cat is to be shown, this does not matter in the least.