Showing your cat for the first time can seem complicated. There is so much to learn, and so much to do. Much of this work is for the benefit of the judges, who decide whether your cat wins or loses. So let us take a look at how judging works at a cat show.
A lot depends on whether we are talking here about Pedigree cats or Household Pets. For Pedigree cats, there is a Standard of Points for each breed. This describes what each breed should look like, with a certain number of points being awarded for different features, with the total adding up to 100. So, for instance, the Standard of Points for the Maine Coon states that the cat's head should be medium in length, the muzzle should be square, and the chin firm. The cat should have fairly full cheeks, high cheekbones, and a level bite. The nose should have a shallow concave curve without a sharp break. A total of 35 points can be awarded overall for the head. Then there are similar descriptions and points for the body, coat, and colour and pattern. The Standard of Points for every breed can be found on the GCCF website. Although there are no specific points awarded, judges will also take into account the condition and presentation of the cat, and its temperament – bad-tempered cats rarely win shows!
There is no Standard of Points for Household Pets, which are judged solely on presentation and temperament. Some judges will include state of the cat's blanket and other pen items in 'presentation', so you need to make sure that your cat and all its belongings look as good as possible.
When you take your cat to a show, you will be allowed a certain amount of time to put him in his pen, feed him, and settle him in. After that, all competitors have to leave the show hall for about two to three hours, and this is when judging takes place for the main classes. Each judge will go round, with a steward to help him or her. The steward will take each cat out of its pen and examine it carefully, awarding points as described above and making notes. The judge will then award First, Second and Third, and any titles, to the winning cats.
The side classes will be judged later on, usually in the afternoon after the competitors have returned. These side classes are usually much more informal, but are still done in the same way. Also during the afternoon, cats will be judged for Best of Variety, and ultimately Best in Show. Any cat which has won Best of Breed will be eligible for these higher titles, so if your cat has won Best of Breed, it is worth giving him an extra groom when you return, to make sure he looks his best.
The above is how things work at most GCCF cat shows. TICA and FIFe shows will be different, and at the Supreme Cat Show the cats are judged in rings away from their pens, and the public are able to watch the judging.
For the main classes for the Pedigree cats, the judges are individuals who have trained and studied to become experts on that particular breed. Becoming a judge is not easy, and the judges will know a lot about the breed(s) which they are qualified to judge. For the side classes, and sometimes for kittens, probationer judges may be used. These individuals are still being assessed to become full judges, so they know a lot about their breed(s), but are not completely qualified.
For the Household Pets, things are more informal. Sometimes qualified judges are used here too. But sometimes the judges are simply ordinary people who are heavily involved with the Cat Show world and know a lot about cats.
The official way, and probably the best way, to find out what the judge thought of your cat is to wait for the judge's report to be posted on the GCCF website. There is a section there for each show, with the judge's report on the winning cats. These have to be posted within 28 days of the show...although some judges may be a few days late! You can check on the GCCF website, or sign up to receive daily emails which will tell you which new reports have been posted. These reports are often quite detailed, and will tell you a lot.
You can also simply ask the judge at the show. Pick a time later in the day when the judge has finished work, and ask what he or she thought of your cat. This can be very useful if you are new to showing, or if your cat hasn't won anything, or both. I once asked a judge what she thought of my cat, and she told me he was very young, but had good potential. I asked tentatively why she had placed him second in that case, and she pointed out that the older cat in the next pen was just as good, but fully developed, commenting jovially: “He had it all already; what was I supposed to do?” This helped me to learn how things worked. A judge at another show came and told me to keep showing another young cat, as he would do well when he was older, and still another judge pointed out that my kitten had developed an overshot jaw, which is a definite no-no in the Pedigree classes. So things can be quite informal and friendly, and judges are often willing to be very helpful.
It is worth keeping notes of who judges your cat, and what they think of him. Judging is not an exact science, and personal preference may come into it quite a lot – some judges like one cat, others may not. Also, if your cat starts to win certificates, you will need several of these from different judges for titles, so you may need to make sure you don't get too many from the same judge.
Of course, there are many other factors here, and you will learn more as you go along. But this is probably enough to take in at the start of your cat's show career. So why not take the plunge and start to show your cat? I'm sure you will enjoy it.