Nonpurebred and purebred cats alike make excellent companions. In fact, about 98 percent of cats fall outside the purebred population. Although they are often called “mixed breeds” for convenience, this term is misleading because most of them have no purebred cats at all in their family trees. The terms domestic shorthair (DSH) and domestic longhair (DLH) are more accurate, if less concise. For brevity, I'll call them Domestics throughout this book. Domestics—domestic shorthairs and longhairs—come in a spectacular assortment of sizes, colors, patterns, coat lengths, and personalities. Some look like specific breeds; others do not.
Domestic shorthairs and longhairs make wonderful pets. You do take some chances with a kitten—he might grow up to be bigger or smaller than you expected or have a different coat length or personality than you predicted. You might or might not see the kitten's mother, and chances are you'll have no information about the father. So size and body type, coat length, personality, and other traits are unknowns until the kitten matures. Even color can change in some cases!
Purebred kittens, on the other hand, develop into cats with highly predictable traits. Predictability is the main reason people opt for a purebred cat or kitten. That doesn't mean cats within a breed are all exactly alike, of course. Every cat is an individual. Just as the members of your own human family are alike in some ways but different in others, members of a cat family vary in individual personalities, energy levels, behavior, and appearance. But in responsibly bred purebred cats, those variations fall within a range typical of the breed.
We often think of purebred cats in terms of looks alone—the sleek blue-eyed Siamese or the elegant, long-haired Persian—but every breed also exhibits typical behaviors. Do you want a cat who “talks” a lot? Would an active cat who's always scampering and climbing drive you batty? Do you need a cat who will enjoy a busy household with frequent visitors? Many Domestics will undoubtedly suit you, but it's hard to predict which mixed kitten is the right one for you. If specific traits are important to you, your best bet is either an adult cat whose behavior is observable or a properly bred purebred kitten of a breed known for the traits you desire.
Selective breeding is the practice of carefully selecting and mating a male and female to perpetuate desirable traits and reduce or eliminate undesirable traits in their offspring. A breed is a group of animals within a species that are fairly homogeneous in size, looks, personality, instincts, and other traits, and which breed true, producing offspring with highly predictable traits.
What Is a Breed?
So how did the various breeds end up with long hair, short hair, certain colors, or predictable personalities? To develop a population of cats with specific traits, people select individual cats with those traits and breed them to one another. Over many generations, the traits become “set,” meaning that certain traits—size, behavior, color, coat, and personality—reliably appear in kittens within a breed.
Selective breeding over many generations results in animals who breed true, producing offspring who are like the parents in most respects. If you breed an Abyssinian to an Abyssinian, you get Abyssinians. But if you breed an Abyssinian to a Persian, who knows what the kittens will look like? And traits of kittens in the next generation will be even more unpredictable because the genes they inherit are too widely assorted to produce consistent kittens. That's why it takes many generations of careful selective breeding to create a breed.
Do Purebreds Need Papers?
When speaking of purebred cats, we often hear about “papers.” But what are papers? All sorts of paperwork accompanies a responsibly bred purebred cat, but what most people mean when most people say a cat “has papers” they mean registration papers issued by a cat registry. Some people also mean that the cat has a pedigree, which is simply a family tree showing the cat's ancestors.
Traditionally, registries have relied on breeders to be honest about the kittens they register. Such integrity among breeders is still vital, but science has also given us a new tool for verifying a kitten's parents—DNA testing. Although not yet used commonly by cat breeders, DNA testing of parents and offspring is now widely used by breeders of other domestic animals. It's just a matter of time before it's in common use by cat breeders, too.
It's important to understand that registration alone does not guarantee the quality of a kitten (see Choosing a Kitten). Responsible breeders are honest about the parentage of their kittens and keen to keep their pedigrees accurate. But many kittens from kitten mills and careless kitten producers are also registered. Such “kittens for bucks” producers use registration as a way to get more money for their kittens and cats. In some cases, they don't know (and don't really care) who the sire is. Many of their kittens are not even purebred. Why would you pay for a purebred kitten who will grow into a cat who neither looks nor behaves like the breed it's supposed to be—because it isn't?
Even when the registration and pedigree are accurate, they don't tell you whether the kittens' parents were checked for hereditary problems or whether the kittens were handled properly during the important developmental periods. You still need to check out the breeder as well as her cats and their quality, health, and suitability for your situation.
Serious breeders breed purebred cats whose pedigrees show titled cats among the parents and grandparents as well as farther back. These titles reflect the years of hard work, dedication, and careful breeding that have gone into producing the litter you see.
If you're buying a purebred kitten or cat, you should see the pedigree, which will tell you if the breeder is serious about producing healthy cats who are representative of their breed or if she just wants to pump out kittens to make money. How can you tell? First, look at the names of the cats. Cattery names will appear in the names of cats from serious breeders, so you'll see names like “Fuzzislippers Fancy Fella.” Are there initials such as CH (for Champion) or DGCH (for Double Grand Champion) before and after some of the cats' names? Good! Those are abbreviations for titles the cats have earned in competition. (If you don't know what the initials mean, ask the breeder. If she doesn't know, run away fast!) Most serious breeders compete with their cats in cat shows.
But hang on—you just want a nice, healthy, reasonably well-behaved pet cat. Why should you care about show titles or the breeder's goals? You might luck out and get a dandy cat from a badly bred litter, but the odds are not in your favor. Behavior, health, temperament, intelligence, and beauty are all influenced by a kitten's genetic background, and people who breed carelessly are usually careless about the kittens' early handling and care as well. Even champion parents and grandparents will produce some kittens who won't be shown or bred, usually for reasons that are insignificant for the kitten's future as a super companion. So do yourself a favor—either buy a responsibly bred purebred or adopt a kitty from a shelter or rescue organization. Don't support bad breeding—if you do, you help only the bad breeder.