Updated on: November 3, 2020

Do you know how to tell what kind of cat you have? If you didn’t get your cat from a breeder, chances are you aren’t sure exactly how to tell what he or she is.

Knowing what kind of cat you have helps you in many ways. You’ll know if your cat is behaving normally and whether or not he has any elevated health risks. You’ll be able to tell if he’ll get along with other pets and people, and whether or not you should change his diet. By learning how to identify cat breeds, you can get to know your cat better than ever.

cat breed

What are a few of the ways you can determine the breed of your cat?

Start with Appearance

You can learn a lot about your cat based on how he or she looks.

Take size and shape, for example. Certain cats are known to be a certain size. Some breeds must be within a certain size range to officially be a purebred member of that breed. But even if your cat isn’t purebred, if he’s noticeably smaller or larger than average, you might be able to determine one of the breeds that were an ancestor of your cat.

For instance, Norwegian forest cats tend to be long and large. Bengals are bigger than most, athletic, and muscular. Burmese cats are on the petite side.

Size alone won’t give you a definitive answer when it comes to the breed of your cat, but it will help you narrow down possible breeds.

Compare Coats

Your cat’s fur is a major indicator of his or her breed. Certain patterns are distinct to certain breeds. If your cat has a tortoise, calico, or tabby pattern, you’ll know that at least one relative is that breed. It’s also possible for particular combinations to create new patterns, so if you see a blend of two patterns, you can narrow down the breed of your cat even more precisely. Combined with other breed-specific traits, your cat’s coat is a major identifying factor.

Look at the Head and Eyes

Anyone even vaguely familiar with the small, slanted eyes of a Siamese cat knows how important eye shape is for determining breed. Head shape is equally important. Siamese cats tend to have triangular-shaped ears and heads.

Your cat’s eye color also offers insight into its breed. Many cats have yellow or green eyes, but this isn’t always the case. If your cat’s eyes are blue or gold, it almost certainly means there is Turkish Van in its ancestry.

Cat DNA Testing

If you still aren’t sure of your cat’s breed after observing the trains already listed, you have the option of using a DNA test to determine your cat’s ancestry.

Cat DNA tests are non-invasive and fairly affordable. They can help you determine:

  • Various breeds that make up your cat
  • Whether your cat is at any risk for genetic disorders
  • Why your cat looks and acts like he does
  • Whether your cat is related to a wild or big cat

There are two ways to collect your cat’s DNA: you can either use a buccal swab or collect your cat’s loose fur. The swab is a bit more of a challenge to gather, but it tends to be more accurate. Neither of the options is painful or messy. Once you’ve collected the sample, you mail it to the testing company and you’ll get your results in a few weeks.

Difference between Domestic and Purebred

The majority of cats in American households are domestic. Very few people have purebred cats, but they are out there. 

If your cat’s ancestors were all the same breed or if there was controlled cross-breeding according to certain standards, your cat is considered purebred.

Domestic cats can be short, medium, or long-haired. Domestic cats are a menagerie of different breeds. They can be fat, thin, large, petite, different coated, and have vastly different personalities. These are the most common types of cats in the world. Domestic cats have a variety of different coat patterns and characteristics, including:

Tabby

Tabby is the most common type of domestic cat. They have coats in all colors, ranging from black to blue to red to cream to silver to brown. Their patterns include swirls, dots, dashes, stripes, and more. Many have an M pattern on the center of their forehead above their eyes.

Calico

Calico cats come in a variety of different colors, including orange, blue-gray, white, flax, and black and white. Calicos tend to be female. Many purebred cats also have calico coats.

Tortoiseshell

Tortoiseshell cats have coats that are made up of two colors. It can include different combinations of black, brown, blue, gray, and red. The color combinations are patched or brindled. Sometimes their patches are tabby-patterned. It is difficult in some cases to tell the difference between a calico and a tortoiseshell, but one of the most obvious indicators is that white fur means your cat is calico. Tortoiseshell cats have no white fur. Some of the purebreds that make up tortoiseshells include Japanese Bobtail and Cornish Rex.

Tuxedo

Tuxedo cats, as you might guess from the name, are black and white. Most of their white markings are on their face, feet, legs, and chest. Tuxedos can be domestic breeds, but are also in some of the purebred families, including Devon Rex, Cornish Rex, Persian, Maine Coon, and Manx.

Most domestic cats have a similar look and lack the truly distinctive features of many purebreds. For example, most domestics don’t have smashed faces or lack fur, as specific breeds of cats do. But they might have a hint of some of these purebred features if a parent or grandparent was a purebred cat.

The bottom line when it comes to identifying your cat breed?

The only way you can tell for certain what kind of cat you have if your cat is a domestic is to conduct a DNA test. This way you’ll see genetic evidence of the breeds that make up your pet.

Joel is a writer with a passion for the science of DNA and the power of its manipulation.
Resources

“Basic Feline Genetics – The Cat Fanciers’ Association, Inc.” Cfa.Org, cfa.org/basic-feline-genetics/.

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