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What breed is my cat? How to dig into kitty’s family tree

Here's what you need to know if you want to find out what breed your cat is.

Woman wondering what breed her cat is

From the minute you met your sweet feline companion, you may have fallen in love with their unique personality and adorable features. But beyond that cute face, how much do you actually know about your cat — especially if you adopted them from an animal rescue or stray litter? Some days, while gazing upon your feline friend with admiration, you might even ask yourself, “What breed is my cat anyway?” 

“Many people view their cat as part of the family and enjoy discovering their cat’s lineage or ancestry,” notes Rachel Geller, a doctor of education and certified cat behaviorist with Wellness Natural Pet Food. But beyond figuring out where those stripes or that dense fluffiness comes from, Geller points out, many behavioral patterns can also be specific to your cat’s breed. For example, Burmese cats will often play fetch. So it stands to reason that you’d want to understand your cat’s lineage in order to better appreciate their idiosyncrasies. 

But pinpointing a cat’s family line is a bit trickier than you might realize. Here, what experts say you need to know to get closer to finding out what kind of cat you have.

What you need to know about cat breeds in general

There are 73 types of purebred cats recognized by the International Cat Association, the world’s largest genetic registry of pedigree cats. However, there are as many as 300-400 different breeds of dogs, depending on which registries you include, notes Jo Myers, a licensed veterinarian with JustAnswer.  

“Most cat breeds weren’t developed until within the last one hundred years, so the existence of purebred cats is a recent phenomenon,” says Myers. “As a result of this, most cats on the planet today haven’t come about as the result of any type of intentional breeding.”  

“What I usually explain to owners is if they have a purebred cat, they probably already know about it.”

— STACY CHOCZYNSKI JOHNSON, DOCTOR OF VETERINARY MEDICINE

In other words, when you adopt a cat from a local rescue, they’re most likely a mix of a variety of cat types. 

“What I usually explain to owners is if they have a purebred cat, they probably already know about it,” says Stacy Choczynski Johnson, a doctor of veterinary medicine and veterinary expert for Pumpkin Pet Insurance. “It has papers, it came from a breeder, and it was an intentional breeding.”

If you have a mixed breed cat, then you’re mostly just guessing if an ancestor was a unique breed, points out Johnson. Still, that doesn’t stop many people — Johnson’s clients among them — from wondering, “What type of cat do I have?”

Which characteristics might offer clues to a cat’s breed

If your cat is big-boned, you might be quick to assume that their ancestor was a Maine Coon. Maybe they’re calmer and more docile than the average cat, so you might think they have some Ragdoll in their blood. Not so fast. “A lot of cat characteristics are recessive genes,” says Johnson. “So once we get a mixed cat, we might not see those features come through. So they might just look like a domestic shorthair or longhair. We wouldn’t necessarily see the same unique features that we see in purebred cats.”

Nonetheless, Johnson suggests looking to the following traits when trying to learn more about your cat’s lineage:

Size

“If it’s extraordinarily small or extraordinarily large, that’s going to be important,” she notes. “For instance, Maine Coons are huge. So if the bone structure is big, Maine Coon might be the answer.” 

And if your cat is tiny — say, weighing less than 10 pounds — and not necessarily the runt of its litter, it’s possible it’s descended from a Munchkin, Scottish Fold, American Curl, or Singapura — all of which are small. 

Hair length

“We’re always looking at hair length,” notes Johnson. “Longhair cats might be like the Turkish Angoras, which are beautiful and rare, or Persians and Ragdolls.” 

If your cat is hairless, on the other hand, it could be a Sphynx or a Dwelf, which is a mix of the Sphynx, Munchkin and the American Curl. 

Face shape 

If your cat has what looks like more of a smushed-in, flat face, it could be descended from a Persian, Himalayan, or Burmese, explains Johnson. 

Siamese also have a “classic face look,” she adds. In fact, they have a unique “eye behavior.” “I often joke with clients, but if you have a cat that has crossed eyes or an eye tick, that is classic for a Siamese, and it’s normal for them,” explains Johnson.

Temperament

Most mixed breed cats have their own unique personalities that aren’t necessarily tied to their lineage, notes Johnson. But if your cat has a significantly chill demeanor or active one, that could offer a clue as to the breed of their ancestors. “Ragdolls do tend to be kind of floppy and calm, whereas Bengals, for instance, are very spirited cats,” says Johnson. 

Health issues that might point to a cat’s breed

It is true that there are some cat breeds that are more prone to certain diseases, says Geller. For example, Bengals are prone to kidney disease, Maine Coons have a higher incidence of cardiomyopathy and Ragdolls are susceptible to hyperthyroidism. So it makes sense why you might want to get ahead of any health concerns by learning about your cat’s background.

How you can test to tell what kind of cat you have

If you want a slightly more definitive answer, you can look into getting a cat ancestry test done. Based on your cat’s DNA, the $120 test, offered by some veterinarians and veterinary genetics labs, can isolate the markers that can determine the type of cat your feline friend is most likely descended from, according to the UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory in Davis, California.

Cat ancestry tests also take into consideration the key traits like coat length and fur pattern.

But in general, Johnson reassures cat parents that knowing your feline’s genetic background won’t change much in terms of their medical care. 

“When we have more genetic variation coming together in an animal, we’re less likely to have manifestations of diseases.”

— STACY CHOCZYNSKI JOHNSON

Why a mixed breed cat might be the best breed 

What’s more, she notes, the mixed breed cats have what’s referred to as hybrid vigor working in their favor. “When we have more genetic variation coming together in an animal, we’re less likely to have manifestations of diseases,” explains Johnson. 

The bottom-line: “We can all absolutely appreciate the beauty and allure of the purebred cat,” says Johnson. “But at the same time, ultimately, we’re looking for a good match for our family.” No matter what breed they’re descended from, a rescue — categorized simply as domestic shorthair or longhair — could end up being your greatest companion.