Cats, with their clean and quiet ways, are becoming increasingly popular pets. A new study sponsored by the Pet Food Institute indicates that in 2000 the number of pet cats in America reached a new high of over 75 million, surpassing dogs by 16 million. So it's not surprising that pedigreed cats have a strong following of fans. While purebred cats have never achieved the popularity purebred dogs enjoy, the cat fancy – the term for the group of people involved in showing and breeding pedigreed cats – has an enthusiastic and devoted following.
Every year the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) compiles breed registration totals for each of the 40 pedigreed cat breeds it accepts. Since CFA is the world's largest cat registry, these registration totals are good indicators of overall popularity. CFA's Top Ten in 2000 Persian: With a long, lovely fur, sturdy design, and sweet disposition, the Persian is top cat, paws and whiskers above the competition, a popularity the breed has enjoyed since the cat fancy began in 1871. In 2000, 25,524 Persians were registered with CFA, which is more than 50 percent of the total number of cats registered. The Persian's numbers are down from 30,656 in 1999 and 35,490 in 1998, quite a hefty change that reflects the overall downward trend in feline registration numbers.
Maine coon: Once scorned as an "ordinary" domestic longhair, the Maine coon is anything but, and is the most popular of the made-in-America breeds. Long, all-weather fur, large, muscular bodies, and gentle personalities give these cats a large fan club. With 4599 new registers in 2000, down from 4,642 registers in 1999 and 4,756 in 1998, this breed is the 2nd only to the Persian in popularity.
Siamese: The Siamese, with a lovely pointed pattern, long, svelte body, and chatty personality, continues to be one of the most popular breeds. The Siamese has been the most popular shorthair for many years. Until 1992, the breed outnumbered even the Maine coon. Since then, the Siamese has been the 3rd most popular breed overall. In 2000, 2,131 were registered, down from 2,389 in 1999 and 2,492 in 1998.
Exotic: Billed as a Persian in pajamas, the exotic is essentially a shorthaired Persian, and is popular with folks who love the Persian body type and personality but hate slaving over a hot cat comb every day. With 2,094 new registrations in 2000, down from 2,198 in 1999 and 2,165 in 1998, the exotic ranks fourth overall and is the 2nd most popular shorthair, surpassed only by the Siamese.
Abyssinian: Active and agile, Abys are prized for their unusual ticked coat, athletic build, and dynamic personality. With 1,683 new registrations in 2000, down from 1,962 in 1999, the Aby is the 5th most popular breed overall and the 3rd most popular shorthair.
Oriental: This breed has the body type and personality of the Siamese but is dressed in a myriad of colors and patterns, making the breed a popular choice for those with a flair for exterior decorating. With 1,085 new registers in 2000, down from 1,210 in 1999 and 1,305 in 1998, the Oriental ranks 6th overall. The Oriental comes in both long and short hair, but the shorthair is more popular. Of the 1,085 registers, 1,021 were shorthairs.
Birman: Also called the sacred cat of Burma, the Birman is a gentle, devoted cat with long, silky fur, pointed pattern, blue eyes, and a matching set of white boots. With 998 new registers in 2000, down from 1,017 registers in 1999 but up from 896 in 1998, the Birman ranks 7th overall and is the 3rd most popular longhair.
American shorthair: This made-in-America breed looks comfortably familiar with a sturdy working-cat body style. Their ancestors earned their keep by ridding colonial barns of rodents. With 885 new registrations in 2000, down from 986 in 1999 and 1,001 in 1998, the American shorthair is the 8th most popular breed overall and the 5th most popular shorthair.
Scottish fold: Known for unique folded ears, this breed is mellow and loving. With 851 registers in 2000, down from 1,007 in 1999 and 1,102 in 1998, the Scottish fold ranks 9th out of the 40 breeds CFA recognizes. The breed comes in both long and short hair but the shorthair is more popular. Of the 1,007 registered, 737 were shorthairs.
Burmese: A solidly built cat with a short, glossy coat, Burmese are prized for their playful, affectionate nature. With 846 new registrations, down from 923 in 1999 but up from 844 in 1998, the Burmese is the 10th most popular overall and the 6th most popular shorthair.
Other popular breeds include the wavy-haired Cornish rex, which ranks 11th. With 807 new registrations for 2000, up from 759 in 1999 and 735 in 1998, the Cornish rex has moved up from 13th in 1999. The Tonkinese, a cross of the Burmese and the Siamese, was close behind with 803 registers, ranking 12th overall and 8th most popular shorthair. The Tonkinese appeals to traditional cat lovers, since the body and head type are moderate and similar to the traditional Siamese. The Bengal, a breed originally created by crossing domestics with Asian leopard cats, is also a very popular breed, but since the breed is not accepted by CFA no registration totals are available.
In 2000, CFA registered 49,551 pedigreed cats, down from 55,645 in 1999 and, staggeringly, down from 84,729 in 1990. Why such a large drop? The reasons are many, say fanciers, but the two main reasons are the increased costs of breeding and showing cats, and recent legislation. CFA, in an article available at their website (www.cfainc.org/articles/face-extinction.html), cites the "restrictive breeding ordinances, possession limits, burdensome cat licensing and breeder permit laws, as well as restraints on the display/exhibition of animals." Cat fanciers say that these well-meaning laws, intended to reduce overpopulation and the many animals euthanized in shelters, target the wrong groups since most shelter cats are not from planned breeding programs.
Rather, they are the offspring of unaltered free-roaming cats and of unowned ferals. "Misdirected, costly and ineffective," says CFA's article, "these laws are punitive toward people who selectively breed to preserve the desirable personality and appearance traits of pedigreed cats." Rather than pass legislation, CFA advocates programs that will educate cat owners, provide low cost spaying and neutering, and manage feral cat colonies, so purebreds will be around for future generations to enjoy.