The Most Popular Cat Breeds in the Year 2001

Since 1981, America's owned pet cat population has increased by a staggering 30 million, according to a study conducted by the Pet Food Institute. During the same period, the number of pet dogs grew by 5 million – still a healthy increase, but nothing like the cat's growing popularity. And why shouldn't cats be popular? They more easily fit into our busy lifestyles than do dogs, and while you can't go to the park and play fetch with Fluffy, you don't have to housebreak and walk her each day, either. With their clean, quiet habits and relatively easy care, cats adapt well to apartment and indoor living.

Along with the popularity of random-bred cats, interest in purebred cats has grown as well, although purebred numbers are down from years past. While pedigreed cats have not attained the popularity purebred dogs have, the cat fancy – the term for the group of people involved in showing and breeding pedigreed cats – has an enthusiastic following dedicated to preserving and promoting our beautiful purebreds.

The CFA's Top Ten in 2001

Each year, the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) compiles breed registration totals for each of the 40 pedigreed breeds it recognizes. Since the CFA is the world's largest cat registry, these registration totals are good indicators of overall popularity.

The envelope, please – 2001's top ten cat breeds are:


To say the Persian is popular is an understatement. This breed, with its laid-back, affectionate personality and long, lovely locks, has held the number one spot for decades. Despite their special needs – the breed requires daily grooming to keep that long silky fur mat-free – the Persian has been a favorite since the cat fancy began in 1871. Why? Fans say they prize these cats for their sweet personalities. Persians form strong bonds of loyalty and love with their owners. In 2001, 23,362 Persians were registered with CFA, down from 25,524 in 2000, 30,656 in 1999, and 35,490 in 1998. Although numbers have dropped, the Persian's place as top cat is in no danger. In CFA, the Himalayan is considered a division of the Persian breed, and also ranks high in popularity.

Maine Coon

The made-in-America Maine coon has held the position of second most popular breed since 1992, according to CFA's registration totals. Large, rugged, and hardy, these incredible hulks have hearts to match their size – their gentle, loving temperaments have given this breed its number two spot in the popularity polls. And although they have long fur, their coats don't require as much grooming as the Persian's. With 4,485 registrations in 2001, down from 4,599 in 2000, 4,642 in 1999, and 4,756 in 1998, this breed has nearly twice the number of its next competitor.


Shoving the Siamese out of the coveted position of most popular shorthair, the exotic is third most popular overall with 2,321 cats registered, up from 2,094 in 2000, 2,198 in 1999 and 2,165 in 1998. Called the exotic shorthair by some cat associations, the exotic is essentially a shorthaired Persian and is gaining popularity with people who love the Persian personality and body type but hate the drudgery of daily grooming. The exotic's short, dense coat needs only a twice a week combing.


Arguably the most widely recognized breed in the known universe, the Siamese has enjoyed a long popularity that's showing no sign of waning. The cat's distinctive pointed pattern, trim body, big ears, and gregarious, talkative nature continues to charm cat lovers world wide. Until the upset by the exotic last year, the Siamese had been the most popular shorthair for decades. In 2001, the CFA registered 1,986 Siamese, down from 2,131 in 2000, 2,389 in 1999, and 2,492 in 1998.


Prized for her active, people-oriented personality and colorful ticked coat, the Abyssinian has been in the top five for many years. Abys are favorites with folks who like interactive cats that give you more for your entertainment dollar by performing daring high-wire acts and clown-like antics. Allegedly, these cats are the descendants of the felines worshiped in ancient Egypt, although some dispute this. In 2001, 1,609 were registered with CFA, down from 1,683 in 2000, 1,962 in 1999, and 2,012 in 1998.


The Oriental has the body type and personality of the Siamese but
comes dressed in two hair lengths and virtually every color and pattern in the cat spectrum. This breed is popular with those who love the Siamese but who crave creative packaging options. The colorful exterior and the pleasing personality have earned the breed an enthusiastic following. With 988 registrations in 2001, the Oriental ranks sixth overall. However, since both Oriental shorthairs and longhairs are included in that total (with shorthairs numbering 927 and longhairs numbering 61), the Oriental ranks as the sixth most popular shorthair, with the American shorthair taking fourth place and the Burmese taking fifth. As with many breeds, the Oriental numbers have dropped in recent years, down from 1,085 in 2000, 1,210 in 1999, and 1,305 in 1998.

American Shorthair

The American shorthair moved up a notch in 2001 from eighth to seventh most popular breed with 968 registrations, up from 885 in 2000, and down from 986 in 1999 and 1,001 in 1998. This breed, whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower (or so the story goes), is a national treasure that's as all American as the Fourth of July. The ASH is popular for her comfortably familiar, middle-of-the-road body style and laid back, affectionate personality. However, while the ASH may look a little like your average random-bred feline, she has a long history of selective breeding and is just as pure bred as any other pedigreed cat.


The Burmese boldly went from tenth place up to eighth in 2001. Known as one of the most devoted and affectionate cat breeds, the Burmese is increasing in popularity because of her loving and playful temperament and attractive exterior. The Burmese is solidly built and has a short, glossy, easy-care coat that comes in four decorator colors. In 2001, 933 Burmese were registered with CFA, up from 846 in 2000, 923 in 1999, and 844 in 1998. The CFA also recognizes the European Burmese, which possesses the more moderate head and body type that some fanciers prefer, but this variety is rare, ranking 35th out of 40 breeds in 2001.


The Birman, on the other hand, slipped a bit in 2001. She went from seventh most popular to ninth, with 878 registrations, down from 998 in 2000, 1017 in 1999, and 896 in 1998. Nevertheless, the Birman has many devoted fans. Also called the sacred cat of Burma, the Birman is arguably one of the most beautiful breeds. Her body style strikes a happy medium between the Siamese and the Persian, and her face is moderate and sweet. Long, silky fur, the pointed pattern, blue eyes, and a matching set of white boots add to the breed's beauty. The colorful legends that surround the breed only serve to make the Birman even more appealing to the fanciers of this breed.


Booting out the Scottish fold, the Tonkinese took over as tenth most popular breed for 2001. The Tonk, as she is affectionately called, is growing in popularity because of her silky mink-soft coat, middle-of-the-road styling, and gregarious, fun-loving, affectionate personality. The Tonkinese rose from twelfth to tenth place last year with 830 registrations in 2001, up from 803 in 2000, and down from 867 in 1999 and 871 in 1998, when she also made the top ten. Originally created by a deliberate crossing of the Burmese and the Siamese, the Tonk is a hybrid designed to possess the best qualities of both parent breeds. The Tonkinese is a happy medium – neither streamlined like the Siamese nor stocky like the Burmese. This breed often appeals to cat lovers who favor the moderate body and head type of the traditional Siamese.

Runners up include the Cornish rex, number 11 with 794 registrations in 2001, the Scottish fold, number 12 with 785, the Devon rex, number 13 with 734, and the ocicat, number 14 with 646. The Bengal, a breed originally created by crossing domestic cats with Asian leopard cats, also has a large and enthusiastic following and could very well fall into the top ten if statistics were available. However, since the breed is not accepted by CFA — they do not accept any breed with wildcat blood — no registration figures exist to rate popularity. The other major associations like The International Cat Association (TICA) and the American Cat Fanciers' Association (ACFA) do not compile breed registration totals.

Of course, when it comes to sheer numbers, the random-bred American domestic takes first prize for popularity. According to the 2001-2002 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), 89 percent of the 73,000,000 owned cats in the United States are random-bred domestics. The random-bred cat is not considered a breed as such by the cat associations, but considering that all of our purebred breeds sprang from the random-bred gene pool if you go back far enough, the "ordinary" American domestic deserves as much love and respect as the finest purebred. Non-pedigreed Feline-Americans, say many cat lovers, will always be best in show in U.S. homes and hearts.

Dropping Numbers

In 1991, CFA registered 75,525 pedigreed cats. Just ten years later, in 2001, CFA registered only 47,135. Why the decrease? Fanciers cite numerous reasons, the two most important being the increasing costs of breeding and showing cats, and legislation that restricts breeding. While reducing the number of cats euthanized is vital (The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 4 to 5 million cats and dogs are euthanized yearly, although some claim this estimate is high), limiting purebred breeding will not solve the problem, assert fanciers. According to CFA, breeding ordinances, possession limits, cat licensing and breeder permit laws are ineffective and misdirected, since the majority of cats that end up in shelters are the offspring of unowned ferals and unaltered random-bred cats. Rather than passing legislation, CFA supports educational programs, low cost altering, and feral cat colony management, so purebreds will be around to delight the next generation of fanciers.