By R.R. Holster Jr./PetStation


    "I didn't even know that there were different cat breeds," a man was recently overheard exclaiming. "I thought a cat was a cat... just different colors"

    Ignorant? Perhaps, but the fact is that while the general public can easily discern between a Dalmatian and a Dachshund, and can probably spew out a quick two dozen dog breeds, it is definitely the rare non-cat fancier who can name more than three cat breeds. Siamese, Persian... and the list usually ends there. Say "Maine Coon" and Joe Blow will think you are referring to some kind of raccoon. Mention Abyssinian and Jane Smith will likely conjure images of some ancient Middle Eastern civilization. Even the Mini-Rex rabbit is probably more well-known than any Rex cat.

    Oh, well, these folks just don't know what they are missing, for the world of cat breeds definitely offers much in the way of beauty and intrigue. As it turns out there are dozens of cat breeds, some more popular than others, but each bringing something unique to the realm of cats... and something very special to those who have the pleasure of working with them.

    For those who need to raise their Cat I.Q, here are thumbnail descriptions of some of the more popular cat breeds:


    The cat breed called Abyssinian may or may not have been derived from cats that actually came from this region, but there can be no doubt that this animal reflects the exotic beauty and riches of ancient Abyssinia. Lithe and athletic, the Abyssinian is universally admired among cat enthusiasts, and definitely looks as if it is a direct descendant of the African wildcat. This medium-sized breed sports a short, ticked coat, usually a ruddy or reddish color, but sometimes fawn, blue or other color. The Aby has large upright ears, a fine, thin neck, lion-like tail, and usually gold or green almond-shaped eyes. It is a lively and intelligent breed that makes a very loyal companion.


    "The cat with only one life left" is how one person humorously described the American Bobtail, which can at times appear to have survived some hair-raising experiences. Start with the breed's unique short tail... what misadventure conspired to cause that? The American Bob's overall chunky and sometimes wild-looking physical structure actually camouflage a real charmer on the inside. This medium-to-large breed is for the cat-connoisseur who is looking for an exotic sweetheart.


    As distinctive as the American Bobtail's rear end is the American Curl's front end. With ears that gently curl backwards, this breed is one that is instantly recognizable even though it comes in a wide variety of coat colors. A medium-sized cat, the American Curl is fast gaining popularity due not only to its unique look but also in great measure to its steady and friendly disposition.


    This is the oldest recognized all-American cat breed, and one which has earned great admiration all around the world. The American Shorthair is the classic "tabby"... a well-built, rodent-chasing machine. Because it comes in a multitude of colors and patterns, this medium-to-large sized breed is often confused with a typical alley cat, but actually is a much finer-bred animal. The American Shorthair makes for one of the very best pets due to its sturdiness and laid-back charm.


    This cat type is one of the newest officially recognized breeds, having been developed a scant three decades ago when a litter of very unusual kittens was born in upstate New York. These kittens sported a completely unique coat, wiry and hard... and became the base stock for a brand new breed, the American Wirehair. Their size and proportion closely resemble the American Shorthair, and they are also similar to their American cousins in quiet and loving personality.


    Although not very appropriately named, given the fact that this cat definitely did not come from Bali, there is no doubting that the Balinese is an otherwise outstanding breed. Actually, the "Balinese" is a Siamese with longer hair. This breed shares most of the characteristics of its ancestral stock, including a lively and fun-loving personality. Its beautiful long hair is easy to maintain and comes in a variety of colors, including blue, chocolate, lilac and seal-points. Eyes are blue.


    The name "Bengal" conjures images of the man-eating tigers of India, and while few Bengal breed cats have been known to eat anyone, they do have a definite look about them that suggests their wild forebears. This breed sports leopard-like spots that supposedly are engendered by actual wildcat ancestors. But the wildness is only coat-deep... underneath is a playful, trustworthy pet.


    Generally acknowledged as one of the most beautiful of all cat breeds, the Birman's trademarks are blue eyes, a luxurious, color-pointed coat and white slippers. This is a medium-large breed, stocky and well-built, definitely a cat that will turn heads. Yet beauty alone could not provide the popularity that this cat enjoys. The Birman is also a gentleman or gentlelady as the case may be, making a wonderful pet choice for its lucky keepers.


    If ever there was a cat breed that seems to have jumped straight out of a Halloween fright flick, it is the eerily beautiful Bombay. With its short-haired, jet-black coat and gleaming gold eyes, the Bombay definitely cuts a fine figure. This breed is closely related to the Burmese, from which it was developed in the mid-1960s. This medium-sized, lithely-built cat is quite friendly, cuddly, and usually very self-confident.


    If you know you want a cat, but a teddy bear would be nice also, the British Shorthair is for you. With a face somehow suggesting a hint of Churchill, the Brit is a favorite on both sides of the Pond. Though the most common coat color is blue, this affable fellow comes in other colors as well, all plush as plush can be. Another distinguishing characteristic of the breed is its overall "roundness", a physical trait that only adds to its teddy bear quality.


    The Burmese is a load, both physically and in the personality department. Its hard musculature gives it a weight that is surprising considering its medium-sized appearance. Meanwhile, the breed is notoriously nutty... delighting in fun and games that many cats couldn't imagine. Its growing segment of fanciers greatly appreciate their cats' playfulness, but most are initially drawn to the breed by its sheer beauty. The traditional sable, and newer colors -- blue, champagne, platinum, etc. -- are gorgeous.


    This breed, of French origin, has a long history, only the most recent parts of which have been particularly satisfying for the cats themselves. You see, the Chartreux has one of the most luxurious coats of any cat, and it was prized by 17th and 18th Century Frenchmen not as something to hug and cuddle, but as a nifty thing to wear. Fortunately, being turned into pelts is not a fate awaiting these wonderful, sturdy cats today. The Chartreux comes in strictly a bluish-gray color, with gold to copper eyes.


    This breed, first developed in the late 1940s in Great Britain from Siamese base stock, remains a close off-shoot of the Siamese; indeed, some consider the Colorpoint Shorthair simply a different-colored Siamese. But others (particularly those sticklers to the traditional Siamese color schemes) insist that the Colorpoint be considered a different breed. The Colorpoint Shorthair colors are beautiful, whether in red and cream, tabby or tortie points. Otherwise this breed matches the Siamese in size and personality.


    Now, if the Bombay is the prototypical Halloween cat, the Cornish Rex is an image straight out of Saturday morning cartoons. This elongated guy with the wavy coat, curly whiskers and big ears looks like no other, that's for sure. The C.R.'s coat is very unusual in that shedding is kept to a minimum. This breed has a distinctive personality, too., being a very inquisitive, smart and loyal companion. It comes in a wide variety of colors.


    The Devon is seemingly a moderate version of the more austere Cornish Rex, though they actually are entirely separate breeds. The Devon coat is a bit less wavy, and more fluffy, and the body as a whole is a tad less angular, though still quite elongated. Like its Cornish cousin, the Devon is curious, some would say downright nosy... having to be involved in all activities in its household. Also like the Cornish, the Devon Rex sheds very little.


    From the land of the cat goddess Bast -- ancient Egypt -- came the original stock of this exceptional cat breed, one of the oldest in the world, and the only "naturally-spotted" domestic cat. While spots have been achieved on the coats of other cat types by selective breeding, the Mau proudly wears its direct lineage back to its African wildcat ancestors. Inside, however, lurks not the heart and soul of a predator, but of a sweetheart, a great family cat.


    This breed was developed by crossing Persians with various types of shorthairs, including the American, but it definitely retains much of its Persian lineage. The breed comes in a wide range of colors, and sports the Persian face. The coat is the major difference, being of much shorter length and a lot easier to care for. Temperamentally, they are also very similar to Persians, quiet, calm and unassuming, but still very affectionate.


    This breed is another fairly recently developed type, having been systematically derived in the late 1940s in Great Britain. The Havana Brown is a medium-sized cat with a lustrous chocolate coat as its primary calling card. It has rather large ears and a slightly protruding muzzle, and usually glistening green eyes, all of which render it quite unique amongst the cat tribe. The Havana is typically rather quiet, but also ever-playful in wanting to be right in the middle of all the household activity.


    Is there no end to the breeds of cats that are almost assuredly not from the lands for which they are named? The Himalayan is another of such breeds, actually a close relative of the Persian. The major distinguishing factor here is the Himalayan's pointed coat, which run to blue, chocolate, seal, red and cream, tortie, lilac, and lynx versions. The Himalayan shares most of other attributes with the Persian, including its winning personality.


    Well, it seems this breed does actually hail from Japan, and it does have a bobtail, so it is one of the cat breeds that is very accurately named. Bold and striking patterns of white, red and black are the preferred colors for this medium-sized, athletic cat. Though solid colors are also permissible. The bobtail is a naturally-endowed trait, though the tails do vary a bit in size and functionality between individuals. The Japanese Bobtail is a lively companion, usually quite "talkative."


    Back to the fantasy names... the "Javanese" does not come from Java, rather it is a close relation to the Balinese (which, as you recall, doesn't come from Bali), with color schemes very similar to those of the Colorpoint Shorthair. The silky long hair of the Javanese is its principal calling card, though this breed... like all of the Siamese-derived breeds... makes for a wonderful companion as well as a beauty-contest winner.


    This breed hails from Thailand, where it is respected as a "good luck charm" amongst many natives. It is strikingly handsome cat, shimmering a dark silvery-blue, with piercing golden-green eyes. The hair is not long and does not come off as easily as on some breeds. The Korat will usually develop a very close bond with its immediate family, but often does not enjoy intrusions or interruptions by others.


    The "State Cat of Maine" actually does sometimes resemble a raccoon in coat coloration and with its long, bushy tail. This large and heavily-furred breed is well-suited to the rugged winters of New England. Its water-resistant coat is unusual in texture, and is delightful to the touch. The Maine Coon is one of America's oldest cat breeds, originally a mouser-extraordinaire, but now usually a faithful house companion.


    The Manx is a very old English breed, distinguished by its stub tail, or in some cases no tail at all, which actually is preferred for show purposes. Aside from its rare rear, the Manx is a medium-sized cat with usually short (though sometimes long) and dense fur. The breed sports an overall rounded appearance and a family-friendly personality. It is generally not a highly active cat, nor is it extremely vocal. The Manx comes in a very wide range of colors and patterns.


    The lynx-like Norwegian Forest Cat is another large and heavily-furred cat, which sports a range of coloration and a generally delightful personality. It is sometimes compared to the Maine Coon, which it superficially resembles. This breed did (surprise!) develop in the forests of Norway, but it is far from feral now. The long hair of this breed is not as much trouble as one might expect; with just a bit of help the cat keeps it in good shape all on its own.


    Though the patterning on the coat definitely sometimes rings true to its wild Mexican and Central American distant cousin, the Ocicat is really not part Ocelot! In reality, the spots of this cat were achieved through selective breeding of Abyssinian, Siamese and American Shorthair stock. Despite not being a real jungle cat, the Ocicat is definitely a real fine pet.. quite outgoing and friendly, and an excellent family member.


    These breeds, almost identical except for the length of coat, are variations upon the Siamese theme, with a dose of Balinese, Javanese and Colorpoint Shorthair thrown in for good measure. It makes for a beautiful animal, and quite a nice personality package as well. The Shorthair has become one of America's favorite cat types, while the Longhair is one of the newest "official" cat breeds (though not all registries recognize it), having been adopted by the CFA in 1988. Both breeds are generally demonstrative and loving.


    Speaking of popularity, here is Number One insofar as pure-bred cats in the United States are concerned. Persian registrations dwarf all other breeds, and have for what seems like ages. Lovers of these cats just shrug and ask, "why wouldn't they be tops?" Definitely the Persian is a beauty, with a luxuriant coat (that comes in many colors and patterns) unmatched in catdom, and that cute little pinched face. Of course, the coat requires almost daily brushing to keep tidy... this is not the self-cleaning coat of the rugged Norwegian or Maine Coon. The Persian's affable, low-key personality also is a winner. It is the ultimate lap-cat, and its legions of fans are ecstatic with them right there.


    This breed, originally developed in the 1960s in California, was created from the crossing of Persian, Burmese and Birman base stock. The Ragdoll (along with another "rag-type" cat, the Ragamuffin) is fast gaining followers, who are drawn to this breed's unique looks and very sweet temperament. Ragdolls are a color-pointed breed, and come in four colors -- blue, seal, chocolate and lilac, and three patterns. The Ragdoll is typically a large cat, but very laid-back and people-oriented.


    Supposedly an export of Russia, and very definitely always blue...whether it be a dark tone or silvery. The coat is plush but not long, and does not require constant grooming. This is a lithe and athletically-built, medium-sized cat, with large ears and usually golden-green eyes. Though curious, playful and loyal, it can be somewhat shy around strangers or in unfamiliar situations.


    The very unusual folded-forward ears of this breed originated from what is called a "spontaneous mutation" in a Scottish cat back in the early 1960s. Subsequent line-breeding was successful in reproducing the ear-folds. Just a few decades later, the Scottish Fold is one of the rising stars of the cat world. Scottish Folds come in a wide array of colors, but, guess what? Not all have folded ears. It seems that kittens either inherit the folds, or they don't. By the age of four or five weeks, the folds should have appeared, if they are going to.


    Like the two other "Rex" breeds, the Selkirk has a very unusual coat of very wavy or curly, almost sheep-like hair. But this is about all the Selkirk has in common with the other two. Otherwise it more closely resembles the American Shorthair in body type. This is a very new breed, that is not yet recognized by all registries. It usually comes in solid colors, and is typically an affable companion.


    The fabled Siamese cat deserves a nod of special recognition for its grand contribution to so many different breeds available today. Yet the Siamese is holding its own, as well, even in the face of stiff modern competition. Still perhaps the ultimate "people-cat", the beautiful Siamese is the essence of the communicative cat... never failing to explain exactly how it feels about a given situation. Two types seem to have developed -- the "original", elongated shape, and the "traditional", more rounded shape. Both carry the inimitable Siamese personality.


    Another Russian import, this breed has only just arrived on American shores, but is already winning converts. A large, well-furred cat akin to the Norwegian and Maine Coon, the Siberian is adapted to a cold, harsh climate, but also shares the other Northern breeds' tractable temperament. Brown tabby is perhaps the most common color scheme, but many others are available as well. Look for this breed to continue to move upwards on the popularity scale.


    This very pretty breed apparently developed in Singapore from the melange of Asiatic breed types available there. In size and conformation it is reminiscent of the Abyssinian, though coloration is somewhat different. It is usually a grayish-cream, with a white chest and brown ticking on the back. A very outgoing and involved breed, the Singapura rarely encounters someone it doesn't like.


    This interesting breed, which in perfect form sports a white mask and four "snowshoes," is derived from crosses between the Siamese and American Shorthair. It is a medium-sized cat with smooth coat, and often blue eyes. This is a well-proportioned cat with a friendly disposition that probably is going to rise quickly in popularity.


    Somalis are often referred to as the "longhaired version of the Abyssinian." But in reality, they are not really that longhaired... not in the sense, anyway, of a Persian or Manx. The most striking asset of the Somali is its beautiful, bushy tail, which seems more pronounced because the body hair is not that long. Coloration includes a ticked coat along the same color schemes as the Aby. Somalis share the playful, exuberant personality of their Abyssinian cousins, and can generally be counted on to be loving family members.


    The winner, hands down, in the "Most Unusual Cat" category, is the Sphynx, the hairless breed (though it is actually covered with a very soft, fine down). No mistaking these guys, who do look as if they stepped right out of a Pyramid hieroglyph. Despite being relatively hairless, the breed does show coloration of various types and patterns. Though very unusual-looking, the Sphynx is as dependably loving and friendly as one would expect of any of those "other"cats... you know, the ones with fur.


    This breed is closely aligned with the Siamese, with a strong dose of Burmese as well. Tonks are sometimes said to have "mink"-like coats, in texture and color. The come in a range of colors that fit nicely in-between the Siamese and Burmese schemes. Likewise, Tonkinese are very similar in temperament to their twin ancestral lines... communicative and self-confident, they make excellent pets.


    This breed has an interesting history that trails back to Turkey and forward to the brink of near-extinction. Fortunately, the breed was rescued from that fate and now is again delighting cat fanciers worldwide. The breed sports a very luxurious coat, often pure white. These still relatively rare cats have an intelligent and pleasing nature about them as well.


    Quite similar to the Turkish Angora is this breed, which is differentiated mainly by "van" markings on the head and tail. The breed normally appears in white, with a somewhat longhaired coat. The van markings are usually red, blue or black. Inquisitive and social, the Turkish Van is yet another in the long line of excellent pure breeds available to satisfy any cat lover.

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