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Even though your cat is unique, you’ll find that they share lots of similarities with others of the same breed. Their tufted ears, the golden eyes or the loud meow may even come from a purebred ancestor. But how many cat breeds are there, anyway?
The History of Cat Breeds
According to National Geographic, cats first started hanging around human settlements and eating the rodents that threatened our grain stores as early as eight thousand years ago. It wasn't until the nineteenth century, however, that cat fanciers started breeding cats deliberately for a specific appearance or demeanour. A select few cats, such as the Egyptian Mau, mostly resemble their wild ancestors from the deserts of the Middle East (or in the case of the Maine Coon, snowy North America). But overall, most breeds are the result of human tinkering with one of nature's most purr-fect animal companions.
Unlike dogs, cats have changed very little genetically from the wild cats that first hung around our ancient farms. Since cats were never bred for specific hunting or herding tasks the way dogs were, their variations are more subtle than, say, the difference between a Rottweiler and a beagle.
How Many Breeds Are There?
Finding out how many cat breeds exist in the world depends on where you look for your information. International cat registries and other organisations all list different qualifications for the breeds they accept, and the total number varies among them—though there are far fewer recognised cat breeds than there are dog breeds. While Encyclopaedia Britannica only lists fifteen cat breeds, The International Cat Association, the world's largest genetic registry of pedigreed cats, recognises seventy-three different kinds. Many other well-recognised registries and associations tend to fall between those two numbers.
For example, The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF), the UK’s premier cat registration body, recognises 40 different breeds as of 2022. The Fédération Internationale Féline, with member organisations in forty countries, recognises forty-eight breeds broken down into four categories.
There are a few reasons why various associations qualify cat breeds differently. The simplest reason is the overall classification. Some registries won't consider non-pedigreed cats that don't have their parents' names and breeds traced back a certain number of generations. Additionally, some associations include multiple types of cats in one classification, while others separate them into their own categories.
So, how many cat breeds are there? There's no single determined number — just one more piece of evidence that cats like to follow their own rules.
Are New Cat Breeds Ever Accepted?
Generally, the breed lists accepted by registries often stay the same. However, new breeds are occasionally developed or introduced to the country and aim for recognition. For example, the GCCF granted preliminary recognition to the Lykoi breed in 2020.
Cat breeds are also often developed from a few cats that shared a certain genetic trait. If that trait is poorly understood or connected to a genetic tendency for a certain disease, breeding can become controversial. The GCCF and other organisations maintain strict rules for breeders to ensure that purebred cats are healthy and not predisposed to inherited disorders.
Whether a cat has blue eyes, five toes or a gorgeous set of stripes, the best kind of cat is the one that wants to come home with you! There are thousands of cats in shelters that may not be purebred, but are waiting for you to give them a forever home. If you're trying to learn more about your own cat's breed or are considering adopting a new cat, take some time to learn about their unique breed traits. Your vet will be able to provide you with the best information about your pet and what they need to be happy and healthy. Also, don't forget to check out mix-breed cats, too. There are thousands of these cats available for adoption every year in the United Kingdom, many of which carry similar genetic traits of the pedigreed cats that form their ancestry. When it comes to loving a cat, it doesn't matter how many breeds there are because the best cat for you will have its own unique traits that you can't help but fall for.
Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative non-fiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.
Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA