All About Cat Shows

The owner of this oriental shorthair cat has added personalized flair to its cage at the CFA's International Cat Show.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Do you think dogs get all the glory? Do you admire cats for their superior class and dignity? Have you never forgiven Disney for vilifying Siamese cats in "Lady & the Tramp?" If you think cats have just as much or more of the "right stuff" to strut than dogs, you're not alone. Though they aren't quite as popular and well-known as dog shows, cat shows have a significant and devoted following.

Organizations like the Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) in the U.S., the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) in U.K. and the International Cat Association (TICA) put on hundreds of different kinds of cat shows each year. Modern cat shows started in London in 1871. In the U.S., the CFA came about by 1906 and has been organizing cat shows ever since. The CFA-Iams Cat Championship, held each year in Madison Square Garden, is the cat version of the Westminster dog show with 325 cats competing. The CFA International Cat Show holds competitions among 850 cats in a different city every year, and more than a thousand compete in GCCF's annual Supreme Cat Show.


Although the structure and rules are similar in some respects, cat and dog shows can be as different as the personalities of cats and dogs themselves. If you ever go to a cat show, you'll probably notice the quirky atmosphere, complete with elaborately decorated and customized cat cages. Cat shows are also usually pretty hectic and noisy events with people screaming out judging numbers and the occasional spooked-cat escape.

So, even if you don't plan to enter your cat into the competition, attending a cat show is a unique and fun experience where you can see beautiful specimens of different breeds and learn more about cats in general. On the next few pages, we'll delve into the world of cat shows. What do cat judges look for and what should you know before entering your cat into competition?


Criteria for Judging Show Cats

The better this Maine coon conforms to its breed standard, the better it would score in a cat show.
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Much like dog shows, the judges at cat shows compare cats to their breed standard. Organizations like the CFA establish standards for every cat breed. These standards specify how an ideal cat of a breed would look and act. The more standards a competing cat fulfills, the better it will score. The standards aspire to describe features that draw from the natural style of a breed. But also, judges look for overall balance and proportion in a cat's features, rather than exactly conforming mathematical measurements [source: CFA]. Occasionally, the CFA's breed council will alter breed standards as breeds develop.

You can find standards for all 41 CFA-recognized breeds on the CFA's page on breed standards. Based on CFA's standards, the Maine coon cat should follow these standards, which reflect the cat's endurance for a difficult climate:


  • Medium or large size, muscular body with no exaggerated features
  • Legs are straight and strong
  • Heavy coat of silky, smooth fur that is shorter on shoulders than on the underside or rear-end (various colors depend on pattern and class)
  • Head should be longer than it is wide with a firm chin and a square snout
  • Profile is smooth and continuous
  • Ears are pointed and large
  • Eyes can be big and expressive, and green, gold, coppery or blue (depending on the coat color and pattern).
  • Neck is of medium length
  • Paws are large and round
  • Tail fur is long and tapers

Different features have different importance, which is reflected in the point values. For instance, the standards indicate that the head is overall worth 30 points (with the shape worth 15, the ears 10, and the eyes five). Allene Tartagalia, executive director of the CFA, discusses for CNN how temperament also plays an important part in judging cats. If a cat eschews the spotlight, it won't have a very good chance of winning, despite its physical attributes.

Of course, these standards and point values are different for every breed, and at shows that compare all breeds, judges must be familiar with a wide breadth of information to judge different breeds against each other. In this respect, dog and cat shows are very similar. However, unlike dog shows, many cat shows incorporate a household cat category in which cats are not judged by breed standards. Instead, judges critique cats in the household category based on physical condition, beauty, personality (such as playfulness and poise) and show presence [source: Davis]. As you might have guessed, judging household cats on these loose terms can make it harder to be objective.

On the next page, learn how cat show competitors are divided into classes and how your cat could become a champion.


The Cat Show Process: Classes

For the CFA, a cat show consists of several simultaneous shows going on in different rings, each with a different judge. Usually, regional specialty cat shows only include cats from a particular breed or color division. On the other hand, cats can compete against other breeds in all-breed shows. The owners receive a cage number and find their benched cage, where they wait to be called to the judges' rings. When called, the owner brings the cat to the cages in each of the different rings for judges to take the cat out out, inspect it and rate it. Each ring has a ring clerk and a ring steward who help everything run smoothly by maintaining records, calling numbers and keeping cages clean between cats. Each cat show also has a master clerk to keep records organized.

The process and awards a cat gets depend on which class it is in. The classes are:


  • Championship: Cats that are not spayed or neutered who are at least eight months old compete for championship titles in this class.
  • Premiership: Spayed or neutered cats that would otherwise qualify for competing in the championship class compete for premier titles.
  • Provisional: This class includes cat breeds that the CFA has not yet fully recognized. The CFA accepts breeds into this class temporarily on their road to full championship status. If a cat is of a breed in this class, it can compete to win Best of Breed but cannot go on to finals.
  • Kitten: Cats in this class are between four and eight months old (regardless of whether they are spayed or neutered).
  • Miscellaneous: This includes breeds that have not yet achieved provisional status. Although owners can exhibit these breeds at shows, they cannot compete for awards.
  • Veteran: Cats in this class are at least seven years old. However, owners have the choice to enter these cats in other qualifying classes as well.
  • Household pet: Any cat that has not been declawed but has been spayed or neutered after eight months can enter this class.

In a specialty show, cats compete against others of the same sex and coat color first. After cats reach eight months old, an unaltered cat (not spayed or neutered) starts competition in the open category in the championship class. An altered cat (spayed or neutered cat) enters the open category for premiership class.

On the next page, we'll discuss what the awards at a cat show mean and how a cat claws its way up the show ladder.



The Cat Show Process: Awards

This Persian cat came in fourth best of breed and received two Winner's Ribbons at the CFA International Cat Show.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Each cat show consists of various individual judging rings. Because each ring has a judge, and each judge gives out awards, cats might win certain awards in one ring, but not in another ring. Different shows give out different awards, but the CFA explains the major ones.

Starting with the open categories, a judge will inspect and award first (blue), second (red) and third (yellow) place ribbons to males, and then to the females. Usually, the first-place cats also get a winner's ribbon (which are striped red, white and blue). After a cat wins six winner's ribbons in the open category, it earns the title of champion, and goes on to compete against other champions. After champions earn 200 points, they become grand champions [source: CFA].


Altered cats go through a similar process but compete for premiership. In this class, a cat becomes a premier after six winner's ribbons and becomes a grand premier after earning 75 points [source: CFA].

The kittens (altered or unaltered) who haven't reached the age of eight months compete for first through third place, but don't get winner's or best-of-breed ribbons. Household pets cannot win these awards either. Rather, judges give merit awards (red and white striped ribbons) to household pets.

After a judge has evaluated the open category, he will go on to judge champions and premiers. With the sexes still separated, the judges award first, second and third places to males and then to females. He does the same thing after moving on to grand champions and grand premiers. The awards are as follows:

  • Best-of-color class (black ribbon) and second best-of-color class (white ribbon): If judges inspected cats separated into color groups, which is customary in a specialty show, the judge evaluates the males and females together, giving out these two awards.
  • Best-of-breed or division (brown ribbon) and second best-of-breed or division (orange ribbon): These awards are presented after a judge evaluates all colors of a breed (or a particular division of the show).
  • Best champion/premier of breed or division (purple ribbon): The judge focuses only on the champions or only the premiers for this award. Winning this award can help a champion earn points toward becoming a grand champion. The best champion gets a point for every champion it defeated, and likewise for premiers who could potentially become grand premiers.

Lastly, a judge holds finals, where the judge's top ten favorite cats get rosette ribbons.

When cats compete in the "big leagues" of cat shows, all-breed shows such as the CFA-Iams Cat Championship, they aspire to the highest award of all: best-in-show. Some all-breed shows incorporate a competition for household pets as well.

After learning about all these awards and considering the different rings, it's understandable why cat shows can get so hectic and usually span two days. If you feel your cat has what it takes to show off, you might be surprised how much hard work and dedication it will demand. Learn about what's involved in entering and competing in a cat show on the next page.


Entering a Cat in a Show

Before you decide to enter your cat into a show, the experts recommend attending shows as a spectator at first. This will allow you to get a good grasp on what's going on and get familiar with the atmosphere. Also, it's a good idea to get a hold of some cat magazines to learn more about the culture and information out there on cats. In addition, certain cat publications will list the schedule of shows.

Making sure your cat is up to the task is tantamount to deciding whether to enter a show. Many cats don't appreciate being handled by strangers in an unfamiliar environment. This could cause your cat undue stress.


If you think your pedigreed cat should compete to be a champion or premier and you don't plan to enter your cat into the household pet category, get a copy of the breed standards for your cat's breed. You can get these from whichever governing organization (such as the CFA) you'd like to register your cat. Get familiar with these standards so that you have a good idea what judges will look for in your cat. Learn how to groom your cat to make it look its best.

Organizations often require that you register your cat with them or an affiliated group before you can exhibit them at a show. Often, requirements stipulate that your cat be healthy and vaccinated before you can show them. Make sure you can get his documentation from your vet. Once you register your cat, you can fill out an entry form to enter a show. Because of deadlines and the time it takes to enter you, make sure you send in this paperwork ahead of time, allowing about two months before the show.

Once you've jumped through all the administrative hoops to get your cat entered and it's finally show time, here are some tips from people experienced in cat shows:

  • Show up early to find your benched cage.
  • Bring a copy of your cat's vaccination documentation in case someone asks you for it.
  • Make sure you have food and water as well as dishes for your cat.
  • Bring a litter box.
  • Bring toys to keep the cat entertained.
  • Make sure you have all the necessary supplies for grooming.

[source: Davis]

Also, if you must take a flight to the show from out of town, bring your cat on board with you, instead of storing it in cargo space. Cat show experts also warn that getting into the big-time world of competition often requires a significant investment of time and patience. It is not uncommon for owners to spend hours grooming their show cats. In addition, costs of supplies rack up quickly. For instance, show cats might require several expensive combs and brushes for different areas of the body as well as shampoos and various other grooming supplies.

For more information on cat shows and how you can turn your feline into a champion, investigate the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "About the Show." CFA International Cat Show. (March 20, 2008)
  • "All those Ribbons!" Cat Fanciers' Association. (March 20, 2008)
  • "Cats Vie to be Pick of the Litter." (March 20, 2008)
  • "CFA Breed Standards." Cat Fanciers' Association. (March 20, 2008)
  • "CFA Breeds." Cat Fanciers' Association. (March 20, 2008)
  • "CFA Shows." Cat Fanciers' Association. (March 20, 2008)
  • "Exhibitor Info." CFA-Iams Cat Championship. (March 20, 2008)
  • "Feline like cats that got the cream!" Birmingham Evening Mail. Nov. 18, 2007.
  • "Ready… Set… Show." Cat Fanciers' Association. (March 20, 2008)
  • "Spectator Brochure - inside." Cat Fanciers' Association. (March 20, 2008)
  • "Spectator Brochure - outside." Cat Fanciers' Association. (March 20, 2008)
  • "Welcome." CFA-Iams Cat Championship. (March 20, 2008)
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  • Helgren, J. Anne. "Himalayan Cats." Barron's Educational Series, 2006. (March 20, 2008)
  • Peters, Sharon L. "'Here, kitty, kitty, jump through the hoop'; Agility contests are felines' next big step." USA Today. Jan. 28, 2008. (March 19, 2008)
  • Soden, Blair. "Cats Primped and Fluffed for 'Best of Best.'" ABC News. Oct. 14, 2007. (March 20, 2008)