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CFA Breed Standards: Structure

In order to embody the aesthetic qualities of beauty, grace and agility that epitomize the cat, the ideal show cat reflects excellent health and sound structure. Variations in structure help differentiate and distinguish the pedigreed cat breeds. Though individual breed standards sometimes describe unusual physical traits, the ideal show cat is free of any characteristics, exaggerated or otherwise, which cause discomfort or jeopardize health and well-being.


The mature skull, regardless of head shape - long, medium or short - is smooth without undesirable depressions or protuberances. The eyes are clear and bright with coordinated movement. Breathing is effortless. The mouth closes with proper occlusion. The face and jaw are symmetrical and aligned.

Skeletal Frame

The skeletal frame, regardless of size - small, medium or large - functions with symmetry and balance. The vertebrae are aligned without fixation or deviation. The spine is supple and the joints are flexible. The legs are parallel and fully support weight and movement.

Body Substance

The body shape, regardless of style - short or long, round or tubular - is smoothly contoured from the gentle outward curve of the chest to the softer continuous line of the abdomen. The muscular development of the shoulders, midsection and hindquarters reflects strength and compatibility with the body style.


It must never be forgotten that the cat is a living, breathing, moving, being. Sound structure and function is integral to the pursuit of the aesthetic.

Recognizing Normal and Abnormal

The following descriptions and drawings of "normal" and "abnormal" are offered as an educational tool to help develop and refine the ability of cat fanciers to recognize and select against undesirable and potentially harmful physical characteristics.

Some abnormalities may merely affect the visual image of the ideal show cat. Others, in addition to being heritable, may cause discomfort or even be severely detrimental to the health and well-being of the cat.

INHERITANCE OF DEFECTS: The cause of many structural abnormalities cannot be determined with certainty. Heredity, abnormal embryonic development, and poor nutrition can result in apparent defects. Some problems are known to be inherited as autosomal dominant or recessive. Many are believed to be heritable because they occur with greater frequency in certain families of related cats, but the mode of inheritance is not yet known. Others are caused by the inheritance of several genes which work in combination (polygenic). Occasionally a defect can be either genetic or not. (For example, cleft palate is often genetic but can also result from intrauterine exposure to certain drugs.)

ELIMINATION OF DEFECTS: In some cases where the abnormality does not cause discomfort to the cat and other options are few, it may be necessary and appropriate to breed from a cat showing a minor expression of a defect. This does not mean that the cat should be shown with expectation of reward on the show bench. Judges help to promote the elimination of defects by recognizing and rewarding cats with structural soundness on the show bench. It is hoped that the material contained within this brochure will help develop and refine the breeders' ability to recognize and select against undesirable and potentially harmful traits.

1. August J: Feline Internal Medicine. W.B. Saunders Co., 1991
2. Clark R (ed.): Medical, Genetic & Behavioral Aspects of Purebred Cats. Forum Publications,Inc., St. Simons Is., 1992.
3. Gilbert E & Brown T: K9 Structure & Terminology. Howel Book House, New York, 1995.
4. Pedersen N: Feline Husbandry. American Veterinary Publications, Inc., 1991. (See note below)
5. Robinson R: Genetics for Cat Breeders. 3rd ed. Pergamon Press, London, 1993.
6. Thomas C (ed.): Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary. F.A. Davis Co., Philadelphia, 1973.

Feline Husbandry is out of print, but used copies are sometimes available through

PDF files of the chapters in this book by Dr. Pedersen are available for free download on the UC Davis Center for Companion Animal Health web site.

Text: Gayle Hand, Joan Miller, Betty White
Illustrations: Leslie Falteisek