Group of five kittens sitting together.

Choosing the Right Cat

The needs of cats vary depending on the breed. For example, slender breeds, such as the Siamese, are usually very active and love being part of a family; stockier breeds, such as the British Shorthair, tend to be more laid-back and prefer a quieter life.

One way to find a pedigree is to contact a reputable breeder. Pedigrees can sometimes be found in rescue shelters, too, but most cats in such places will be non-pedigree.

A particular breed may be desirable purely for its appearance: for example, the rich brown coat of the Havana or the thick blue-gray fur of the Chartreux are captivating to many. Some cat lovers are drawn to the ancient mystique of the Egyptian Mau or the eye-catching wild look of the Bengal. Size, temperament, and coat length are also important factors when choosing a breed.

Alternatively, an owner may be happy with a non-pedigree cat, which will be easier to find (more than 95 percent of cats fall into this category) and significantly cheaper to buy.

Size and build

Unlike dogs, cat breeds do not vary greatly in size, but some variety among the breeds does exist. If the cat is to remain indoors in a flat or small home, try one of the smaller breeds. The smallest breeds are the Singapura, Lambkin Dwarf, and Bambino, all of which have the short stature of the Munchkin.

These cats have an adult weight of as little as 5lb (2kg). Other small breeds tend to have a slender Oriental build and include the Bombay, Havana, and Cornish Rex. At the other end of the scale, the heavyweight of breeds is the Highlander, which can reach an adult weight of 25lb (11kg).

Other large breeds include the Maine Coon, Turkish Van, and Savannah. These large cats need plenty of space and are not suitable as exclusively indoor pets.

Active or docile

Different breeds have different temperaments. Sleek-bodied Oriental cats, such as the Siamese, Tonkinese, Burmese, Sphynx, Bombay, and Abyssinian, are more active, playful, and inquisitive than othercat breeds. These breeds are generally thought to be more intelligent and more likely to learn tricks or to be trained to walk on a harness and leash.

Many of these breeds are noisy, or “talkative,” too. More laid-back, quieter breeds are generally those with a thickset, or stocky, body form, such as the British Shorthair, Persian, and Norwegian Forest Cat.

The Ragdoll and Ragamuffin are particularly docile. These are wonderful to pet, but should be treated with care, since they may not let you know when they are in discomfort.

Longhair or shorthair?

Cat breeds are broadly divided into shorthairs and longhairs. Shorthairs, which include the Siamese, Russian Blue, and the Bengal, need grooming just once or twice a week.

Longhairs, especially the doll-faced Persian with its long, silky fur, are a greater commitment, requiring daily grooming to keep their coat free of mats and tangles, which become a health risk if left unattended. Other well-known longhairs include the Birman, Ragdoll, and Siberian.

Designer cats

Novelty, or designer, breeds are becoming increasingly fashionable, but are expensive—kittens may cost up to and over $1,500. These breeds include: cats with unusual ears, such as the Scottish Fold and American Curl; hairless breeds, such as the Sphynx and Peterbald, which need to live in a centrally heated home in temperate or cold regions; and cats with kinky or curled fur, such as the American Wirehair, LaPerm, and various Rexes.

The short-legged Munchkin is much sought after, as well its “spin-off” breeds. These include the curled ear Kinkalow, the curly coated Skookum and Lambkin Dwarf, the hairless Bambino, and longhaired Napoleon.

Cats with a beautiful coat that resemble the pelt of small wild cats are also increasingly popular. Some of these breeds, such as the California Spangled, Egyptian Mau, and Sokoke, arise purely from domestic cats; others, including the Bengal, Savannah, and Chausie, were developed from hybrids of the domestic cat and other feline species. Hybrids are generally active and may bully other cats.

Getting a cat

Whatever breed you choose, the first step is to find a reputable breeder. To find a pedigree kitten, begin by contacting a cat club or a breed registry, or visit a cat show where the people showing their cats may suggest a breeder or be breeders themselves. The local vet may also be able to recommend breeders in your area.

The breeder will be able to answer questions about your chosen breed and its needs, and you should be able to meet and observe the kitten and its mother before buying it. A good breeder will question a prospective owner about provision and care of the kitten and, if all goes well, arrange for the new owner to be able to collect a socialized, wormed, and vaccinated kitten when it is 12 weeks old.

Many excellent pets may be found in rescue centers or cat shelters, and it is worth looking at these places, too, especially when searching for an older cat with an established personality.

These mostly nonprofit organizations usually charge an adoption fee, which helps cover food and veterinary costs for the cats that are housed there. Pedigree cats, especially the more popular breeds, sometimes turn up in rescue centers, but these places are ideal for those not particularly interested in owning a pedigree cat; most of the cats housed are random-bred, but all are in need of a loving home.