Say goodbye to guessing games.
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woman holding black and grey cat; how to tell what breed my cat is
Credit: Jason Donnelly

With their smooshed faces and long, luxurious coats, it's easy to point out a Persian cat from the crowd. The same goes for a Siamese—the lean build, blue eyes, and colorpoint fur are dead giveaways. But when it comes to your furry BFF you brought home from a shelter, things can get a little complicated.

"A cat's physical attributes and behavior may provide clues as to which breed they might be, but no single characteristic or combination of characteristics can be used to determine a cat's breed with certainty," says Alison Gerken, DVM, of the San Francisco SPCA. "While some cat breeds are more easily distinguishable, mixed breed cats often do not resemble their parents or even their littermates, complicating the ability to determine their breeds."

So how do you tell what breed your cat is? There are a few ways you can guess but only one will give you a solid answer.

How to Determine Your Cat's Breed Using Physical Traits

Lisa Radosta, DVM, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist at Florida Veterinary Behavior Service, says you can't really tell what makes up a mixed breed cat just by looking at him.

"In dogs, there is evidence that we are not very good at figuring out what breeds are present in a mixed breed dog," she says. "There is no reason to believe that we can tell which breeds are mixed in a cat."

While you probably can't pinpoint specific breeds based on looks alone, Gerken says there are clues in your cat's appearance that might hint at his genetics.

Coat Color, Pattern, and Length

While some colors are common no matter the breed (for instance, orange tabbies and black cats aren't breed specific), some patterns are more common in certain cats than others.

"There is a great variance in feline hair coat colors and patterns," Gerken says. "Some cat breeds, such as the Siamese and Himalayan breeds, are color pointed—their paws, face, ears, and tail are a different shade than their body—while other cat breeds, such as Bengals and Egyptian maus, have coats that come in spotted or marbled patterns."

However, Gerken says, coat colors and markings can overlap between several cat breeds and can be found in mixed breed cats as well. Similarly, fur length doesn't tell you much about your cat's genetic makeup.

"Most mixed-breed cats are identified as domestic shorthair, domestic medium hair, or domestic longhair," she says. "Domestic shorthair cats are the most common type of cat in the U.S., accounting for 90–95 percent of pet cats."

In other words, if your cat has long, fluffy fur, that doesn't mean he's a Maine coon.

Size

While the average cat weighs about 11 pounds, some breeds (such as the Maine coon) can tip the scales at nearly 20 and others (like little Singapuras) are significantly smaller. Gerken says your cat's size, along with his body type, might tell you which breed he is. Skinny and slonky cats can indicate a slimmer breed, such as a Siamese, while more rotund body types can be from Norwegian forest cat lineage.

Head Shape

Sometimes your cat's head shape can give clues as well.

"Some breeds such as Persians, Himalayans, and Scottish folds have flat faces, while other breeds such as Siamese cats have more narrow and angular features," Gerken says. "Some cat breeds have distinctive ear features. Scottish fold and American curl cats have folded and curled ears. Other breeds may have tufted ears, such as Maine coon, ragdoll, and Norwegian forest cats.

"Considering the totality of a cat's physical attributes may help narrow the list of a cat's possible breeds," she continues. "For example, if a cat has a lean build, an angular face, and dark-colored points on their face, feet, and tail, they are more likely a Siamese than a Maine coon. If a cat has a large build, a long hair coat, and large ears with tufts of hair on them, they are more likely a Maine coon than a Siamese."

How to Determine Your Cat's Breed Based on Behavior Traits

Determining your cat's breed through appearance is unreliable, but it's much more accurate than analyzing his behaviors. While it's true that different cat breeds have different temperaments and traits, that doesn't mean a lazy cat is a Persian or a cat who loves water is a Turkish van.

"Siamese are chatty, but just because your cat is chatty, that doesn't mean that he is Siamese," Radosta says. "In other words, the water doesn't flow in both directions. If your cat is chatty that doesn't mean he's a Siamese, but if your cat is a Siamese, he probably is going to be chatty."

Using DNA Tests

To tell what breed your cat is with absolute certainty, you need a cat DNA test. These kits use your kitty's DNA (obtained through a cheek swab) to decode his genetics and give you in-depth information on his lineage.

There are a few different types of feline DNA tests on the market, including Basepaws and Optimal Selection by Wisdom Panel. But they aren't cheap—tests can cost anywhere between $100 to $500. You can also ask your vet about in-office blood tests to determine your cat's DNA.

But if your budget doesn't have room for feline genetics, Radosta has some advice: "Relax! Your cat is who he is regardless of breed," she says. "A certain breed doesn't make him special. A mixed breed cat is just as special as a purebred cat. Focus more on what your cat does, how you interact with your cat, and whether or not you are actively seeking out ways to meet your cat's needs."