By Iris Zinck//May 12, 2023//
By: Iris Zinck//May 12, 2023//
With the recent dramatic surge in pet ownership due to the pandemic, one can’t help but wonder how all those COVID kitties are faring today. Are pandemic pet adoptions undergoing a reversal? Is cat ownership in the U.S. on the rise? Are pedigree cats becoming more, or less popular?
Today’s Evolving Cat Owner
Data from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in May 2021 stated that 85 percent of cats acquired during the pandemic remain with their owners, yet some reports have implied shelter surrenders are trending upward. NewsNationNow.com noted in March 2022 that these surrenders may be due to life changes caused by the pandemic, affecting longer-term pet owners and that most of the more recent pet acquisitions — those occurring during the pandemic — are still in place.
Furthermore, 2021-22 numbers (reported by the American Pet Products Association) versus 2017-18 numbers (reported by the American Veterinary Medical Association) indicate the number of owned cats in the U.S. is on the rise. In the APPA report, 45.4 million, or 35 percent, of U.S. households included at least one feline, compared to 31.9 million, or 25 percent, in the AVMA report. But who’s buying the kitty litter? Interestingly, a 2021-22 study shows that Millennials comprise the largest share of pet owners in the U.S. (32 percent) with Baby Boomers coming in second (27 percent). However, cat ownership is highest within Generation X. Of the pet owners in this age group, 55 percent own at least one cat.
Changes in the overall number of pedigree cats are harder to determine. The most widely quoted statistic (Google) claims that only five percent of U.S. felines are pedigree cats, but it dates from 20021 what year is this?? The AVMA (2017-18) cites 16 percent while the APPA (2021-22) claims the percentage to be 31 percent. It’s clear both organizations aren’t differentiating between registered cats and “faux purebreds” – for example, blue cats labeled Russian blues by a rescue to enhance their appeal to potential adopters. However, given the rising percentages cited over this period, it seems reasonable to conclude that the total number of pedigree cats in the U.S. is not declining. It may even be relatively stable.
Breeds on the “A-List”
Breed popularity within the pedigree population is easier to determine. The Cat Fanciers’ Association, the world’s oldest and largest registry of pedigree and companion cats, issues a “Top 10” list each year, based on registration statistics. For the third consecutive year, the ragdoll’s vivid blue eyes and mellow personality have kept it in the top spot. The Maine coon cat is in second place while the elfin-looking devon rex is in third; Devons are now the most popular shorthair breed. The Siberian, a Russian import widely believed to be lower in allergens than the average cat, has moved onto the list for the first time, in the 10th spot.
New Cats on the Block
Although CFA currently recognizes 45 breeds for registration, not all compete in the Championship classes at cat shows. The organization has a rigorous process for the acceptance and advancement of new breeds. CFA Allbreed Judge Annette Wilson, who is chair of the breeds and standards committee, explains that for a breed to be accepted for registration, “the appearance of the cat must be unique, it must be structurally and physically healthy, and there must be sufficient breeders available to maintain, preserve and promote the breed.” There must also be a proposed written standard.
Once accepted, a new breed will first be shown in the Miscellaneous class, where it is evaluated but does not receive awards. After meeting certain requirements, the breed may advance to the Provisional class, where the cats receive awards for the first time. Advancement to Championship status is the final step, and according to Annette, it typically takes about five years. Breeds recognized in other associations may progress more rapidly.
The lykoi, also called the “werewolf cat” because of its unique, semi-hairless appearance, advanced to Championship this February. A natural mutation, lykoi were discovered among feral cats in 2010, and established as a breed in 2011. Two other breeds are now working their way up the ladder from Miscellaneous class. The toybob, of Russian origin, is an unusually small cat with a kinked bobbed tail, available in both longhair and shorthair varieties. The Khao Manee, a natural, all-white, shorthair cat comes from Thailand, where its name means “White Gem.”
It will certainly be a while before these new breeds find spots on the organization’s “A-list,” but they do expand the diverse characteristics, looks and personalities available to cat lovers, and should further contribute to the growth of pedigree cats inside and outside of the U.S. that, in turn, means more cats to love and provide for.
Iris Zinck is assistant editor of content for CFA’s “Cat Talk” magazine as well as a staff writer. She is also an Allbreed Judge for CFA and has judged cat shows throughout Europe and Asia as well as the U.S. and Canada.