Cat Breeds for Dog Lovers

For most dog owners, cats can seem like a species from another planet. Although there’s little doubt that dogs can be the best friend a pet owner could ever have, cat owners sometimes feel like their job is to satisfy the needs of a superior master, one with twitching whiskers and a tail that occasionally swishes with annoyance. If you’re used to the unabashed enthusiasm of a dog, a cat can seem a little like a distant acquaintance simply sharing space in your residence.

But to know one cat -- or cat stereotype -- isn’t to know them all, say veterinarians and other experts. You’ll likely be surprised that you can find plenty of breeds that defy familiar conceptions about cats.

Dog-like Cats
If you’re more comfortable with cats that behave like dogs, consider these breeds:

· Maine coon The beautiful tabby-coated Maine coon is a big-boned cat with the stature and confidence a dog lover is likely to admire, says Dr. Bruce Silverman of Village West Veterinary in Chicago. While stories about 30-pound Maine coon cats are the stuff of legends, these felines typically weigh in the teens. This breed loves to play fetch and is known for its mellow interactions with people and dogs. The human-oriented Maine coon will want to keep a close eye on what you are doing. While this breed has a beautiful long coat, it doesn’t typically require as much grooming as a Persian cat would.

· Siamese “Siamese cats are known for talking and interacting,” explains Dr. Amber Andersen, a Los Angeles–based veterinarian. Siamese cats are often playful and active. If you want a feline best pal, a Siamese is a good choice. But take into consideration that Siamese are often one-person cats. “They have a tendency to glom onto one owner,” says Andersen.

· Abyssinian “For dog owners who admire athletes, the Abyssinian might be a good fit, as they’ll swing from the drapes and do their Tarzan imitation,” says Amy Shojai, a Dallas-based certified animal behavior consultant and author of 23 pet-care books. The curious, active Abyssinian thrives on interaction.

· Ragdoll The sturdy Ragdoll makes a good lap cat with its docile, easygoing nature, explains Andersen.

· Chartreux Looking for a cat that will fit with your dog-centric household? The quiet Chartreux is known to prefer the company of dogs to that of other cats, says Shojai. You can teach a Chartreux to fetch, and this breed remains playful even at an adult age.

Consider the Cat’s Age
If you already own a dog, it’s likely easier to adopt a kitten, explains Shojai. “Kittens tend to be easier to integrate into a dog home right away,” she says. “Kittens are clueless. They don’t know to be afraid. They’ll see a dog and think, ‘Oh boy, somebody to play with me. He’s just a big, smelly cat.”

However, it’s difficult to predict just what sort of personality a kitten will develop in adulthood. A cuddly kitten might become aloof as it ages. An active, playful kitten might settle down into an adult cat that is content to watch the action. “If you want a known personality, I recommend adopting an adult,” says Shojai.

One nice thing to note about adding a cat to your household: “A healthy cat is going to live at least into their early teens, and some live into their 20s,” says Shojai. So that gives you plenty of time to teach your feline companion how to walk on a leash, sit up or fetch. “The ball just needs to be a wee bit smaller than for a dog,” says Shojai.

Mixed-breed Cats No Longer Outclassed

For the last four years, Carol Smith, a Boston-area cat breeder and small-business owner, has been showing her cat, Kelsey Belle, competitively. Smith breeds Egyptian Maus cats, but unpedigreed Kelsey Belle is a former shelter cat.

However, Kelsey Belle is a cat show natural. “She rolls over on the judging table, spread-eagled, purring and licking the judges. She’s well-regarded for her presence and easy handling,” says Smith. “She really enjoys it, especially the traveling and ‘spa treatments’ before the shows.”

In cat show lingo, mixed-breed felines like Smith’s pet are referred to as a household pets (HHP). Does your own pet have what it takes to be in show business? Longtime HHP judge William Lee weighs in on what it takes to be best in show.

Who’s Eligible?
Any HHP over four months of age is eligible to be entered in contests sponsored by the International Cat Association or the Cat Fancier’s Association. These are two of the biggest registries of pedigreed cats worldwide. “All you have to do is register and pay the entry fee,” says Lee. Entry fees vary depending on the show but are generally under $100. Pedigreed cats are also eligible to be shown in the HHP category.

Pedigreed Versus Non-breed Standards
To compete well, pedigreed cats have very specific standards they must meet (length of tail, distance between eyes, ear set, etc.). HHPs are judged by more arbitrary measures. “The rules for judging household cats are a smorgasbord,” says Lee. “We call the standards for HHPs ‘pseudo-standards’ because they’re so generic.”

HHP Judging Criteria
Lee explains that judges of household cats score their contestants based on the following:

  • Beauty (20 percent of score): Beauty points are assigned according to the taste of the individual judge. Many judges look for pleasing colors and patterns, grace, and balance. “I look for something a little unusual -- a rare pattern or color. But as they say, it’s in the eye of the beholder,” says Lee.
  • Personality (30 percent of score): A good show cat is alert, friendly and easy to handle. Of course, judges make an allowance for some nervousness, but the cats that immediately buy into it are the best. They are the ones that seem to be thinking, “Oh, here’s a new person to enjoy me.” They have to enjoy showing off.
  • Condition (50 percent of score): Judges are very attuned to healthy looks. Cats should be groomed as much as is practical for an HHP, and they should have clean ears and no debris in their eyes. Emaciation or overweight can detract from the score, although that’s subjective too.

Is Your Cat a Show Cat?
Chances are, cat show officials will tell you yes. The HHP category was created, in part, to involve the public in cat shows, to bring people out in larger numbers and to pique their interest in pedigreed cats. Lee estimates that 80 percent of exhibitors of purebred cats began as exhibitors of HHPs.

When deciding whether to show your feline friend, Lee recommends asking yourself, Is my cat the most beautiful animal that ever existed? “If you convey that to your cat, it thinks, ‘My owner adores the way I look.’ And it will display that for the judges, in turn.”

Kelsey Belle, whose owner spent two years searching for just the right cat to join her household, is proof of that. With the ever-admiring Smith at her side, the cat was the highest-scoring HHP in New England in 2008.