PLAIN ENGLISH GUIDE TO CONFORMATION
Pedigree and purebred cats are bred to meet, as closely as possible, a breed standard that describes the ideal for that breed. The standards produced by the various cat registries give detailed descriptions of the proportions of the body, the shape of the face, eye colour and set of the tail and other physical traits. This "plain English guide" describes the main body and face shapes in general terms, rather than giving breed-specific definitions. It is intended to help the general cat-lover confused by specialist terms. If you are looking for detailed descriptions of specific breeds, you should refer to the breed standards given by the cat registries in your region or (for cats not recognised in your region) the breed standard in the breed's country of origin.
Breed standards and descriptions vary from registry to registry. This reflects the way certain breeds have developed in different countries. Different cat registries have different opinions on whether certain breeds are foreign/semi-foreign or cobby/semi-cobby etc. For example, some breeds considered "cobby" in Europe may be considered "semi-cobby" in the USA because European registries do not permit the same extremes of massive build and because all terms are relative. Another example is the Burmese - a cat that has a distinctly foreign look in Europe, but that tends to semi-cobby (with domed head) in the USA. The European Tonkinese is more foreign looking than the American version because one of its parent breeds, the European Burmese, is more foreign looking.
The general glossary of terms include both official and unofficial descriptions of feline conformation. Again, not all countries or registries permit the most extreme-types (ultra-types), so not all terms are applicable in all regions.
This is the compact, heavy-set body type of Persians, Exotic Shorthairs, Manx and related breeds. The keywords are compact, heavy-boned and well-muscled, or simply "short and wide". The cobbiness should be entirely due to muscle and bone and not to obesity. Although cobby breeds tend to be thought of as large breeds, this need not be the case; Miniature Persians are still cobby in conformation.
In general, cobby cats have short, thick and strong legs with large paws. The body is low on the legs, broad and deep-chested. The shoulders and rump are equally massively built. The tail is thick and short, but is in proportion to the cobby body. Cobby breeds have round and massive-looking heads with a broad skull, full cheeks and a thick, short neck. In general, cobby breeds have strong chins and short, broad noses (taken to extremes in Persians and Exotics) and a "break" between the eyes.
The exact boundary between "cobby" and "semi-cobby" is hard to define, but in general it means a compact, muscular and heavy-boned cat that is not as massively built as Persians or Exotics, but is heavier-set than the "medium" breeds. British Shorthairs are semi-cobby, being less massively built than Exotic Shorthairs.
Essentially this means neither cobby nor foreign in type. It is closer to the "wild-type". Medium conformation cats have broad, rounded heads and relatively well-developed cheeks. The muzzle is squarish and medium-short i.e. not as long as Siamese, but not as short or snub as Persians. The body is medium length with medium boning i.e. not heavy-boned like Persians, but not fine-boned like Siamese. The overall impression is of a rectangle. Larger medium conformation breeds are described as rangy i.e. having a long torso with long legs, but not disproportionately long-legged.
This is the body type of Siamese and related breeds. Long legs, long, thin tail, long (tubular) body. Despite its svelteness, the body must still be muscular. The muzzle is long and wedge shaped, the eyes are slanted and the ears are large. The large ears and long muzzle are taken to extremes in the Siamese and Oriental breeds, but less so in Russians and Abyssinians (which other registries class as "semi-foreign"). The tail is often described as whippy.
Less extreme in type than the modern Siamese cats. The face is modified wedge i.e. slightly rounded, slightly longer than it is wide and without flat planes. The nose is straight and moderately long. There is less of a "bat-eared" look and the muzzle is shorter. The cat is medium in length, but lithe and graceful with long legs; semi-foreigns are medium boned and must not tend to cobbiness. Egyptian Maus, Burmese/Asians, Abyssinians and Russians are semi-foreign in type (some registries class Russians and Abyssinians as "foreign"), being more svelte and finely boned than medium-built cats, but not being tubular like Siamese.
HEAD AND FACE
The facial type of modern foreign breeds. Viewed from the top or front, there appear to be straight lines from the outer ear bases along the sides of the muzzle, without a break in the jaw line at the whiskers. The skull is flattened and the straight nose is a continuation of the forehead. It has become increasingly exaggerated in the last few decades. The face forms a long, narrow triangle with long narrow nose and large, wide set ears. In profile, there may appear to be a bump half way down the face giving a Roman (arched) nose; in the extreme form it is sometimes described as "banana-shaped" and is a fault. Extreme wedges have also been described as "bat-eared" or "spaghetti-nosed" due to exceptionally large, wide set ears and extremely long, narrow muzzle.
This is less extreme than the wedge shape found in the modern foreign breeds i.e. the ears do not flare as widely and the nose is not as long or narrow. There is still a triangular shade. In profile, the nose is straight or has a slight indent, but does not have the Roman nose. Modified wedges are slightly rounded and without the flat planes or straight lines found in modern Siamese-type cats.
The facial shape of the Persian and Exotic cat with their short noses, broad skulls and rounded cheeks. There is an indentation where the muzzle meets the face. In ultra-typed or extreme-typed Persians, the nose itself may appear indented and the brow may appear to protrude. The ears are relatively small and wide set.
MEDIUM OR INTERMEDIATE
Neither wedge-shaped nor round, this is the "normal" face of the cat. The head is moderately rounded, but not massive. The ears are medium sized, there is a nose stop (slight indent near eye level where the muzzle joins the face) and whisker pads.
OTHER TERMS YOU MIGHT HEAR
AFRO:The tight curls of the Selkirk Rex.
ALMOND: An oval eye shape, seen in Oriental breeds.
AOC (Any Other Colour): A colour or pattern not normally accepted in a certain breed of cat; or a colour/pattern that does not have its own class in a show (some registries subdivide breeds into colour classes, treating each colour as though it were a breed).
AOV (Any Other Variety): Cats from registered parents, but that are ineligible for championship classes because they do not have the official requirements for coat colour, coat length or other physical characteristics.
APPLE-HEADED: rounded head shape found of older types of foreign breeds (Siamese etc), more closely resembling the Siamese type of the early 1900s, before the breed was "refined" (the term derives from a series of "applehead" dolls once popular in the USA).
BANANA NOSED: An exaggerated (undesirably so) arched or Roman nose; seen in the more extreme Oriental breeds.
BAT EARS: Exaggerated large, flared and wide-set ears found in more extreme Siamese cats.
BREAK: The visible indentation of the nose below or between the eyes, giving the impression that the face is pushed in.
BRITCHES or PANTALOONS: The longer hair on the back of the legs in semi-longhair breeds.
BRUSH: (1) Resembling a fox's brush (tail). (2) Resembling the shape or consistency of a brush e.g. the stiff hairs on a Peterbald.
COMPACT: Closely or neatly packed together; the opposite of rangy.
CONCAVE: Curve shaped like the inside arc of a circle.
CONVEX: Curve shaped like the outside arc of a circle.
COWHOCKED: Back legs that are not parallel, the hocks are very close together (a bit like knock kneed).
CUPPED: A deep ear.
CURLED EARS: Back-swept ears; as found in the American Curl.
DEPTH OF FLANK: The Manx and Cymric has great depth of flank; the American Cornish Rex has minimal depth of flank.
DOLL-FACED: Facial type of the older types of Persian and Exotic cat, similar to the Persian/Angora type of the early 1900s.
DOMED: Hemispherical or rounded.
DONKEY EARS: Upright large ears set close together.
DOUBLE COAT: Having a thick undercoat with another top, coat of longer hairs. The awn hairs may be the same length as the guard hairs (Russian Blues, for example) or there may be longer guard hairs (as in the Manx).
DOWN HAIRS: The soft, crimped, secondary hairs.
EAR MUFFS or EAR TUFTS: Longer fur on the lower back side of the ear in Devon Rex, also known as ear tufts.
EXTREME-TYPE: See Ultra-type.
POM POM TAIL: The effect created by knotted/fused vertebrae and fur of the Japanese Bobtail.
FLARED: Spread out; for example the ears of Oriental cats have widely flared bases.
FOLDED EARS: The ears fold downward and forward, as in the Scottish Fold.
FROSTED: Suggestion of light ends to the hair shaft giving a frosted or silvered appearance. Also describes reverse ticking.
FURNISHINGS: The curving, usually long, hairs inside the ears.
GLOVES: The white on the front feet, not extending up the leg.
GROIN SPOT: A small white or pale area on the underside of the cat.
GROUND COLOUR: (1) The background colour of tabby cats. (2) The colour on the lower part of the hair shaft of ticked cats.
GUARD HAIRS: Long coarser hairs forming the outer coat; the longer outer hairs.
GYPSY SHAG: Loose and bouncy hair of different lengths (layered); appearance of loose perm as seen in the LaPerm.
HAIRLESS: Complete absence of hair or hair reduced to a "peach fuzz" or "suede nap" on the body. Many hairless cats have some hair on the face, ears, tail and feet.
HOOD: A coloured mask (colour) extending to the base of the ear forming a hood of colour; i.e., no pale area between the top of the eyes and the front of the ears.
HORIZONTAL CRIMP: Excessive width of both edges of the base of the ear distinguished by the ear continuing beyond a vertical curved ridge that one would have expected to be the natural outer edges of the ear, giving the ear a splayed appearance. A horizontal ridge of cartilage is also visible in the centre of the ear above the canal (as in American Curls).
LACES Linear patterns of white extending up from the feet, especially the back feet. Found in mitted breeds.
LOCKET: A small area of white or color that is different from the desired body colour.
LONG AND SUBSTANTIAL: A long-bodied cat that is not foreign (tubular) in type.
LYNX TUFTS: A tuft of hair on the tips of the ears like those of a lynx or caracal.
MARCEL: The "finger-waved" crimped fur of Devon and Cornish Rexes.
MASK: Darker color covers the face, including whisker pads and may be connected to the ears by tracings.
MITTED: Having white limited to the paws (no further than the wrist joint), back legs, belly, chest and chin. A good specimen is about one quarter white.
MUTTON CHOPS: Downward growth direction of hair below ears and on cheeks, giving the impression of "mutton chop" whiskers on a man or a lynx.
MUZZLE BREAK or WHISKER BREAK: The change of direction between the muzzle and the cheekbones.
OVERSHOT JAW: Top jaw longer than bottom jaw.
PEKE-, PIGGY- OR PUG- FACED: Ultra-typed Persian/Exotic facial type; very domed head with compressed muzzle and snub nose almost flat to the face. The top of the nose leather is level with, or above, the bottom eyelid. Can result in a protruding lower jaw and absent or compressed tear ducts.
POINTS: The extremities of a cat's body: the mask, ears, tail and feet.
RANGY: A cat with a rather long torso with legs of a length to accommodate the body length. Opposite of compact.
RECEDING NOSE: Where the nose lies further back than the chin.
RESILIENT: The fur springs back to its original position after it is stroked backwards.
REVERSED TICKING: Outermost tip of banded hair is light instead of dark.
REXED: Having curly, wavy or frizzy hair.
ROCKER of a CRADLE: When viewed from the back, the ears of Manx and Cymric cats are set as to resemble the rockers of a baby's cradle or a wide U-shape.
ROMAN NOSE: Arched (convex) nose. Viewed side on, some extreme-type Siamese cats appear to have a convex shaped nose rather than a straight line.
SNUB: The muzzle is short and turned upwards.
SPAGHETTI-NOSED: Exaggerated and undesirable length and narrowness of muzzle on Oriental breeds.
SPLAYED: Spreading outward, broad and flat.
STACKED: Standing with weight evenly distributed on all four feet.
STOP: A change in direction, the short incline between the forepart of the skull and the muzzle. The concave curve occurring in the nose at eye or just below eye level; may be very slight or pronounced.
TRADITIONAL, OLD-STYLE or OLD-FASHIONED TYPE: The form of a currently ultra-typed breed (e.g. Persian, Siamese) prior to refinement.
TUCKED UP or TUMMY TUCK: The curved spine creates the drawing in of the flank, giving the impression of a Greyhound. Seen in the American Cornish Rex. The opposite of the Manx's increased depth of flank (some Manxes are tucked up and this gives the impression of rabbit-like hind legs; leading to the "cabbit" epithet).
TUFTS: Bunches of hairs, such as those between the toes or behind the ears.
ULTRA-TYPE: Where breed traits are taken to extremes resulting in exaggerated traits e.g. if the standard calls for a short muzzle, the ultra-type has almost no muzzle. Open-ended breed standards are largely to blame.
UNDERCOAT: The woolly down hairs under the longer guard hairs.
UNDERCOLOR: The part of the hair shaft closest to the skin, in a smoke, the non-pigmented portion of the hair shaft, in tabbies, the ground color.
UNDERSHOT: Bottom jaw longer than top jaw. Seen on some Persians (a fault) where the short upper jaw and snub muzzle combined with a longer lower jaw creates a bulldog or boxer dog appearance.
VERTICAL CRIMP: From the base of the ear and continuing along some or all of its height, the outer edge of the ear bends or rolls vertically in towards the centre of the ear giving the outer edge of the ear a pinched or crimped appearance. Found in American Curls.
WALNUT: An eye shape that is the rounded shape of a walnut; a slightly flattened circle; not quite an oval or almond.