Cat Showing FAQ Part I:

Deciding to Show

Written by: Barbara French, Tarantara Cattery, Rochester, NY,

About this FAQ: This FAQ discusses making an informed decision about whether to show your cat and what you need to do to prepare yourself and your cat to show. It discusses financial realities and the paperwork involved. The second half of this FAQ, What To Do at the Show, addresses what to do once you're there.

Table of Contents

What kind of cat do you have?

Knowing if your cat is a potential show cat

Finding appropriate shows

Entering a show

Show costs

Preparing your kitty to be shown

What kind of cat do you have?

First, do you have a pedigreed, registered cat, or do you have a mixed breed cat? Good news: you can show either.

Most associations divide cats up into four categories: kittens, championship, premiership, and household pets (HHPs).

Kittens: Pedigreed kittens aged four months to eight months. In some associations, kittens do not have to have an individual registration number to be shown, but their litter must be registered with the sponsoring association. Kittens may be spayed or neutered.

Championship: Pedigreed, registered, unaltered cats over eight months old. This class tends to be the largest and the most competitive.

Premiership: Pedigreed, registered, altered cats over eight months old. Premiers are not cats who were not "good enough" to breed. Many catteries alter top males to show in premiership because of the difficulty keeping an intact male. There tend to be more neuters than spays, although there are several spays as well. Many cats in Premiership, particularly older ones, are cats who have been retired from successful breeding programs and have had success in Championship class. Premiership is still a great way to promote a cattery, further interest in a breeding program, and have fun showing an excellent animal. In some associations, such as TICA, premier entries may be declawed. CFA does not allow declawing.

Household Pet (HHP): altered, usually mixed-breed cats of known or unknown heritage. In some associations, such as TICA, HHPs may be declawed. CFA does not allow declawing.

In some ways, showing an HHP is easier and less stressful than showing a pedigreed cat. HHPs compete strictly on beauty, health, and temperament. They don't have a written standard. HHP class tends to be more relaxed and a lot of fun.

In some cat registry associations, HHPs can be registered and compete for titles. In TICA (The International Cat Association); HHPs may earn titles of Master, Grand Master, Double, Triple and Quadruple Grand Master and Supreme Grand Master. They also compete for annual Regional and International Awards. At current writing, CFA (Cat Fanciers Association), the largest cat registry, HHPs does not register HHPs and these cats compete only for rosettes. Regardless, it's a fun way to start learning the show-ropes without the pressure in the pedigreed classes.

In other registries, such as TICA and ACFA, HHPs must be registered and compete for titles, prizes, and regional and national awards.

In short, you don't have to be a breeder to show. You can show beautiful altered cats in Premier or HHP.

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Knowing if your cat is a potential show cat

The key to success in pedigreed class showing is self-education. Attend as many shows as you can as a spectator. Know what excellent examples of the breed look like. Watch judging rings, particularly the finals rings where the best of the cats in the show will be. Make friends in the fancy.

When you're getting started, buy the best you can find and afford. Particularly if you have your eye toward starting a pedigreed breeding program, an early commitment to quality will serve you well.

One question people always have is what breed they should show and/or breed. There is no breed that is inherently "better" than another. Each breed has advantages and disadvantages, and you must go on personal taste. Persians are most plentiful and finding stud service may be easier, but their coats are high maintenance and a true show-quality cat may be more expensive due to high demand. Singapuras are lower maintenance, but there are fewer breeders and finding suitable breeding arrangements may require sending a cat across the country. Siamese are more plentiful and have lower-maintenance coats, but some people may wish to have a more docile cat. Scottish Folds and Manx have breeding challenges not found in other breeds.

The best thing to do is make a short list of breeds which appeal to you and talk to many breeders who work with them. You will find yourself narrowing your choices accordingly.

The important thing is to find a breed you adore and wish to promote and work with for a long time. Even if you are showing a premier, you will be representing this breed.

There are many stories about people who proudly bring their pedigreed, registered cats to show, and are very disappointed when their cat doesn't win ribbons, or worse, is disqualified for some fault. The problem here is most of these people haven't done their homework. It may also be that their cat is not yet mature and will blossom later, or is too shy to show well and just needs more experience. If you're intent on showing in pedigreed classes, get a copy of the written standard of your chosen breed and memorize it. Try to get out to see many examples of the breed. Know how your cat does and does not conform, and be honest about it. Get the opinion of others who work with your chosen breed. Know that those unusual traits that may seem charming -- those seven toes, that kinked tail, that dear little white spot on the cat's head -- may be show faults that will result in a disqualification.

To avoid this, make sure you get a copy of the show rules of whatever cat association you choose (CFA, TICA, AACE, ACFA, etc.) Most cat show fliers will list an address for you to send for a copy of show rules and breed standards. These only cost a few dollars, and are an important addition to your paper collection. Read the rules carefully and thoroughly. They aren't light bedtime reading, but the time is well spent. This will save you many headaches in the future. For example, if you have a lovely declawed HHP you want to show, you will be disappointed to discover that CFA does not currently accept any declawed entries. TICA does. Reading the show rules avoids such problems before they occur.

Some cat associations are online and may provide some information electronically, or tell you how to order pamphlets. Refer to the page on this site that lists associations, clubs, and shows for all the latest links to major associations.

A show cat should have a good personality and not be too shy or afraid of new people and unfamiliar situations. Sometimes you will not be able to tell this until you've shown the cat; a cat who is fearless and friendly at home may turn out to be very different in a show hall. Give your cat time to adjust, and pamper the cat at the show. Some cats may need a few experiences to get their "show feet." Some may never adapt. Some take to it like they were born for the experience. The most important trait of a show cat is that they enjoy being shown. No matter how lovely it is, a cat who is chronically unhappy and stressed at cat shows is not a true show cat.

Many breeders train their cats to be show cats from early kittenhood. You can help train your own cat or kitten. Watch how judges handle cats, and teach your cat to accept that kind of handling through rewards and pleasant experiences. If you are working with a pedigreed cat, watch especially how judges handle members of that specific breed; judges handle different breeds in different fashions. Get friends unfamiliar with your cat to handle your cat in this fashion so it learns to accept handling from a stranger.

One hint here: Some cats are spooked in a show hall from an unexpected source: spray bottles. If you are going to be showing a cat, don't use a spray bottle to punish the cat for wrongdoing. Many people spritz their cat with water to keep it out of undesirable areas, but the characteristic sound of a spray bottle is something your cat will hear every time a steward cleans the cages or the judge sprays his or her hands or the judging stand. Spray bottles are everywhere in a show hall! Your cat may be sitting up in the ring, wondering what it's doing wrong every time it hears the spritz! If you discipline your cats with water, find a water pistol that doesn't make that sound.

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Finding appropriate shows

Shows are listed in many places. Cats and Cat Fancy both list show announcements from several associations for a month or two in advance. This is less helpful if you're planning to exhibit regularly and want to plan shows farther in advance.

Each association has its own newsletter and lists show calendars for months ahead of schedule. Or, get in contact with your local cat club. Someone there will be able to help you. If you're planning to exhibit regularly, belonging to a cat club can provide a valuable resource.

Show information and show calendars are also published electronically on this WWW site.

Most shows are two-day shows, Saturday and Sunday. Occasionally clubs sponsor one-day shows, but this is an exception. A few of the largest shows may be three-day affairs.

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Entering a show

A show announcement should list the show location, sponsoring club, judges, association, and entry clerk. The entry clerk is the person to contact to enter a show. Call the entry clerk and ask for an official entry form. After you have a copy of this form, you may wish to make several photocopies of the form for future use. If you plan to show one cat several times, it may make sense to type in the information that doesn't change on one blank form (name, color, sire and dam, etc.) and photocopy this to shorten form-filling time later.

All shows have closing dates, which is the last date the clerk will accept entries. Make sure you know the closing date. Most shows close one to two weeks before a show. More popular shows may close earlier if they fill up. Shows have a limited number of spaces available, so you should enter as early as possible.

If you are entering an HHP, make sure you know if the show is accepting HHPs. Some associations do not have HHP entries available at all shows.

Fill out the entry form neatly. Entry clerks will call you collect to make clarifications.

Basic Information: Your entry form will ask you to list information about you and your cat. Some may apply; others may not. For example, in CFA, HHPs have no registration number and "Sire" and "Dam" may be left blank. In other associations, such as ACFA, all HHPs must be registered in advance and have a registration number to be eligible for points toward titles. Ask the entry clerk for what is correct for your situation.

Determining Color and Class: Your cat's color and breed should be listed on your registration certificate.

If you have an HHP, you may wish to send the entry clerk a photograph of your cat if you're not sure how to classify the color. Color classification is very specific in most associations. Also, you will need to say if your cat is a longhair or shorthair. A simple rule is if the fur on the cat's tail is long, it will be classified as a longhair.

Color Class Number: Some registration forms may ask you to put down a number for the cat's color class. This is a number for pedigreed entries only. These numbers are listed in the show rules. If you don't have a copy of the show rules, call a friend who has them or call the entry clerk. This number designates the color class under which the cat will be judged. For example, in CFA, all Javanese lynx points are judged in a single color class (#2054, Lynx Point) and not separately as Blue Lynx Point, Chocolate Lynx Point, Seal Lynx Point, etc. If you don't know your cat's color class number, call the entry clerk for help, and then write it down somewhere so you won't forget.

Agent/Lessee/Owner Information: If you are listed as the owner of the cat on the cat's registration, or own the HHP, you don't have to fill out any information for agents or lessees. A cat may have more than one registered owner. Many breeders enter co-ownership agreements with inexperienced breeders or showers to help them along.

A person may designate an agent to show a cat for him or her, if s/he wants the cat to be shown and cannot attend for some reason. The agent is not a listed owner of the cat. Some may also have a lease agreement where a cat is owned by one person but lives with another. This is usually done with a breeding arrangement. Agents and lessees need to fill out special sections of the form.

Region: The form may also have a section where you will circle or check off your region. This is your region of residence, not the region where the cat will be shown. The region is a geographical area the association uses for administrative purposes and to figure out regional awards, and have names that more or less describe the area, such as North Atlantic, Northwest, South, Great Lakes, etc. You may show in any region, but points for regional awards will be given based on your region of residence. If you don't know what region you live in, ask the entry clerk for that information. Remember this, as you will use it on every form hereafter, unless you move to a different region.

Classes and titles: You will need to check off whether your cat is in Kitten, Championship, Premiership, or HHP class. Underneath this is usually a list of titles. If your cat does not have a title yet, the cat is an Open.

After you have entered the show, you should receive a confirmation letter that lists your information, such as your cat's name, breed, color class, title, breeder's name, and owner's name. Read it carefully. Make sure numbers are correct and everything is spelled right. If it isn't, call the entry clerk immediately and make corrections. Make sure all special requests you've paid for have been verified, such as a double cage request, or reasons for denial have been listed. You may not be granted grooming space or a double cage if the show is already crowded.

You should also receive directions to the show hall and information about hotels in the area. Most clubs will set up a "show hotel," a hotel that has extended a cut rate to individuals who are involved with the cat show and is close to the show hall. Make reservations early.

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Show costs

Registration for a single cat will generally run $35-$50 US for most two-day shows. The price for second and each subsequent entry may drop to $25-$40 US per cat.

No more than one adult cat or two kittens may be kept in a single benching cage, so if you have that many cats/kittens and want more room than that you will need to pay for extra cage space (see below under Double Cage or Sales Cage). A double cage accommodates no more than three kittens, one adult and one kitten, or two adults. If you bring four kittens, three adults, or two adults and a kitten, or one adult and two kittens, you will get one double and one single.

Some offer a discounted rate for "early bird" registrations, which are registrations made before a certain date, usually several weeks before the closing date. Some "theme" shows may also offer special rates for certain breeds, kittens, certain colors of cats, etc.

Special Requests: The official entry form will also ask you about special requests. Be aware that all these options may not be available at all shows. Some special requests translated:

Double Cage or Sales Cage: This is actually something of a misnomer. Most show cages are wire cages approximately 22" tall, 22" wide and 44" long. A "single" cage is half of one of these cages, or a space 22"x22"x22". For one cat, this is probably sufficient, although it is somewhat cramped for both cat and human. A double cage gives you the entire cage, which gives both the cat and their humans more room. If you have two people, a double cage is necessary to give yourselves room to sit. A single cage can also be hard to store your things if you have a neighbor with many things, too. Also, it can be hard on your cat to be that close to a neighboring cat it doesn't recognize. Needless to say, shoehorning an adult Maine Coon into one of those tiny spaces is next to impossible!

A double cage or sales cage will run you $15 to $25 US extra, but it may be well worth the extra money. Request early, because at popular shows these spaces fill fast. If you are planning to sell kittens at the show (make sure you ask the entry clerk if this is OK -- it's forbidden at some shows), you must pay for a sales cage.

End of Row Benching: Some people prefer to have their cage on the end of the row, because it gives them a little more room, and their cat has only one neighbor instead of two. People with kittens or cats to sell also like the increased visibility. You may get end of row benching whether you requested it or no, but if you want to be certain, you must request it in this way.

End of Row benching will usually run $10 to $20.

Grooming Space: People with maintenance-intensive breeds like Persians need a lot of room to groom their cats. Cages are set up on long tables right next to each other, which doesn't allow for much grooming space. A grooming table attached to the table under the cage sometimes isn't enough. Some may request a space left next to their cage to do grooming, instead of having a cage right next to theirs.

Grooming space usually runs $15 to $35 extra. This tends to run about the same price or more than a double cage for a show because a cage must be physically removed.

Benching request: This is free. This is for people who know others who will be coming to a show and may wish to be placed near them. If you are new and don't know anyone at the show, tell the entry clerk you are a first-time shower and ask to be placed near an experienced and helpful exhibitor. Most will honor only one benching request.

Most clubs also have an insufficient funds charge of $15 to $25 for bounced checks.

Paying for entries: Most accept personal checks. Some accept credit card entries. Checks are usually made payable to the sponsoring cat club, not to the entry clerk. Show fliers will have this information. If you don't know, make sure you ask the entry clerk.

Besides costs associated with entering a show, you also may have to pay for travel, food, and lodging, depending on how far the show is. If the show is less than a couple hours away, you may feel comfortable commuting back and forth between the show and home.

Travel: Factor in costs for gas and tolls. You may also want to factor in oil and food on the road. If you use toll highways frequently, you may wish to find out if that toll highway offers an electronic pass option if the electronic pass offers a mailed statement showing your toll expenditures. This will save you from needing to get receipts.

Lodging: Lodging can be expensive or inexpensive, depending on your circumstances. The show hotel may or may not be your least expensive alternative, although the sponsoring club has usually arranged a special rate. The advantage to the show hotel is that there are already arrangements for having pets, and the show hotel is usually conveniently located. However, don't rule out smaller chain hotels and other options.

Food: You can substantially reduce your food bills by bringing your own, particularly for breakfast and lunch. Dinner can sometimes be a more social event and you may wish to have dinner out with cat show friends.

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Preparing your kitty to be shown

Make sure your cat is in top health. Cats should be current on vaccines for rabies, panleukopenia, rhinotracheitis, and calici virus, and be tested for feline leukemia. All claws must be clipped, front and back. Cats should be free of all mites, worms, fleas, ticks, and other parasites. Cats who have an infectious disease within three weeks of the show should not be shown. Be aware that proof of rabies vaccination is required in some states, cities, and counties.

Good condition is important, too. The cat should have firm muscle tone and not be flabby and overweight. The fur should be shiny, with no bald spots (unless, of course, you're showing a Sphynx, which is supposed to be hairless!). Oriental breeds should be lean and firm, but not starved. The cat should glow with good health and vitality.

You may wish to prepare your kitty for show baths. Most exhibitors bathe their cats anywhere from hours to days before a show. You should find out what is best for your cat. Some cats should be bathed a few days before and given time for natural oils to be restored. Others look best just after a bath. Some cats can get away with no bath, but cats with the best grooming have an important edge in the ring. Some bathe their cats before the show but not during; others bathe the cats each morning of a two-day show. Cats' coats vary, even within a breed. Take time to experiment with what gives your cat the best look. Talk to other people who show cats like yours, but be prepared: some show people treat their grooming routines as sacred secrets!

There are many different shampoos and grooming routines. Some typical ones include using products like Dawn dishwashing detergent or Goop (a hand cleaner used mostly by auto mechanics) to remove oils from a greasy coat. There are a variety of color enhancing shampoos available, but be careful. Some color enhancing shampoos made for humans leave a residue that will rub off, which may result in a disqualification. Use only those specifically made for pets. Texturizing shampoos give lift, as does styling mousse. Conditioners soften a dry coat. Consult others working with your breed. Experiment and see what works best.

Cleanliness is very important for all cats being exhibited, pedigreed and non-pedigreed alike. Pay close attention to the cat's ears and eyes. Judges can spot dirty ears and eyes almost immediately, and it will count against the cat. (Always check the face and butt of a cat before going to a ring! There's nothing more embarrassing than to have a judge find a poop nugget in your cat's hind fur).

Go to a show before you exhibit and watch how judges handle cats. Pick up your cat in similar ways and get it used to being held aloft. For example, Siamese-type cats are often held in a "stretch" -- the cat is stretched out between the hands. Siamese-type cats should grow accustomed to being picked up this way.

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Go to Part II of this FAQ, "What to Do at a Show".