Purebred vs. Pound Purries?
September 9, 2008 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Is there a compelling argument in favor of getting a purebred cat instead of adopting a shelter kitty?

I've always been something of a crazy cat lady. I do not currently live with any pets and I have no immediate plans to get any, but I've been giving serious consideration to getting a cat within the next few years.

There are quite a few cat breeds I'm smitten with, and if I find a reputable breeder nearby specializing in one of those breeds, I'd absolutely consider getting a cat from there. However, I know I'd also be happy with a moggy from a shelter. I've owned and cared for both mixed breeds and purebreds, and my free-to-good-home tabby was just as awesome as my pedigreed grand-champion-lineage Turkish Van. And although there are some differences from breed to breed in size and personality, it's generally not as dramatic a difference as with dogs, e.g. a Great Dane vs. a Chihuahua, so apart from some basic considerations (minimal grooming, non-extreme personality), it's not necessary that I own a specific type of cat. I have no preference regarding gender of the cat I eventually get, either, or whether it's a kitten or an adult.

Given that I'd be happy with nearly any feline companion, I can think of countless reasons in favor of adopting a shelter cat over getting a purebred: it's cheaper, there are more shelters near me than CFA-registered catteries, I'll have more of a selection, I could save a kitty from euthanasia, breeding cats for certain features can have negative effects – the list goes on.

On the other hand, I can't think of much that tips the scale in favor of a purebred. I have no intention of breeding or showing cats - this would be a neutered indoor pet. Supporting a breeder who does what he loves, maybe? Promoting awareness of the cat fancy and such-and-such rare and beautiful breed? That seems a little weak.

Aside from "but I really want an Abyssinian," are there any good reasons to get a purebred?

Or is adopting from a shelter the obvious choice that it seems to be?

There are a couple compromises I've considered: adopting through a purebred rescue organization is an option, but they generally have few cats available; fewer still that aren't Persians (one of the few breeds I don't care for). I've thought of getting both a purebred and a shelter cat, but I'd rather have only one cat. And I know that there are breeders out there who rehome their older cats, but I'm not sure what that entails or if it's a good idea.

Any input is appreciated, though I'm currently not looking for advice choosing a breed, and I've already got plenty of reasons to favor adopting from a shelter so I'm not so much looking for that. Thanks!
posted by Metroid Baby to Pets & Animals (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think if you're OK with adopting from a shelter and understand what comes with it, you probably should. I would feel better about rescuing a cat under those circumstances.

Myself...I've had purebreds and mixed breeds and I now know that the only cats I will ever own are Maine Coons. But to each his/her own, obviously.
posted by prozach1576 at 12:08 PM on September 9, 2008

Is there a compelling argument in favor of getting a purebred cat instead of adopting a shelter kitty?

Resale value?

Really that's all I can think of. I believe that many purebreds have bad immune systems from all that inbreeding.
posted by rokusan at 12:08 PM on September 9, 2008

Actually, there's another reason to adopt a "mutt," as it were: in cats, dogs, and horses, many purebreds have dramatic health problems that are widely recognized in their respective breed. For example, English Springer Spaniels are absolutely gorgeous and have wonderful dispositions, but also have notoriously weak eyes, hips, and are prone to digestive problems. Thoroughbreds are fast and lean, but tend to break legs, leading to untimely knackerings.

Now I don't know all that much about particular cat breeds, but there are similar drawbacks. Your standard barn cat, if kept inside and properly cared for, might well live a longer, healthier life than a papered cat.
posted by valkyryn at 12:11 PM on September 9, 2008

Best answer: I got an Abby because I'm allergic to cats and Abbys don't trigger the respiratory problems that entails.

(My most recent cats are ex-breeders, and that's worked well, although it took a while for the male to get out of the habit of spraying.)
posted by rodgerd at 12:15 PM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

There may be some breed-related characteristics that particularly appeal to you for some reason (for example, allergies, as rogerd mentions).

When I was growing up, we had a series of "mutt" cats, but one time we were given a Siamese by a family that was moving away. She had a very distinctive personality, with her socialibility and "talkativeness," no to mention her very loud voice. Presumably other breeds also have their distinctive traits above and beyond appearance.
posted by Robert Angelo at 12:34 PM on September 9, 2008

Allergies might be one, but otherwise unless you're going to show and/or breed the cat, not that I can think of. (I have a gorgeous flame-point Oklahoma Farm Kitty, and a beautiful dark gray Austin Stray Tabby, myself)
posted by restless_nomad at 12:35 PM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

My cat came from a purebred Bengal breeder.

After watching my beloved ferret Ford die of adrenal cancer, and reading about the dramatic and rampant health problems in petstore animals, I deliberately went to a registered breeder with currently competing showcats, who let me see sires, queens, kittens from their respective litters, and helped me obsessively document the bloodline for my Grippycat to ensure that I could at least have some idea of common health problems in her family, allergy potential and temperament.

My 2 (keyboards don't have cents keys?)
posted by grippycat at 12:47 PM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Aside from "but I really want an Abyssinian," are there any good reasons to get a purebred?

If the reasons you really want an Abyssinian are founded in actual characteristics of the breed and not hearsay, wishful thinking, or popular misconceptions, that's a good enough reason right there.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:51 PM on September 9, 2008

I don't know a lot about cat breeding, breeding in general, genetics, or other relevant areas. But it seems to me that while there often are health problems associated with breeding, there is also a positive side, which is that their lineage and genealogical history is known. You can go to a breeder and say "I want a cat with zero genealogical history of conditions x, y, and z for n generations" and they can give you one and prove it (unless they're real shady). With a shelter cat, everything is an unknown it would seem. Still, that may be a small issue if you can find general information on probabilities of stray and feral cats having particular conditions. Maybe if you go to a no-kill shelter, or a shelter with a good reputation for knowledgeable staff, you could ask if they know of any current instances of scary conditions arising in strays in the area. Strays can be inbred too, or have genetic problems widespread among their population in an area.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 12:54 PM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

My wife and I got Siberians because they're believed to be hypoallergenic. Worked for us.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:56 PM on September 9, 2008

I've only ever had mutt kitties who were shelter bound. But my boyfriend's parents have two red Somalis, to whom I have become cat mommy over the last two years. I guess with a pure bred, you have a slightly better chance knowing what you are going to get up front. Of their two cats, (both of which are incredibly beautiful). One is very true to breed... and is the sweetest most personable cat I've ever known. The other is much more uptight and shy, but this may be due to issues created by the first owner who had her for two years (and sold her to get money for party for her parents anniversary! ). But they both drool when they purr.

So you have a general breed personality type, that might be true of the cat you get. Or might not.

With mutts (as kittens), you just never know.
posted by kimdog at 1:02 PM on September 9, 2008

Purely theoretical in your case since you're not after a particular breed, but without breeders, and buyers to support breeders, there would soon be no breeds. Within just a few years they would all interbreed and the separate breeds would be lost. People who need a cat with particular characteristics (temperament, reduced allergens, etc.) would just have to take their chances, which would result in a certain number of those cats being rehomed. (I think this argument is a lot stronger for dog breeders than cat breeders, since dogs vary so much in size, temperament, and intelligence, and people rely on them to perform specific jobs--but still.)
posted by HotToddy at 1:02 PM on September 9, 2008

Best answer: This doesn't really answer your question since I don't have any pro-breeder thoughts that haven't been said already, but I thought I'd chime in anyway. I have a purebred Cocker Spaniel puppy that is also a shelter dog. It's too difficult for me emotionally to volunteer at shelters, but I do fundraisers and give money and shop at the shelter store, etc. Because of that, people who do voluteer at shelters know I'm a nut for dogs, especially Cockers. When a litter without a mom came in, guess who they thought of first. I even have papers, because the lady who gave up the litter had planned to sell them, but personal circumstances forced her to give them up. What I'm getting at is, if you know what breed you like and you know you can take your time, why not let every shelter in the area know that if a {insert favorite breed here} comes in, you'd like a call? The easiest way IMO is Petfinder. You can find a lot of no-kill foster shelters that work with the ASPCA, as well as your local Humane Society. I got my kitty through them, and I'm really happy with my zoo.
posted by dogmom at 1:20 PM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'd completely forgotten about some breeds being hypoallergenic (though I have heard that claim about a lot of breeds and am not sure how true the claims are). That is, in fact, pretty important for me.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:26 PM on September 9, 2008

There are organizations dedicated to finding homes for purebreeds, including Abyssinians. Rescue cats aren't necessarily older cats. I agree with dogmom, though, Petfinder is a very good place to start.

I used to know an Abyssinian, and I can completely understand why you're partial to that breed.
posted by gladly at 1:36 PM on September 9, 2008

I don't know if it's the same in the US as in the UK but after many years of crossbreed adoptions we welcomed in our first purebred dog from a rescue this year and were amazed at the hugely increased insurance premiums (as much as 4 times higher quoted by many companies) compared to mutt insurance.
posted by ceri richard at 1:40 PM on September 9, 2008

I have a rescue Aby (sitting right here on the keybjsorkd at the moment, actually). He and his lifepartnercat, who's purebred British Shorthair, were given up by their former owners for some reason. I have only ever had rescue animals or strays in my life, so I didn't really consider paying a breeder for an animal I would not show - that my boys are purebreds is an interesting fact about them but not the reason they live here.

No-kill shelters tend to be more diligent about identifying breeds, if only because they've got the luxury of time whereas Humane Society branches aren't always able to say more than longhair/shorthair/etc.

All of which is to say, in answer to your question, that it isn't necessarily a purebred OR shelter cat decision. Papers are meaningless unless you plan to show the cat; I don't know much about show cats, but in the dog world the animal must be intact to show, so rescue dogs are pretty much out of the running because of the routine sterilization.
posted by catlet at 1:59 PM on September 9, 2008

One other Reason that might lead someone to consider Purebred is that Shelter cats are kind of like War Orphans. Unless they were born in the shelter, you really don't know anything about what their life was like and that can put you in a position where you have to deal with issues "of unknown origin."

Though I should note that that is not a specific nod in favor of Purebred cats, just that it is often better if you can see/interact with the Mom and Pop and examine the environment the kit grew up in.

I got my two cats from a person who had an unexpected litter. They probably would have wound up in the shelter if I had not taken them. So I would vote for the pre-Shelter non-purebred :)
posted by Lord Widebottom at 2:14 PM on September 9, 2008

Best answer: While I must throw in a"Aw, just get a darn moggy who needs a home" comment, I understand wanting some background on a cat--even moreso than with a dog. Cats are notoriously prickly creatures (I say this a dog person, though) and it's hard to get a grip on their real personalities when they've been stuck in kennels all day. And if they're anything like dog breeders, a cat breeder can give you a better idea of prospective pet's personality since they know the disposition of the cat's parents, right?

There might be a compromise: Russian blues are extremely common in shelters, and they're known for their outgoing, friendly, playful attitudes. They're also reputedly hypoallergenic. I'm devilishly allergic to cats, but Russian blues have never given me so much as a hive.
posted by zoomorphic at 2:40 PM on September 9, 2008

Supporting a breeder who does what he loves, maybe?

Please. Breeders are adding more and more (inbred, overpriced, superfluous) kitties to an already enormous population. Animal lovers treat pets well, and volunteer at shelters, and donate to rescue missions. Breeders are opportunists who profit off our fetish for purebreds.
posted by zoomorphic at 2:47 PM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just another data point; I adopted a Siamese from the Humane Society here less than a year ago. I've had other (adopted, non-breeder or -shelter) Siamese before, but I wasn't looking for a Siamese when I went to adopt -- I was looking for a companion to my surviving cat. The HS had this one pegged as not getting along with other cats, but he and my big guy were good together from day one. He also really likes humans; I just had to nudge my sweet cat off my lap to type this. He really is a perfect companion.

So, I guess my point is that there are good cats that are: purebred; fine and sweet; not from a breeder; and who still are about to fall through the cracks. Look for one of them? It may take chance, or may take some time.

Wishing you many fulfilling years of happiness with your new cat.
posted by vers at 3:47 PM on September 9, 2008

am not sure how true the claims are)

Well, I grew up with cats, then cats and dogs and cows. I didn't really notice any allergy problems, but once I moved off the farm into a household in the city with no pets, and spent a few years like that, every visit home, or to a household with cats, I would get classic allergic reactions, worst of which were breathing problems.

I've had Abbys sicne then. The one time I've had problems were when I had a rescued cat in the house, a neutered moggy tom, waiting for adoption or a home shelter. My asthma went beserk for the time he was with us, and went back to normal when he left. Yeah, anecdotal evidence has its limits, but that's my experience.

work me up past the point of proper grammar

Or, apparently, past the point of considering that broad-brush stereotypes can be a pile of horseshit as they relate to occupations as much as race or religion.
posted by rodgerd at 4:20 PM on September 9, 2008

I just wanted to chime in that there exist rescue organizations dedicated to almost every dog and cat breed out there. If you can't find it just by googling "[cat breed] rescue [optional: your city or state]," or if said rescue looks out of date, look up the national organization for the cat breed and contact whoever's in charge, since they will almost certainly know. Depending on where you live, if there's an active rescue, etc, you may be advised to get to know a local shower/breeder and develop a relationship. Show breeders often adopt out their retired animals as pets on the specific condition that they have happy pet lives without being bred or shown, but it does take a while to demonstrate that your interest is serious and not just, "Oooh, cat pretty!"

There might be a compromise: Russian blues are extremely common in shelters, and they're known for their outgoing, friendly, playful attitudes.

If I ever adopt any purebred cat, it'll definitely be a Russian Blue, because they're awesome, but I just wanted to point out that a large number of cats identified as "Russian Blues" in shelters (or cats ID'ed as ANY breed actually) probably aren't. (Some are.) There's the breed standard of Russian Blue, which like all breed standards includes a mind-boggling list of requirements including shapes and angles of all body parts, coat texture, and exact shades of grey coat and one of several tints of blue eye color, and then there is its moggy precursor, which is, "grey cat, very cute." I love the grey cats for not being Russian Blues, personally. They're kinda dusty-shadowy-looking, essence of the Cat that Walked By Himself...

But anyway, I think shelters grab on to any remotely plausible breed ID because a) people like to label the things they have, and "Russian Blue cat" is more precise than "cat," and b) people still think breeds are better than mutts. Bah.

Please. Breeders are adding more and more (inbred, overpriced, superfluous) kitties to an already enormous population. Animal lovers treat pets well, and volunteer at shelters, and donate to rescue missions. Breeders are opportunists who profit off our fetish for purebreds.

There are many good breeders who a) place their animals carefully and watch over them from birth to death such that they never end up in a shelter if the breeders can possibly help it through any legal or brute force means, and b) do shelter work. Meanwhile, there are crappy shelters that hoard animals in terrible conditions and actively scare potential good owners away from adoption. False dichoto-cat says that this means shelters are bad and breeders are good!

Oh, wait.
posted by bettafish at 5:15 PM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Cause you know what you want? You should get the cat you want and ignore people who give you grief because of it.
posted by FergieBelle at 6:34 PM on September 9, 2008

The only reason I could possibly see for getting a cat from a breeder instead of from a shelter is that shelter animals often come with baggage (physical and mental) from having been abused. You never know beforehand if you are going to get your cat home and three weeks later a friend with a cowboy hat, a particular mustache, or high-heeled shoes comes in and your cat goes beserk because the person who abused it had that feature. Or if several months from now your cat can't walk and an ex-ray shows that it had a broken pelvis that was never treated, and which has just rebroken.

That's all though. Otherwise I can't see any reason for not getting a shelter animal over a bred cat.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:47 PM on September 9, 2008

Best answer: I bred Tonkinese cats for sale and show when I was a child. (at $300-600 for each kitten this "hobby" paid for about a year at state university! Even with the money my grandmother kept for herself and didn't hand over as promised. But that's another post.)

The rules for purchasing one of my kittens were many. Most important:

1. If the new owner was not intending to register and show/breed with an ACFA, CFA, or TICA cattery the cat must be fixed.

2. Shots must be maintained.

3. Absolutely kept only indoors

4. New owner had to know and understand about the temperament of the animal they were getting.

5. Return the pet to us if it doesn't fit your life/family.

The (real and imagined) upside of my kitties over pound purries:

1. Hand raised by a young child. I started this when I was nine, and my three siblings also played with the kittens. I was helped by my grandmother who had raised these cats for at least a decade, and probably two at that point. She had previously bred dogs. Our house was loud and the kittens/grown cats would let me hold them upside down, dress them in doll clothes. Very patient cats. The cats were treated better in our home than we children were.

2. We administered all shots to the kittens on a strict time table.

3. Kittens were guaranteed to have no disease/worms/etc.

4. We maintained a policy of taking back any cat that didn't fit with the family. (But not refunding.)

5. I was available to answer questions about each cat. I knew and loved them all. I wanted them each to be happy.

6. Pedigree and sociability. My breed has a documented temperament. A little chatty, but not as vocal as a Siamese. Pleasant to look at, looks like a cat with pretty markings. Not as angular as Siamese had become, not as stocky as Burmese. (Tonk lineage is 1/2 Burmese, 1/2 Siamese) Tonkinese cats tend to like being held, but are generally not clingy, though some are. They do well with their people out of the house for workdays.

My memories of Abyssinians are that many were not ok with long absences. For some cats this means ten hours. For other cats that meant three days. The tonks were ridiculously happy to be alone in the house for 3+ days with enough litter box access, and each other. Also, Abyssinian is a very high energy breed. By that I mean they tend not to be all about hanging out in a lap. They are also nosey and can be counted on to rummage in your closets and climb your curtains. (Of course the breed standards make this sound charming. Some people love it. Others would like a little more...privacy from an animal. I grew up knowing an Abyssinian that insisted on showering with his owner. I don't think I could deal with that, but I don't know how common that particular behavior is.)

For the last 6 years I have had only adopted street/pound cats. This has not been a completely positive experience for me. They were both very expensive up front. Thousands of dollars to return them to health. I fostered some kittens from the Humane Society and though my big cat never came into contact with them she contracted Feline Upper Respiratory Virus because I didn't wash my clothes and self in hot water before handling her. I had never encountered these types of diseases in cats before! And the pound/pet store/ and desperate family with a new litter of 6 kittens is very happy to mis/underinform you if it means getting a cat into a "good" home. Both cats I've had in these past few years came with mites, worms, and other ailments. Their temperaments are/were...screwy. Mable is neurotic and is absolutely buggy after about 4 hours alone in the house. I'm gone twice a week for 12+ hours. This makes my nights unpleasant as I have to help her unwind herself because her companion cat died this summer of bladder cancer. When she had a second cat this was better, but not perfect. I could not have known this before bringing her home. I do wish I had gotten a purebred instead of a street cat. With a tonk, one would most likely have been fine alone. But this is the decision I made.
posted by bilabial at 7:21 PM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

I have to chime in to agree with the comments from Lord Widebottom and arcticwoman. I've lived with lots of rescue cats over the years and recently adopted two Havana Browns. I never had any intention of adopting purebreds, but just fell in love with the breed. The breeder I worked with raises her kittens underfoot, as they say. The kittens even get to sleep in the same bed with the breeder! While I've loved all my feline companions, I must admit that the purebreds are so much more well-adjusted than any of the rescue cats were.

On preview, my babies' breeder has policies virtually identical with those outlined by bilabial.
posted by kittydelsol at 7:24 PM on September 9, 2008

Best answer: I would highly recommend either a breeder that you can visit or a rescue that has a foster program. Most city shelters in my experience do not even let you touch the cat until after it has been adopted, making it hard to gauge the kitten's personality and health. With a local breeder or foster family you get to talk to someone who has been living with the cat. Worst case scenario for getting a good personality is a kitten selected out of a cage with no interaction or chosen from a picture on the internet and shipped.

Shelter cats can have lots of street smart confidence and the personality I would describe as "scrappy" which none of my house-raised cats have possessed. If you like that you should go with a shelter. OTOH purebred or any privately raised cats more often have the opportunity to grow up with their Mom and Siblings and this can help them to be well adjusted cats and be more confident and less needy.

Also when adopting from a private breeder rather than a rescue organization I have had the opportunity through a contract with the breeder to allow the kitten to grow to 6 months of age with me before neutering/spaying. I don't want to start controversy since I fully understand why rescues insist on desexing the cats first and I support it but I just wanted to add the info.

Good Luck with your future kitty! My last piece of advice is to find a community or knowledgeable person that you can talk about cat things with. There are hundreds of types of food and toys and it helps me to discuss them and get other experiences. In fact, perhaps you can find them now and get advice on local quality breeders or shelters.
posted by tinamonster at 12:36 AM on September 10, 2008

Response by poster: Please. Breeders are adding more and more (inbred, overpriced, superfluous) kitties to an already enormous population. Animal lovers treat pets well, and volunteer at shelters, and donate to rescue missions. Breeders are opportunists who profit off our fetish for purebreds.

I won't argue that there are plenty of kitten mills and breeders who are unscrupulous, opportunistic, negligent, ignorant, or otherwise unfit to be working with animals. Rest assured I have no intention of ever supporting a breeder who is in it for the money and not for the animals.

I've only talked to a handful of breeders in my life, but the ones I've met really were people who fell in love with cats in general and one or two breeds in particular, were happy to share their home with a small herd of purebred companions (and frequently a rescued stray or two hanging out with the bunch), committed to reinforcing their chosen breed's health and gene pool rather than producing trendy designer kittens... and didn't seem to be making very much money from it at all.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:06 AM on September 10, 2008

The other alternative to breeder vs. shelter is adopting a kitten directly from someone who has a non-purebred litter. That's actually where both of my girls came from - my eldest's momma was a barn cat, and the owners adopted out some of the kittens, and my youngest was born to a partly-feral stray that condescended to give birth on a coworker's porch. Both kittens were socialized early and I was able to visit my youngest's mother and siblings before I took her home.

That doesn't help with the breed-specific parts, but people are raising very good points about some of the dangers of shelter cats. I just feel that there are too many earnest volunteer kitten foster parents out there desperate to find their litters good homes to actually pay a professional.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:58 AM on September 10, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the input, everyone!

I think, in general, I'd be more likely to adopt a mixed-breed.

On the other hand, pet allergies are something I need to take into consideration. If I can find a breed that doesn't trigger allergies, it's worth looking into - I'll definitely need to look into rescue programs and do a fair bit of research.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:07 AM on September 10, 2008

We have two breed cats and two pound purries. Love them all like crazy. Our Aby is a great guy who has lots of energy, is rather needy and loves a lapsit. He prefers my husband to me, but that's ok because my siamese loves me best. And our cowkitty loves our daughter best and our maine coone shelter kitty has issues (he was abused) and loves us all and is a sweet scared huge boy.

We're lucky to have a lot of room and my husband loves kitties as much as I do . Have you considered two kittens? A breed and a moggie? If they are of similar age they will grow up together quite nicely

We also vacuum a lot because I'm allergic. Luckily, you get used to your own cats over time, so it isn't a problem anymore.
posted by pywacket at 4:10 PM on May 12, 2009

totally should have looked at the date on that one!
posted by pywacket at 4:12 PM on May 12, 2009

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