What's a Cat Show? - Cat Info Detective

What’s a Cat Show?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Greetings all my fabulous feline friends! Ever been to a cat show? If not, you should explore them… they’re fun and very interesting!

Unlike dog shows that you see on TV, cat shows are just as mysterious as we kitties are!

paw prints coming in from a distance

Let’s take a look…

Who Is Skye Blake?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a vet or breeder) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you! 

Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page. 

All sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping. 

What Is a Cat Show Anyway?

cat wearing a show crown and ribbon

Since I’m a street cat (nothing fancy here), I didn’t know much about shows when I started snooping around.

Thought they were just for the feline “high society” types.

Boy, was I wrong! Most have at least one household pet category so your friendly buddy lying by the fireplace can enter too.

persian cat-white facing forward

A cat show is an event where cats are judged according to breed standards, as required by the licensing registry.

Member clubs run the shows worldwide.

Cats compete to win ribbons, points and titles in various classes.

(OK, it’s really the humans competing, but hey, my fellow pretty kitties seem to enjoy it too!)

white cat

At the end of each season the show officials tally up the total points each cat has won in each show.

They award regional, national and international championships to the cats with the most points in each category.

Going to shows is a great way to get familiar with various breeds.

Maine Coon cat - ginger, standing on log

You can talk to the owners, who are usually happy to tell you about the wonderful qualities of their breed, their needs, temperament and lovable quirks.

If you’re considering showing your cat, whether purebred, pedigreed, or household pet, visiting a show gives you an idea of how your cat would do in that environment.

Your cat would have to be calm with strangers, other cats, handling by judges, and the noise of the show.

Registries License Cat Shows

sphynx cat

Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) and The International Cat Association (TICA) are the two biggest registries in North America and have the most member clubs.

Any club wishing to hold an official show applies for a license with that registry.


There’s a helpful comparison of the differences between CFA and TICA at “Comparing CFA & TICA”1“Comparing CFA & TICA”, by Cheryl Leigh Chamberlin, May 2015, PandEcats.com

Breeders often register and show their cats in both organizations’ shows, despite points not being interchangeable between registries.

Discover more about registries at “What’s a Cat Registry?

Are All Cat Shows the Same?

Maine Coon Cat at show

The simple answer is no… there are similarities but also distinct differences, mainly between closed and open shows (see below).

A big difference is in how registries define a breed. TICA recognizes more breeds than CFA.

purebred bengal cat wearing harness, leash walking on wall

CFA recognizes the RagaMuffin but TICA does not. TICA recognizes the Savannah and Peterbald but CFA does not.

A good comparison is at “Comparing CFA & TICA”.

How A Cat Show Works


Cat clubs must be members of a registry to set up and operate a show. A show can be from 1-3 days in length (usually a weekend).

When you’re at a show, you’ll see variations in judging styles, rules for types of cats allowed, owners decorating their cat’s cage, etc.

Judging Styles

judge drawing

Each registry has training programs for judges and certifies them to judge at their shows.

There are various judging styles used in different parts of the world.

The United States mostly uses the open ring style of judging. In Australia they use either open or closed rings.

In Europe traditional judging is often used and can be done along with ring-style.



A judging ring consists of an area with cages and a table or counter. Each judge has their own ring.

Along with the judge there are at least one clerk and one steward, who assist with calling numbers, recording the judge’s decisions, and handling the cats (this may vary by registry rules).

judging gavel
  • “All Breed” rings allow judging of every breed approved by the sponsoring registry, both long and short haired.
  • “Specialty” rings separate the cats into long hair types (Persians, Maine Coons, etc.) and short hair types (Siamese, Sphynx, American Short Hair, etc.)


open sign

An open show consists of a number of separate “mini” shows held in judging rings throughout a show hall.

If you go to one you’ll see judging happening in all of them at the same time throughout the day.

Same idea as a 3-ring circus where different acts perform in all three rings simultaneously.

cat show assistant

There can be anywhere from 4-12 rings in a show at the same time, depending on the size of the show.

Each ring has a different judge, who is in charge of that ring.

Each judge evaluates every cat in a category and gives his or her own awards independent of the decisions of other judges.

So a cat might receive a Best in Breed award from one judge but 2nd or 3rd from another.

tabby looking up

In an open show, the exhibitors can stay and watch the judging, but cannot give any indication which cat belongs to them.

Spectators can sit and watch as well.

Exhibitors keep their cats in the “benching” area… aisles of cages when they’re not in a judge’s ring.

Owners cover the cages on three sides so the cats can’t see each other, often with fun, fancy decorations.

man sitting between rows of seats at theater

Covers keep the cats calmer and help prevent hissy fits and aggression. (We felines can be particular when it comes to our neighbors!)

Visitors can walk through the aisles and see the cats in the benching area.

The show clerk gives each exhibitor a catalog number for their cat.

The exhibitor must bring their cat to a judge’s ring when their number is announced.


closed sign

In a closed show, the exhibitors put their cats in undecorated cages in a judge’s ring and then must leave the room.

The judge examines every cat in turn and gives awards. Then the owners can return to the room.


blue show cat

“Traditional judging is often combined with ring style judging, so a cat show may consist of several rings plus traditional judging. With traditional judging, each cat is assigned to a judge, who gives a written report to the owner. Each judge may nominate a cat to the final judging, when all judges examine the finalists, and the final rewards are given by voting of the judges.”2https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat_show#:~:text=A%20cat%20show%20is%20a,judged%20after%20a%20breed%20standard.&text=Cats%20are%20compared%20to%20a,it%20are%20awarded%20a%20prize.

Show Categories

Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA)

Persian show cat

Exhibitors show their cats at CFA shows in one of seven categories.

Pedigreed cats are those whose parents and grandparents are known and registered.

The categories are…

kitten staring up

4-8 months old, pedigreed, male or female, altered or unaltered

cat sitting as a statue

Unaltered pedigreed cats over 8 months old that meet breed standards

curious cat - maine coon

Altered (spayed or neutered) pedigreed cats over 8 months old that meet breed standards

abyssinian cat stretching

Any male or female altered or unaltered, who’s at least 7 years old that meets breed standards.

The owner could choose to show them in the championship or premiership classes.

Household Pet
kitten in wicker carrier

Any domestic kitten (4-8 months old) or altered cat (must be spayed or neutered) can enter HHP if it’s not eligible for other categories.

Pedigreed cats who don’t meet breed standards are eligible for the Household Pet Class.

Snowshoe cat walking toward camera

Declawed cats and those with other deformities are not eligible.

Judges evaluate HHP cats on appearance, temperament, health and grooming.

You can check for more info on showing your pet kitty at “Household Pet Class” (CFA).

Miscellaneous Breed

Any registered cat or kitten of a breed just starting the process of being accepted by CFA.

The owners exhibit these cats and the judges handle them, but no awards are given in this category.

Judges and owners can discuss possible breed standards.

Provisional Breed
brown tabby cat alert, watching

Any registered cat or kitten of a breed not accepted for Championship competition.

This is the next step after the Miscellaneous category for breeds looking to be accepted by CFA.

At this point CFA has approved a provisional standard for that breed.

The International Cat Association (TICA) Classes

Championship Class (kitten, adult or altered)
Maine Coon Cat - White

Championship class consists of pedigreed kittens and cats only (pedigreed = parents and grandparent are registered and documented).

Judges evaluate and give out awards based on which cat best represents their breed standard.

Kittens (4-8 months old) are shown separately from Adults (at least 8 months old on opening day of the show)

Household Pets Class (kitten or adult)
American Shorthair cat

Household pets have their own unique standard based on their condition. They compete for awards and titles that are similar to the championship class.

The judges evaluate them on body and coat condition, beauty, and show presence.

They judge adult cats together, and kittens together in their own group.

cat rubbing head

TICA requires that all cats in HPC over 8 months of age be spayed or neutered.

They accept declawed cats and those with other imperfections like three legs or one eye.

You can check for more info on showing your pet kitty at “Non-Pedigreed Cats” (TICA).

New Breed Class (kitten or adult)

There are three divisions in this class… Provisional New Breeds, Advanced New Breeds, and New Traits.

NBC is for completely new breeds or existing breeds that have new colors or traits.

Owners register these cats with TICA but have not yet met the requirements for Championship status.

Awards, Points & Ribbons

cat show ribbons

Each registry has its own points and awards system.

If you want to compete in a particular show, you’ll find details at each registry’s website (listed below).

CFA’s Award System

blue ribbon at show

CFA has a points and awards system you can read about at “Award Point Minimums” and “How Are Ribbons Awarded?”.

The top 25 cats with the most points in the country for the entire season receive the title of “National Winner” (NW).

Cats in the top 25 of their region (usually several states) receive the title of “Regional Winner”.

Silver Maine Coon cat

Unaltered adult cats that earn over 200 points receive the title of “Grand Champion”.

“Altered” means spayed or neutered, so an unaltered cat is sexually intact.

You can show an altered cat in a class called “Premier” and achieve the title of “Grand Premier” once they have accumulated over 75 points.

silver tabby cat

Cats that meet the standards of the breed (as confirmed by six judges at one show) receive a “winners ribbon” from each judge and the lowest title of “Champion” or “Premier”.

Kittens are also able to achieve the title of “National Winner” and “Regional Winner”, but can’t become Grand Champions or Grand Premiers until reaching adulthood at 8 months old.

TICA’s Award System

show trophies

TICA’s award system is different from CFA’s.

You can find information on TICA’s Color and Division Awards at “What’s a Cat Show?” (toward the bottom of the page).

In order to obtain the title of Champion, Champion Alter, or Master (Household Pets), a cat must earn 300 points plus one final award.

siamese kitty lounging

Each cat accumulates points from color, division and final awards.

In the finals of an allbreed ring (longhairs and shorthairs), the judge will select the top ten eligible cats based on 25 cats competing in the ring.

If there are only 24 cats competing the judge picks the top nine, etc.

Curious tabby, white kitten sitting on back of chair

The judges award finals to Cats, Kittens, Alters, Household Pets, Household Pet Kittens, and NBCs (New Breed Class).

In the finals of a specialty ring, the judge selects the awards for longhair and shorthair breeds separately.

Show Rules

rules-plain background

All shows have rules for exhibitors and visitors.

They’re basically common sense and exist for the smooth running of the show and safety of everyone, including the cats.

A few rules for exhibitors are…

person grooming, combing grey cat
  • Every cat’s claws must be clipped before judging
  • Exhibitors can’t sit in the ring holding a cat or indicate which cat belongs to them
  • Exhibitors can’t groom their cat when it’s in the judging ring

You can find complete lists of rules at the website of each registry (“CFA Manuals-Show Rules” and “TICA-Rules & Regulations-Show Rules”)

Visitor Etiquette

Book of etiquette

When you’re visiting a show, it’s important to be mindful of the cats and their owners.

The atmosphere can easily become chaotic and stressful when visitors are loud and intrusive.

If you have children, do them a favor and tell them ahead of time about looking but not touching.

Show rules say no toys, feathers, fingers, etc. are allowed in or near the cages. Talking in a normal voice is fine but not screaming or yelling.

person petting cat

Sometimes there are adoptable cats at these shows that you can hold, fall in love with, and, hopefully, adopt.

Visitors should ask exhibitors if it’s ok to touch the cats… often they say ‘no’ so don’t feel hurt if they do.

This is to keep from spreading diseases and stressing out the cats unnecessarily.

upside down white kitten

Most owners are very happy to talk to visitors about their breed and specific cats, even if they can’t let you touch them.

Exhibitors have to prepare their cat and listen for their number to be called, so they can’t always be available to talk to the public.

Visitors watch the judging from seating areas in front of the rings (in an open show) and don’t go in the judging area.

Videos of Judging at Cat Shows

Cameras for videos

Here are some YouTube videos showing how judging is done at TICA and CFA shows.

You get to see the judges in action!

Notice how the judges lift and feel the head and body of each cat.

Snowshoe?, tabby cat sitting in chair

They’re checking for breed standards in weight, coat, muscle mass, shape of head, ears, and eyes, among other things.

The judges also evaluates the cat’s behavior (friendly, aloof, alert, high or low energy, etc.).

CFA judges don’t consider coat color, but TICA judges do.

person holding white kitten

Judges often describe what they’re looking for when they judge, which makes it fun and interesting.

They’ll describe the behavior and appearance traits of each breed.

The judges and others who handle the cats clean their hands and table with sanitizer between each cat to keep from spreading diseases.

cat with his head in a person's hand

Top 10 Best Cat | TICA Championship October 2019 By Carol Lawson

CFA International Cat Show 2018 – Best of the Best, November 11, 2018

40th Annual TICA Awards and Allbreed Cat Show, DTBenefits, September 5, 2019

go pro camera - video, movies

CFA International Show 2019 – Longhair Adult Class Judging – Maine Coons, December 30, 2019

CFA Cat Show in Sanford, Florida, Boulangerie Cattery, December 6, 2022

International Cat Show, 23rd July 2022

Cat Agility Tournaments

Cat looking into agility tunnel
You want me to do WHAT??!!

OK, dogs do agility but CATS???

How on earth do you get one of us independent-minded critters to run through tunnels and hoops?

Well, you’d be surprised at how smart and easily trainable we are!

Tonkinese cat sniffing treat held by woman

ICAT (International Cat Agility Tournaments) runs agility competitions for TICA worldwide.

ICAT was created by two TICA members but is a separate association from TICA.

cat jumping down onto grass-front view

Cats and kittens registered with ICAT can compete in timed trials and earn Agility Cat Titles based on the levels of difficulty they finish (there are two levels: Basic and Advanced).

Any cats and kittens not registered with ICAT can still compete in timed trials at local TICA cat shows for prizes at that event.

Show Summary

woman hugging cat

You just read a lot about shows and there’s so much more to see and learn.

Whether you want to become an exhibitor and compete or just enjoy watching and learning, cat shows are great fun.

You can enter your cat in the Household Pet or Agility competitions without being a breeder. Any cat can compete!

Curious about breeds of cats? Check out “Cat Breeds“.

American Cat Assocation (ACA)American Cat Fanciers’ Association (ACFA)Canadian Cat Association (CCA)
Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA)Cat Fanciers Federation (CFF)Federation Internationale Feline (FiFe)
40 member countries
Governing Council of the Cat FancyThe International Cat Association (TICA)World Cat Congress (WCC)
international federation or largest organizations and national associations
9 members
World Cat Federation
based in Germany, has 370 member organizations


Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.

However, sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

“77 Things to Know Before Getting a Cat”, by Susan M. Ewing, Fox Chapel Publishers International, Ltd., 2018

Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA)

Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA) Virtual Shows

“Decoding Your Cat”, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, edited by Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVB, Debra F. Horwitz DVM, DACVB, Carlo Siracusa DVM, PhD, DACVB, DECAWBM, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., New York, NY, 2020, www.hmhbooks.com, pp. 165-189

“All About Cat Shows”, by Jane McGrath, How Stuff Works

“Cat Agility is Fun for You AND your Cat”, ICATS, International Cat Agility Tournaments

“Cat Registries and Cat Clubs”, Messybeast.com

“Comparing CFA & TICA”, by Cheryl Leigh Chamberlin, May 2015, PandEcats.com

“Cat Agility Tournaments”, TICA.org, July 28, 2018

“What is a Cat Show?”, TICA.org

“Cat Show”, Wikipedia

Updated April 1, 2024

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