The 'mystique' of cat shows revealed

A guide to cat shows and showing
By Hazel King©

The Southern Africa Cat Council

SACC is the larger one of two associations governing the cat fancy in South Africa. The other is the Cat Federation of South Africa. Through its central office, the SA Cat Register, SACC runs the registration of pedigreed cats, breeders and catteries, stud males and other cat-related matters. SACC consists of nine affiliated cat clubs, about 15 breed groups, three judges' panels and a number of show-manager forums and stewards' forums.


Cat shows are the showcase of the cat fancy at which visitors can see the various pedigreed breeds and meet reputable breeders. Cat Fanciers' organisations across the world, like SACC, have a Standard of Points (SOP) for all recognised cat breeds. The SOP describes various type and colour features of all the recognised breeds. All reputable breeders are striving to breed cats that are as close as possible to the SOP for their specific breed. For this reason, breeders take part in shows where they can compete with other breeders to measure the progress of their own breeding programmes towards meeting the requirements of the SOP laid down for their breed and to get reports on their cats from qualified judges. Major awards (towards titles such as 'Champion') are given to cats that meet the SOP to a specific degree.

Although shows are largely about pedigreed cats and measuring the progress of breeding programmes, classes are also provided for non-registered household pets. You, therefore, do not have to own a pedigreed cat to enter a show. Taking part in the 'pet section' is often a stepping stone to a more serious involvement in the fancy.

Shows are organised by the various cat clubs. There are about 23 SACC shows countrywide annually.

Building up to the 'Big Day'

Eight to four weeks before the show and how to enter your cat for a show

If you want your cat to take part in a show, either in the registered or non-registered section, your first step would be to find out when the next show will take place in your area and then get an entry form from the show manager of the club hosting the show. The closing date for entries varies between two and four weeks before the actual event. You could, also, join of the cat clubs in your area, in which case you would receive regular newsletters and show-entry forms.

An entry form normally consists of five pages. These comprise:

  • A page containing general information about the date and venue of the show and names and contact details of the show managers ? for your general information
  • A page summarising the most important show rules ? for your general information
  • A page summarising the fees payable ? to be completed by all exhibitors
  • An entry form for cats in the registered classes ? complete this form if you are entering a registered cat (you will find all the information regarding the cat's registration details, such as registration number, parents, breed number and date of birth) on the 'Certificate of Registration', issued by the South African Cat Register to the breeder of your cat when it was initially registered)
  • Alternatively, an entry form for cats entered in the pet/domestic/unregistered classes ? complete this form if you are entering an unregistered cat
  • If more than one cat is entered in either section, copies should be made as only one cat can be entered on a form.

Fill out the applicable pages and send them, together with a certified copy of the cat's inoculation certificate as well as the entry fees, to the show manager, who will process your entry. The show manager will issue a receipt for the fees and return the copy of the inoculation certificate to you. It is a good idea to contact him or her to confirm that your entries have indeed been received (if you are not certain about which class in which to enter your cat, do not hesitate to contact the show manager to discuss this). The entry form normally also will indicate the number of rings at the show. The term 'ring' is merely used to indicate the number of times that a cat will be judged ? at a two-ring show, cats will be judged twice, by two different judges. This means that they have a chance of gaining up to two awards that can count towards titles such a 'Champion'. However, kittens and unregistered classes normally are judged only once, as they are not eligible for major awards.

Five to one days before the show

About a week before the show, you will receive a 'Notice to Exhibitors' from the show manager. This will contain information such as your cat's entry number, time of benching and directions to the show venue. With shows often taking place only a week apart, it is easier if you provide the show manager with an e-mail address or fax number to make communication easier and quicker.

Preparing your cat: it is often a good idea to give your cat a bath before the show. This should happen anything from one to four days before the show, depending on the breed. Clean the eyes and ears with slightly damp cotton wool. Be sure to get exact grooming instructions and tips from the breeder of your cat. Remember that a show is a beauty contest ? therefore your cat should look its very best on the big day. Be careful not to apply tactics such as dying or cutting hair, as such practices are prohibited by the show rules and may lead to disqualification. Scars or bold patches from a recent fight (such as an open wound after an abscess) or an operation will count against your cat. Allow these time to heal before trying to show your cat. Keep your cat's nails clipped for showing handlers and judges alike will appreciate this gesture. Keep in mind that the preparation of your cat shortly before the show merely adds the 'finishing touches'. Good health and a glossy coat starts with continuous good nutrition and regular grooming to remove loose and old hair.

On the big day

  • This will last from early morning until about 5pm, when the show ends and you can take your cat home. It is not as daunting as it may seem as, for the major part, your cat snoozes in its cage and you can amuse yourself by browsing around the breed group tables or take in a movie until it is time for the finals judging, normally about 3.30pm. You should feed your cat quite a while before setting off for the show. If it is a kitten, take some food to feed it towards the middle of the day - but only after it has been judged.

  • Check again that the eyes and ears are clean. Do last-minute grooming if required (especially longhaired cats).

  • Take your cat to the show in an escape-proof cat-carrier box.

  • On arrival at the venue, present the notice with your cat's number at the door, so that the show staff can help you to 'book in'.

  • Some clubs have a 'vetting-in' procedure at the door: a vet will briefly check your cat - mainly to detect any transmittable parasites or conditions that may be infectious to other exhibits. If an exhibit seem suspect, it will be disqualified and the owner will be asked not to take it into the hall. This is done to protect other exhibits against possible hazards (most clubs do not use this procedure any more, as the examination over-stresses cats, but some do have a vet on duty in the early part of the day to check unwell cats).

  • Find the cage with your cat's number on it. Cover the bottom with a white blanket or nappy with no colour trimmings (a baby's nappy, blanket or towel work very well). Put the litter tray that you will find on top of the cage, inside (some clubs do not provide a litter tray or water bowl, but ask instead that exhibitors provide these themselves. If this is the case, it will be clearly stated in the Notice to Exhibitors. These clubs also sell these items at their shows.)

  • Check the final grooming and put your cat in the cage. Check that the door is securely closed.

  • Do not give the cat water ? the stewards will attend to this once judging is finished.

Some clubs ask exhibitors to leave the hall after benching. Judging then starts and takes place with only the show officials and judges in the hall. Many clubs, however, encourage exhibitors to stay and watch their cats being judged. You may also listen to the comments of the judges on the exhibits. However, while judging is in progress, you may not identify yourself as the owner of the cat to the judge. If you do this, it could lead to disqualification in terms of the show rules.

When it is judged, your cat will be taken out of the cage by the steward and presented to the judge. He or she will assess it and write a report. In most cases, the report is placed in an envelope on the cat's cage immediately after it has been judged. Rosettes are hung on the cages once the results have been processed by the show manager or, in some cases, immediately by the judge's assistants.

You will notice that the stewards and judges clean their hands with a disinfectant after handling each cat. This is to prevent the spread of undesirable organisms (such as upper-respiratory-tract infections or ringworm) that may be present, between cats. The cages are also cleaned with disinfectant before the show.

Although most cats cope well with showing and behave beautifully, their temperaments differ (just like humans) and the occasional one will be fractious. If the stewards and judges can't handle a cat, it might be disqualified. However, the only way of knowing how your cat will handle when it is being shown, is to give it a try.

There are usually a number of stalls selling cat-related items at a show. This is an excellent time to get grooming tools, toys, scratching posts, cat litter and even cat food. Breed groups also have exhibitions at shows to promote their breeds. Shows are generally a good place to meet reputable breeders and to get (most of) your questions answered.

Cat shows normally finish somewhere between 4.30pm and 5.30pm. At that time, you put your cat back in its carrier box, take your cage blanket and all those lovely rosettes and other prizes and head for home.

Judging procedures and classes

Registered cats:

All registered cats are judged in accordance with the Standard of Points set for the specific breed. Judges are unaware of the identify of the cats that they are judging, with only the number of the cat and relevant details such as sex and age made available to them at the time of judging.

Pedigreed cats are judged against the others in their class, in order to determine placings (1st to 4th), and also against the SOP, in order to determine eligibility for a major award. These are certificates that count towards a title such as 'Champion'. Registered kittens between the ages of four and nine months are entered in the kitten classes, but are not eligible for major awards.

Once a cat reaches nine months of age, it may be entered in an open class, where it competes for a 'Challenge Champion' certificate (CC). If it gets three CCs awarded by three different judges, it is entitled to the title 'Champion'. Thereafter it may compete in a Grand Challenge class, against other cats that also have that status.

In this class, your cat will have to achieve a higher score than it would as a champion to be eligible for a 'Grand Champion' (GCC) award. Once it has been awarded six GCCs - one each from six different judges ? it has earned the title 'Grand Champion'.

The next rung up the ladder of fame is in the Supreme Challenge class, where it will compete for 'Supreme Challenge Champion' certificates (SCCs). In this class, the cat is judged solely against the Standard of Points. In order to be awarded a SCC, a cat must, in the opinion of the judge, achieve a score of at least 92% against the SOP for its breed. Six SCCs - one each from six different judges ? will earn a cat the title of 'Supreme Champion'. Once a 'Supreme', the cat can be shown indefinitely in the Supreme Challenge class and win further SCCs, although these will not earn it a higher title.

Pedigreed cats that have been neutered or spayed are shown in classes similar to those provided for the entire cats. They compete for the title 'Premier' (similar to 'Champion' in the case of an entire cat), 'Grand Premier' and 'Supreme Premier'. The pedigreed classes are judged only by qualified judges.

A person qualifies as a judge in a specific grouping of breeds after undergoing rigorous training, passing a theoretical exam (based on the Standard of Points), a practical exam and doing probation judging under the supervision of qualified judges. Students in a judge's course are often experienced breeders.

Non-Pedigreed cats:

Unregistered cats are shown in the pet classes. They are not eligible for major awards towards titles, but are instead judged on health, looks, presentation and temperament. Some clubs, however, have instituted special awards for 'domestics'. These work on the same principle as for the pedigreed cats to encourage owners to show their beloved pets. For example, three 'Masters Certificate' could gain your pet the unofficial title of 'Master' or six 'Pretty Handsome Domestic' (PHD) awards could earn a cat the unofficial title of 'Right Honourable'!

All cats over the age of nine months that are entered in the domestic section have to be neutered or spayed. This section is often are judged by a celebrity invited by the show manager.

Some clubs offer a variety of fun prizes and titles for cats in these classes


At the end of the show, each judge nominates his or her best kitten, neuter and entire adult in each of the following groupings of breeds: Persian/Exotic, Medium Hair, Foreign, Siamese/Oriental and Pets. These cats then compete against each other in a public judge-off for the Best on Show awards and awards like Best Persian/Exotic Kitten or Best Siamese/Oriental Adult. These Best on Show groupings vary from show to show.