black and white persian being lifted as cat show winner

How Cat Shows Work: FAQ

Last Updated on June 1, 2022 by Holly Anne Dustin

Cat shows are essentially feline beauty pageants. It is an event where cats compete to win titles in exhibitions sponsored by cat fancy registries like the Cat Fanciers’ Association and The International Cat Association. Specific rules vary between the different associations. Both pedigree and companion cats can enter cat shows. Cats accumulate points toward their titles, during the show season which runs from May 1st through April 30th.

What Happens at a Cat Show?

  • Cats get evaluated by certified judges in 8-12 rings over a weekend. A typical show has around 200 cats. Some bigger shows have closer to 400. Annual International Shows have 800-1000 cats. The rings happen simultaneously throughout the weekend. The show hall gets busy with lots of people moving about, getting cats to and from rings. Each ring needs a judge, a clerk, and a ring steward.

I told the story of my trip to the International Show with my Plush. If you want to read what a big show is like, click here.

  • Vendors will sell you toys, gifts, supplies. You can get everything for specialized grooming tools to commercial raw diets, gourmet treats, and the best homemade cat toys. I love shopping for toys at shows. You can also find beds and cage curtains. Sometimes there are vendors with special cat trees. That’s when I’m sorry I drive a compact car! Often there are things for you humans too, like cat-themed jewelry and apparel. 
  • The sponsoring club puts on silent auctions and raffles to support the club and defray the costs of the show.
  • Cat rescues and cat welfare organizations conduct fundraisers and educational booths. Many shows have cats available for adoption.
  • Concessions: people food is almost always available for purchase in the show halls. Sometimes there are events like an ice cream social or celebrations for cats that have earned their “grand” title. Cake for all!

Learn more about what happens at a cat show here

How Do Cats Compete in Cat Shows?

Cats don’t compete head to head against the other cats exhibiting. They compete against the written standard for their breed. Each breed standard describes the perfect cat of that breed and establishes point values for body, head, eye color, coat, etc. Judges decide how close each cat is to that standard of perfection. The closer the cat is to the breed standard, the higher their score. After the judge evaluates each cat, he or she ranks the cats. The top 10-15 cats get a place in the final and earn points toward their titles and regional and national awards.

Do You Win Money at a Cat Show?

No. Competing in cat shows is not a lucrative pastime. Sometimes you might win a drawing for a free entry to the show the following season or some cash in a 50-50 raffle if the club arranges one. But your cat won’t be earning his keep with winnings in the show ring.

What Classes are Cats Judged in at a Cat Show?

The competitive classes are: 

  • Kitten Class: 4 – 8 months old. 
  • Championship Class: Cats over 8 months old that have not been spayed or neutered. 
  • Premiership or Alter Class: Cats over 8 months old that are spayed or neutered. Cats can complete titles in championship and then compete in the premiership class for another set of titles. 
  • Household pets: Most cat shows include a class for household pets. They must be at least 4 months old, spayed or neutered once they are over 8 months old, and must not be declawed.
  • Miscellaneous/Provisional/New Breed: Breeds that haven’t been accepted for Championship status yet.
  • Veterans: pedigreed cats over 7 years old. 

How Does Judging Work at Cat Shows?

Before Judging

You get a number for your cat at check in. That is your cat’s identification for the weekend. You’ll need to watch/listen for that number to make sure you know when Kitty needs to be in a judging ring for a class or a final.

After checking in, set Kitty up in his benching cage. Cover the cage on the top, the back and sides. Cage curtains keep the cats from seeing each other. You can rent a cage from show service or purchase a pop-up shelter. 

During Judging

Each cat visits each ring throughout the weekend. Each day will have 4-5 all breed rings and 1-2 specialty rings (long hair vs short hair). Cats are called to the rings by class in alphabetical order by breed and division. Exhibitors bring their cats from their benching cages to the ring and put them in the judging cage below their number. 

The judge takes each cat out, puts it on the judging table, looks the cat over and evaluates it according to its breed standard, and puts it back. They hang awards at each level: open/novice, champion, premier/alter, grand champion and grand premier/alter for each breed, color class, and division. 


The exhibitor can take their cat back to their benching spot when the ring clerk turns the cat’s number down. After he or she has judged the entire class, the judge calls back the top 10-15 cats for the final. The judge presents the final from last to first. It is a great feeling to have your cat make the final. And it’s the best when the judge takes your cat back out, presents Kitty to the audiences and announces, “today, this is my best cat.”

More information about the awards and ribbons that cats earn at shows is available in my post here.

Less Common Judging Methods:

These alternatives aren’t used often in the US, but you may encounter them in other areas.

Traditional Judging

In traditional judging, each cat is assigned to a judge who evaluates the cat in a written report. They nominate cats to the final. All judges evaluate all the finalists and vote on the final placements. Not very common in the USA, but popular in Europe.

Bay Judging

Bay judging cat is open or closed. In a closed show, exhibitors put cats in their benching cages and owners have to leave the hall. The judges evaluate the cats in their benching cages instead of going to rings. They award and hang the ribbons before the owners come back in to the hall. In an open bay style show, the owners and spectators stay to watch.

white Persian kitten on grey background demonstrating how he plays in the ring at cat shows

What Breeds Will Be at the Show?

It depends on the association presenting the show. CFA recognizes 45 breeds, TICA has 71 recognized breeds, the American Cat Fanciers’ Association, and the Cat Fanciers’ Federation register around 50 breeds. All the major associations in the US also recognize household pets/companion cats.

If you can’t make a show in real life, a virtual show might be the thing.

Can I Pet the Cats?

Not without asking. You could unknowingly transmit disease or ruin a cat’s groom or frighten it. A lot of exhibitors will let you pet their cats if you ask. CFA has cats that are present for your petting pleasure. Look for the Ambassadors and Pet Me Cats. They will love to meet you!

What is the Best Time to Visit a Cat Show?

Any time, really. Go early Saturday if you’re looking for available cats and kittens. Mid day is best if you want to talk to exhibitors. The cats are tired by the end of the weekend. Classes, especially final presentations and HHP classes, are more likely rushed at the end of the day because the judges have to catch a plane. People will pack to leave as their classes wrap up on Sunday.

Can I Bring my Kids?

Of course you can, but it won’t be very exciting for little kids. If your kids are loud or run around, you’ll scare the cats and disrupt the rings. For older kids, it can be a great experience. Some cat shows have activities arranged just for kids like a judging ring for their stuffed animals, coloring pages, or scavenger hunts. 

If your children are interested in showing and learning more about cats and cat care, all the major associations have junior exhibitors’ program for kids. Children can learn leadership, communication, and fair play, cat care, grooming, responsibility, and service through the cat fancy youth programs.

Kids often act as ring stewards. They keep the cages clean and disinfected between cats, run errands for the judge and ring clerk, and generally keep the pace of the ring moving along.

Grow Your Bond with Your Cat with These Fun Activities…

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Can I Bring my Cats?

No. Only humans can visit the show. The only cats allowed in the show hall are the cats in the show, the pet me cats, and cats that are available for adoption from a show partner rescue.

Cat with trophies at a cat show

Can I Show My Cat? 

Yes. Companion cats have a special class in most associations. Household pets can compete for titles of their own. The exact rules vary from organization to organization. 

HHPs get a merit award in each ring. It has no specific value in CFA. Companion cats receive points only for placement in a final. The merit award counts as a Best of Color ribbon in TICA. TICA also awards best of division points in the HHP class. In all associations, finals count toward regional and national awards.

Is your cat a star? How to show your cat in the household pet class

Can I Buy a Kitten at the Show?

Potentially, yes. Breeders can bring kittens for sale. You can learn about the breeds, meet breeders of the breeds you are interested in, collect business cards from breeders who can let you know when they have kittens available. 

Why Do People Show Cats?

  • To have their cats evaluated by professional judges in order to improve their breeding programs.
  • To see how their cats compare to other breeders’ cats.
  • To educate people about cat breeds, preservation breeders, and their cats’ breeds care.
  • To celebrate all cats and cat welfare. 
  • To show off their cats.
  • To make friends and have fun.

If you’ve never been to a cat show, definitely go check out a show in your area. If you feel the pull to see what your furbaby would do in the show ring, try it out. Showing your cat can be a special experience for you and your Kitty. It is a great bonding experience for both you and your feline friend.

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2 thoughts on “How Cat Shows Work: FAQ”

  1. I went to my first cat show a few years ago. I had no idea that there is a household cat class (until that show)! If Ellie wasn’t so scared of everything – I think she’d show really well – and she’s got the outgoing social nature too. I spent more time with the household cats at the show than the breeds (sorry).

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