It turns out cat lovers have wanted to show off their furry companions long before Grumpy the Cat hit Instagram. The first documented cat show happened at London’s Crystal Palace in 1871. It was one of the first times that cats were elevated beyond their traditional status as rat-catchers.

Since then, cats shows have proliferated across the world. CBC Docs POV’s Catwalk follows a season in the lives of two top Canadian cat fanciers and their prize-winning felines as they vie to be the year’s Best Cat.

SCENE FROM THE FILM: Inside a Canadian cat show.

To get the facts on Canada’s cat show circuit, we talked to Bob Gleason, board member of the Canadian Cat Association, cat show judge and of course, a huge cat fan. He’s been attending and organizing cat shows for 44 years.

“It’s a hobby that people enjoy doing,” says Gleason, who explains that there’s no money in winning a cat show. “They do it just for the love of their cat.”  

  • In Canada, cat shows happen mostly in the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario. There are about 15 cat shows a year which take place in the spring and fall.
  • The average cat show (depending on where it’s held) will draw in several hundred to 2,000 spectators a day. The most public one, which has free admission for spectators, happens as part of the CNE in Toronto where 10,000 - 15,000 spectators take a peek at the show each day.
  • Some participants come to see the breeds (and meet some breeders), others to watch the judging and some to buy high-quality cat-swag available at the show for their kitties.
  • Typically 100 -120 cats are exhibited at each show. There are four categories: Pedigreed Cats, Pedigreed Kittens (up to eight months old), Altered Pedigreed (spayed or neutered pedigree) and Household Pets. The fee is anywhere from $50 to $75 to enter.
  • Most cat show participants live within a couple of hours drive of a show, but some (like the cat owners from Catwalk) are campaigners, people who travel to accumulate points to win Best Cat in their category.
  • Many participants are also pedigree cat breeders. They hope to win, which will give their cats and their offspring an edge with customers. But other exhibitors just love cats and want the bragging rights of owning the best cat!
  • There are 4-5 judges at each cat show, and each judge examines every cat in the show. That’s a lot of judging!
  • For pedigreed categories, judges score cats out of 100 based on long-established standards that exist for each of the 45 or so breeds that specify how a cat should look and act. Cat judges spend years training so that they are familiar with all the standards and how they’re changing over time. (Find the breeds and their standards)
  • For the household pet competitors, judges look at cleanliness, health and their personality. Cats need to be having fun up there! (See the household pet standards)

Gleason’s feline expertise now takes him to far-flung places like Hong Kong and China to judge at international cat shows. The circuit is booming there, thanks to a growing population of middle-class people who live in smaller homes and love their cats!

“Cats are self-sufficient and low maintenance, but not a goldfish,” adds Gleason, “I can relate to them as individuals.”

Do you have a competitive kitty that you’d like to show?  See a list of upcoming cat shows in Canada.