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The typical differences given between maine coon, ragdoll, and ragamuffin cats are somewhat vague, and also sometimes involve knowing the cat well enough to be familiar with its disposition. According to http://cats.petbreeds.com/compare/8-12-25/Ragamuffin-vs-Maine-Coon-vs-Ragdoll (which is pretty representative of what I've gathered browsing forums, too), these cats share a lot in common. Personality-wise there just isn't enough to go on:

  • Maine coon: Gentle, independent, intelligent. Lap cat. Good with everybody.
  • Ragdoll: Friendly, gentle, quiet. Lap cat. Good with everybody.
  • Ragamuffin: Affectionate, friendly, gentle. Lap cat. Good with everybody.

Physically there's a bunch of fuzzy stuff, like life-span, heart defect risks (HCM in maine coons and ragdolls), etc. All three breeds allow for a wide variety of colorings. Most confusingly, maine coons seem to have a reputation for being a rather large breed, but petbreeds.com actually lists the typical max weights of ragdolls and ragamuffins as higher (20lb vs 15lb maine coon). So, also, not enough to go on.

Same deal with photographs. A lot of sites have a picture of a "typical" cat of a certain breed but appearances vary greatly. Even just looking at image search results for maine coon, ragdoll, and ragamuffin, there is significant overlap, especially as you scroll further down the result list, or if you add a coloring (for example, add "tuxedo" to each of those searches).

And of course, all of the above has a lot of variance. It becomes especially difficult when the cat is not purebred.

I find the commonly listed physical and personality differences to be non-specific and unsatisfactory, so:

The Question:

Is there any typical physical differences that can be used to quickly get at least a decent guess of which of these three breeds an adult cat is?

In particular: facial features and proportions, eye colors, jaw/teeth, head/ear shape, skeletal structure, tail, legs and paws? (For example, this ragdoll-specific food mentions "the Ragdoll cat's broad jaw", a trait generally not mentioned in forums or breed comparison sites.) I am specifically looking for some info beyond the standard "my ragdoll is the sweetest little guy". Journals and academic sources welcome but certainly not required.

I am more interested in identifying adult/senior cats than kittens, although I certainly wouldn't turn away any kitten identification info.

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    Jason most have what you have here on the difficulties of identifying breeds are part of the meta discussion Should we discourage pet breed / species identification questions? What you have here is not well phrased as a clear question (the question is kind of hidden in the middle) – James Jenkins Feb 17 '17 at 13:35
  • @JamesJenkins I usually do intro first, question last. I can put it at the top. Or I can clarify if you have a suggestion. Or I can just delete it. I didn't want to put the question at the very top because I wanted to avoid folks stopping at the question mark then posting an answer like "my maine coon is HUGE!". For the meta post, I get it, although fwiw I'm not asking "here's a picture of a cat, identify it" - I'm looking for answers of similar quality to cooking.stackexchange.com/a/56421, something above and beyond the usual forum babble. Tell me what to do, it's up to you guys. – Jason C Feb 17 '17 at 16:28
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    It looks much better now. it will be interesting to see if it generates any good answers. Species identification has controversy, the difference between close breeds of the same species is even more problematic. It may be that the answer to your question is no, and if so maybe someone who is a cat expert can give that a quality answer. Or maybe there is a good answer on how to tell.... – James Jenkins Feb 17 '17 at 16:42
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Why are most cats mixed breed?

Expense

First, obtaining a cat with papers is a lot more expensive. The lowest I've seen (posted price on a website, I've never seriously talked to a breeder) has been US $600 and some rarer breeds can be in the thousands.

By contrast, a DSH/DLH can be obtained from a rescue or shelter for between $5-150. Many people adopt kittens from people in their neighborhoods or a friend of a friend (free) when a feral or unspayed outdoor cat has a litter. Sometimes an amazing friendly cat randomly shows up at your house (this happened to us).

Additionally, cat breeds aren't differentiated as much as dog breeds. For example, cats are all roughly the same size, so someone isn't going to go look for a particular breed because they don't have the strength to handle a 120 pound cat on a leash.

Cats haven't been bred for particular TASKS like dogs so they don't have huge differences in personality like dogs. A toy type dog has a very different personality than a herding type dog, because they had different jobs. That differentiation has never happened in cats. Cats had one task for thousands of years (kill vermin), and more recently have a second task (companionship).

So if a prospective cat owner does not need to pay the purebred premium to ensure certain traits (because there's not that much differentiation in cat breeds) then why would they?

Practices of Cat Breeders

Second, when someone starts to talk to a breeder about obtaining a purebred cat, one of the things the breeder will ask is what is the purpose of this cat?

If the prospective owner only wants a companion, often breeders will provide a "pet quality" cat. This is a cat that does not represent an improvement in the breed (i.e. its traits are further from the breed standard than its parents). Allowing this cat to reproduce would degrade the breed, so it is desexed (either by the breeder or required by the contract that the new owner have it done).

Since the cat is desexed, these purebred traits are not going to be accidentally mixed with the large population of DSH/DLH (or other purebreds), so you're not going to see a half Ragdoll half DSH.

To obtain a purebred cat who has not been desexed, a person generally has to show themselves to be very familiar with the breed and dedicated to the hobby. One common way of doing this is purchasing a desexed cat and showing it for a year or three. One site explains that you can plan on spending about $2000 for the purchase of a desexed cat to show plus fees and expenses to show the cat and network with established breeders.

Once you've done this, breeders who know you may be willing to sell you an unaltered cat, for another couple thousand dollars. It's unlikely at this point that someone who had taken these steps would then allow their purebred cat to indiscriminately breed with random other cats. So, again, a half-breed (unpapered) cat is unlikely to ever be created.

The cats born from a purebred cat with papers are almost exclusively going to be other purebred cats with papers.

But the rescue said my cat is a particular breed!

With the advent of the internet and aggregation web sites like Petfinder, rescue organizations have to market their pets more aggressively. One way they do this is by assigning breeds to adoptable pets.

These breed assignments should be understood to mean "this cat looks like BREED" or "this cat appears to have traits common to BREED". How well these assignments are made depends on the knowledge of the rescue staff and how aggressive they are trying to be in their marketing.

Some rescues will label all gray, non-striped cats "Russian Blue", yet you can click through hundreds of rescue "Russian Blue" cats and not find a single one with anything approaching the bone structure of a Russian Blue, many even lack the eye color (which is easier to see even if you aren't familiar with how Russian Blues are built). In the context of rescue, Russian Blue means "gray with no stripes or white spots".

The exception to this is a breed specific rescue. These rescues are familiar with the breed and will only accept cats of that breed. They make this determination either through papers or by extensive familiarity with the breed (it varies according to each particular rescue). Even though I've gotten most of my cats from the Siamese Rescue Center, that doesn't mean that they're purebred Siamese (they are definitely not). It means that these cats have been pre-screened to have many of the traits of Siamese.

Exceptions to the Above

Despite the best practices of breeders (as explained above), there are some number of unaltered purebred cats that have been obtained by unscrupulous breeders (aka 'backyard breeders'). This is more likely to happen in more common (popular) breeds that have a large number of breeders.

If there's only <10 breeders of a particular breed in the US, they probably all know each other or at least know of each other. It's more difficult to get an unaltered cat of that type of breed than a breed that has a bunch of breeders and while a breeder knows a lot of other breeders, they don't expect to know everyone.

Additionally, there has been more time for these accidents (letting an unaltered cat go to an unscrupulous breeder) to happen in older breeds that have been around for decades than in younger breeds that have only been around a few years.

This means that these specific breed traits can be found in the common mixed breed population. The big three breeds that I've seen this happen to on large scale are

  • Siamese
  • Maine Coon
  • Persian

Is this particular cat a Maine Coon, Ragdoll, or Ragamuffin?

If you don't have papers, most likely it's none of the above. It's a mixed breed (or Domestic Short/Medium/Long Hair).

Could this cat be the result of one of the exceptions? Maybe. Consider first the age of the breed, then the popularity (I couldn't find number of cats registered each year, nor even number of breeders from TICA, but CFA lists breeders so we'll use that as a stand-in for popularity).

So, based on both age and popularity, the breed most likely to be an exception as explained above is the Maine Coon. So if the cat has a bunch of the traits that these breeds have in common and you had to pick one of these breeds as likely ancestry, I'd pick Maine Coon.

  • Yes, unfortunately this aggressive style of marketing led me to adopting 2 kittens under the premise they were a maine coon mix. Only... I found out they were really DMH. Best kittens I have owned and I don't regret the choice to adopt them, only wished the adopter was more honest or knowledgeable (but that's a whole different story). – ggiaquin16 Jul 14 '17 at 20:09
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If it goes floppy-limp when you pick it up it's probably at least part ragdoll, though it may just be exceptionally used to being handled.

But realistically, unless you know it's breeding history you can't claim that it is of any particular breed. Most cats, like most dogs, are mutts.

  • So the only way to identify a given cat as a ragdoll is the word of a credible source (breeding certificates)? There are no other distinguishing features between these breeds aside from the word printed on their breeding certificates? Surely there must be something different about the three breeds, otherwise it's just three different words for the same breed. What about something not visually identifiable, like genetic markers, etc.? – Jason C Feb 17 '17 at 20:52
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    @JasonC You can do DNA testing at a vet hospital for cheap to find out. – Rebecca RVT Feb 18 '17 at 0:26
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    Wasn't aware of that, Rebecca. Interesting. I didn't think there were clear genetic markers for breeds. – keshlam Feb 18 '17 at 6:51

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