image of the San Diego Cat Fanciers' Food and Water Bowl XX

Fascinated by felines but don’t know a Cornish Rex from a Sphynx? Wonder what a judge looks for when selecting best in show? Eager to witness the fast-growing sport of feline agility? Then it might be time to go to a cat show.

If you're in the San Diego area, you can satisfy your curiosity about all things feline this weekend at one of the nation’s largest and oldest cat shows, the San Diego Cat Fanciers’ Food and Water Bowl XX, at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in Del Mar, Calif. Scheduled two weeks before the Westminster Kennel Club’s 136th Annual Dog Show at Madison Square Gardens in New York City, the Del Mar cat show will feature more than 450 felines representing 41 breeds in eight rings of competition.

So what really happens at a cat show? What’s the proper etiquette for feline fans? For answers to these questions and more, Vetstreet spoke with Joan Miller, vice president of Cat Fanciers Association and chairwoman of its outreach and education committee, who's arguably one of the nation’s top cat experts.

Q: What are some dos and don’ts for spectators?

A. Joan Miller: Please do not disturb the judges when they are evaluating the cats. Look for our team of roving ambassadors wearing “Ask Me” buttons; they’re more than happy to answer your questions. Leave your own cats at home — the only cats allowed in the show hall are those who have been registered in advance.

Q: What’s the proper way to greet a cat? Will I get the chance to pet a show cat?

A. Joan Miller: The best way to greet a cat is to extend your index finger and let the cat first sniff it. Cats have scent glands on the sides of their mouths. If a cat rubs his face against your finger, it’s a sign that he likes you and is ready to meet you. Don’t stare directly into a cat’s eyes. Offer a couple soft blinks – it’s a way to say hello to a cat. At the show, we want people to get to know the various breeds. Go to the educational rings and look for the flags that read “Pet Me” at various cages. As long as the owners are there, they will take out their cats and give you the opportunity to pet them and ask questions about the breed.

Q: How did the show get its name?

A. Joan Miller: It’s called the San Diego Cat Fanciers’ Food and Water Bowl because it used to be held the same weekend as the Super Bowl. Now the Super Bowl is a week later, but we are still sticking with a football theme, including pom-poms.

Q: Cats are homebodies by nature, so how come they don’t freak out at a big show?

A. Joan Miller: Many show cats are brought to cat shows when they are kittens, say, about four months old. They are also taken for short car rides and introduced to carriers when they are young. Cats like routines and have great memories. If their first experiences at shows are good, they take to these shows as adults. Most show cats are also natural show-offs, which surprises many people.

Q:  Is it true meat-flavored baby food is used at cat shows?

A. Joan Miller: Yes, competitors often place human baby food, specifically beef, lamb or turkey, on their hands before going into a cage to bring out a show cat. The cat sees it, smells it and licks it off. No such treats are permitted during actual judging, but a show cat acquaints hands in the cages with baby food and that makes for a positive association and a willingness to be brought out of the cage to be judged.

Q: CFA recognizes 42 cat breeds. Are there definite temperament differences among the cat breeds, as there are with dogs?

A. Joan Miller: Definitely! Korats are true homebodies. They like their set routines and home environments, but can be a little fearful and a bit vocal in the show hall. We take that into account as judges. Cornish Rexes, on the other hand, are totally fearless, very bold and loaded with confidence. Abyssinians are very outgoing with strangers, kids and even dogs. They are high-energy cats compared with Persians, who tend to be very docile lap cats.

Q: What are some differences between this cat show and the Westminster Kennel Club’s upcoming dog show?

A. Joan Miller: The Westminster show is very formal, with judges in gowns and tuxedos. The audience sits in ticketed seats, and some may need binoculars to see the dogs in the judging ring. At our show, we strive to be very visitor-friendly. This is the biggest cat show west of the Mississippi, and you can sit in a judging ring and be about three feet away from the cat being judged. We also offer educational programs on cat behavior, origin, grooming and more — something you never see in a dog show. We want you to ask questions and interact with our cats in the educational ring. People are also surprised — and intrigued — to see cats jumping up, over and through obstacles in our feline agility competitions.

Q: How can I learn more about this show, and about cat shows in general?

A. Joan Miller: Visit our website,, and CFA’s website,