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Get to Know the British Shorthair: A Purring Teddy Bear

With big round eyes and a permanent smile, this easygoing breed is loved around the world.

JaneA Kelley  |  Feb 26th 2015


If you ever get the chance to meet a British Shorthair, it’s an occasion you won’t soon forget. This big, friendly cat has a coat that feels like super-plush velvet and he will relish every ounce of attention you want to give him.

Origins

The British Shorthair is probably the oldest European domestic cat breed. It’s thought that the first cats made their way to the British Isles with the Romans, who in their turn had brought cats from Egypt. As time went on, the wiry African cats grew thicker fur and more fat padding to survive harsh winters, and got larger as they interbred with European wildcats. They soon became prized for their strength and hunting ability.

Selective breeding began in the late 1800s, with an emphasis on creating a gray-blue coat, which caused the breed to be originally known as the British Blue. During the early 1900s, after World War I decimated the British Shorthair population, breeders began bringing Persians into their bloodlines. Due to food shortages, the British Shorthair almost died out again in World War II, but when peace finally reigned again, breeders revived the breed once more with outcrosses to Persians, Russian Blues, and Chartreux.

The British Shorthair gained championship status with the International Cat Association in 1979 and with the Cat Fanciers Association in 1980.

Appearance

Although people think mostly of gray-blue when they think of the British Shorthair, the breed actually comes in a large variety of colors and patterns, including tortoiseshell, calico, and tabby. Their eyes range in color from deep gold all the way through blue.

British Shorthairs are large and powerfully built cat, with males weighing in between 12 and 18 pounds and females between 9 and 14 pounds. Their round faces with short noses and prominent whisker pads make them look like they’re always smiling, and their round eyes add to their open and friendly expression.

Health and longevity

Since the British Shorthair is mostly a natural breed with a strong constitution, he enjoys a long lifespan, with some reported to live as long as 20 years. The breed is prone to very few hereditary health issues, but some lines have been reported to have a higher risk of developing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or hemophilia B, a hereditary bleeding disorder. Responsible breeders screen for these diseases and will not continue to breed cats who carry those genes.

A common issue faced by British Shorthairs is a tendency toward obesity, so they need plenty of exercise and intellectual stimulation, as well as appropriate portions of high-quality food, to keep them from gaining excess weight.

What it’s like to live with a British Shorthair

Your British Shorthair is a genial and easygoing guy, and he’ll get along with just about anyone — human or animal — who enters his home. He’s a happy-go-lucky guy and very little fazes him; his calm leadership style garners him the respect of his four-legged peers (female British Shorthairs carry themselves in a more dignified way and prefer that people approach them with politeness and respect).

The British Shorthair is a sedate cat, although he will get occasional bouts of the crazies and run around like a maniac. He’s a "four on the floor" kind of cat and doesn’t particularly enjoy being picked up and carried. He may not be the type to climb into your lap, but he’ll happily snuggle next to you as long as you’re sitting still. Unlike some breeds, your British Shorthair will be content to keep his own company while you’re out at the office, although he’ll cherish every moment you’re home to spend time with him.

British Shorthair trivia bits

  • The original LOLcat, Happy Cat (aka I Can Has Cheezburger Cat), was a British Shorthair.
  • The British Shorthair was the inspiration for the illustration of the Cheshire Cat from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
  • Puss in Boots, the swashbuckling hero of the Shrek movies, closely resembles a British Shorthair.

Do you have a British Shorthair your home? What’s it like to live with him or her? Please share your thoughts and photos of your British Shorthair in the comments.

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal rescue volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.