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Get to Know the British Shorthair: The Cat Behind the Famous Cheshire Grin

This cat from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is royalty thanks to striking looks and pedigree.

Michael Leaverton  |  Jun 1st 2016


The British Shorthair has a starring role in the great-cats-of-culture genre as the famous Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But this chubby-cheeked beauty has a pedigree that goes beyond literature: He’s one of the oldest English cats and dates back to Roman times, with stints as a barn cat hunting mice before retiring to the household in modern times to beguile us by the fireside.

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Additional interesting things about the British Shorthair

  • The British Shorthair is a muscular cat with a dense, plush coat, which comes in a variety of colors, with blue being the most popular and iconic. His coat is so thick it’s said to have more fur per square inch than any other breed. Despite this, it’s easy to comb and maintain, and it does not tangle easily.
  • He’s a medium-to-large cat, with a thick neck and a broad chest. Males weigh from nine to 17 pounds on average and females seven to 12 pounds.
  • The kitty is slow growing, reaching full size at 3 to 5 years of age.
  • The cat’s enigmatic smile, made famous by Lewis Carroll, is enhanced by his chubby cheeks, prominent rounded whisker pads, and large, wide-open round eyes. British Shorthairs are intelligent cats and not very talkative.
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Via Shutterstock

  • The cats are friendly, easygoing, and undemanding, good with families and tolerant of dogs. They are not quite lap cats but still like to be where the action is — though they won’t engage in much action on their own. Weight control measures, in the form of diet and play, are sometimes necessary.
  • They are not acrobatic cats and aren’t obsessed with finding the highest spot in the house, as with breeds like the Bengal. Most don’t like to be carried, and they do fine when left alone for the day.
  • One of the original cats in the cat fancy, the British Shorthair dates back to the Roman times. They were domestic cats and able hunters clearing barns of mice. They came to Britain during the Roman conquest. There, they became street cats before making the jump to the household. They haven’t changed much in looks over the years — or centuries.
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Via Shutterstock

  • The British Shorthair gained championship status in the International Cat Association in 1979. Longhaired versions did appear in litters, though it took years before they were sought after. The British Longhair finally gained championship status in 2009.
  • The British Shorthair is said to be “the Winston Churchill of the cat world,” ruling his household in an intelligent, dignified manner.