The origin story of the American Shorthair cat is well rehearsed at this point. While larger cats certainly crossed the land bridge over the Bering Strait from Asia millions of years ago, it is widely accepted that the foundational domestic ancestors of American Shorthairs were European ship’s cats, emigrant felines who accompanied adventurers and colonists to North America during the Age of Exploration. These working cats were valued for their skills at ratting and pest control.
From the 16th century onward, domestic cats established themselves in North America, both as ratters and pets. It wasn’t until the tail end of the 19th century, with the advent of the organized cat fancy and competitive cat shows generally, and the formation of cat clubs specifically, that we can start to trace a standardized view of the American Shorthair cat behavior. What are the personality traits of American Shorthair cats? Does a codified breed standard help or hinder our view of these cats?
I researched a variety of sources to compile the most commonly attributed characteristics of American Shorthairs, but first, let’s see what the official standards have to say about this cat breed, which was first formalized as the Domestic Shorthair in 1906 and renamed the American Shorthair in 1966. I’ve consulted the breed standards from the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), the International Cat Association (TICA), and the American Cat Fanciers’ Association (ACFA).
What can we learn about the personality traits of American Shorthair cats based on their breed standards? Not much, as it turns out. It seems that, for the purposes of competitive conformation shows, American Shorthairs are indistinguishable from any other cat breed. There is nothing unique or particularly remarkable in either the TICA or AFCA documentation with significance to anyone beyond licensed cat breeders and show judges.
However little bearing a “good personality” has on show judging, TICA‘s and CFA‘s dedicated American Shorthair pages have far more to say about cat personalities. Using that information, as well as data compiled from a variety of other reputable sources, we can start to get a better picture of the range of behaviors most commonly associated with American Shorthairs. These fall under the following general rubrics:
Each of these larger categories gives us a much fuller, rounded picture of the American Shorthair as an active, engaged being than the intense focus on physical appearance set out by the breed standards. Even these glimpses into cat psychology are somewhat abstract, since personality and character do not exist independently of how a cat is treated and cared for. Let’s look at each category in turn and see how the Shorthair’s personality emerges.
The American Shorthair cat’s personality is frequently described as “easy-going” or “good-natured.” These terms are useful inasmuch as they tell us how the breed functions as a member of a household. One of the major positives ascribed to Shorthairs is how well and easily they interact with humans, other cats, and dogs. For its own part, “amiable” is an expressive term, straight out of a Jane Austen novel, evoking the image of a cat whose demeanor is unexceptionable in company.
In practice, of course, how a cat engages with others, familiar or stranger, depends a great deal on how the process of socialization is managed. Being “friendly” or “personable” does not mean that adopting an American Shorthair into a multi- or mixed-pet household will be conflict-free. The breed’s rat-catching history often necessitates the proviso that small animals kept as pets should be monitored closely or kept secure when the American Shorthair has free reign of his home.
The Shorthair is widely praised for its situational or environmental adaptability. A major plus for the breed, this means that the Shorthair can lead a full life whether in a studio apartment or a sprawling mansion. The cat is said to adjust equally well to an indoor existence in urban setting or enjoying Caturdays on a country farm. It is also just as content living with a young, growing family as it is amenable to sharing its life with a retiree living alone.
Adjustability is largely linked with the Shorthair’s tolerance for movement and travel. As with the breed’s amiability and ability to play well with others, there may be something inherent to the breed when it comes to traveling, but car or air travel with any cat should be considered and judicious. Where trainability, including leash-walking, is concerned, the earlier in life these practices begin, the more easily the adjustments and adaptations are made.
This final category ties the previous two together, and may be the most important category regarding the American Shorthair’s overall personality. Intelligence can be linked to friendliness and adaptability; a cat who is well cared for and nurtured will evince a calmer curiosity when new situations, pets, or people are introduced. A cat who regularly interacts with visitors will either become more amenable or accepting of them.
The breed is also said to be self-sufficient and not overly attention-seeking. These qualities are paired with their vocalization habits, as the American Shorthair is praised for being a quiet cat with a “silent meow.” The flipside of this is that a sensitive and quiet cat requires regular engagement and stimulation. An intelligent and inquisitive cat needs toys and play to remain personable and adaptable. Even a cat with the most impeccable pedigree can become disruptive and destructive when his mind and body are neglected.
These broad characteristics of the American Shorthair give us a vague sense of how the cat should behave and what her deportment should be, at least in a theoretical sense. Cats aren’t theoretical, however, and a set of terms, no matter how glowing or positive, can’t establish how any individual cat will act in practice any more than a breed standard can tell us exactly how our cats will look.
Do words like “friendly,” “adaptable,” or “intelligent” encapsulate the lived experience of an American Shorthair? Do you own or regularly interact with American Shorthairs? What qualities or qualifications, positive or negative, would you add or leave out of the breed’s reputation? Contribute your thoughts and observations in the comments below!
About the author: Melvin Peña trained as a scholar and teacher of 18th-century British literature before turning his research and writing skills to puppies and kittens. He enjoys making art, hiking, and concert-going, as well as dazzling crowds with operatic karaoke performances. He is between cats at the moment, but has a two-year-old female Bluetick Coonhound mix named Baby. His online life is conveniently encapsulated here.