British Shorthair

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial
Published: December 2, 2008

Physical Characteristics

The British Shorthair has a crisp, plush coat, dense and waterproof, over a compact, cobby body. It has a full chest, and medium to short thick legs. The Shorthair is a working cat, and it personifies this standard with power and strength. It is medium to large in size, with a well knit body and powerful muscles. The head is massive and round, with wide, round eyes set atop a short, thick neck. It might be described as a Bulldog of the feline world. Ears are broad and rounded, the whisker pads are full and round, giving the Shorthair a teddy bear appearance with an upturned mouth -- giving the impression of a smile.

Though this breed is best known for being blue in color (which is actually more of a medium to deep gray), this cat is bred in other colors, including lighter colors, and combinations of tabby or calico patterning, as well as in other patterns and multicolors.

Personality and Temperament

This is a quiet, undemonstrative cat endowed with a certain amount of British reserve. Though initially hesitant, it warms to people once it becomes familiar with them, and it bonds closely with its human companions. It will show loyalty to all the members of the family, rather than just one person. The perfect family pet, it is at its best with children, showing patience and affection, and easy adaptation to changes in the home. You can expect your Shorthair to be good tempered, with a stable personality, and stable patterns of behavior. It has an independent nature and thrives well even when left alone, and is not likely to get involved with high energy activities once it has left kitten-hood. The Shorthair is also known for being particularly quiet, using its voice only when it needs something from you.

Care and Health

The British Shorthair has a general lifespan of 14 to 20 years, but this is directly dependent upon their health. This is one particular breed that must be fed carefully, for risk of obesity. The British Shorthair is not especially active, preferring to spend much of its time taking it easy, so it does not get the opportunity to burn calories. If you have questions about the perfect amount of protein and carbohydrates you should be feeding to your Shorthair, your veterinarian can help you to create a life diet plan, so that stages of growth can be taken into consideration, and your cat is having all of its nutritional needs met.

History and Background

The British Shorthair holds the historical placard for being the first official showcat. This breed is, in fact, the antecedent of the modern breeding program, and as the breed name suggests, the refinement of this breed began in Britain. Until the latter part of the 19th century, the British Shorthair was a mere average domestic cat, commonly called a moggy in Britain (the breed is now commonly referred to as a Shorthair only). By then, the Shorthair had become a ubiquitous member of the typical British homestead, having been the cat of choice for guarding the home and land from rodents for well over a thousand years.

Historically, the Shorthair's arrival in Britain is tied to the Roman invasions that commonly occurred during the reign of the Roman Empire. Their presence was generally regarded as fortuitous, as they were appreciated for their strength, endurance, hunting skills, and general good nature. Over time, the Shorthair came to be regarded as more than just a working cat, and they began to be welcomed into the home as well, to share the warmth of the hearth with the family proper. The Shorthair was so commonplace in British life, and its “smile” so well known, that it inspired perhaps the most famously recognized illustrated image of a cat to this day, when John Tenniel designed the Cheshire Cat for Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865.

It was in the late 1800s that cat fancier Harrison Weir took his admiration for the Shorthair a step higher. Weir's main considerations were to bring others of his thinking together so that the best of the Shorthair breed could be displayed and judged, and so that the breed could be strengthened and cultivated through thoughtful pairings. Weir succeeded in organizing the first ever held cat show at the Crystal Palace of London, on July 13, 1871. Its inception and subsequent show competitions proved to be wildly popular amongst cat enthusiasts, forever heralding Harrison Weir as the father of the cat fancy.

As the fancy grew over the years, the distinctions in breeds grew as well, and as the public came to be introduced to new and different breeds, affectations changed and the Shorthair's popularity was sidelined for more fashionable breeds. At the turn of the century, long haired cats were the rage among cat fanciers in England.

As often happens during times of great conflict, the population of the Shorthair was severely diminished during the First World War (as was much of the animal population). Post-war breeders attempted to incorporate the Persian breed with the remaining Shorthairs in order to revive the numbers, but the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy would not hear of it, demanding that breeders return the breed to its original form. It would take three generations of breeding back to Shorthairs to make the cats eligible for registration as pedigrees again. This cycle was to repeat itself with the occasion of the Second World War, but with the remaining numbers of Shorthairs even more dire than before, circumstances demanded that breeders beg permission from the British Governing Council of the Cat Fancy to cross the British Shorthair with other breeds.

Permission was granted, and through careful selection, outcrosses with breeds such as the Russian Blue, Chartreux, and Persian brought the British Shorthair back into the British home albeit with some changes to appearance. The British Shorthair now donned a teddy bear look, with a stout body, full whisker pads, a naturally upturned mouth, and round, wide-open eyes. The same mild disposition the breed had been esteemed for remained, and the luxurious coat of fur inherited greater softness from the carefully chosen crossings. Although the British Shorthair remains popular as a family companion in Britain, its numbers in the U.S. were not significant enough to be considered for registration by the American Cat Fanciers Association until 1970, when the Blue British Shorthair was registered.

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