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Getting to Know the British Shorthair

By Erin Vosburgh
from The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book

The British Shorthair, probably the oldest English breed of cat, traces its ancestry back to the domestic cat of Rome. Although it continues to gain in popularity, it is a comparatively rare cat in the United States. Although first known as the British Blue, due to the breed's original color, its native country incorporated a wide variety of colors under the term British Shorthair in the 1950's. CFA also recognizes the British Shorthair in many different colors and patterns.

The British Shorthair is a medium to large cat of compact build, powerful and well balanced. Taking years to mature, British Shorthairs often do not reach full size and development until the age of three. Once having reached full maturity, British Shorthairs are a sight to see. With a full broad chest, medium to short strong legs, rounded paws and modified tail these cats present a football player physique. The British Shorthair has a massive round head that sits almost immediately on broad shoulders. Females are smaller then males, but retain the overall roundness and bulk associated with the breed. Their ears are set far apart. Even though their ears do not appear to react, there is no doubt they catch every sound. The eyes are round and wide-open, as befits a true predator.

Unfortunately there are many outdoor hazards and dangers for cats, creating the need to be diligently cared for indoors. Still, it is easy to see how a cat of this shape and form could withstand the rigors of the English countryside. Today's breeders zealously sustain their overall health and stamina. One of the most appealing features is the Brit's built-in smile, which is caused by their round prominent whisker pads. This smile was best displayed on the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll's "Alice In Wonderland," which was a tabby British Shorthair in the original illustration.

The British Shorthair coat is like no other; short and as dense as deep pile carpet. Their coats are another factor that serves them well in English gardens during the winter. No other breed of cat has as dense a coat with more hairs per square inch, than the British Shorthair. Running your fingers through the coat is so pleasurable that breeders often extend this courtesy, when politely asked. Inevitably, eyes light up at the first touch. Though luxurious to pet, the short coat needs minimal care.

The British kittens are large and vigorous at birth. Litters averaging four to five newborns are common, with the mothers giving birth easily. British Shorthair lines contain the two blood types identified in cats; A and B. A third very rare blood type, AB , has also been documented. It is important for new breeders to work closely with a mentor to help them understand the ramifications of differing blood types. By testing, being informed and planning a breeding accordingly, breeders experience few problems with these blood types.

Although British Shorthair mothers are loving and attentive, they are still willing to spend time with their humans even while their kittens are young. The eyes of newborn kittens usually open in less than a week and they show interest in solid foods as early as three weeks. At this stage, the kittens are very attached to their mother and will continue to seek her out for love and food as long as she allows it.

British Shorthair kittens put on weight fast staying round but not fat through kittenhood. Their adolescent stage can be frustrating for the breeder/exhibitor because of their erratic growth spurts. They are at their worst as they enter the CFA Adult Classes at eight months of age. Owners must be patient when their British Shorthairs are this age. Just like a human teenager, a Brit must naturally progress during this gangly period. They mature slowly, not reaching their peak until about five years of age. Because the breed matures late, British Shorthairs tend to look good for many years and are long lived.

Their Personality

British Shorthair

Living with British Shorthairs is relaxing. They are not overly active cats, which is why they are comfortable in apartments as well as houses. With true British reserve, they will wait for an invitation to join you at your side on a couch or chair.

These cats are content to be with you and stare at you as you read, watch TV or sew. Occasionally they will put a single paw in your work to make sure you know they are still watching. British Shorthairs are the great supervisors. They watch everything and even follow you from room to room to make sure you adhere to your daily routine; they do not need to be underfoot to do this. Often a British Shorthair will be seen on a chair or ledge simply observing what is going on as they watch the people in their world.

A quiet cat, a British Shorthair does meow, but only now and then.

They are confident cats and do well with other pets. However, do not expect them to ignore small rodents and birds, even if they are pets. They can adjust well to dogs and other cats and it is not unusual for the British Shorthair to rise as leader of the family hierarchy. The British Shorthair is a great family pet because it is more then willing to spread its love and attention to everyone. They possess the gift of great patience and are excellent with children despite their ruggedness. With a little adult cultivation, the relationship between a British Shorthair and a child is deep and long lasting. When too overwhelmed to continue in a child's activities, a British Shorthair will simply move away to a quiet out of reach place where they can resume their role as household supervisor.

Caring for Your British Shorthair

Caring for a British is not difficult. The coat requires only weekly brushing to catch any shedding. Of course, more extensive grooming is required for a British Shorthair presented at a cat show. A bath several days ahead of the exhibition ensures that a proper amount of oil returns to the coat, giving it a healthy body. Toenails are always clipped on exhibition cats and most British Shorthairs accept this procedure with good grace. Nail clipping is a simple procedure every pet owner can learn from his or her cat's breeder, from a veterinarian or professional groomer. Attention must be given to making sure that the ears are kept free of dirt and wax. A warm damp soft cloth can clean the easily reached areas. Your veterinarian must clean within the deeper portion of the ears.

A mature British Shorthair in good health will have a well-padded muscular body. However, care must be taken that this padding does not turn from muscle to excess fat. The British Shorthair must not be allowed to overeat; food intake of an adult Brit should be restricted to a sensible level. Exercise is encouraged. A fat British Shorthair is not a healthy British Shorthair. For your cat's sake, do not allow him to turn into a British Doorstop. Because Brits are more sturdy and massive, they are uncomfortable with their legs off the ground. Most British Shorthairs do not favor being picked up and carried around.

Breed History

In 1871, the first properly organized cat show was held in London's Crystal Palace. Among the cats exhibited were the luxuriously coated Persians and the British Blue (early name for British Shorthair) with their wonderfully dense coats designed by nature as a defense against the cool, damp British climate. Also at this show the western world got its first glimpse of a rare Siamese. Harrison Weir, who organized this first modern cat show, was a great admirer of the British Shorthair. "The ordinary garden cat," he wrote, "has survived every kind of hardship. That he exists at all is a tribute to his strength of character and endurance." Mr. Jung, who was to become one of the first cat show judges, shared Mr. Weir's devotion to the shorthaired British cats. He believed if these beautiful cats were thoughtfully bred, a race of cats with aristocratic pedigrees and the same inherent goodness and quality would be developed.

By 1910, no cat had done as well as the British Shorthair silver tabby male and his silver tabby sister. Their success as well as others like them caused quite a stir among fanciers. This created a great demand for cats of this color, many of which were exported to the United States. The years of World War I were very tough on all species of pedigreed animals and cross breeding became necessary to reestablish populations and characteristics eliminated through wartime stress.

At this time Persian cats were introduced to enhance the appearance of the British Shorthair, including blue Persians with 60 years of color breeding behind them. In doing so they gave them a somewhat different look from other shorthair breeds. However, the breeders' goal was always to enhance the British Shorthair and so attention was spent on the shorthaired kittens of these matings. Through the war years the introduction of Persians plus random bred "moggies" (English vernacular for non-pedigreed cats) were instrumental in reestablishing the British Shorthair to the wonderful specimen it is today. In this century the British Shorthair is recognized and registered in various colors and patterns, and is popular in every country that has pedigreed cat registration.

As previously mentioned, silver tabbies were imported in large numbers in the early twentieth century. Registrations of imported British Shorthairs continued in the United States as Domestic Shorthairs until the 1950's. At that time, American cat associations began to recognize the British Blue as a distinct breed. While Brits were just hitting the American show bench, a UK British Shorthair was about to make history.

It was a British Shorthair, a blue male named Brynbuboo Little Monarch, that was the first adult of any breed to gain the title Grand Champion under the rules of the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF, the pedigreed cat registrar in the UK). Virtually every British Shorthair today can track its ancestry back to this cat due to his use as stud and to the selling of his progeny.

Other imported colors of British Shorthairs continued to be registered as Domestic/American Shorthairs in the USA until a black female British, "Manana Charmaine," was imported. She was registered and shown in another association as an American Shorthair. When she did substantial winning, other breeders complained that this was not an American Shorthair, but rather a British Shorthair. This opened the eyes of other American fanciers to realize British Shorthairs came in many other colors besides blue. In the 1970's, CFA British Shorthair breeders concentrated on achieving Championship status for the breed. Breeders attended the CFA Board Meeting in Texas and were allowed to enter the process to gain championship status.

In 1980, over a century since the first Cat Show, CFA granted the British Shorthair Championship status and a white female earned the first Grand Champion title. Since those early years the number of National Winners have grown as have the number of Distinguished Merit cats. The Distinguished Merit title is CFA's award given for producing cats that have contributed to their breed by producing Grand Champions. British Shorthair breeders are proud that their cats are basically the same worldwide. Cats of this breed, imported from as far afield as Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Holland, as well as those bred in the United States, have enjoyed great success at CFA shows. This includes the full range of solid, parti-color, and tabby British Shorthairs.

From the times of the Romans, British Shorthairs have populated the British Isles. These cats, most likely developed from those early domestic cats, and perhaps crossed with the native wild cats. Though prized for their strength and hunting ability, as their personality, grace and confidence were discovered, they became the undisputed heirs to the fireside hearths and pleasant additions to the home. Today the British Shorthair reigns supreme in its homeland and is gaining great popularity in the United States. Their patience, adaptability, confidence, easy-care and strength make them highly valued as family companions today.

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