Getting to Know the Chartreux

By Jill J. Rasmussen
from The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book

Old as antiquity, the robust and muscular French Chartreux (pronounced: shar trew) is built for survival. Its physical appearance still reflects its ancient origin in the harsh arid cold of mountainous Asia Minor. Its large body mass conserves heat, aided by a dense woolly coat that repels dew and seasonal weather. Small, fur-covered appendages-ears, legs, and tail-prevent heat loss and resist frostbite. Its large belly promotes efficient food consumption and easy storage as body fat. Broad chest, bull neck, and powerful shoulders propelled by narrow hips with long, well-muscled hind legs allow the Chartreux to be expert climbers, capable of bounding effortlessly after prey through rugged, rocky terrain. This powerhouse can walk silently with felt-like steps. Medium-sized ears set upright, close together, and high on the head easily pinpoint prey. Large, heavily muscled jaws grip prey with precision. Its large size, hunting prowess, and fearlessness make the Chartreux superb predators.

The Chartreux remains a master at adaptation. Now pampered and kept strictly indoors as a beloved pet, the Chartreux is well behaved, self-sufficient, and quiet, rarely meowing. The modern-day Chartreux, still very much aware of its own strength, is a gentle giant.

In the absence of prey, the Chartreux expends its great energy and power in hearty play and retains its "joie de vivre" into old age. Kittens and adolescents, even at two to three years of age, are highly active; mature adults have short burst of energy lasting 15-30 minutes, when they gallop about madly. They love to play and favorite games include Fetch, Chase, and Tag. They are highly inventive and truly effective in subtly training their owners.

Despite their silent nature, Chartreux are highly communicative. Very active tails, ear movements, ever-changing facial expressions, and a vast repertoire of trills, chirps, and coos speak volumes to the observant owner.

Males can be twice the size of females. However, females will not be bullied; while he would not think of throwing his weight around, she might.

Their Personality


Both sexes, when neutered and spayed, make excellent companions for the individual or the family. They adapt well as single pets or in multi-pet households. They are also remarkably friendly toward other creatures-particularly dogs.

Chartreux pick a favorite person within the household but are not possessive. The Chartreux makes the choice and shows special devotion towards its favorite. The cat may prefer this person's company, sleep on his or her bed, follow him or her throughout the house, or play its most favorite games only with the chosen one. While others in the household are treated with affection and politeness, favoritism will be evident to all. For this reason, families should not get a Chartreux for a specific child; the cat might just choose a sibling or parent instead.

This loyalty is also noticeable in its protective and non-aggressive attitude toward the favored person, yet cautiousness toward strangers. Chartreux may prefer to observe strangers while safely hidden beneath furniture or peering out from the doorway of the next room. With familiarity and maturity, Chartreux may change from seemingly shy to becoming an official greeter.

Most Chartreux do not like to be picked up or carried around, preferring to have at least their back legs firmly on the ground. Instead, Chartreux tag along everywhere, attentively watching whatever is going on and occasionally asking for an invitation to participate.

Individual personalities vary to a degree. Some Chartreux are more sociable and outgoing than others by nature. Some Chartreux insist on sitting in your lap while others may prefer to sit nearby. When selecting a Chartreux try to discuss expectations and household situations with breeders, who can then help to match these with an individual Chartreux kitten, adolescent, or adult whose personality is best suited to the situation.

Caring for a Chartreux

Diet management is an important aspect of the look as well as the health of the cat. Because this breed becomes obese very easily, it is best to measure food, rather than feed freely. Using a "lite" cat food may be a good option for maintaining an appropriate weight. Taking weight off a Chartreux takes patience, time, and a special diet designed for weight reduction. Fasting is very dangerous for cats and should never be used for weight control.

Chartreux are easy to care for and have few grooming requirements. Combing during spring and fall sheds is highly recommended as a mature Chartreux develops an extraordinarily thick undercoat that can matt on the flanks. Use a metal medium- or coarse-toothed comb or shedding comb. Brushes tend to pull out too much undercoat and leave a spiky look. Combing helps prevent hairballs and reduces the amount of downy hair floating throughout the house.

Bathing a Chartreux is not usually necessary for the pet. But show cats need to be bathed a couple of days before a show to allow the natural oils to redistribute and the coat to have a woolly texture and "break." Use a pH-balanced shampoo for cats that is tearless and hypoallergenic. Try texturizing shampoo for double-coated breeds and shampoo with whiteners or brighteners. Experiment with different brands to find the right ones for your cat. Avoid conditioners as they tend to flatten the coat, which is naturally oily.

The most critical step in bathing a Chartreux is getting it wet down to the skin; the coat is highly water repellent. Hold a spray nozzle close to the skin and aim it against the lie of the hair; then move the spray nozzle slowly over the entire cat. Shampoo twice, with a good rinse in between. After the final shampoo, rinse extremely well to make sure all soap is removed from the thick undercoat. Blow-drying is desirable because it adds loft to the coat and hastens the drying process.

Naming Tradition for Chartreux

Chartreux are named according to the French convention of using the letter of the alphabet assigned to a given year. For example, kittens born during calendar year 2005 have names beginning with the letter A; 2006, B; 2007, C; and so on. The letters K, Q, W, X, Y, Z are not used, so letters repeat every 20 years. As a result, fanciers can tell the age of a Chartreux simply by knowing its name.

Breed History


The history of the Chartreux is somewhat cloudy. How the breed came to France is uncertain, although historical documents offer several explanations. One story is that returning Crusaders may have brought back these blue-gray cats as gifts to monks of the Carthusians or Chartreux contemplative order founded in France, whose metallurgical expertise had provided swords for the conquests. According to legend, Chartreux cats kept by such monks on the Mediterranean islands, such as Cyprus and Malta, would leave the monastery in the morning to venture out into the countryside where the cats would kill poisonous serpents but not consume them. In the evening, when the monks rang the bells, the Chartreux cats would return to the monastery for their evening dinner. Monasteries on the continent may have valued the Chartreux for its ability to control large, aggressive (and plague-carrying) rats. Medieval institutions also may have valued them to rid archives and libraries of gnawing rodents.

An amusing legend has evolved: It is said that, like the monks, Chartreux cats took on their vow of silence. However, when these cats do choose to vocalize, it is often with soft, breathy whispers or musical trills, chirps, and coos. Some Chartreux still pose as if praying, sitting with front paws raised together, gazing heavenward.

Survival of the Chartreux in modern times is due largely to the efforts of two sisters, whose family in 1926 moved to Belle Ile off the stormy French coast. They noticed a colony of blue cats on the island that matched the Chartreux cats described by the eighteenth-century French naturalist, Buffon, whose works they had studied in horticulture school. The sisters began the first recorded selective breeding of Chartreux in 1928 and continued breeding Chartreux for 60 years.

Other Chartreux breeders had parallel breeding programs under way in Paris and the French interior (Massif Central), using "natural Chartreux," or blue-gray cats living in the countryside. World War II left registries of pedigreed animals in shambles. Certain breeders began crossing the few surviving Chartreux with the more numerous and readily available British Blues (the old term for what is now a British Shorthair with a blue coat). Without a concentrated effort to select against undesirable influences from the British Blues, the Chartreux began losing its distinctiveness.

In 1970, most European cat registries assimilated the Chartreux with the British Blue and both were registered as the same breed, causing great confusion. Fortunately, some Chartreux breeders were fiercely committed to preserving the original Chartreux type and coat. Thanks to their efforts, most registries separated the Chartreux from the British Blue in 1977 and reinstated the original Chartreux standard.

About the same time Chartreux and British Blues were being assimilated in Europe, a woman from California, having read about these legendary cats and being unable to locate any in North America, began her quest to bring Chartreux to the United States and to interest other breeders in them. Between 1970 and 1976, a total of twelve Chartreux were imported from France and Belgium. About half of these imports formed the foundation of the North American Chartreux population. Much to the credit of the early breeders and to the inherent good health of the Chartreux, the breed continues to be remarkably sound and robust.

Aware of European hybrids, North American breeders vowed to preserve the Chartreux: theirs would be a breeding population geographically removed and carefully protected from the hybridization pressures in Europe. Breeders set up rules governing importation, registration, and breeding of Chartreux and adopted a breed standard based on the French one.

CFA accepted the Chartreux for registration as a natural breed in October 1979. Provisional status was granted in 1986. Advancement to full championship status became effective May 1, 1987. The breed, while relatively few in number, has steadily increased in popularity both as pets and for show. In little more than a decade, many Chartreux had achieved the ranks of National and Regional Winners, and several sires and dams had earned coveted Distinguished Merit titles. The French Chartreux is one of the oldest natural breeds in the world and, by far, the most primitive of the Old World "Blues." Its woolly blue coat with iridescent sheen and a strikingly unbalanced appearance are unique among cat breeds. Its personality is equally distinct, giving the overall impression of great dignity, patience, discretion, and stability. As an early U.S. breeder observed, "It is only in play that the Chartreux appears the clown, having perhaps the best humor in the cat world." The Chartreux, a master at survival, has finally secured its place in our homes and won over our hearts with its general good nature and politeness. It is truly a treasure, a living legend.

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