The British Shorthair

The national cat of the British Isles, the British Shorthair is the aristocrat of the shorthairs. It most likely evolved from the domestic cats introduced into Britain by Roman colonists over 2000 years ago, and is probably the oldest of the English breeds, sometimes described as the pedigree version of the moggy

The quintessential cuddly cat, this gentle breed has a stocky build and luxuriously plush coat, giving it a ‘teddy bear’ look. Probably every person reading this has seen one and not realised what they were looking at – the striking silver tabby featured in the Whiskas series of television commercials is a British Shorthair!

When the Romans advanced across Europe nearly 2000 years ago, they brought cats with them to guard their food stores, with Roman settlers keeping cats both as domestic companions and as vermin-destroyers. During the Romans’ 400-year occupation of north-western Europe and Britain, some of these domestic animals interbred with the European wild cat, which was widespread throughout Western Europe, just like today’s feral cats. Refined breeding over more than a century created the cat we now know as the British Shorthair.

Taking pride of place at the first UK cat show in 1871, with substantial numbers competing, and outnumbering its longhaired counterparts by ten to one, the British seemed to lose its popularity to the Persian by 1896. By the turn of the century, short-haired cats in general were in a very small minority, with the new longhairs so popular that at one point there was a danger of the old original shorthairs becoming completely eclipsed.

Dedicated supporters came to the rescue in 1901, forming the Shorthaired Cat Society to promote them. A general resurgence of the breed began in the 1930s, but suffered a setback during WW2 when many owners suspended their breeding of pedigree kittens. Very few pedigree stud males remained in post-war years, so outcrosses were made with shorthaired cats of foreign type but the results were unsatisfactory. By the early 1950s, careful matings with blue Persians had improved the British after only a few generations to the exacting standards that still remain today. Since then, no outcrossings have been permitted, and the breed has continued to play a significant part in competitive cat exhibiting everywhere.

This quiet and affectionate breed remained rare in the US until around 1964 when it was recognised for championship competition. Following an experimental breeding program that began in Victoria by Mrs E. Parnell in 1959, the first British Shorthair was added to the full Australian register in 1968.

To so many people attending cat shows and pet expos, the British Shorthair means a British Blue – a common ignorance that is a shame, as this wonderful breed has a virtual rainbow of coat colours available. Aside from the solid colours of white, black, red, lilac, cream, chocolate, and the afore-mentioned famous blue, this cat also comes in: tipped, shaded, smoke, tabby (in a multitude of variations of the solid colours), tortoiseshell, colourpointed, tabby point colourpointed, as well as the patterns of bi-colour and van. The choice is almost endless!

The British Shorthair is a medium to large sized puss, attaining a weight of between four and eight kilograms. A perfect male can be nothing short of massive, with the females generally significantly smaller, both taking up to five years to reach full maturity. It is a muscular cat, with a broad chest, strong shoulders and back; its legs are short and strong, with round, firm feet. The short, thick tail is slightly rounded at the tip. A round and massive head set on a strong, short, well-developed neck is teamed with a short, broad, straight nose with a slight indentation but not a stop, while the ears are small and set wide apart, slightly rounded at the tips. The eyes on this cat are large, round, well opened, and set wide apart.

Despite the short coat, the British needs regular weekly grooming as the coat is quite dense. Naturally, during moulting season, additional grooming is ideal to reduce the amount of hair in its home, as well as reducing hairballs.

Some people would go as far as to call the British lazy, as it loves nothing more than a quiet doze in front of the fire or on its owner’s lap, so it will put on weight easily, necessitating careful attention to diet and exercise. The British is steady without a hint of nervousness, and with a willingness to please. It has strength, endurance, and hunting prowess, but also a calm nature along with a placid, laid-back temperament. A ‘smiling’ expression is an endearing feature of this sociable and loyal cat breed. Companionable and playful, sometimes reserved, the imposing British Shorthair is devoted to its owners and fits in perfectly with family life.

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