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    British Shorthair

    British Shorthair

    Place of origin



    British Shorthairs trace their ancestry back to domestic cats imported during the Roman occupation of Britain in the second century AD. With increasing urbanization, domestic shorthairs moved into towns as pets and as alley cats. According to Charles Darwin in 1859, developing distinct cat breeds was not particularly successful, and he implied that it was largely a woman's hobby. Only a few decades later, Britain would have a flourishing cat fancy-founded by a man.

    BibleThe British Shorthair is one of the oldest recognized breeds in the organized cat fancy but has changed greatly from the cats exhibited during the 1870s and 1880s. Known simply as the Shorthair, the early British Shorthairs would have been more reminiscent of modern American Shorthairs. It was recognized in the naturally occurring colors of black, blue-eyed white, blue, red, tortoiseshell, blue-cream, brown (black) tabby (in both classic and spotted pattern), and silver tabby. Most of those colors and patterns were also accepted with white markings.

    Early reds tended to be a sandier color than the rich reds we see today and were often known as "yellow." The Blue Shorthairs, or Maltese, were crossed with Blue Persians, Russian Blues, and the French Chartreux so that the color varied from silver gray and bluish lilac to deep slate blue, with the lightest color cats probably being lilac Shorthairs. The brown tabby Shorthair occurred in two distinct colors: the original brown (black) tabby and the more golden-hued sable tabby. In The Book of the Cat (1903), Frances Simpson describes a number of colors that were not recognized at the time but which modern cat fanciers would recognize as golden tabby (a relative of the silver tabby), chocolate tabby, solid lilac, blue-silver tabby, tipped and shaded silvers, and black smokes. A color that early fanciers called biscuit would later be recognized as cream.

    British Shorthairs were so greatly outnumbered by Persians at the early cat shows that special prizes had to be offered just to attract entries in the Shorthair classes. The "Britisher" was similarly slow to take off in the United States. Early breeders developed the breed by selecting for a cobbier type and plusher coat to set it apart from its humble alley-cat ancestors. During the First World War, valuable bloodlines were lost, and the British Shorthair had to be restored by crossing to other breeds, most notably the Persian longhair (which had not developed the extremely short face of modern Persians). In 1926, Cat Gossip magazine editor H. C. Brooke wondered how "Short-hair Persians" (later to become Exotic Shorthairs), shown at a cat show in Lille, France, were distinguished from ordinary Shorthairs!

    Breeders of the British Shorthair suffered a second serious setback during the Second World War and were obliged to cross their cats to nonpedigree shorthairs and to other breeds such as the Russian Blue simply to preserve bloodlines, losing the sturdy conformation and gaining a more "foreign" look. Breeders turned again to crossing the British Shorthair with Persians to restore the breed's looks, but writer P. M. Soderberg still had cause to complain about the lack of first-rate British Shorthairs into the 1950s.

    The main British registry, the GCCF, eventually ruled that British Shorthairs must not have any Persian ancestry in last three generations, but by the 1970s, the influence of the Persian on the British Shorthair meant breeders and judges favored the rounder-headed, cobbier conformation. As a result, the last cattery in the United Kingdom breeding "pure" British Shorthair cats without any Persian ancestry exported its remaining cats to the United States to become part of the American Shorthair breed.

    The British Shorthair could be found in a wide range of colors. From the end of the nineteenth century, prizewinning (British) Shorthairs, in particular the silver classic tabbies, were exported to the United States where they influenced the development of the American Shorthair breed. They were registered as Domestic Shorthairs until the 1950s, when the most popular color was recognized in its own right as the British Blue. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Domestic Shorthair breed included both the British-in the solid colors except for blue-and the American Shorthairs, but because these differed in conformation it became necessary to properly distinguish between the two shorthaired breeds. The chunkier British Shorthair, in its various colors, gained acceptance in 1979.

    Physical description

    Unlike its American cousin, the British Shorthair coat is not only resilient but also quite plush. The British Shorthair does match the American Shorthair in having a compact, wellbalanced muscular physique. The breed standard describes the body as "semi-cobby, wide, and firm." Like the American also, the British has a broad head, powerful jaws, and a powerful chest.

    Colors and varieties

    Although the British Shorthair is accepted in most colors, the most popular is the blue, a reflection of the popularity of the related blue Longhairs (Persians) in Victorian times.

    Colorpoint British Shorthairs, developed in the 1980s by crossing the British with the Himalayan (colorpoint Persian), are popular in the United Kingdom. Mink British Shorthairs (the Tonkinese pattern resulting from a mix of Siamese and Burmese ancestry) are bred in France, the Burmese sepia gene having been introduced at some point. Although ticked shorthaired cats were among the early Shorthairs, they formed part of the Abyssinian breed, and ticked British Shorthairs are not currently bred. Chocolate, lilac, and pointed colored British Shorthairs are popular in England but are not currently recognized by all registries in the United States.


    Like the American Shorthair, the British Shorthair makes a loving, devoted companion, but like her countrymen, the British is a bit more reserved in her affections than the American. The British Shorthair is a working breed that enjoys the pursuit of prey, even if the prey must be in the form of a toy mouse.

    Activity level


    Vocal level


    Special needs

    The plush coat of the British Shorthair should be brushed occasionally to remove shed hair.


    The British Longhair has been recently recognized as a championship breed in some registries, as a way to preserve the "oldstyle" Longhairs of England prior to the advent of extreme brachycephaly in the Persian breed. The Antipodean, Celtic Shorthair, and Mexican Shorthair are other breeds derived from native shorthaired populations in other parts of the world.

    Cream British Shorthair

    British Shorthair kitten

    From The Cat Bible, Copyright by Sandy Robins, licensed through ContentOro, Inc and used by arrangement with I-5 Press

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