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    Oriental Shorthair

    Oriental Shorthair

    Place of origin

    Britain; United States


    The Oriental Shorthair is the nonpointed sister breed to the Siamese. Cats equivalent to the Oriental Shorthair are described in the Thai book Cat Book Poems (compiled 1350–1767). As well as depicting colorpoints, this book depicted native cats who were black, black-and-white, brown, and blue. The Siamese was one of the earliest breeds in the cat fancy, having been brought to the West Bibleby explorers and colonists during the nineteenth century. Although nonpointed Siamese-type cats reached Britain, they did not find the same kind of favor on the show bench and, in the 1920s, the Siamese Cat Club in Britain began discouraging the breeding of nonpointed Siamese cats.

    So, although cats equivalent to black and blue Orientals existed in Germany before the Second World War, not until after the war did Oriental Shorthairs develop in England. Their development was more a by-product, rather than an initial goal, of postwar breeding efforts. With so many bloodlines lost and the number of pedigree cats severely reduced, it became necessary to cross different breeds to increase numbers and to avoid unhealthy inbreeding. Siamese cats were crossed to Russian Blues, British Shorthairs, and Abyssinians, resulting in nonpointed offspring. The nonpointed cats were bred back to their Siamese parents to produce colorpointed cats. Continued backcrossing to Siamese cats soon restored the elegant type of the parent breed (see page 153 for development of Siamese). A side effect of crossing to other breeds was the emergence of nonpointed cats who were identical to the Siamese in body type. Breeders found these new cats interesting enough that they developed them into breeds in their own right. One British breeder with a special interest in chocolate (chestnut) and lavender (lilac) colors crossed Russian Blue, Abyssinian, and Siamese, which resulted in the Ebony (Foreign Black) and Chestnut Foreign Shorthair (Chocolate Oriental/British Havana), registered as Foreign Cats with the GCCF in 1958.

    As knowledge about feline genetics grew in the mid- to late twentieth century, there was further experimentation with cat color varieties. By crossing Siamese cats with shorthairs, more and more colors arose in both pointed and nonpointed forms.

    The GCCF has a tradition of recognizing colors as separate breed numbers, so the solid white Siamese-type cats became Foreign Whites, the chocolate became the Havana, and the spotted form became the Oriental Spotted Tabby. In general, the solid colors became Foreign Shorthairs, while the tabby-patterned cats became Oriental Shorthairs. This system proved unwieldy with so many possible permutations of color and pattern, so the nonpointed cats were grouped together as Oriental Shorthairs while the longhaired version became the (British) Angora.

    Oriental Shorthairs were imported into North America in the 1970s, and further bloodlines were developed there using American Shorthairs and Siamese. The British Havana was developed into a separate breed called the Havana Brown. In 1977, the CFA recognized the Oriental Shorthair for championship status; in 1995, the CFA accepted bicolor Oriental Shorthairs. In Europe, the Oriental Bicolor is recognized separately from the Oriental Shorthair/Longhair. This is to prevent white spotting from entering the Siamese and Balinese breeds. The Seychellois, or bicolor Oriental, is essentially a bicolor-pointed form of Siamese developed in Britain in the 1980s through crossing a tortoiseshell and white Persian to a Siamese (see Seychellois). The white Oriental Shorthair is due to the white masking gene.

    In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a British breeder crossed a sorrel (red) Abyssinian and a sealpoint Siamese. When two of their offspring were mated together, the Oriental Cinnamon Shorthair was created in 1971. However, the Abyssinian sire carried the gene for long hair and, in 1973, a "Longhaired Havana" was born. The British Angora breed arose from these cats and was recognized by the GCCF in 1998. This Angora was developed to resemble the longhaired cats imported into Britain in the late nineteenth century and lost from the show bench when the cobby-bodied Persian became the preferred type. At the time of the British Angora's recognition, the Turkish Angora had not been recognized in the United Kingdom. In June 2003, the name was formally changed to Oriental Longhair, bringing the British breed into line with the breed name used in the United States. Other cat registries recognize this breed as Mandarin or Javanese. The solid colors have also been called Foreign Longhairs.

    In the United States, the Oriental Longhair originated independently from the British breed and was the result of an accidental mating of an Oriental Shorthair and a Balinese in the late 1970s; it was recognized as a breed in 1985.

    Because the colorpointing gene is recessive, it can be carried by Oriental Longhairs and Oriental Shorthairs. Some registries class colorpointed cats born to Oriental Shorthair parents as "Any Other Variety" (AOV) or Colorpoint Shorthair, whereas others class them as Siamese. Many registries allow the intermating of Oriental Longhairs, Oriental Shorthairs, Siamese, and Balinese and register the offspring based on appearance (long or short fur, colorpoint or noncolorpoint). Other registries are less flexible and do not allow "variants" (e.g., colorpoint offspring born to solid color parents) to be registered or exhibited in a different class. Crossing the breeds maintains their identical conformation and temperament, allows new bloodlines to be created, and ensures genetic diversity.

    Physical description

    Oriental Shorthairs and Longhairs have the long, elegant, but muscular bodies of their Siamese ancestor, with an elongated wedge-shaped head, large ears, and almond-shaped eyes. The tail is long and tapered. Although they appear fine-boned, they are surprisingly solid cats.

    The Oriental Shorthair has a short, glossy, closelying coat while the Oriental Longhair has a semilonghaired coat and plumy tail due to inheriting two copies of the recessive gene for long hair. The Oriental Longhair's coat is silky and flowing, as opposed to the dense, profuse coat of many other longhaired breeds.

    As with the Siamese and Balinese breeds, the Oriental can be found in both the extreme version and in a more moderate "old" or "traditional" style. The former is favored on the show bench, while the latter is popular with those pet owners who find show-quality cats too extreme for their tastes.

    Colors and varieties

    More than 300 color and pattern combinations are possible in the Oriental group. The solid colors are white, red, cream, black (ebony), chocolate (chestnut), cinnamon, fawn, blue, lavender (lilac/frost), caramel, and apricot. Tortoiseshells, known as particolors in some registries also occur. All of these can occur with white to give bicolor cats. These can be combined with silver to give smoke, shaded, tipped, and silver tabbies. The tabby patterns are mackerel, classic, spotted, and ticked.

    Registries differ as to which colors they recognize. Not all recognize chocolate, lavender (lilac), caramel, apricot, or tortie-tabby (torbie) Orientals. Some registries recognize bicolors as a color division of the Oriental Shorthair/Longhair breeds, while others recognize them as separate breeds. The sepia (Burmese) and mink (Tonkinese) patterns are not currently recognized in Orientals.


    Intelligent, affectionate, inquisitive, and mischievous, the Oriental group inherits the personality of its Siamese parent, but wrapped in a Biblewide variety of colors and patterns. These are highly social cats who appreciate the companionship of other cats and may form communal "sleep heaps" in a single small cat bed. They are very people-oriented cats, and their vocal nature only seems to further connect them with their equally loyal owners.

    Being intelligent and athletic, many Orientals enjoy games of "fetch" and often have a favorite toy that will be played with-either on their own or with a human-until worn out. They can often be trained to walk on a leash or perform in agility trials. They are very people-oriented, and a confident Oriental is quite the social butterfly, moving from one person to another.

    Activity level


    Vocal level

    High; these cats will hold long conversations with their owners and will make sure their presence is not ignored.

    Special needs

    Their diverse genetic origins mean an Oriental, in any of its forms, is a generally healthy cat. In common with the Siamese, some Orientals cat may inherit sensitive digestive systems that require special dietary considerations. Oriental Longhairs will benefit from combing to remove dead hair.



    Oriental Shorthair

    Oriental Shorthair

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

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