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What is a British Shorthair Cat?

By Angie Bates
Updated May 21, 2024
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The British shorthair cat is a breed of domestic cat native to Britain. Also called the British standard, this cat is one of Britain's oldest breeds, possibly the oldest. The British shorthair started its existence as the common street cat, but after the efforts of people like Harrison Weir, a cat enthusiast, it was recognized as its own breed in the late 1800s, appearing in England's first cat show. The breed was not recognized in the United States until 1970.

Broad chested, British shorthairs are compact, with short legs, rounded paws, and a large round head. Their tails are long and tapered at the end, and their round eyes are large. With short, dense coats, these cats have soft, velvety fur. The natural shape of their mouths forms a smile, and the British shorthair cat is actually the breed Lewis Carroll based his Cheshire cat on in Alice in Wonderland.

Most British shorthairs bred in the US are gray, called blue, but they can be nearly any solid or bi-color, and also appear in calicoes, tabbys, and pointed colors, like those found in Siamese cats. The blues always have gold or copper eyes. Other variations may have green, hazel, or blue eyes, depending on coloring.

Affectionate but independent, the British shorthair cat enjoys following its owners around the house but does not enjoy being picked up or spending a lot of time in people's laps. These cats are good with children and other pets and are generally fine when left alone for periods of time. They tend to develop loyalties to a whole family rather than one person in the family.

Although they are active as kittens, British shorthairs' activity drops as they age. By about four to six years these cats enjoy lounging much more than playing. Considered intelligent, they are also laid-back and quiet, rarely vocalizing. Many breeders notice a slight difference in personality between genders. Males tend to be more affectionate and females more reserved. Males also tend to show loyalty to a larger group of people than females.

The British shorthair cat is a relatively healthy breed, with few health issues. After reaching between five and ten years, these cats are prone to weight problems, so care should be taken when feeding. They also may develop gingivitis or heart problems, such as a murmur, but these are seen infrequently. The British shorthair usually lives 14 to 20 years.

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