British shorthair cats were once known as British Blue and were bred exclusively to have a blue-gray coloring.
However, over time, the breeding relaxed and now the breed is known as the British shorthair and can come in a myriad of colors. There are some distinctive traits of a round face, rounder, stockier features, and a reserved personality.
My cat, whom I have since she was a few months old, is probably a cross between British Shorthair and Persian (she has the squashed face of a Persian and the build of a British shorthair) and a more pleasant and quiet cat you couldn’t hope to meet. She has given me nearly sixteen years of companionship and while I’m pretty sure she’s coming to the end of her life, she’s still friendly, purrs loudly, and likes to grab knees.
British shorthair cats (and crosses) are relatively common cats and they are well worth looking into, particularly for families who don’t need a highly social animal and prefer something friendly, but more independent.
What more should you know about the British shorthair?
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History of the British Shorthair Cat
The British shorthair has a long and somewhat arduous history. Their ancestors were the common street cat called the European shorthair, brought to Great Britain about two thousand years ago from the Roman Empire.
They were brought to hunt rodents and likely originally came out of Egypt. But these cats looked nothing like their descendants, being long and sandy brown or yellow-gray with ticked coats and tabby markings.
It’s thought that they bred with a local wildcat, creating a breed with a sturdier body and thicker fur. For many centuries, they were ‘working cats’, guarding barns, granaries, alleys, and houses from rodents.
In the latter part of the 1800s, Harrison Wier, a British man who is credited with becoming the first cat breeder began a breeding program to domesticate the British street cat and ultimately create the British shorthair.
It was nearly eradicated during World War II due to hard economics, but after the war, the remaining bloodlines were crossed with other breeds like the Domestic shorthair, Russian Blue, and Persian to preserve the breed.
It was then officially recognized in 1967 by the American Cat Association and the International Cat Association in 1979. Pretty good for a cat that spent centuries living and working in the streets and barns of England!
Common Characteristics of the British Shorthair Cat
British shorthair cats have some distinctive physical attributes that make them stand out against other cats.
In particular, they aren’t very vocal cats, but when they are vocal, they make a squeaking meow that is completely out of proportion with their otherwise stocky frame! (My cat sounds ridiculous; despite losing a lot of weight, she still has a thick chest, so a squeaky meow just sounds silly).
Otherwise, here are some common characteristics of the breed:
- A medium to large body that is quite powerful: deep broad chest and level back. They look stocky even when they aren’t.
- A round a massive face with a short, thick neck. My cat, when she was fatter, basically had no neck. We teased her a lot. The nose is slightly broad and there is a distinctive muzzle. Many cats develop jowls giving them a signature “smile”.
- A British Shorthair has a very dense, short coat that is firm to the touch, but not double-coated.
- British Shorthairs comes in pretty well all colors except chocolate, lavender, Himalayan patterns, or those combinations with white. Blue-grey, calico, and tabby seem to be common as is dark grey and black with blue-grey being the most prevalent and popular.
- British shorthair cats actually take a while to mature, not reaching their full size until between three and five years old!
- They can weigh in at between twelve and seventeen pounds with mature males weighing closer to 17. My cat was probably around 13 most of her life, which put her in the overweight category, but not badly.
- British shorthairs tend to have a life expectancy of between 12 and 16 years, with indoor cats generally living a lot longer than outdoor ones. Crossbreeding can change this life expectancy of course.
- They usually need to be groomed regularly as they do have a fairly plush coat that sheds in the winter and summer. They are also prone to hairballs if they don’t get the loose fur brushed – I have also noticed a tendency towards greasiness if they like sleeping in odd corners and don’t get groomed regularly.
- British shorthair cats are quite sturdy with strong genetics. They aren’t vulnerable to many illnesses or genetic disorders.
British shorthair cats are most distinguished by their color, with the classic breed having the blue-grey solid coat, their rather squeaky meow, and a stocky body.
What is the Temperament of the British Shorthair Cat?
I chose my cat Rune when she was a kitten because she was the quietest one out of her litter! And this is absolutely an indication that she is probably part British Shorthair.
British shorthair cats are quite pleasant, but they aren’t very vocal, and they don’t really feel the need to drown themselves in attention. Instead, they’d much rather just hang out with their humans in the same room or maybe sleep or play nearby, but they generally hate being carried around.
They are fairly patient with children, as long as they can have their own space, and will warm up to other animals as well, though it can be a slow process.
British shorthair cats are relatively smart, but they don’t tend to use it for mischief since they are usually too lazy to bother.
British shorthair cats are also not very playful cats. As kittens, they will run a little and play with toys, but as they mature, they take on a more dignified (and lazy) cast.
British shorthairs rarely feel the need to jump on counters and they are just as happy to doze or follow you around all day as anything else.
They can usually be left alone for stretches of time without worrying about it and they enjoy just being around people without anyone making a big deal out of it. (My cat gets uncomfortable when people make a fuss over her, but she will generally come say hello to just about anyone).
They are an all-around calm breed that is low energy and fairly low needs, though they will still appreciate regular petting and hang-out time with their humans.
An important aspect of bonding with a new kitten or cat who is a British shorthair (or cross) is to spend time daily petting and hanging out with it until it gets to know you.
Kittens will also enjoy playing with toys and doing interactive hands-on playing like wrestling your hand (or your knee as my cat still enjoys doing once in a while).
By taking the time to bond with your cat in the early days, you’ll have a loyal cat for the rest of its days.
British shorthair cats also tend to be fairly adaptable (my cat has moved with us several times and barely batted an eye over it. She has also traveled before – she wasn’t happy, but she went with it – and has seen several other pets come and go), they are not very destructive at all, and they tend to get along with an entire family.
They aren’t usually ‘lap’ cats, preferring instead to have a nap at your feet or by your side. They also have a really loud purr!
One thing to note again: they generally don’t like being picked up and will even ‘push’ you away with their paws to try to escape. This means you have to teach children not to pick them up or they may get clawed or shoved which most young children won’t like.
If you’re looking for an affectionate, but a still very independent cat, a British shorthair is usually a good one to go with.
Health and Common Concerns of the British Shorthair Cat
British shorthair cats are a pretty sturdy breed (mine certainly is), so you don’t usually have to worry about too many problems. Pure breeds are at risk of hemophilia B which is a bleeding disorder that is hereditary, but a simple DNA test is all that is required to see if a cat is a carrier for the gene.
The other issue that British shorthairs are the downside of them being low energy, low need cat: they can get overweight relatively easy.
Since this particular breed of cat doesn’t run around much on their own, they are prone to gaining weight and getting even lazier. You will probably have to encourage your cat to play regularly with toys and hands-on time.
My cat was overweight for most of her life, only shedding it when her companion passed away and with advanced age making it harder for her to keep weight on.
To help prevent this, feed your cat a balanced diet with plenty of proteins and make sure not to overfeed them. They don’t really beg for food anyway and they don’t jump on counters, so it’s fairly easy to control their intake.
They also tend to be polite around other animals’ food bowls and will only get grouchy if another cat or dog tries to eat their food while they are eating it.
An overweight cat is more prone to diabetes, joint problems, and other organ issues, so it’s important to keep their weight under control. My cat contracted arthritis at about middle age in one back leg which hasn’t really stopped her from doing what she wants to do, but it does give her a pronounced limp and some walking issues when she first gets up from one of her (many) naps.
What Type of Owner is a British Shorthair Cat Best Suited for?
British shorthair cats are happiest with owners who enjoy their company but don’t need their cats to be really playful or extremely social. If you live in an apartment or a smaller place, just want a cat to be nearby without sitting all over you, and you are gone regularly for work, then the British shorthair is probably a good breed to look at.
They are even fairly tolerant of children (my cat actually helped ‘train’ my oldest son on how to be nice to animals because she was so patient) and other cats and dogs, making them easy to blend with different members of the family.
Just make sure you take the time for regular grooming and mind the eating requirements and you’ll have a loyal and peaceful pet for a long time to come.
If you’re the type who likes a very snuggly or playful cat, this won’t be the breed for you. Also, keep in mind that this breed takes a lot longer to reach its full height and weight compared to most other breeds, so you may end up with a cat that is larger than you would have expected.
Plan for that by getting a larger carrier than the one you would get for other cats and any covered sleeping lairs should also be more spacious.
Does the British Shorthair Cat Sound Good to You?
I absolutely love my cat, Rune. She has been my slightly aloof but loyal companion for nearly sixteen years, and she purrs as loudly as she did when she was a kitten. It took some time for her to warm up to us, but once she did, she was loyal for life.
British shorthair cats may not be as playful as other cats and they may take a bit longer to open up to you compared to other cats, but once they do, you have a friendly, warm, and quiet cat who enjoys being in your company and won’t worry when you leave for work or a night on the town.
They enjoy eating, napping, following you to see what you’re up to, and don’t usually require training out of bad habits like begging for food or jumping on counters. Many of them enjoy the company of children and other animals (though they will act standoffish about that too, but they won’t be mean) and they are easy to care for.
British shorthair cats are dignified, warm, lazy, and loyal: just about the perfect cat for people who live in small places, work a lot, or want a low need companion.
Do you have a British shorthair or British shorthair cross? What do you love about it?
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.