Chartreux cats are a breed of cat that originally hails from France and is relatively rare today, particularly outside of Europe. They are the mascot of the world’s largest jazz festival and they are known for their ‘smile’ due to their tapered muzzles and their plumper cheeks.
Intelligent and observant, these are cats that can also learn how to handle light switches, radio buttons, and, unfortunately for people wanting to keep them as purely indoor cats, opening screen door latches.
They are considered to be a national treasure in France; as a result, it’s very hard to find a purebred kitten in the Americas. What more should you know about the Chartreux cat?
History of the Chartreux Cat
The Chartreux cat reliably dates back to around the 15th or 16th century with potentially Syrian routes, the legend being that crusaders brought the ancestors of the Chartreux from Syria back to France.
Once in France, they became excellent rodent hunters and French monasteries, in particular, liked to keep these cats to fight off the rats and mice. In fact, they were actively bred by Carthusian monks in order to keep the rats and mice out of the monasteries.
Another tale goes that this is why these cats are so quiet in nature – their ancestors were monastery cats who were trained to meow rarely and quietly. (This part probably isn’t true – it’s more likely that the monks let them breed and took advantage of their hunting prowess. And of course, they were far from found solely on church grounds anyway).
Although useful for hunting rodents, the cat itself wasn’t really noticed by most people except for its coat and ability to hunt vermin. In many places, they were just as often seen as street cats as they were monastery cats. It wasn’t until the early part of the 20th century that people really took notice of the cat and took steps to turn it into a recognized breed.
In the 1920s, two sisters found a colony of blue-grey cats living on a small island near the coast of France. They were smitten with the color and the woolly coat, and the sisters began to domesticate and breed them.
In 1931, they were first shown in Paris and the modern Chartreux took form. World War II threatened the breed, wiping out all of the street cats, but careful crossbreeding with other breeds like the Russian Blue, British Shorthair, and Persian cats revived it.
In the 1970s, the cat was brought over to the US; however, many breeding programs today have returned the cats to France, so the breed is rarely seen outside of Europe (and even in Europe, it is not a common breed to see). Today, the Chartreux is considered a national treasure in France.
Characteristics of the Chartreux Cat
Probably the most notable physical feature of the Chartreux is its plush, woolly coat. It is always a ‘blue’ color (ranging from ash to slate with silver tips) and has a distinctive woolly feel to it. It is such a luxurious coat that for a while, they were pursued just for their coat!
The coat is water repellant and considered to be short, though it gets longer in the winter. This is also a double coat, so it does require some care, but Chartreux cats should not be shaven because the underlayer is what helps them regulate their temperature.
This breed of cat also has a large, robust body with slightly shorter legs. (Some people call them ‘potatoes on toothpicks’ which isn’t a very nice image, even if it is rather accurate!)
It is often confused with the British Blue Shorthair, but it is lighter and slimmer, particularly around the legs. Most of the rest of the build is thick and muscular with heavy bones, showcasing that this was a breed that used to hunt and work for a living.
A broad chest and strong jaws make short work of most rodents, and the dense, thick coat can easily keep out colder temperatures and even damp to a certain extent.
The coat gets even thicker and longer during the winter and the texture is fairly hard since the coat also acts as protection. A Chartreux’s coat usually needs to be groomed at least once a week in order to keep it healthy and the coat does shed in the fall and spring, so it’s important to increase grooming and cleaning to keep the hair down to a minimum.
Chartreux cats are a medium-weight breed, coming in at between seven and sixteen pounds and about fifteen to eighteen inches long. They should have copper to gold eye color with a deep, clear brilliant orange if your cat is going to be in shows.
They have a medium-length tail. Chartreux cats grow quite slowly, often only reaching their full size until they are four to five years of age and living to be about eight to thirteen years, though indoor cats will tend to live a bit longer and be healthier.
Breeders and showers are very careful about the characteristics of this cat – a sheen to the coat, robust and thick boned, and a heavier tail that is still flexible.
The other notable feature of this breed of cat is its ‘smile’! Due to the short muzzle and rounded cheeks, Chartreux cats usually look as though they are smiling at just about everything, though it has often been said to be a mysterious smile rather than an overly cheerful one.
Still, it’s nice to have your cat purring and smiling at you when you come home for the day!
Temperament of the Chartreux Cat
The Chartreux cat is a pleasant and friendly cat with a tolerant disposition. They get along well with children and other pets and are more likely to simply leave when they are annoyed rather than hurt anyone.
They even get along with dogs, as long as they are properly introduced. Chartreux cats are also fairly intelligent and enjoy hanging out with a special single person in a family the most, though they will hang out with everyone else too. They also often enjoy traveling!
Something you will want to keep in mind when you are working with your Chartreux: they come by that reputation for being quiet honestly – Chartreux cats don’t meow very much, they don’t cry, and they don’t draw attention to themselves much.
This is nice if you want to have a quiet pet; however, it also means that you should keep a close eye on your pet as it won’t tell you if it’s in pain, not feeling well, or anxious.
When these cats do make noise, it’s more like a chirp or a trill which is pretty funny when combined with its muscular body. On the other hand, they have a mighty purr that really makes their smile stand out.
Chartreux cats have a very well-developed sense of humor and enjoy playing pranks on their human. They are smart too – they have been known to learn how to turn radio dials, handle light switches, and even open screen doors.
They love hunting games, particularly if the toys are feathered or on wands that can be dragged around. They can also learn tricks, such as fetch, and quickly learn their names.
Do remember that these cats spent generations hunting mice and rodents and that hunting instinct is not far beneath the surface. Chartreux cats may be quiet and affectionate, but they really enjoy playing and will stay playful long into their adulthood.
Keeping these cats mentally and physically healthy is incredibly important, though since they only play in spurts, you don’t have to worry about constantly chasing after them.
Although some cats find a way to get screen doors open, it’s a much better idea to dissuade them from going outside too much. Indoor cats simply have a longer and healthier life than outdoor ones. Instead, giving your cat supervised outdoor time, using a catio, or simply letting them look out the windows is much safer and still gives them the mental stimulation they crave.
Chartreux cats are good for both single people and families – they just like being around people for a while and are also happy chilling out on their own for parts of the day. They are perfectly content with their toys, food, places to sleep, and regular time with their people.
Health Concerns of the Chartreux Cat
Many purebred and mixed breed cats have health concerns, but Chartreux cats are quite sturdy overall. There are really only a few serious health concerns that can cause issues:
- Polycystic kidney disease
- Struvite crystals: these are small stones that form in the bladder as a result of too much alkaline in the diet or not enough water. These stones cause irritation, urethra blockages and can result in kidney failure
- Luxating patella: Slipped kneecaps
And of course, you have to watch out for the usual things: dental diseases (brush those teeth), feline diabetes in cats that have stayed overweight for too long or have a predisposition for it, and things like arthritis in older cats.
It’s also important to keep Chartreux cats exercising regularly or else their muscles will go soft.
Overall, though, the Chartreux is a very healthy cat, making it also ideal for people who don’t want to worry about exorbitant vet bills down the line.
What Kind of Owner is Best Suited for the Chartreux Cat?
Amiable and friendly, there are very few owners who the Chartreux cat isn’t suitable for. They are comfortable in families, getting along well enough with even young children and other pets, and they are happy with just a single person or a couple as well.
They can entertain themselves while their owner is at work and will bring toys when they want to play. They aren’t noisy or bossy and instead like to hang out, play, and enjoy time with their people.
Since Chartreux cats are fairly healthy, you also don’t have to usually worry about massive vet bills – just keep on top of their regular health needs.
They do need to be groomed more often than many other breeds of cats do though, and they would prefer to have people around at least as often as not, particularly whomever they have particularly bonded with.
In all though, there really isn’t any ‘ideal’ owner for a Chartreux; they pretty well mold themselves to any household and are even quiet enough to live in apartments. They don’t even do any better (or worse) with a buddy, though they do get along well with dogs and cats.
Final Thoughts on the Chartreux Cat
The Chartreux is considered a national treasure today for a reason! They have a plush, woolly coat that is fairly unique to behold, they are amiable, affectionate without being overbearing, and get along with other pets and small children. They aren’t noisy, they are intelligent, and they are playful long into adulthood. They are also very sturdy and rarely have serious health conditions.
But they are awfully difficult to find outside of Europe and more precisely, France. Most of the purebred stock in North America was given back to France and as a result, finding a kitten here is quite tricky.
I did some light digging and found precisely one breeder in Illinois and absolutely none through The International Cat Association. It is simply a very rare breed in the US.
Finding a part Chartreux is likely easier, but pedigree gets a lot murkier when dealing with part breeds, especially if you are rescuing your cat from a shelter, and even then, since there just aren’t many of this breed outside of Europe, finding even part blood is difficult!
If you are looking for a wonderful family cat who doesn’t make much noise, is very sturdy, and loves to play games and hang out, it might be worth the hunt! Chartreux cats are pretty awesome and it’s always worth helping a breed stay alive even longer.
Have you ever seen a Chartreux or own one? What do you like most 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.