The name “British shorthair cat” may conjure images of the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll reportedly based the quizzical Cheshire Cat on British shorthairs and their perpetually smiley faces.
In reality, British shorthairs are friendly, relaxed pets who enjoy the company of people and napping on the couch. They're large cats with exceptionally soft fur, making them cozy companions for cat lovers of all ages. The British shorthair personality is friendly and calm, making them good family pets that adapt well to house or apartment living.
British Shorthair Characteristics
Physical: British shorthairs are relatively large, solid cats. Mature British shorhairs weigh an average of 6 to 12 pounds, though many cats may be larger than average. They have large, round faces with very little slope to their foreheads. They have very round eyes and wide-set ears with rounded tips. They have thick, dense fur that can come in more that 30 colors, though a smoky blue shade is most commonly associated with the breed.
They are generally hardy cats with few health concerns. The British shorthair lifespan is 12 to 20 years.
Personality: British shorthairs are friendly, if not overly affectionate. They aren’t inclined to cuddle because their thick fur makes close contact feel too warm. They do like to stay nearby when their people are home, though, even if they don't sit on your lap. They are also fine spending time alone when the family needs to leave the house. They are not energetic or athletic cats and don’t require a lot of physical activity. This makes them well-suited to living in apartments since they don’t need space to run around.
Caring for British Shorthair Cats
All cats require routine care. Feeding, grooming, and vet care are standard for any pet you bring into your home. British shorthairs don’t require more maintenance than most housecats, but they do need attention to all their needs.
Coat care: British shorthairs have thick, velvety fur that is very soft to the touch. Like most cats, they groom themselves, but their coats can be prone to matting. Running a wire brush through their hair once a week will keep their fur tangle-free. Their shedding also increases seasonally, and brushing will help control the amount of hair that ends up on furniture and floors.
Feeding: Despite the impressive British shorthair size, they do not need as much food as their build would suggest. They are not highly active, and overfeeding them can lead to weight gain. Feeding them quality cat food in moderate portions will usually satisfy their nutritional needs. Your vet can help you choose the best diet for your pet.
Exercise and activity requirements: British shorthairs are not natural athletes. In fact, some people find them rather clumsy for cats. They are typically happy to stay indoors and remain quiet, though they may have periods of high energy or “zoomies” where they run playfully around before quieting again. They enjoy having toys to play with during these energetic phases.
Flea, tick, and worm care: All pets are at risk from common parasites like ticks, fleas, or worms. Indoors cats are less likely to encounter fleas and ticks, but allowing cats outside even briefly increases the chances that they will come home with fleas or ticks on them. Cats can also get fleas or ticks if other pets or humans inadvertently bring them indoors
Fortunately, there are many options for flea and tick prevention. Your vet can help you choose the best prevention method for your cat.
Cats can also get a variety of worms or other parasites, such as roundworms, heartworms, or tapeworms. There is no treatment for heartworm in cats, so prevention is key.
Signs of GI tract worms in cats include diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dull coat, or coughing. Most types of worms that affect the cat’s GI tract can be treated with prescription medications from your vet.
Cats can also get heartworm. There is no available treatment for heartworm in cats so preventing this mosquito-borne illness is key. Your vet can give prescribe a heartworm preventative for your pet.
Tooth care and nail care: Most cats need regular nail trimming. You can try to do this at home with nail clippers recommended by your vet. If your cat is uncooperative, a groomer or staff at your veterinary office can take care of nail care for you.
Brushing your cat’s teeth daily can promote better dental health over their lifetime. Look for toothbrushes specifically designed for cats and cat-specific toothpaste. In addition, giving cats chew toys and dental treats can keep teeth clean and remove anything caught between teeth.
Your vet should check your cat’s teeth at every visit. They can recommend a schedule for professional cleaning, but that will require a special appointment and anesthesia.
Climate preferences and outdoor time: British shorthairs should not be outdoor cats. They are not fast or agile enough to escape potential predators. They should stay indoors, and you should take care not to let them get too hot. Their thick coats could cause them to overheat.
Vet visits: All cats should see a vet for annual checkups. They require core vaccines to prevent certain illnesses. Core shots include vaccines to prevent panleukopenia (feline distemper), feline calicivirus, feline herpesvirus type I (rhinotracheitis), and rabies. Depending on where you live and the lifestyle your cat prefers, they may need additional vaccines such as feline leukemia virus, bordetella, and chlamydophila felis. Your vet can tell you which additional vaccines your cat might need.
British Shorthair Health Problems: What to Watch for With British Shorthair Cats
British shorthairs don’t have many breed-related health concerns. They typically live long, healthy lives as long as they get proper care from their owners. They do have some breed-related risk factors, though, and may be prone to issues with their kidneys or congenital heart problems.
Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD): Polycystic kidney disease is a congenital issue in cats. This inherited condition causes multiple cysts to form in the kidneys. These cysts are present from birth, and they start out very small. They will grow larger over time, though, and can cause problems with kidney function. Some cats never have obvious health problems, but others show signs of kidney failure such as increased water consumption, vomiting, weight loss, or blood in the urine. Treatment includes modified diet, fluids, and medications to treat symptoms like nausea. It’s most common in British shorthairs who have Persian cats in their bloodline.
Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM): Feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a condition that causes the walls of a cat’s heart to thicken. The heart becomes less efficient and may cause additional health issues. Some cats have no symptoms from HCM. Others start to show signs of congestive heart failure, such as lethargy, labored breathing, rapid breathing, or open-mouthed breathing. The condition increases a cat’s risk of blood clots. There is no cure for HCM, but medication can reduce the risk of compilations. It’s a progressive situation, though, that can get worse as the cat ages.
Special Considerations for British Shorthair Cats
British shorthairs are good pets and loyal companions. They enjoy being near people, though they may not want to be held or cuddled. You may find that your cat is happiest sitting beside you on the couch or simply being in the same room with you.
They tend to be easygoing cats. People have successfully kept them in homes with other animals, including dogs. If you already have pets, talk to your vet or an animal trainer about how to safely introduce a new pet into the family.
British shorthairs like people, including children. Like many cats, though, they don’t enjoy being handled roughly. Kids should be gentle with the cat and respect their boundaries.
Their thick coats mean that they can shed quite a lot, but regular brushing can help with some of the shedding.
Anyone bringing home a British shorthair should be prepared to find cat fur all over the house.
Additionally, they are slow to mature. Most cats of this breed aren’t fully grown until they are about five years old.
History of British Shorthair Cats
British shorthair cats are believed to have come to England with invading Roman troops. Some experts suggest that the Romans got the cats from Egyptians, making these one of the oldest known breeds of cats. They were valued for their mousing skills and kept pests out of the army’s food supplies. Breeders crossed the Roman-bred cats with Persian cats in the early 20th century, which led to some longer-haired cats that came to be called British longhairs.
During World War II, the cats in England suffered from wartime food shortages, and many of the breeding lines nearly died out. Breeders brought the cats back by breeding the remaining British shorthairs with domestic shorthairs, Russian Blues, and Persians.
If you are considering adding a British shorthair to your family, talk to your vet about what they’ll need. With the proper care, you and your cat will have many happy years together.