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The British Shorthair is the oldest and one of the largest breeds of domestic cat in the UK, with their shape, appearance and demeanour giving the impression of a cuddly, smiling 'teddy bear' cat! Since 1997 it has consistently been the most popular breed of pedigree cat in Britain by a long way in terms of numbers registered with the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF). They weren't introduced into the USA until the 1980s, where they are affectionately known as 'Brits', although they are still relatively rare there. The breed was originally known as the British Blue as that was the first colour to emerge at the end of the nineteenth century, but as the breed has developed it is now available in around 100 different permutations of coat colour and pattern.
This breed was developed in the 1800s from the well-loved British 'moggy' popular in the home, farm and street, and is said to have been brought into this country by the Romans when they invaded Britain at the beginning of the First Century AD. The early imported shorthairs are thought to have mated with the indigenous European shorthaired cats and have created the basis for a hardy and sturdy breed. At the first UK cat show held at Crystal Palace in 1871, the British shorthairs were the most popular breed shown, and, not surprisingly, the British Blue was the best represented of all as the show organiser (and founder of the British cat fancy), Harrison Weir, was a breeder of this particular variety himself. However, by the turn of the century the breed was in decline, and amazingly, compared to today's statistics, the British Shorthair had almost died out by the 1950s, probably because of the introduction of so many new breeds during the first half of the twentieth century. There was a dedicated band of breeders determined not to lose this old breed, and as numbers were so low, they were sometimes mated to Persian cats. This was somewhat frowned on by the GCCF and offspring were regarded as variants and not permitted to be shown or registered as British Shorthairs, even if they resembled them as closely as the purebreds. However, these offspring were mated back to pure British Shorthairs and it was permitted for kittens to be registered as British Shorthairs after three generations, therefore helping to save the breed.
The British Shorthair is described by the GCCF as being a 'powerful, compact cat' with its sturdy, rather cobby, body and legs, fairly short tail and round head with small widely-spaced ears, large round eyes and a short straight nose. The short plush coat has firm guard hairs that give it a distinctive 'crisp' feel and the protective undercoat helps to keep the cat warm on those chilly British days. The coat colour and range of patterns is one of the most expansive of any breed, and includes white, black, blue, red, cream, chocolate lilac, tortie and even the newer colours of cinnamon and fawn. With the addition of white, there are now bicoloured and tricoloured British Shorthairs in all colours, and a wide array of variations based on tabby, colour-pointed and tipped patterns. Eye colour varies according to coat colour, although the Shorthaired White is especially interesting as it can have deep sapphire blue eyes, deep gold, copper or orange eyes, or one of each, the latter being known as an Odd-eyed White, and all three variations having a slightly different breed number.
The British Shorthair has developed into a very laid-back relaxed cat, often perceived to be very independent although they will enjoy the company of an equally relaxed and likeminded cat. They are an affectionate breed, but very much on their own terms and tend to prefer to choose to come and sit with their owners rather than being picked up. At cat shows they prefer to be placed on the judge's trolley or table, and breeders often describe them as 'four feet on the ground' cats. They are not as demanding as many other shorthaired breeds, making them ideal pets for people out at work, although they will appreciate the company of another pet if they are to be left alone all day. They are happy and tolerant of the attention of children, who should be encouraged not to pick them up, although lifting a fully-grown British Shorthair would be too strenuous for most small children. Kittens of this breed are naturally playful like all kittens, but once adult, the British Shorthair can be quite sedentary, often preferring a snooze rather than having to chase a toy! They are not destructive and do not need to investigate every last cupboard, and are also softly-spoken, just meowing gently to mention that it might be time for another meal!
The British Shorthair is a very long-established breed with little outbreeding in modern times and has developed to deal well with the British weather. They are strong cats, not known to have any breed-specific health problems and many live to a very good age in the mid-teens. As with all other breeds, they need annual vaccination boosters against the common feline ailments of flu and enteritis, as well as against Feline Leukaemia if they go outdoors.
This breed will eat most good quality proprietary brands of cat food, but will also enjoy treats of cooked chicken, ham and grated cheese, but not too many extra treats! As they often lead a rather quiet life style, care must be taken that they do not become overweight, which is especially true of the neutered pets that may not exercise off their calorific intake. It is generally reckoned that they need about 70 calories of food to every Kg of weight per day. Cows' milk may give them a stomach upset, though less likely than for many other breeds, and a bowl of water should always be available. As they have short, glossy coats which need little grooming, any loose hairs can normally be removed simply by stroking.