The Chartreux is a large blue shorthaired cat originating from France in the form seen today, but it is rarely found in Britain as it is not recognised by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy due to its similarity with our own British Blue Shorthair. However, the Chartreux is not the same as the British Blue, and not only do the two breeds have different physical and temperamental characteristics, but, research into pedigrees as well as blood typing has confirmed that the two breeds have different ancestry. The European Federation of Cat Fanciers decided to amalgamate the Chartreux with the British Blue in 1970 under the name 'Chartreux' but with the breed standard of the British Blue, although this was reversed in 1977 after the Chartreux breeders objected. In common with many French registration policies for cats, there is a rather intriguing way of naming the Chartreux - a different letter is designated each year and all cats' names begin with that letter, with the exception of K, Q, W, X and Y which could prove to be quite difficult. Each letter therefore appears on a 20-year cycle, and in 2012 the names of Chartreux cats in France begin with the letter H. This breed is very popular in France, and both President de Gaulle and the author Colette had Chartreux cats - it is said in the case of Colette (who was known to be a true cat lover) that owning a Chartreux was part of her patriotism as she remained in Paris throughout the German occupation of France.
The Chartreux was certainly known in France before the 18th century, although it is thought that these blue cats may have originated in Syria and arrived in France by ship during the Crusades. The name of Chartreux had been adopted by the 18th century, and the trade directories and dictionaries of the time listed it as a blue-coated cat, although it was not what we know as a pedigree cat nowadays, and were valued mainly for its abilities as a hunter to keep down the mice and rat population. There were natural colonies of the Chartreux in and around Paris and also in isolated regions of France until the early 1900s, although it was never particularly numerous. After the First World War, French cat breeders became interested in preserving this ancient breed, and the initial nucleus of breeding cats came from small rural communities. A breed standard was written from the descriptions written by 18th century naturalists, and only those cats that conformed rigidly to the standard were included in the breeding programme. It seemed that the Chartreux was gaining in popularity and by 1928 they were being exhibited at mainland European shows. By 1945 there were no natural colonies of these cats left and since then they have only been available from breeders, although it is still a relatively rare breed, even in France. They were first imported into the USA in the 1970s, and some of the purest breed lines are to be found there. Breeders in France and the USA have tried to breed to the original standard and as a result, the Chartreux has changed very little in appearance since those early days.
The Chartreux is a large, sturdy breed, and a male can weigh as much as 17lb although the females are quite a bit smaller. The males often develop pronounced cheek jowls as they get older, which adds to their appearance as a large cat. They are slow to mature and it can take up to five years to reach full maturity. This breed is well muscled with fine-boned legs that are quite short for its build, and a close waterproof coat with a very plush feel to it. The coat is always blue-grey in colour, though this can vary from slate to ash in tone, short to medium in length with a very dense undercoat, and with a slight iridescent sheen to it from the slight silvery tips to each hair. They shed their coats quite heavily twice a year, and are therefore not suitable for people with an allergy to animal hair. The eyes are large and round, copper, gold or even bright orange in colour. Chartreux cats are also well known for giving the impression that they are smiling, due to the shape of their faces and their slightly tapering muzzles.
Although the Chatreux is an affectionate cat with its owners, it is not demanding and can appear quite aloof as it is a very independent breed. It has very little voice and does not meow in the way that many cats do, often just making a noise like a chirrup instead, and it does not communicate much vocally. However, they are a very intelligent breed and are quite capable of opening doors and cupboards to satisfy their curiosity, and will often follow their favourite person around the home. They are very easy-going and good-natured cats, and make ideal pets as they also get on well with other pets as well as the younger human family members.
The Chartreux is a long-lived variety, often into the mid to late teens, with no health problems specific to the breed. In common with other cats, they need annual vaccination boosters against the common feline ailments of flu and enteritis, as well as against Feline Leukaemia if they go outdoors.
The Chartreux is not a fussy eater and will eat most good quality proprietary brands of cat food, but will also enjoy treats of cooked chicken, ham and grated cheese. However, cows' milk will probably give them a stomach upset, and a bowl of water should always be available. Their coats will not need much grooming on a daily basis and stoking will normally remove any dead hairs, although it's a good idea to brush and comb them thoroughly during the two moulting seasons so that the furniture does not get covered in cat hairs.