The ancestors of the British Shorthair were brought to Northern Europe by Roman soldiers almost two thousands years ago. Their origins are humble enough, as street cats that bred freely with no attempt to control their bloodlines or appearance. However, during the last quarter of the 19th century, British Shorthairs suddenly appeared in great numbers at various cat shows in London. Since then they have increased in popularity to become one of the most sought after breeds, both in Europe and the rest of the world.
The Development of the British Shorthair
When longhaired cats first appeared at cat shows in England after World War II, they attracted a great deal of interest mostly because they were quite different from the norm. In the early 1900s, longhaired cats outnumbered shorthaired cats at shows by at least four-to-one. Shorthaired cats of any breed were hardly valued in England, and it seemed that the British Shorthair was the victim of neglect and ignorance as it dwindled in popularity. And things only got worse for the British Shorthair in the aftermath of both World War I and World War II.
Cat fancy, in general, suffered in England after World War II. The British Shorthair itself became almost extinct as it was ignored by most of the population of Europe. Breeders had difficulty finding suitable studs, and were reduced to outcrossing in order to maintain the breed. British Shorthairs were crossed to Persians to maintain eye color, type, and coat texture. Most cat associations refused to recognize the breed at all due to the outcrossing that was occurring.
However, the longhaired crossing seemed to enhance the beauty and form of the British Shorthair. So much so, in fact, that once accepted as a breed, judges in England began awarding hybrids for their unusual beauty. Eventually, associations in North America and England both passed regulations disallowing hybridization, but by then, so much hybridization had occurred that the ruling made no difference to the breed itself. Of course, it did make it difficult to register cats with Persian blood.
Eventually, the Persian became an allowable outcross for the British Shorthair once again, but only in England. This caused difficulties for breeders in North America, since they could not use most British Shorthairs from England in their stud programs. North American associations required at least three generations of British-to-British breedings to register a cat, and most cats from England did not meet this requirement.
North American breeders were having enough trouble getting their cats accepted as a breed by local associations throughout most of the 20th century. They didn’t have time to worry about importing cats that they could not use in their breeding programs anyway. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s that some North American breeders began importing English cats, but only those with pedigrees that would allow them to be accepted by associations in the United States
Finally, in 1970, the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) became the first American registry to recognize British Shorthairs as a distinctive breed, but only in the colors of blue and black. It took much more time for other colors to become accepted, but today, a large variety of colors are seen at shows throughout the world, but the most popular colors are still blue and black.
Some Breed Standards for the British Shorthair
The Standards for the British Shorthair, as with many other breeds, are quite strict. It is quite easy to have a cat that is penalized or even disqualified, so those picking a show or breeding kitten should do so with care.
General: The ideal British Shorthair is compact, well balanced, and powerful. There is much depth in the body, a full chest, and strong legs. The coat is short and very dense. This breed is slow to mature, with some cats taking as long as four years to reach maturity.
Head: Round and massive, the head should be set on a thick, short neck. The forehead should be rounded, but should not slope.
Ears: The ear set of the British Shorthair is very important in competition. Ears should be medium in size, broad at the base, and rounded at the tip. They should be set far apart, fitting into the rounded contour of the head without distorting the line of the head.
Eyes: Large, well opened, and round, the eyes of the British Shorthair should be set wide apart and level.
Body: The British Shorthair should be powerful and medium to large in size. These cats have a level back and a deep, broad chest. The legs are short to medium, the paws should be round and firm.
Tail: The ideal British Shorthair has a medium length tail that is in proportion to the body. It should be thicker at the base, tapering slightly to a rounded tip.
Coat: The coat is short and very dense, well bodied, resilient, and firm to the touch. However, the coat must not be double coated or woolly.
Penalties: Any cat with a definite nose stop, weak chin, or rangy body will be assessed a penalty. Also, a overlong or soft coat will receive a penalty.
Disqualifications: There are several reasons a British Shorthair might be disqualified. These include: incorrect eye color, tail defects, long of fluffy coat, locket or button, or any evidence of poor health.
The British Shorthair is a stocky and well-formed cat. Because they developed out of strong country stock and have very strong genes, they are free of known genetic problems. They are also sweet and loving, and so make wonderful companions for many cat lovers.