British Shorthair (British Blue): Cat Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Grey cat with gold eyes looks at camera; British shorthair

 Carlos G. Lopez / Getty Images

Take one look at the British Shorthair and you’ll immediately be drawn in by his pleasant expression and round features. This is one of the oldest English cat breeds, and this calm, quiet feline has earned a place in households and hearts in Britain and beyond for his easygoing manner.

Nearly everything on the British Shorthair is round—these cats have a round head, bright round eyes, chubby cheeks, round paws, and a tail with a rounded tip. These cats come with many different coat colors, but a striking blue color is one of the most popular. In fact, this breed is sometimes referred to as the British Blue. The British Longhair retains all the same features but sports a longer coat. Very few cat registries recognize the British Longhair as a separate breed.

Breed Overview

Weight: 7 to 17 pounds; males are typically larger than females

Length: 22 to 25 inches

Coat: Short and dense

Coat Color: Colors include solid white, black, red, cream, and blue (most common), also bi-color, tabby, calico, smoke, and shaded varieties.

Eye Color: Copper, green, gold, blue, odd-eyed

Life Expectancy: 12 to 16 years

Orange British Shorthair cat lying on couch
Bi-Color British Shorthair. SunRay BRI Cattery RU/Getty Images
White cat lying on rug; british shorthair
White British Shorthair.  Tiago Miranda/Getty Images
Tabby British Shorthair walking on grass
Tabby British Shorthair.  Mike Linnane/Getty Images

Characteristics of the British Shorthair

Affection Level Low
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs Low
Playfulness Low
Energy Level Low
Intelligence Medium
Tendency to Vocalize Low
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the British Shorthair

One of England’s oldest cat breeds, the British Shorthair actually has Roman roots. It seems that when the Roman forces invaded England during their period of empire expansion, they brought along cats to protect their food supplies from rodents. The cats colonized the area and were a common street cat for centuries.

In the late 1800’s, a British man named Harrison Wier is credited with becoming the first cat breeder. He is responsible for domesticating the common British street cat and through a breeding program and selective crossbreeding, created the cat we know today as the British Shorthair.

The breed nearly ceased to exist during the hard economic times of World War II. Post-war, however, the remaining bloodlines were crossed with other breeds including the Domestic Shorthair, Russian Blue, and Persian breeds to preserve their existence.

The first breed registry to recognize the British Shorthair was the American Cat Association in 1967. Other organizations followed suit including the International Cat Association in 1979 and the Cat Fanciers Association in 1980.

British Shorthair Care

While being sociable and pleasant, these cats are easy keepers. The British Shorthair is not overly demanding when it comes to grooming or attention, and they’re not a very vocal breed.

The breed features dense, plush short hair—with more hair per square inch than any other cat breed. Your cat will benefit from brushing several times a week to remove loose hairs and dander, while preventing hairballs. In spring, these cats will lose more fur as they shed their winter coat, so you may need to brush them more frequently during this time period.

Most people find that the British Shorthair matures from a playful kitten into a dignified yet sociable adult cat. Don’t expect them to grow to full-size overnight, though. The British Shorthair is slow to mature; on average, these cats reach full-size by about the age of three, but some don’t fully mature until the age of five. These cats aren’t likely to spring into your lap and they don’t particularly like to be held or carried, but they often do enjoy the company of their human family members and will often spend time playing or napping the same room.

British Shorthairs have relatively low energy needs and are known to be vertically challenged—they don’t have a reputation for jumping onto counters or other high perches. In fact, this tendency toward inactivity means it’s a good idea to regularly engage your cat in play for his own health and mental stimulation. However, their ability to be content on their own also means that they can tolerate being left home alone for an extended period of time without suffering from separation anxiety.

If you have children or other pets in the home, these cats are likely to be tolerant and accepting—as long as they can have their personal space. Teach children not to forcibly hold or carry your cat, and don’t let other pets harass this cat that likes its dignity.

It’s interesting to note that the Cheshire Cat of Alice in Wonderland was based on the British Shorthair. The characteristic grin and wise way of the character are trademarks of this breed.

Common Health Problems

Thanks to a robust genetic pool, the British Shorthair is a healthy breed that isn’t known for being plagued with many genetic problems. However, they can be at risk for Hemophilia B, which is a hereditary bleeding disorder. A simple DNA test allows breeders to screen their cats and see if they’re a carrier for the disease.

Guard against letting the British Shorthair become obese. While these cats are sturdy and solid, they shouldn’t become pudgy. It may be necessary to encourage them to exercise with interactive toys and hands-on play time.

Diet and Nutrition

Like all cats, the British Shorthair benefits from a balanced diet with quality ingredients. Feed your cat a quantity that is proportionate to his age, activity, and energy levels.

While these cats are typically not vocal beggars and don’t generally put forth the energy required to jump onto counters or tables, it’s best to avoid teaching them bad habits by feeding them food from your plate at mealtimes.

More Cat Breeds and Further Research

The British Shorthair is a popular cat breed for its easy personality and independent nature. However, it’s not the right choice for everyone, especially if you want a lap cat who is always looking for affection. Take your time to understand this breed’s personality and care requirements before committing to a new furry family member. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with a loyal, dignified pet to enjoy for years to come.

You might also be interested in learning more about these related breeds: