All that said, there are some important points you should keep in mind if you’re thinking about getting a British Shorthair as a pet.
You’ve probably arrived on this page with a number of questions.
- How should you choose a British Shorthair?
- Where can you buy one?
- What do they eat?
- How long do they live?
We have the answers to all these questions and much more useful information, so stay tuned.
1: You need to buy your British Shorthair from a registered breeder or another reputable source.
Backyard breeders may sell their kittens more cheaply but the saving on costs just isn’t worth it. If you buy your British Shorthair from a good breeder, they’ll have taken care of many initial medical expenses: spaying or neutering, early vaccinations, some tests and other costs will all have been borne by the breeder. When you buy from a shady cattery you may not get this kind of support and your kitten may have had a terrible start in life.
While not all backyard breeders are abusive toward their animals, many are. They see their cats not as living creatures with their own needs and personalities, but merely as a source of income. Their queens tend to be flagrantly overbred and their kittens may be kept in very poor conditions. Unregistered breeders are also sloppy about testing for hereditary disorders or ensuring that their stock do not become overly inbred, leading to many kittens being born with serious defects that might not always be obvious when you first take the animal home. The additional vet’s bills, not to mention the heartache of rearing a sickly or damaged kitten, just aren’t worth it.
You’ll also be contributing to a really unethical industry, perpetuating the cycle. Instead, look for a registered breeder who has kittens coming up for sale. Pedigree British Shorthair kittens are expensive but if you’re looking for a pet quality kitten rather than a show-quality one, they’re less expensive. You could also look into adopting a mature British Shorthair from a caring owner who can’t look after their pet anymore, or taking on a retired show animal or former breeding stock.
2: British Shorthairs can live for 20 years.
When you adopt a British Shorthair, you’re entering a relationship that could last for a couple of decades. The median lifespan is around 12 years but these cats commonly live well into their late teens and even their 20s. You can ensure that your British Shorthair enjoys a long and healthy life by feeding her a sensible diet, taking her for checkups once a year and making certain she gets plenty of stimulation and exercise.
This means that your British Shorthair might spend well over half her life as a senior kitty. Taking on any cat is a serious long-term commitment; taking on a British Shorthair, even more so. Make sure you’re in a position to provide for a senior cat in the long term. This might mean making arrangements for someone else to look after your pet if you find you’re unable to do so at some point in the future.
3: British Shorthairs have few health problems.
Not only are their lives long, but they also tend to be pretty healthy too. British Shorthair cats are prone to the same conditions as any other domestic cat, of course, but in general, they have excellent constitutions and no breed-specific health issues. Health problems that commonly affect British Shorthairs include hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, with the males being much more prone to the latter than the former.
Male British Shorthairs may also suffer from haemophilia; there is a genetic test for this, however, which your breeder should perform. PKD (polycystic kidney disease) has historically been an issue for British Shorthairs but this is being bred out and has become less common.
4: British Shorthairs can get very large.
This is not a small cat breed by any means. The British Shorthair is deemed a “medium to large” breed. They can reach impressive sizes, especially the toms. It’s not uncommon for a male British Shorthair to top 8 kilos (18lbs). Bear this in mind when you’re buying equipment for your BSH kitty. Everything — litter boxes, cat habitats and especially pet carriers — needs to be sized with the larger feline in mind. British Shorthair kittens can very quickly outgrow their equipment so remember this when you’re shopping for your cat.
Either buy small, inexpensive items with a view to replacing them later on as your kitten gets bigger, or upsize everything from the beginning. British Shorthairs do most of their growing in the first year but can continue to get larger for another three to five years. It’s not uncommon for a three-year-old British Shorthair tom to weigh 7 kg and to still be growing… both up and out. Females are much smaller than males but still tend to be on the chunky side.
As well as being naturally on the large side, the British Shorthair is more than a little prone to becoming overweight. While round, cuddly cats are very cute, it’s not fair to your British Shorthair to let her become obese. A little additional weight might not do her any harm but more serious obesity can be dangerous. It’s important to give your British Shorthair the right kind of diet — that means a premium cat food with a high protein content and no grain.
Don’t free-feed your cat; while it might be convenient to leave out a bowl of dry kibble for your British Shorthair to pick at, it’s much better to offer two to three modest portions of a good-quality wet food per day. Resist the temptation to offer a lot of snacks and treats — the additional calories soon add up. Offer a little catnip as a reward or distract your British Shorthair with a fun toy instead of doling out snacks. Don’t feed your British Shorthair from your plate; “people food” is often very bad for cats. You should be careful to avoid letting her have dairy as this can upset her stomach.
5: British Shorthairs tend not to be lap cats.
This breed is very loyal and loving but if you’re anticipating extended sessions of lap time and cuddles, you might be a little disappointed. This breed prefers to sit near you rather than on you. There are outliers, of course — I’ve known one or two British Shorthairs who practically needed to be crowbarred off their owners’ knees.
On the whole, though, a British Shorthair owner should expect independent companionship rather than effusive displays of physical affection. Your British Shorthair will want to follow you about and keep you company, often observing your activities from a suitable perch or trotting at your heels as you go from room to room.
One thing this breed seems to be great at is learning your schedule. It’s very common for a British Shorthair, dozing happily for hours beforehand, to hop up and go to sit by the door in anticipation of a family member’s imminent return. Some people find this breed a little too aloof; really, though, they’re just independent and have their own special ways of telling you they love you. Don’t try to insist upon scooping your cat up for cuddles — you’ll just distress her and eventually make her want to avoid you altogether. Instead, let her come to you for affection and company.
6: British Shorthairs are quiet, low-activity cats.
If you’re looking for a calm, gentle house-cat who won’t constantly cause a ruckus, the British Shorthair is ideal. A well-mannered cat with a sedate disposition, this breed is well-known for being quiet and relaxed. The British Shorthair is famously non-destructive, refraining from the scratching and spraying associated with more active types of cat. My BSH companions have all been very good about not clawing or damaging things around the home, confining scratching to their posts and chewing to their designated toys. By contrast, my friends who keep other breeds often live in a chaos of chewed door-frames, shredded curtains and lacerated upholstery.
When people ask how I keep my furniture in good shape with my cats around, I shrug and tell them: “It’s not me, it’s the code of the British Shorthair.” Episodes of vandalism are rare and pretty much always associated with some serious emotional disturbance. I remember being astonished when one of my BSH girls scratched the spines of my cookbooks after her brother went missing; she’d never done such a thing before or since, and only acted out due to the most extreme anxiety.
The British Shorthair is also a fairly quiet breed in terms of vocalisations. They do meow — contrary to the stereotype of the silent BSH, I’ve known some champion talkers in this breed — but tend to have soft, sweet voices.
The downside of this low-energy, low-activity character is that British Shorthairs can develop health problems related to their overly sedentary lifestyle. If left to their own devices, they can become proper little couch potatoes — especially after the seventh year of life, when they become senior kitties and begin to slow down. It’s up to you as a responsible pet owner to ensure that your British Shorthair gets sufficient exercise and stimulation to make sure she stays in good shape. You do this by creating an enriched environment: plenty of fun toys to play with, cat trees and habitats to climb around on, and lots of playtime with her human friends.
I would say that, at a minimum, you should give your British Shorthair two sessions of physical playtime of around 15 minutes each. With the British Shorthair, you’re battling against a natural tendency to curl up and snooze. You have to evoke an even more powerful urge: your cat’s prey response. British Shorthairs have a very strong hunting drive and you can use that to get them up and moving.
Have your cat chase a teaser toy — don’t just flail it around aimlessly, try to make the toy move like a prey animal might. Put on a puppet show for your cat: dangle the toy out of reach overhead and have it swoop around like a bird, or drag it slowly along the ground in front of your BSH before snatching it away. If your British Shorthair doesn’t respond to one toy, try another; some cats prefer a crinkle ball, a small bell or even a dollop of food on the end of a long spoon to chase. The important thing is to get her moving. I prefer to offer multiple opportunities for play throughout the day. During the week I generally instigate one session of teaser-toy play before I leave for work, one when I come home and a final “nightcap” of vigorous play before I go to bed.
The final night-time play session wears my British Shorthairs out and stops the younger one from bothering me during the night. At the weekends, there are more opportunities for fun. This kind of activity keeps your British Shorthair’s muscles and joints in good shape, as well as lowering her blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart or lung issues. If you yourself aren’t very mobile or don’t have the energy for a lot of play, use a fishing-pole toy that you can operate while sitting down or provide motorised toys to chase.
7: British Shorthairs are intelligent
Although I have met cleverer cats (Bengals, for instance, are absolute masterminds), British Shorthairs are definitely in the top tier for feline brains. While the British Shorthair is a very intelligent breed, their smarts don’t seem to lead them into shenanigans — unlike, say, the notoriously mischievous Burmese or the evil genius Siamese cat. Some cats seem obsessed with deploying their higher IQs in finding new and ever-more vexing ways to drive their owners to distraction, training themselves to open doors, turn electrical appliances off and on, and even to raid the fridge.
Not so the British Shorthair, who prefers more sober intellectual pursuits such as puzzle toys or learning new games. Because of their lower energy level, they’re less prone to boredom than other cats and are very good at keeping themselves entertained without getting into trouble. That said, a good British Shorthair owner will help their BSH cats stay mentally active by engaging them in games and activities that use their smarts. Teaching your cat new skills can be very useful, both to you and the cat. The British Shorthair is highly trainable and can be taught all sorts of things with a little patience. Mine all love to play games of fetch, chasing after a soft fabric ball and bringing it back to me to throw it again just as if they were dogs.
Useful skills to teach your cat include harness training (so you can take her for walks on a lead) and coming when her name is called. I use clicker training for my cats; teach your cat to perform a specific action when the clicker sounds, and reward her with a small treat such as a little catnip. It’s also fun to teach your British Shorthair to give you a high-five when you click the clicker, or similar cute tricks.
8: British Shorthairs should be kept as indoor cats.
In all honesty, letting your British Shorthair roam outdoors is just a bad idea. I’m of the opinion that this applies to all cats, regardless of breed or pedigree. Even ordinary mixed-breed moggies should really be kept safely inside, where they can’t run into traffic or get into fights with other animals. Cats also kill a positively astonishing number of small birds and animals if they’re allowed the freedom to do so; despite their sweetness and docility, British Shorthairs are just as ferocious when hunting as any other cat, if not moreso. High-visibility collars and loud bells can only do so much to warn off songbirds and small mammals.
The mere presence of a cat in the vicinity can also disrupt nesting habits even if your cat can’t actually make any kills. In the case of the British Shorthair, you also need to remember that your cat is a rather sought-after individual. British Shorthairs are one of the most beloved pedigree breeds around, with a significant monetary value if sold on.
This makes them a target for opportunistic thieves, who are less concerned about the emotional impact of someone losing a beloved pet than they are about lining their own pockets. For all of these reasons, you should stop your British Shorthair from wandering outside. While they are large and fairly hardy, having descended from generations of working domestics, they’re not indestructible and really deserve the security of indoor life.
If you want to give your British Shorthair the benefits of the great outdoors without the risks posed by dangerous dogs, hungry predators or careless drivers, you can set up an outdoor enclosure or invest in a portable cat pen so she can run around without getting into trouble. Some cats, especially the patient and trainable British Shorthair, do very well being walked on a lead. Be sure to use a body harness and do not clip the lead to your cat’s collar, as collars are too easy to escape from and may actually injure the cat when used with a lead.
9: British Shorthairs are fantastic with children, dogs and other cats.
The British Shorthair is a very patient breed with a calm and loving disposition. They bond readily to youngsters and will tolerate a certain amount of childish roughness without becoming skittish or aggressive. An angry British Shorthair will generally take herself off in a huff rather than biting fingers or lashing out to swat at grabby little hands with her claws. That said, you should always supervise small children around animals. Teach them that a pet is not a toy and encourage them to imagine how they might feel about a particular treatment if they were a cat. Children usually get the idea pretty quickly if you put it to them in those terms.
A cat-friendly child is actually a very good playmate for a British Shorthair; a child’s boundless energy and love of fun can help offset the British Shorthair’s tendency to become indolent with age. Teach children how to play effectively with teaser toys — they have the get-up-and-go and the imagination to really perform well as a “bird” or “mouse” that the cat is hunting.
The British Shorthair is also really good with other animals — not just other cats but dogs as well. With dogs, you do need to be careful that the animal has been socialised to be around cats without getting aggressive (this really needs to happen when the dog is a puppy). Teach your dog to leave the cat alone; an overly friendly dog can be as stressful to your cat as an aggressive one. Remember that a dog presents a genuine existential threat to a cat: even small breeds will tend to be larger than a British Shorthair (unless you have a miniature chihuahua or something equally petite).
Introductions should therefore be performed with care. Put the cat and dog in separate rooms for the first day or two, so they have a chance to get used to each other’s smells and sounds. The next step is to let them see each other from behind a safe barrier: put the cat in her carrier and the dog in a crate, or place a sturdy baby gate across a doorway and let them see each other through it. Under no circumstances should you allow the dog to have unsupervised contact with your British Shorthair until you’re absolutely certain that they will get along well. If you have additional cats, make sure you provide additional equipment.
You will need to make sure there are plenty of toys for them both, and space for them to avoid each other when they need space. You should also make sure you have enough litter-boxes; the golden rule is that the number of litter-boxes should be equal to the number of cats plus one. It might seem odd but litter-boxes are a big source of territorial friction.
With other cats, the British Shorthair is usually a good companion. They’re quiet and patient, less prone to displays of territorial hostility than some other breeds. As well as making the perfect first pet or first cat, I often recommend British Shorthairs as second cats to people who already have a cat who’s doing badly when left at home alone during the day. There’s something about the imperturbable British Shorthair that puts more nervous felines at ease. The more independent BSH character means that she won’t get upset when left without human supervision, while she can provide companionship for the other cat.
Two or more British Shorthairs together will usually get along famously, too. As with dogs, you need to perform the initial introduction carefully to give your cats the best start to their new friendship. Again, put the cats in separate rooms so they can become accustomed to the smell of the other feline. After a day or two, start feeding them together but with a baby-gate or other secure barrier between them. This lets your cats get used to seeing each other, and also helps them associate the other cat with the pleasure of mealtimes. Once you’ve done this a few times, you should be able to let the other cat and your British Shorthair play together under your supervision.
Once you know that they can spend time with each other without getting into any squabbles, you should be able to leave them alone together during the day. Another benefit to providing an animal companion for your British Shorthair is that this will offer stimulation for your BSH without you having to break out the teaser toy six times a day, which is a definite bonus.
While the British Shorthair is an excellent companion for a cat or dog, you must absolutely not allow your BSH access to smaller animals. They are hunters right to the bone and can never really be trained not to attack creatures they perceive as prey. Don’t let your British Shorthair anywhere near a bird, rabbit or other small pet; she will be only too happy to break into the cage and turn Flopsy into Crunchy.
Fish tanks should be secured and covered. Don’t use fish-bowls as these are too easy for a curious British Shorthair to tip over (they’re horrible for the fish anyway — I’d ban the wretched things if I could). Use a properly sized tank and place it so it can’t be tipped off the table.
10: British Shorthairs need grooming
While the British Shorthair’s need for grooming is quite minimal, you do need to stay on top of some basic procedures to keep your cat in good shape. Although the British Shorthair doesn’t require the high level of maintenance required by, say, a peke-faced Persian, they have one or two grooming needs. First, there’s that wonderfully thick coat. Although your British Shorthair is unlikely to acquire matts and tangles, they do shed rather a lot and can end up ingesting a lot of fur.
While most cats would simply end up shedding their fur on the floor or furnishings as they moved around, the low-energy British Shorthair has less opportunity to shake off the loose hair and ends up eating it instead. For this reason, you should give them a good brushing or combing once per week to cut down on hairballs. Most British Shorthairs are fine with this and some really enjoy it; if you have a British Shorthair who really can’t abide brushing, try a quick sweep with a rubber brush or a slightly damp cloth. This should get rid of the worst of the loose fur. Other grooming tasks include brushing your British Shorthair’s teeth.
This should be done for any cat, really, but for some reason, I seem to see more dental issues with this breed than other cats. They’re usually all right with having their teeth done, provided you find a nice tasty meat-flavoured toothpaste. If your British Shorthair doesn’t like the brush, you should try just letting them lick a little of the paste off it now and then until they’re used to it. Sometimes there’s nothing for it but to settle for a quick wipe with a finger wrapped in a clean, damp cloth. It’s a good idea to clip your British Shorthair’s claws from time to time. Because they don’t run around clawing things up like higher-energy cats, they’re just a little more prone to ingrown claws.
Only snip off the very tip of each claw and don’t try to do them all at once. This might all sound like rather a lot but it really doesn’t take long and can make a big difference to your British Shorthair’s wellbeing