When many people picture a British Shorthair, the image that springs to mind is the classic British Blue: a handsome kitty with solid blue-grey fur and amber eyes. In actual fact, though, British Shorthairs exist in a range of amazing colours and patterns. Many of these have been formally recognised by the various cat registries. Besides completely solid colourings (what are called “self” colours in cat fancier parlance), many patterns are recognised including points, calicos, tortoiseshells and many kinds of tabby. While some colourations are not recognised, and would disqualify the cat as a show animal, they are often beautiful and endearing in their own way. In this article, we’ll discuss the breed in general before taking an in-depth look at all the gorgeous colours that a British Shorthair can manifest.
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The British Shorthair breed
The British Shorthair is one of the world’s most beloved pedigree cat breeds. It’s very easy to see why: not only are they very winsome and prepossessing to look at, they have charming natures. While not given to extended sessions of lap time, they are nonetheless deeply affectionate, loyal and easy to get on with. The British Shorthair is a friendly character, quite laid-back and not prone to hostility or destructiveness. When provoked, she prefers to take her to leave and make a graceful exit to the nearest high spot rather than throwing a tantrum.
Physically these cats are very engaging: the breed standard calls for a stocky, muscular body (termed “cobby” in the official descriptions) with a broad chest. The ideal British Shorthair has short, well-developed limbs, round paws and a blunt tail with a broad base. The small ears are rounded and set rather far apart on the kitty’s head, which makes her head look even rounder than it already is. A British Shorthair’s skull is brachycephalic but not to an overly pronounced degree; this breed has a slightly snub nose, not a squashed one. The chin should be nice and strong, lining up perfectly with the nose. The face of a British Shorthair cat has large whisker pads and, in some males, noticeable jowls. With its round eyes and the suggestion of a permanent smile, the British Shorthair cat‘s face has a natural friendliness that can’t help but charm anybody who meets one.
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Eye colours in British Shorthair cats
British Shorthair cats can have a number of different eye colours. To be a show animal, however, they should have deep orange eyes. Blue or mismatched eyes are only accepted in white BSH cats; green or hazel eyes are accepted only in black silver tabbies. Eye colour needs to be pure, without rims or flecks of other colours in the iris.
The “British Blue” self-coloured British Shorthair
This colouration is, in many people’s minds, the epitome of the British Shorthair. It’s one of the oldest in the breed, created by breeding the British Shorthair line with Russian Blues many generations ago. It’s a tremendously appealing colouration. To be a real British Blue the cat’s colour must be completely solid and very pure: a dense, crisp coat of light to medium blue-grey, without any spots or even a hint of tabby striping. In particular, there should be no white hairs anywhere. In kittens, silver tipping is permissible but the cat needs to outgrow it in order to become a really top-class show animal. Nose leather and toe pads should also be blue to match the cat’s coat. The cat’s eyes should be a strong coppery orange or rich amber; this can take a few months to fully manifest, with many British Blue kittens having eyes of flat brown until they grow into their adult colour.
White self-coloured British Shorthair cats
Self or solid colour BSH cats can be pure white — the only time that any white hair is accepted on this breed. To be a show-quality cat the white needs to be clean and pure, with no tinge of yellow or other colours. A white British Shorthair cat can have sapphire blue eyes (known as a blue-eyed white BSH). Orange-eyed white BSH cats should have copper, amber or deep gold eyes. Odd eyes are also accepted by the breed standard. Odd-eyed BSH cats must have one sapphire blue eye and one amber or golden eye; other eye-colour combinations are not accepted. Nose leather and paw pads should be pink. In kittens, colouration on the head may be accepted but not in the adult.
Black self-coloured British Shorthair cats
Black BSH cats need to have fur of the purest jet black, with no rusty shades or brown patches. A little tinge of rust is okay when the cat is still a kitten; they tend to grow out of it. In an adult cat, the fur should be solidly black. A black BSH cat should have black nose leather and paw pads (no pink or brown “toe-beans”). The classic orange eye-colour of this breed makes an arresting combination with deep black fur.
Chocolate self-coloured British Shorthair cats
Chocolate British Shorthairs get their colouration from cross-breeding with chocolate Persians (followed by extensive work to rein in the tendency to longer hair and regain the proper coat texture). It’s a charming colour, especially combined with the British Shorthair’s orange eyes. The coat colour in this breed can vary somewhat, with any shade of rich chocolate being accepted within the breed standard. Paw pads and nose leather may be either chocolate or pink.
Lilac self-coloured British Shorthair cats
“Lilac” in cat fancy jargon denotes a delicate frosty grey, lighter than the classic blue and with a noticeable pinkish tone. This combination of shades creates the cat’s overall lilac colouration. The nose leather and paw pads of a lilac British Shorthair should be a similar pinkish lilac to the fur.
Red self-coloured British Shorthair cats
Red as a British Shorthair colour is still at the provisional stage; it’s quite a recent addition. The coat colour should be a deep rich red, with as few tabby stripes or markings anywhere as possible. The cat’s nose and pads should be brick red. Like red-haired humans these cats sometimes have freckles on their bare spots, such as pads, nose leather, ears, eyelids and lips. As long as the freckling is slight, it won’t be penalised by show judges even in a mature cat.
Cinnamon self-coloured British Shorthair cats
Cinnamon is another fairly new addition to the breed standard. Cats with this colouration are a warm reddish brown, exactly like the spice their colour is named for. They can have pink or cinnamon noses and paw pads.
Fawn self-coloured British Shorthair cats
Fawn BSH cats have coats of a warm mushroom colour with a rosy hue. Their nose leather and paw pads need to be a pinkish fawn to conform to the breed standard. This colouration’s commonest fault is silver tipping, which is only permissible in kittenhood.
Cream self-coloured British Shorthair cats
“Cream” in the breed standard refers to a warm but pale off-white hue, neither as ruddy as the red colouration nor as dark as the fawn. The cat’s nose leather and paw pads should be pink. Cream BSH cats may have a few tabby markings, which should be as faint and slight as possible. Like red BSH cats they sometimes have freckles; as long as freckling is slight, it’s acceptable in adult cats.
Tabby British Shorthair cats
Tabby markings in British Shorthair cats fall into one of three categories: classic tabby, mackerel tabby and spotted tabby. In all varieties, the markings need to be clear and dense in colour, well-defined and not faint or blurred. Markings should not be brindled. There should be no white anywhere; lips and chin can be lighter than the rest of the cat but mustn’t be white.
The cat’s cheeks should have narrow lines and there should be an unbroken line of “mascara” running from the outer corner of both eyes. The tabby’s ears should be the same colour as the stripes, with a “thumbprint” of the ground colour at the base. In classic, mackerel and spotted tabby cats, the face markings should include a letter “M” on the forehead that looks rather like a frown.
There should be lines running from the M, over the cat’s head, and down to the markings on the cat’s shoulders. In both varieties of tabby, the cat’s tail should have ring-shaped markings that are narrow and as numerous as possible. The tip of the tail should be the same colour as the stripes.
The belly should show spotted markings and a tabby’s toes should also be spotted. In classic and mackerel tabbies the cat’s legs should be barred with even markings; the “bracelets” ringing the tabby’s legs need to extend from the body markings to the cat’s paws. On the hind legs, the markings need to extend from the hock to the sole of the foot. In spotted tabbies the pattern on the legs should be spotted rather than barred; we shall go into more detail about the spotted tabby’s colouration in a later section. Symmetry is important; the markings should be exactly similar reflections on either side of the cat. The ground colour and stripe colour should be evenly balanced with neither dominating.
Classic tabby body markings in British Shorthair cats
The classic tabby cat’s markings should include a butterfly shape across the shoulders. Both this butterfly pattern’s wings, upper and lower, should be clearly defined and crisp. The butterfly’s wings should be broken up with patches of the lighter ground colour. The classic tabby pattern features a line leading from this butterfly, down the back to the tail. This line should be unbroken and there should be lines on either side of it, running unbroken down the length of the cat’s back. On each flank there should be an oyster-shaped oblong mark with at least one unbroken ring around it. Tail rings need to be complete on a classic tabby.
Mackerel tabby body markings in British Shorthair cats
Mackerel tabbies should have the same facial markings seen on the classic tabby. The mackerel tabby pattern is characterised by many narrow stripes, without the oblong “islands” seen in the classic tabby. There should be one central line running unbroken along the length of the cat’s spine, with broken lines on either side of it. The ring-shaped stripes surrounding the tail may be complete or broken.
Black silver tabby coloured British Shorthair cats
The coat colour for this type has markings of a dense black and ground colour of silver, producing a dramatic contrast; it’s no wonder that this particular colouration is very highly sought after among cat fanciers. This variety of British Shorthair can have green or hazel eyes alongside the breed standard eyes of orange. Nose Leather should be brick red, preferably; black nose leather is also allowed. Paw pads should be black. A brown tinge on the nose or paws constitutes a fault in this colour.
Blue silver tabby coloured British Shorthair cats
This lovely variety of British Shorthair has a ground colour of pale silvery blue with darker blue markings. It’s a very attractive combination, a bit more subtle than the black silver tabby. The nose leather ought to be blue according to the standard, while the paw pads may be blue or pink.
Chocolate silver tabby coloured British Shorthair cats
The stripes and other markings for this colour should be a shade of rich chocolate brown, while the ground colour should be a pale silvery shade of chocolate. The nose Leather should be chocolate. Paw Pads can be either
chocolate or pink in colour.
Lilac silver tabby coloured British Shorthair cats
The lilac silver tabby is an unusual and charming colouration. The coat colour has markings of a warm pinkish grey, while the ground colour is a pale silvery lilac. It’s quite a subtle combination, almost ethereal. The cat’s nose leather and paw pads should have a pink shade, which can be dark or pale.
Red silver tabby coloured British Shorthair cats
This is a vivid and vibrant colouration, with a rather more pronounced degree of contrast than the conventional “ginger” tabby cat. The coat colour for this variety has deep red markings on a ground colour of pale silvery cream. The cat’s nose leather and paw pads should be a nice rich red.
Cream silver tabby coloured British Shorthair cats
This is a very light and subtle variation on the tabby theme. The coat colour should have markings of a warm cream on a ground colour that’s silvery, almost white. The nose leather and paw pads should be a light or rosy pink.
Red tabby coloured British Shorthair cats
Not to be confused with the red silver tabby, these cats have a light red ground colour (although not too light, as an overly pale ground constitutes a fault). The cat’s markings should be deep rich red. The cat’s nose leather should be brick red in colour. Paw pads should also be red. This is one of the oldest pattern colours in the breed and is very popular.
Brown tabby coloured British Shorthair cats
These cats have a deep and subtle colouration, with markings of dense jet black on a rich copper brown ground. An overly pale brown ground colour constitutes a fault in this combination. Nose Leather can be black but brick red noses are preferred. Paw Pads should be black.
Blue tabby coloured British Shorthair cats
The ground colour for this variant should be a soft bluish fawn. The stripes and other markings should be a deep blue. The nose leather may be blue or pink, as may the paw pads.
Chocolate tabby coloured British Shorthair cats
The coat colour standard for this variant specifies markings of rich chocolate brown. The ground colour should be a warm-toned bronze, neither too light nor too dark. The cat’s nose leather should be chocolate brown in colour. The paw pads need to be chocolate or pink.
Lilac tabby coloured British Shorthair cats
Lilac tabby BSH cats have markings of lilac — that is to say, a warm grey with a distinctly pink hue. The ground colour is a cool light beige. Nose leather and paw pads in a lilac tabby should be pinkish.
Cream tabby coloured British Shorthair cats
These pretty cats have rich cream markings against a lighter ground colour of pale cream with a cool tone. Their nose leather and paw pads should both be pink.
Spotted tabby markings in British Shorthair cats
The spotted tabby should have the same head markings as the mackerel and classic tabby types. The body markings should consist of clearly defined spots of a dark colour against a lighter ground colour. Spotted tabby British Shorthairs have the same set of acceptable colourations as compared to their mackerel and classic tabby cousins. The following colours are accepted in spotted tabbies as for the classic and mackerel varieties:
- Brown spotted
- Blue spotted
- Chocolate spotted
- Lilac spotted
- Red spotted
- Cream spotted
- Black silver spotted
- Blue silver spotted
- Chocolate silver spotted
- Lilac silver spotted
- Red silver spotted
- Cream silver spotted
As well as the varieties listed above spotted British Shorthairs may also have tortoiseshell tabby colourations.
Tortie (tortoiseshell tabby) British Shorthair cats
The tortie tabby colouration is a combination of both tortoiseshell and tabby patterns, with the tabby spots or stripes being overlaid with patches in shades of cream or red. The markings and the patches should both be nice and distinct, with light red and/or dark red over the non- dilute colours (stripes or spots) or pale cream in the dilute (ground) colours. The colours should be strong and dense. Recognised tabby colourations include tortie tabby, tortie silver tabby, tortie spotted and tortie silver spotted British Shorthair cats. A tortie tabby’s eye colour should be copper, orange or amber with no trace of green. Other eye colours are not permitted in mature cats; rims and flecks of other colours are not allowed either. The exception to these rules is the black silver ticked tabby, who may have green or hazel eyes. Any colour of nose leather or paw pads is permissible as long as it’s appropriate to the coat colour; pink is also acceptable.
Ticked tabby British Shorthair cats
All colours of the ticked tabby variant are deemed to have preliminary status and are not yet fully recognised as part of the British Shorthair breed standard. Ticked tabbies are rather different from classic or mackerel tabbies. Ticking refers to stripes down the length of the hair shaft. Each hair should have two to three bands of colour that extend down the hair shaft; the colour at the roots is the base colour. Ticked tabby markings are restricted only to certain parts of the body. The tabby’s hairs should be evenly ticked all over the body but ticking may be heavier along the line of the cat’s spine. This heavier ticking may extend along the full length of the ticked tabby’s tail. The cat’s tummy should have spotted markings but the body should not have any markings — no stripes, no spots and no blotches at all. A ticked tabby’s tail can be ringed (the rings can be complete or broken); alternatively, it may show a continuation of the spine line’s darker colour. The tip of the tail should have the same colour as the cat’s markings. In adult cats, the legs may be barred or they may not.
The cat’s face, tummy and should show the base colour clearly. On the cat’s head, the ticking can be rather more dense. In kittens it may be completely solid, showing an M pattern on the forehead. The cat may have necklaces, either broken or unbroken; these are not a requirement, however, and there may be no necklaces at all without this constituting a fault in the colouration. The ticked tabby’s facial markings are the same as the British Classic Tabby standard.
Ticked tabby coat colours include brown, blue, chocolate, lilac, cinnamon, fawn, cream and red. Silver variants of all these colours are also acceptable, along with black silver ticked tabbies.
Bi-Colour and Tri-Colour British Shorthair cats
In these colour combinations, white markings are permissible. The oldest of these patterns is the handsome tri-coloured tortie and white; the original variant has a black, red and white coat but any two colours (as listed in the self-colour section) plus white are now accepted. Bi-colour BSH cats arrived on the scene somewhat later; they have coats showing patches of one self-colour and white.
British Shorthair Van cats
Vans are cats with a predominantly white body and a patch of colour on the head. The van’s tail is also fully coloured. Vans can have any of the self-colours as their markings. Bi-colour and tri-colour variants are possible. Van markings should be nice and clear with no white hairs in the coloured sections; all colours should be sound with no pronounced tabby markings. Blue vans should not have silver tipping once mature. Van BSH cats should have breed standard golden eyes. Note that all van colourings are preliminary for this breed.
British Shorthair Colourpointed cats
These charming cats appeared almost four decades ago when breeders introduced the Himalayan gene to the British Shorthair breed. This gave rise to a blue-eyed BSH variant with light-coloured bodies and contrasting points. To fulfil breed requirements, the British Shorthair colourpoint should have ears, mask, tail and legs in matching point colours. The points should be clearly defined and with good contrast against the body.
Colourpoints in all the recognised self-colours are accepted, along with seal point BSH cats. The breed standard also accepts tortie points and a great range of tabby colourpoints. The number of combinations is staggering, with everything from the traditional light fawn and seal points to exotic variants such as lilac and blue.
Colourpointed and white cats are also permissible under the breed standard. The cat’s face should have a white marking in the shape of an upside-down V. The apex of the V should start on the forehead and extend all the way down the cat’s face to cover the nose and the whisker pads. The markings should be as symmetrical as possible. The rest of the mask should be a clearly defined point colour and should match the ears and tail. There should be a nice, clear contrast between the body colour and the coloured points; any shading should blend with the points. Even heavy shading is acceptable as long as the cat’s other features are good. The cat’s bib, chest and undercarriage should all be white; the legs should either have tonal shading or be white too. It’s okay for the legs to have small patches of colour. All four of the cat’s feet need to be white.
British Shorthair Smoke cats
The smoke variant has caused something of a stir in the cat fancy. BSH smokes are characterised by an undercoat of silver that peeks through the topcoat, especially as the cat moves, creating an eye-catching smoke effect. The topcoat can be seal, any kind of tortie, or one of the previously listed self-colours. Smoke BSH cats with colourpoints are also possible, adding yet another variety to the already staggering range of possibilities.
Tipped British Shorthair cats
Also known as a “Tippy”, the tipped British Shorthair is a cat with the silver gene but with a colour at the ends of their hairs. The undercoat is very pale (it can be cream, silver or another light shade), appearing white with a “frosting” of colour. The tipping should be even across the whole of the cat’s body, except for the undercarriage and chin. Colours can be any one of the accepted self-colours with a pale near-white undercoat. It’s the evenness of the tipping which is of paramount interest to a show judge, rather than the degree thereof.
Tippies should not have any strong tabby markings; that said, rings on the tail may be acceptable if the cat is otherwise a good specimen of the breed. The cat’s coat should be evenly tipped, with the colour on the legs fading towards the paws. The cat’s chin, chest, stomach and undertail fur should be pale — the lighter the better — but there should not be any white patches. In the case of a tortie tipped cat, red or cream should not be absent or insufficient. Paw pads should be in keeping with the overall colour of the cat. Nose leather should be brick red, with some black outlining allowable.
There is also a non-silver variant of the British tipped cat. This is the golden tipped BSH cat, which has a coat of rich apricot-gold and black or dark brown tipping. The gold colour must be sound all the way down the hair shaft to the roots, with no darkening or fading into a different hue. Golden tippies should have a chin, stomach, chest and undertail of a pale apricot colour. Nose leather should be brick red (a black outline is permissible). Paw pads should be black or dark brown.
Tippies should have the breed standard copper or golden eyes, all except for black and golden tipped BSH cats (which should have green eyes). Nose leather should be brick-red. Their eyes and noses should be outlined with “mascara” in a dark colour. New varieties of tippies are appearing all the time, with the reception on the show bench being very positive.