This article will explain the differences between the two breeds, explain what makes them so special and help you decide which one would be your ideal first cat.
What you need to know about the British Shorthair
The British Shorthair is one of the oldest and most popular cat breeds in the UK. These cats are descended from native European wildcats and imported Egyptian domestic cats, brought to the British Isles by the Romans. Their status as a pedigree cat dates back to the Victorian era, when native shorthair cats were bred with other lines such as the Russian Blue. This gave rise to the handsome British Shorthair we know today: a splendidly muscular cat with a dense, crisp coat that “breaks” as they move, rather like sheepskin. They’re noted for their pleasant dispositions, Cheshire Cat smiles and cuddly, teddy-bear-like looks.
The best-known colouration for this breed is the British Blue (solid grey fur and copper-amber eyes) but many other colours are available now. British Shorthairs have a reputation for calmness and patience and are widely regarded as a good family cat. They tend to be very stable, enjoy good health and are easy to train. British Shorthairs are champion mousers with a hair-trigger prey response. As such, they need to be kept away from smaller pets such as birds or rodents.
What you need to know about the American Shorthair
American Shorthairs are the descendants of European cats who were brought over to the New World by sailors. These original cats were selected as working animals, with the job of keeping down the rats onboard ship. The modern American Shorthair has been bred both for appealing features and a likeable personality. American Shorthairs have a similar cobby configuration to the British Shorthair but their muscularity is less pronounced; overall they are smaller and trimmer.
Many of their features are similar: round eyes in an expressive face, wide-set ears and rounded paws. The American Shorthair’s coat is thick and dense like the British Shorthair’s; it’s a little stiffer and less plush, however, and has an undercoat (unlike the BSH, who has a single layer of fur). Among the most notable things about this breed are their markings, which are very dramatic and rather beautiful. American Shorthairs come in every imaginable colour and pattern, although tabbies and striped ginger cats are particularly common. As pets, American Shorthairs are noted for their friendliness and hunting skills. Like their British cousins, they need to be kept away from smaller pets.
It’s always a little difficult to give an exact price for pedigree kittens and cats. There are a number of variables affecting the cost: the age of the cat, whether you want a show animal or are happy with a “pet-quality” one, whether the cat has some rare or unusual feature, the cat’s heritage, where you live and who you buy from are just some of the factors involved. That caveat out of the way, you can probably expect to pay very roughly twelve hundred pounds for a show-quality British Shorthair kitten of good pedigree.
If you’re in the US, a ballpark figure would be $1500-$2000 (USD); I have seen kittens in the States go for as much as $5000 for a really special little British Shorthair baby. Australians get off fairly lightly by comparison — prices vary considerably by region but you are probably looking at a bill of around $1000 (AUD).
American Shorthairs are not terribly common in the UK. Prices can range from £500 to over £1000. This is only a ballpark figure. I’ve seen pedigree American Shorthair babies go for significantly less than this — and significantly more. In America, where the breed is very popular, prices range from around $700 for a pet-quality kitten all the way up to $1500 for a show-quality animal. Cats with rare markings and very good pedigrees go for more. There don’t seem to be terribly many breeders in Australia who sell American Shorthairs; I’ve seen them go for around $800 AUD but the price varies a lot by region.
You can reduce costs when buying a pedigree cat by purchasing a mature animal — retired show cats and breeding animals, pets who need to be rehomed, etc. Rescue animals are often very cheap or free but it’s not very common to encounter a true pedigree cat in a shelter. It does happen but you’d need to be both lucky and patient.
Temper and Friendliness
The British Shorthair’s character is famously laid-back and warm-hearted. They are very low drama and non-destructive cats who prefer lazing on the sofa to getting into mischief. They’re intelligent and love games that exercise their smarts but don’t seem to need constant stimulation to avoid boredom. British Shorthairs are not really lap-cats, on the whole (although there are a few outliers who will claim your knees as their personal domain), preferring to stay near you rather than on you.
They enjoy moderate petting but generally dislike being picked up too much. British Shorthairs bond readily with their human households and will often follow people from room to room, supervising all of one’s daily activities. They are slow to anger, preferring to simply absent themselves from the situation rather than retaliate. This makes them a good fit for families with other pets or kids. (To find out more about this characteristic, read on.)
The American Shorthair has a very similar temperament to her cousins from the UK. This breed is very amiable, calm, and not at all prone to destruction or hostility. They’re a little more physically affectionate than British Shorthairs, with the American Shorthair breed producing more lap-cats than the BSH tribe. That said, they do share a little of the Brit’s reserve and may take a while to warm up to you initially. Once they do, they’re very loyal and love to keep you company.
This breed is rather more playful than the British Shorthair and has a higher activity level, making them a fun companion if you enjoy playing games with your pet. This breed is patient and tolerates a lot of things that would cause other cats to react with anger, again making them a good choice for a home with children or dogs. We’ll discuss this in more depth later in the article.
British Shorthairs have few serious health issues and can live for up to 20 years. They are prone to the same kinds of problems that might affect any mixed-breed moggy but not especially sickly. They do have a couple of heritable conditions that you need to look out for. One is haemophilia; this condition affects only male cats but can be carried by females. It can be detected via blood test and breeders will check for it before selling you a kitten who might develop the disease. Another condition that afflicts British Shorthairs is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a heart condition. This can be picked up with regular testing and is manageable if not curable.
Female British Shorthairs are less likely to develop HCM than males. This breed has a problem with weight gain in their later years. To find out how you can stay on top of this issue, check out our section on care and maintenance.
The American Shorthair is also a robust breed. They’re not prone to the multiple health problems of some pedigree cat breeds and are, if anything, healthier than the average random mix. Like their cousins, they can develop HCM and should be checked for symptoms regularly. While there’s no way to guarantee that a kitten won’t grow up to develop HCM, you should ask your breeder if either of your prospective kitten’s parents developed the condition. If this is the case, avoid that breeder in future — cats with HCM are supposed to be removed from breeding programmes. The condition is treatable with medication, a low-sodium diet and other interventions.
On the whole, though, this breed should not give you any serious health worries. They are, of course, liable to get any of the health problems that may afflict any cat; in the care and maintenance section, we’ll talk more about heading these off.
Size and Weight
The British Shorthair is not a small cat. They’re large and chunky, with thick muscles that make them heavier than you’d expect. Everything for the British Shorthair needs to be upsized: litter-boxes need to be bigger, scratching posts need to be taller and beds need to be more capacious. The breed has a conspicuous degree of sexual dimorphism, with female British Shorthair kittens growing rather more slowly than their brothers and never achieving their impressive adult size. They grow rapidly in their first year of life, reaching most of their adult size by 12 months; growth continues after this, however, and it’s common for British Shorthairs to carry on growing until they’re three to five years old.
Weight gain after this age should be monitored. Your male British Shorthair should be at least 6 kg as an adult but should probably not weigh more than 9 kg. A healthy weight for females is 4 kg to 6 kg.
The American Shorthair is smaller all round: not as long or tall, and not as bulky. They’re classified as a medium cat and have a modest build. Everything about the American Shorthair should be moderate, from their size and weight to the size of their individual features. This breed does have a degree of dimorphism, with American Shorthair girls being smaller than the boys, but it’s less pronounced than in the British Shorthair. Healthy weights for male American Shorthairs start at just under 5 kg and top out at around 7 kg. Healthy weights for females start at about 2.75 kg, with 5.5 kg being the heavier end of the range.
Like their cousins, American Shorthairs achieve most of their adult size in the first year, with growth continuing at a much slower rate until at least the third year. This is regarded as the best time to start showing them.
Living at home – with kids and dogs
British Shorthair cats are very tolerant of children. They generally enjoy the company of youngsters and will put up with a lot of playful interference. If things get a bit too much, the British Shorthair will tend to make a dignified exit to a safer location rather than becoming aggressive. Kids should be supervised when playing with pets, at least until they’re old enough to know that Kitty’s tail isn’t a toy. Dogs are fine too as long as they’re properly socialised and trained to cope with cats.
Be careful here — a dog that didn’t interact with cats during puppyhood will tend to regard these smaller animals as prey rather than a fellow being and may attack your cat. Introduce the two animals with care so that they can adjust to each other and you can prevent the dog from harassing your British Shorthair. This breed likes friendly, well-trained dogs and makes a good companion for your pup.
The American Shorthair is similarly good with both youngsters and dogs. They are friendly and playful, with a similar non-aggressive mentality to the British Shorthair. Instead of reacting with a snarl and a swat if someone’s bothering them, the American Shorthair is much more likely to duck out and move somewhere inaccessible until things calm down. They are also very good with other cats and dogs, although the previous caveats about proper socialisation and training also apply here. Even a friendly dog can place stress on a cat if the dog doesn’t know when to leave their feline counterpart alone.
Introduce the animals carefully and supervise interactions between them until you know you can trust the dog to behave appropriately and not hurt the cat. Once a proper rapport has been established between the animals, American Shorthairs get on very well with dogs and seem to enjoy interacting with them.
Grooming and Care
Looking after your British Shorthair is not arduous. As previously mentioned, they’re large cats and you’ll need to provide plus-sized equipment to keep them comfortable. Their coats aren’t really very prone to mats; because they have a low activity level and very dense fur, however, a buildup of loose hair can be a problem. Cats ingest this hair and develop hairballs. For this reason it’s smart to brush or comb their coats once a week. During the spring, when your British Shorthair is moulting, you should brush her more often.
Brush your cat’s teeth weekly to prevent caries and gum disease and clip her claws lightly once a fortnight. Older British Shorthairs need extra encouragement to keep moving; teaser toys and motorised toys that engage their prey response are a great way to get your cat off the sofa. Puzzle toys are fantastic too as they engage your British Shorthair’s high intelligence.
The American Shorthair is also easy to care for. They need the usual tooth-brushing and nail clipping, and benefit from a good brushing every so often. American Shorthairs have a higher activity level than the British Shorthair and require less encouragement to get up and run around. Older American Shorthairs tend to be slower and prone to weight gain; like their cousins, they have a strong hunting instinct that you can exploit to keep them active and mobile later in life. Both breeds need to watch what they eat — ensure that your cat gets a healthy diet consisting of modest portions of high quality cat food and don’t feed her too many snacks.
American Shorthairs, like all cats, should not eat cheaper cat food as it contains too many fillers and unhealthy ingredients. You should also avoid giving your cat “people food” unless it’s very carefully selected and prepared.
I have absolutely no problem recommending either of these charming breeds as your first cat. They’re easy to care for, affectionate and have relatively few health issues. Either cat would fit in well with virtually any household, whether you’re a single professional, a retiree or a family with children at home.
My personal and entirely subjective preference is for British Shorthairs; objectively, though, I have to confess that they’re both ideal. What it comes down to is personal preference. If you’re fond of husky, cobby cats, the British Shorthair is a perfect chunk of handsomeness, while the American Shorthair is better if you prefer a more modestly sized kitty.
American Shorthair cats tend to be significantly less expensive, which is an entirely reasonable consideration if you’re buying a cat for the first time. Another aspect to consider is the cat’s personality: the British Shorthair is ideal if you prefer a more hands-off pet with an independent spirit, while the American Shorthair is more playful and cuddly — great if you want a cat you can pet and snuggle more often. Some people do find the British Shorthair a bit standoffish and the American Shorthair might be a better fit for them.