With their winning combinations of great looks and wonderful characters, the British Shorthair and Russian Blue are two of my favourite cats. While my preferred breed is definitely the patient and loving British Shorthair,
I’m also very fond of the clever, affectionate Russian Blue: the two breeds have a long association, with the classic blue-grey fur of the British Shorthair being derived from breedings with Russian Blues.
Russian Blue or British Shorthair – which of these would be the best first cat for you?
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at what makes Russian Blues and British Shorthairs so special, so you can pick your favourite.
Introducing the British Shorthair: what you need to know about the “teddy-bear cat”
With their cuddly looking bodies, big round eyes and thick coats, it’s no surprise that British Shorthair has attracted the nickname of teddy-bear cats. While they’re not usually big on being snatched up and hugged, they’re a very affectionate cat with a loyal and loving temperament.
The British Shorthair is reserved but will open up to the right person. Once they’ve got used to you, the British Shorthair easily becomes attached and will want to spend time in your country. They may not want to monopolise your lap but they’ll sit nearby when you’re relaxing or working at home and will generally want to creep into your room to stay close while you sleep.
The British Shorthair has a long and fascinating history, starting in Roman Britain. the invading Romans needed feline friends to help keep down the vermin on their long sea trips so they brought along cats from Egypt. These bred with European wildcats to produce the very first domestic cats in Britain. In the Victorian era, a cat-lover decided to create a pedigree version of the familiar house-cat by breeding for the very best character and physical traits. The British Shorthair was the result.
Introducing the Russian Blue: what you need to know about the Archangel Cat.
The Russian Blue is so-called because of her splendid fur: a solid grey-blue, very dense and soft. The standard Russian Blue has brilliant green eyes and paws that can be mauve or pinkish-lavender in colour. In contrast to their cousins, they are athletic rather than cobby.
Lean, elegant and handsome, the aristocratic Russian Blue has attracted many legends about her background. It’s been claimed that this breed originates with cats owned by the Russian royal family in the days of the Tsars. In fact, they’re probably a naturally occurring breed and seem to have got their start in Russia’s Archangel Islands.
Sailors in the 1800s picked up these appealing cats, who superstition credits with healing abilities and a dash of feline good luck. This origin gives them their nickname of “the Archangel cat”. Their nature is really loving: initially reserved, they slowly become very attached to their special humans and come to crave their attention and company. The Russian Blue can even become a trifle clingy.
The cost of a British Shorthair will vary significantly depending on various factors. Where you buy is important; different countries seem to have dramatically different prices for pedigree British Shorthairs. Even different regions within the same nation can mean different prices.
In the UK, the price I see most often quoted is £1200 for a purebred, show-quality kitten. The price in the US varies a lot; it’s usually somewhere between $1000 and $2000 but occasionally reaches even giddier heights. Buyers in Australia may have more luck, with most kittens coming in under $1000 USD.
You can reduce the cost to some degree if you’re prepared to accept a pet-quality British Shorthair kitten rather than a show-quality animal. Prices for adult cats are even lower, with some really lovely retired breeders and ex-show animals for sale at a fraction of the cost of a kitten.
Because they’re so well-liked it’s hard to find British Shorthairs as rescue animals; it does happen, though, and the cost is very reasonable.
The Russian Blue is less expensive than her cousin. You can get a very good kitten in the UK for under £1000; £500 is more normal. In the US, Russian Blue kittens go for a modest $400 to $600. Prices in Australia are rather higher, with pedigree Russian Blue babies going for between $850 and $1200.
As is always the case with pedigree cats you can reduce your outlay if you’re happy to accept a non-show animal; a Russian Blue with a slightly kinked tail, white spots or other off-perfect markings will be much cheaper than her show-standard litter-mates.
Older cats are, of course, much cheaper than kittens, with rescue animals being unusual but very inexpensive if you do happen across one. Whatever you do, never buy a “pedigree” kitten from a backyard breeder, no matter how attractive the price. If you really can’t afford a purebred kitten, accept an older cat or opt for a Russian Blue mix from a good home instead.
The British Shorthair’s character is delightfully genial, steadfast and patient. They aren’t lap-cats, at least not usually (I have met one or two older females who adored lap-time and hugs but they’re the exception rather than the rule).
This breed is composed and sedate rather than effusive — but don’t mistake their slightly aloof manner for a lack of love. The British Shorthair is an adoring companion who will dote on you in her own way. She’ll want to be at your side as much as possible, trotting happily at your heels as you walk around the house and cosying up on the sofa while you watch TV.
The British Shorthair isn’t aggressively playful but does like games and toys. In particular, they enjoy activities that engage their prey response or their wits — give them something to chase or teach them to play fetch and they’ll happily play with you for as long as you wish. The British Shorthair is a low-maintenance cat, happy to relax alone while you’re out at work.
The Russian Blue is also a very laid-back cat. She’s playful but not given to drama or destructiveness. This breed is gentle, quiet and loving. More physically demonstrative than the British Shorthair, she will appreciate lap time and snuggles once she’s decided you’re a favourite human.
You’ll need to give her plenty of affection and attention, which she’ll return with plenty of her own. Although this breed likes to be active, they generally don’t enjoy wrecking things the way some other more active breeds do. They’re especially fond of climbing and will often be found on top of your bookshelves.
The Russian Blue isn’t quite as independent as the British Shorthair but is still good at self-entertaining and won’t suffer unduly if you’re out during the day. This breed is very quiet and doesn’t vocalise much; their voices are soft and they’re not very talkative.
Once they get comfortable on your lap, however, they will purr up a storm. Russian Blues are even more fastidious than the average cat so make sure you keep litter-boxes very clean.
British Shorthairs are strongly constituted and tend to have long full lives. For the most part, they suffer only from the same conditions that might affect any cat, whether pedigree or mixed. The breed’s configuration lends itself to health rather than any serious issues.
The British Shorthair is somewhat more prone than average to a couple of heritable illnesses: haemophilia B and feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The former is a condition that prevents the cats’ blood from clotting properly and is readily detectable through a DNA test.
The latter is a heart condition that can affect any cat but is slightly more prevalent in British Shorthairs. It can develop at any time and is difficult to test for until the condition actually arises. It’s not curable but can be treated and won’t immediately affect your cat’s welfare.
You can expect your British Shorthair to be with you for at least a decade and possibly even two. Obesity can be a problem in older cats.
The Russian Blue is generally a healthy breed, free of the issues that plague many pedigree cats. There are no specific conditions to look out for — just the usual problems that can bother cats of any breed. They tend to live as long as their cousins – the Russian Blue has a very impressive lifespan of around 10-20 years, although cats as old as 25 have been reliably recorded. The breed has no particular proneness to any heritable condition and should require only the same care you’d give any other cat.
The main issue to watch out for with this breed is obesity — like the stout and portly British Shorthair, they have very big appetites and can put on weight if you don’t manage their diet in later life.
The British Shorthair is classified as a large breed. As well as being solid and husky in terms of build, they’re just big all over. All of your kitty equipment needs to be upsized as the cat grows.
These cats take a long time to finish growing — three years is typical and your cat may still be growing by the age of five. The average British Shorthair will have reached most of her adult weight by a year old. Development is typically steady with few growth spurts; you may see your British Shorthair tom go through a gangly “awkward teenager” stage on his way to becoming a fully mature BSH hunk.
Once he’s fully grown, expect a healthy British Shorthair boy to weigh from around 6 kilogrammes to 9 kilos; much larger than this and it’s diet time. Females are a lot smaller — they start at around 4 kilos and can be up to 6 kilos.
The Russian Blue is regarded as a medium-sized cat breed. They can weigh anything from 3 kilos to 6 kilos. There’s less dimorphism than in the British Shorthair but females tend to be somewhat smaller than males once they’re fully mature. Russian Blue kittens grow rapidly with occasional growth spurts — it’s important to make sure that they get plenty of quality food while growing. Once fully grown this cat’s build is muscular; unlike the British Shorthair, they are lean and slender in configuration. Their physique has seen them described as “the Doberman pinscher” of the cat world. Lanky and athletic, the Russian Blue can be around 70 centimetres long.
Their lean appearance is enhanced by their fine limbs and dainty, rounded paws which make the cat look as if she’s up on tiptoes. In later life, you will want to track your Russian Blue’s weight so she doesn’t get too heavy.
WITH KIDS AND DOGS
If things get uncomfortable for the British Shorthair, she will calmly remove herself from the situation rather than becoming hostile or irritable; good news for inquisitive youngsters or dogs. British Shorthairs get on famously with other pets (so long as they’re not small mammals that will evoke a prey response). Dogs are fine just as long as they’re well-trained — a dog that’s aggressive or overly friendly may leave your British Shorthair feeling harassed and anxious.
The British Shorthair’s patient and forbearing nature make her a good fit with children — this breed is very affectionate and loves kids, easily becoming attached to the younger members of the family and keen to supervise everything they do. Very young children need to be helped during interactions with cats, as they can accidentally hurt or scare the animal. Little hands snatching a tail or an ear can be painful and distressing so teach children to be gentle with pets.
The Russian Blue is a pretty good cat for a home with children or dogs. They’re very social and affectionate, with a playful side that’s a good match for a child’s enthusiasm. Dogs, especially dogs with a similarly loving, playful nature, will generally get on well with this cat. The Russian Blue isn’t quite as patient as the British Shorthair but she comes pretty close, being more interested in escaping and hiding than exacting revenge for minor injuries or annoyance.
Keep aggressive dogs well away from these friendly, trusting cats, and ensure that very friendly dogs learn to give her space. Too much intrusive attention from dogs, children or other members of the household can make the Russian Blue anxious and skittish. If something does upset the Russian Blue, expect her to retreat to some secret hidey-hole or tuck herself away on top of a cupboard until she regains her composure.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
Aside from the usual care, you’d give to any cat, there are a few additional things that you should do for your British Shorthair. Like a lot of breeds, her teeth can become a problem; ideally, they should be getting brushed a few times a week but once a week is acceptable if she really doesn’t like the process. British Shorthairs benefit from a weekly brushing of their coats so that the dense fur doesn’t get matted. The most important thing to remember is that your British Shorthair needs to stay active, especially later in life.
They can get lazy as they grow older and need a little help to avoid developing physical problems. I would advise getting your cat a large cat tree and making sure there are games and toys around. Fishing-pole toys are very good for this, as they can be set up for your cat to play with when you’re out of the house.
The Russian Blue also benefits from a good comb once or twice a week. This isn’t strictly necessary but helps reduce hairballs. As with the British Shorthair, weekly tooth-brushing is a good idea. They do very well by themselves if you need to go out to work but do make sure they get plenty of affection and attention when you’re around. Do not allow your Russian Blue to overeat and ensure they get plenty of fresh water (a water fountain is the best way to do this).
This breed runs to fat as they get older so monitor their food intake and don’t let them get too lazy. The Russian Blue is more fond of physical activity than the British Shorthair; encouraging this tendency is a good way to keep your cat from becoming overweight. Choosing a good quality cat food and avoiding extra treats can help prevent the cat from getting too chunky.
These two breeds are both wonderful domestic cats and will do well in all kinds of households. They thrive in homes with single folk who’ll be out a lot — but they’ll also do well in busy family homes with several pets.
My only real caveat would be that neither breed is a good fit for homes with free-roaming birds or small mammals — the British Shorthair has a very strong prey response and the Russian Blue isn’t far behind. I would unhesitatingly recommend either as your first cat, with perhaps a very slight preference for the British Shorthair over the Russian Blue; their good health and non-destructive habits make both breeds a great choice for the first-time owner.
If you already own cats, either breed will generally get on well with the current residents. These sociable breeds have a way of winning over nervous or hostile felines and make friends easily. Other than this, it really comes down to your personal inclination. Do you want a reserved but affectionate and loyal creature as your companion? Choose the stolid British Shorthair. Would you prefer a more playful, physically demonstrative cat who enjoys lap-time and cuddles? Go for the Russian Blue. You honestly can’t go wrong here.