Taking care of a British Shorthair is very much like taking care of any other cat. Independent, sturdy and good-natured, this breed is very easy to look after, only requiring one or two extra steps to stay in perfect health.
Their robust health and calm disposition make the British Shorthair an ideal choice for your first cat; even if you’ve never owned a pet before, you should have absolutely no trouble adjusting to life with one of these wonderful cats as your feline companion. In this article, we’ll be discovering everything you need to know to keep your British Shorthair happy and healthy for many years to come. Read on to find out more about looking after your British Shorthair.
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Choosing your British Shorthair cat
The first step on the road to being a cat owner is choosing your companion. There are a number of factors to think over:
- Kitten or adult?
- Male or female?
- How should you choose breeder?
- How can you select a kitten from a litter?
If you feel that a kitten might be too much of a handful, it’s perfectly reasonable to look for a nice mature BSH instead. You can find lovely older cats who are retiring from the show circuit, or who were previously breeding animals but who are being taken out of circulation. A mature cat makes a great companion and often presents fewer challenges to a young kitten. If you’re planning to exhibit the cat at shows, however, you will almost certainly want a kitten. Younger cats are more trainable and offer more opportunities for showing. You will need to buy your BSH kitten from a registered breeder to ensure your new cat has a proper pedigree.
When you’ve decided between an adult cat and a kitten, the next question is whether you should get a male or a female cat. Most people will tell you to get a queen cat to avoid aggression and destructiveness; with this breed, though, there really isn’t much in it when you’re discussing character.
The British Shorthair is generally a good egg, male or female. I will say, though, that I personally would prefer to adopt a female. This is purely because they are less prone to certain medical issues we’ll discuss later on, in particular, heart disease. Sadly, British Shorthair boys have a couple of hereditary issues that can shorten their lives and make life less fun. BSH queens also tend to be a lot smaller than toms; if caring for a larger cat is a consideration for you, opt for a queen.
Even if you’re not planning on taking your BSH on the show circuit, you should still focus on registered breeders if you’re looking for a kitten. While British Shorthair kittens do turn up on adoption registries or even in shelters, this is very rare. You would also be running the risk of getting a kitten with a troubled background, health problems or other issues. If you feel you could give a loving home to a BSH kitten with health or other problems, that’s fantastic.
As a first-time cat owner, however, I would suggest playing it safe and going to a reputable breeder. A good breeder will be signed up with one or more of the major cat pedigree registries in your country or region. In the UK, this would be the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF). In the US, it might be the Cat Fancier’s Association (CFA); other regions will have equivalent organisations.
You should be welcome to visit the cattery before you take ownership of your new cat, to make sure the conditions are clean and hygienic and that the mother and her kittens are all in good health. Take some time to play with the kittens a little and see which one strikes a chord with you. Tempt the kitten with a toy or a length of string or ribbon — a healthy, well-socialised kitten is playful and curious and will engage. Avoid taking on an animal which appears lethargic or shows signs of pest infestation, injury or neglect. (If conditions are very poor and the kittens really aren’t doing well, this person is either misrepresenting their registered status or is about to lose it.)
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Equipping your home for a British Shorthair cat
Lists like this often start with fitting a cat-flap. This one starts with the opposite: you really ought to ensure that your cat or kitten doesn’t out unsupervised. On the whole, I would encourage any cat owner to keep their cat indoors, even a hardy breed like the British Shorthair. They might be strong and (once mature) very ready to hold their own in a fight, but the outside world has many hazards for a cat. Traffic, aggressive dogs, cruel humans, even other cats — any and all of these could end up harming or killing your new companion. Your pet is more likely to pick up pests, parasites and diseases if allowed to wander around outdoors.
On the flip side, your British Shorthair also poses a significant hazard to the local wildlife; they are very skilled and effective hunters, well able to put a dent in breeding populations of songbirds and other creatures. Putting a bell on your British Shorthair’s collar will only help so much. Later in this article, we’ll discuss safer ways for your cat to enjoy the outside world. (Even though your British Shorthair won’t be going out alone, she should still have a collar in case of escape attempts. Choose a breakaway model that won’t choke her if it gets caught on something and makes sure that she has your number and other identification on her tags. Your British Shorthair will, of course, be chipped.)
First of all, you should remember that everything for a British Shorthair needs to be sized with the larger cat in mind — especially if you have a tom. These cats get big. If you’re bringing home a 12-week-old kitten, it’s fine to purchase less expensive, smaller items — you’ll be replacing them in a few months when your cat outgrows them.
There should be two litter-boxes (assuming you’re only buying one cat), and at least one of these should be plus-sized. It’s my opinion that the vast majority of litter-boxes sold in pet stores are far too small, really. They’re all right for a little kitten who might struggle to get up into a full-sized litter-box but will quickly be outgrown. As a rule of thumb, your litter-box should be as wide as your fully grown BSH is from nose to hindquarters. To find the ideal length, take this measurement and multiply it by 150 per cent — that is to say, the box should be half-again as long as your cat.
If your British Shorthair is at the upper end of the breed’s size, you may not be able to find a large enough tray in the pet store. I recommend a large plastic storage crate with one side cut down so the cat can easily get in and out.
2. Food Dishes And Water Fountains
Food and water bowls should be ceramic, not plastic. This is especially important during the kitten stage. Plastic can rapidly become nicked and scratched, creating small pits in the surface where bacteria, moulds and viruses can hide out. Kittens, in particular, are prone to pick up various bugs from their food dishes.
Use a small ceramic plate and clean it regularly. Much kitty fastidiousness about refusing the last layer of food in the bowl or rejecting food after begging for it can be tracked down to the food being presented in a grubby dish. For your kitten, dishes for water are fine. When they get big enough to use one, you should supplement the dishes with a pet water fountain. I prefer the kind with a pump that circulates the water rather than the gravity-fed type, although the latter is still better than a dish.
Cats, in general, tend to take on too little fluid — they need to drink plenty of water to protect against kidney disease, UTIs and so on. A great many cats really struggle with still water in a dish; almost all prefer fresh running water if they can get it.
3. Scratching Posts And Cat Trees
Every cat should have at least one scratching post. For your British Shorthair, this will need to be a large item. The post needs to be tall enough that the cat can stretch up to her full length when on her hind legs. Ideally, you should have a post with horizontal as well as vertical elements to allow your cat to scratch it from different angles.
The scratching post is important even if your cat never scratches anything around the home. In fact, it is all the more important in that case — scratching is good exercise and necessary for muscle, joint and claw health. Encourage your cat to use the post by rubbing a pinch of catnip into the material. My ideal scratching post would be part of a cat habitat; British Shorthairs need lots of stimulation to offset their low activity levels and cat habitats can really help.
Look for a cat habitat with lots of interesting textures, perching platforms and hiding spots. It should also have a few teaser toys to encourage the cat to play.
4. Beds, Bedding And Carriers
Your British Shorthair will probably have more than one preferred sleeping spot. Even so, she should have her own bed. This should be something that’s cosy, large enough to accommodate a full-grown British Shorthair and come equipped with washable covers. I was recently converted to the kind of bed that can be converted into a cat carrier (if your British Shorthair isn’t too large, that is — most bed/carrier products are only designed for cats up to six and a half kilos or so and this breed can easily get bigger than that). I’ve found that this type of bed has the advantage of getting your British Shorthair comfortable and familiar with the carrier as a bed, so they’re happier about being zipped into it when it’s time to go for a ride.
Besides the bed, you should have blankets and possibly a heating pad if your home gets a little chilly. Don’t leave an electric heating pad on while you’re out — use a microwavable rice bag or similar, making sure it can’t be ripped open by an inquisitive kitty.
You want to give your cat a small space where she can curl up and be kept warm by her own body heat; sometimes putting the bed inside a large cardboard box can help your cat stay warm. You’ll need a safe, sturdy kitty carrier for trips to the vet; if you plan to fly with her, it will also need to be airline approved.
5. Toys And Games
Toys are not a luxury item when you own a cat — especially a British Shorthair. They’re a tremendously important part of your cat equipment. You need to play with your cat for at least 15 minutes twice a day, at the bare minimum, to keep her from getting bored and to burn off excess nervous energy.
My dream kitty toy-box would include fishing-pole teaser toys (fantastic because you can use them to give your British Shorthair cat a workout while you sit down), motorised toys for your cat to chase around, and forage toys. Also called puzzle toys, foraging toys are toys that reward your cat for certain activities with a piece of food or another attractive toy. Examples are a treat ball, which must be rolled around to dispense little bits of kibble, and puzzles where your cat must retrieve a catnip mouse from inside a maze.
My British Shorthairs absolutely love these, especially their treat ball. Don’t neglect simple toys like balls to chase — balls with a sound or tactile components, such as rattles or crinkle balls, are often a big hit with cats. BSH kitties are very clever and thoroughly enjoy playing fetch with you if you teach them.
6. Grooming And Dental Care
Grooming supplies are also important. You will need a brush or comb for your British Shorthair’s fur. I use a metal shedding comb — they’re marketed as being for dogs but they work very well on the British Shorthair’s very thick coat.
- You’ll also need a pet toothbrush and toothpaste; some cats do better with a finger brush than a standard one.
- You’ll need some kitty nail clippers for her claws.
- You should also set aside some designated towels or blankets for wrapping your British Shorthair if she won’t cooperate with some of the processes.
- You should also make sure you have good quality cat shampoo; in general, you won’t need to bathe your cat but it may be necessary if she gets very dirty or develops an especially nasty flea infestation.
To guard against fleas, I would recommend monthly applications of a good quality repellent. Do not choose an “organic” or “natural” product — these frequently contain essential oils, which are toxic and irritant for cats.
You should brush or comb your British Shorthair’s coat once or twice a week, more often in the late spring or early summer months when she is moulting. Tooth-brushing is very important because, like other cats, British Shorthairs can develop tooth decay. Try to brush her teeth at least once a week; finding a meat-flavoured toothpaste she likes can help here. Nail clipping should be done very, very carefully. It is necessary because it’ll help avert scratching but also because cats can get ingrown nails just like people. Get her used to the clippers by snipping them near her without clipping her nails at first, then progress slowly to actually clipping them. Press her toe to make the claw pop out, then snip off the very, very tip. Cut too little rather than too much; you should not go near the pink part of her claw. That is the quick — the growing part of the claw, full of nerves and blood vessels. Don’t try to do all her toes at once, just a one or two at a time. Try to make sure they all get clipped every ten days or so.
7. Medical Care, Checkups And Health
Having acquired your British Shorthair from a reputable breeder or another trustworthy source, you should have a good picture of her overall state of health when she comes to you. Even so, it’s advisable to take her for a checkup within a day or two of bringing her home. This will give your vet a chance to meet your cat and get to know her, as well as providing an opportunity that the breeders’ vet may have missed.
Your British Shorthair should have been de-sexed (spayed or neutered), should be up to date on all her vaccines and should have been dewormed. Male cats should be tested for haemophilia B (females can carry the gene but can’t develop the condition). I would also hope to see negative test results for conditions like feline leukaemia as well as checks for contagious diseases. From here on out, I would strongly recommend taking your British Shorthair in for a general checkup once a year, even if she seems healthy.
This will provide you with an opportunity to nip any developing conditions in the bud. In particular, the British Shorthair is prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: a miserable condition that can make your cat’s life painful and difficult, even curtailing the famously long British Shorthair lifespan if it’s not picked up and addressed. Like other breeds, and indeed non-pedigree cats, the British Shorthair can sometimes develop kidney and urinary tract issues that need management.
You can perform basic checkups yourself, for example, while petting or grooming your British Shorthair. It’s quite easy to use a brushing or combing session to check for infestations by fleas or other parasites. As well as the more obvious raised bites under the fur, keep an eye out for dried blood and black specks. You should also keep your eyes peeled for any bare patches or areas where the skin appears reddened or discoloured; these can be a sign of skin irritation or infection.
Check your cat’s ears periodically to ensure that she isn’t suffering from mites and that there are no signs of inflammation or over-grooming. Your British Shorthair’s eyes should be clear and bright, with no signs of mucus buildup, no redness and no cloudiness. If one eye appears swollen, you should take her into the vet for an examination — this may be a sign of injury, infection or something more serious. Watch your cat as she climbs, plays and walks around and note any signs of limping or stiffness.
Check her joints periodically by running a hand over them; they should not feel hot or seem tender. Any impairment in mobility that doesn’t go away by itself is cause to have your pet checked out by the vet.
8. Diet And Exercise: British Shorthairs As kittens, Adults And Senior Cats
The British Shorthair’s low activity levels are something of a mixed blessing. On the positive side, this breed’s laid-back energy makes them a very easy cat to care for. On the downside, their reluctance to move around very much makes them prone to health conditions related to a sedentary lifestyle. As kittens and young adults these aren’t really a concern but as your British Shorthair gets older they will become more pressing. In this section, we’ll look at the importance of proper diet for the British Shorthair, as well as ways to get them the exercise they need.
In the first months, you should make sure that your kitten gets plenty of nutritious food. I’m dubious as to the utility of kitten formula foods but they provide a measure of reassurance for the anxious new cat owner that the new arrival is getting everything she needs. Most kitten foods are very similar to adult food blends; others may have additional oils and maybe one or two other things to increase the calorie count. This is fine — I’ve yet to meet a fat kitten and they tend to burn through everything they eat very rapidly — but not hugely necessary.
The most important thing is to select a good brand: high in protein, grain free and with named meat as the main ingredient. Your kitten should be fed a few small meals throughout the day rather than a couple of large ones. Keep portions small and dispose of any food that has been left out for more than an hour or so.
Young kittens may need to be fed as many as five times per day. Once your kitten has reached five or six months, you can slow things down to three times a day; by the time she’s a year old, I would not expect her to require more than a couple of meals per day, although some British Shorthairs do better on three. Adult British Shorthairs require a high-protein diet with plenty of good quality nutrition and no empty calories. For a senior cat (seven years or over), this is even more important as they start to slow down. Keep an eye on your cat’s weight and tweak her diet accordingly. There are plenty of foods on the market that are formulated for older cats; these should be lower in calories and possibly sodium, making them a reasonable choice for your venerable British Shorthair.
I generally come down against free-feeding cats, and this is even more strongly contraindicated in the British Shorthair. Portion-controlled feeding is your friend with this breed.
Throughout her life, your British Shorthair will need stimulation and play in order to keep her in good shape physically, as well as helping her to stay calm, happy and stress-free. This really can’t be overstated — a lot of anxious, destructive cats are simply cats who don’t get properly tired out during the day with games and activities.
Play games that evoke your British Shorthair’s prey response: this is very strong in the British Shorthair and can overcome their rather indolent disposition. Tempt the cat with teaser toys, forage toys and games of fetch; make sure you provide at least 15 minutes of this kind of active play twice a day. Insufficient activity is one of the biggest risks for this breed. They so easily become overweight, developing high blood pressure or problems with their joints. Activity will help guard against many of the ills of old age, but BSH kitties need plenty of prompting to get up and move around.
9. Expanding Your British Shorthair’s Horizons: Safe Outings For Your Cat
We’ve already established that an indoor kitty is a safer kitty. We’ve also established that British Shorthairs need stimulation and exercise to be at their best. How is the loving first-time cat owner to resolve this paradox?
Well, there are ways for your BSH kitty to enjoy the outdoors without getting into trouble. One of my favourites, although it is also one of the more ambitious techniques, is harness-and-lead training. If you can get your British Shorthair to accept a body harness, you have an invaluable tool for ensuring that she gets all the exercise she needs while still keeping her safe from the threats present in the outside world. Do not attempt to clip a lead to her collar and pull her around. She’s not a dog. She is very apt to work loose from that collar (especially if you’ve used the proper kind with a breakaway feature). There’s also the real possibility that the collar could fracture the delicate bones of her chest and shoulders.
The trick with harness training your British Shorthair is patience. Let her get used to the harness as an object first, by leaving it in her bed or by her feeding bowl. Next you can progress through laying it loosely over her body, then closing it for brief periods, then letting her walk around the house in it. Only when she’s accustomed to the harness should you add the lead. Her first walks should be taken indoors, where you can take the harness off immediately when she’s had enough. Slowly work up to walks in the garden, then walks up and down your drive, and finally walks in the park or nearby green spaces.
Cat enclosures are another great option. These can be huge edifices involving most of your back yard or more modest arrangements providing a couple of square meters or so for your British Shorthair to romp around in. A large cat enclosure can require some construction skills to set up; you’ll need a fence with an inclined top to discourage attempts to climb out, and mesh sides that your cat can’t squeeze or claw through. Cat pens or compounds may be a better option if constructing a permanent enclosure isn’t on the cards. I like the Outback Jack Kitty Compound but there are less expensive options. The great thing about some cat pens is that they are collapsible — you can set them up in fine weather and take them down again in a few moments.
The most important part of caring for your British Shorthair isn’t the equipment or toys you can provide. The most important part of caring for a cat is just that: caring. Even though the BSH is a splendidly independent creature, never forget that she sees you as a vitally important part of her colony. She may express her affection in ways you don’t immediately understand but she needs your attention and love. Don’t forget the importance of spending time with your cat, interacting with her and showing her that she’s important to you.
A little love goes a long way with this breed in terms of keeping your British Shorthair happy.