The British Shorthair is well-known for being a very healthy and long-lived cat. With proper care and attention, there’s no reason your British Shorthair cats shouldn’t live to be well into their teens. To ensure that your cats enjoy the long and happy lives they deserve, you need to know the kind of care they’ll need at every stage of their development, from their lively kittenhood to their golden years as venerable senior kitties.
How long do British Shorthairs live? This breed is generally healthy and enjoys a comparatively long lifespan. The median is around 12 or 13 years but it’s quite usual for British Shorthairs to reach their middle to late teens. It’s less typical, but still not too uncommon, to see cats of this breed live to be 20.
You’ve arrived on this page because you have questions about the health and lifespan of your British Shorthair. Maybe you want to know how to give your new British Shorthair kitten the very best start to ensure long life; alternatively, you may have an older kitty who’s started to slow down and you want to know how you can help. Perhaps you’re concerned about common ailments in this breed or you want to know more about the right kind of diet for your BSH cat. We’ve got the answers you’re looking for, so stay tuned.
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The British Shorthair: some general points on health and lifespan
Unlike some other pedigree cats, the British Shorthair doesn’t really have any breed-specific illnesses or health issues. With attentive care and a little luck, you can reasonably hope to have your BSH cat with you for a good number of years — most of which will be spent in rude health. They are remarkably hale for a pedigree breed, bucking the stereotype of the delicate and sickly purebred kitty.
In general, their line tends towards the strongest and sturdiest traits. They are solidly muscled, broad in the chest and, although slightly brachycephalic, they don’t have the dangerously shortened tear ducts or compromised respiratory tracts of some “flat-faced” breeds. For the most part, the conditions you need to worry about in a British Shorthair are the same issues that might affect any cat.
In fact, I would hazard that any random British Shorthair will be much healthier than a random moggy of indeterminate parentage, as responsible BSH breeders tend to select for well-being and are careful to provide the proper veterinary care during their kitten’s early days. Because of their extended lifespan, your BSH kitty will spend a greater percentage of her life as a senior cat than most felines; the average is about 40 per cent of a cat’s lifespan but with the British Shorthair this can extend into 50 per cent or more.
A cat is deemed to be a senior animal when she reaches the ripe old age of seven — and your BSH cat may reach her 14th birthday without breaking her stride. For this reason, it’s important to be prepared to make certain lifestyle changes for your British Shorthair so that her advancing age doesn’t become an obstacle to continued good health.
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Cat care for a long and healthy life: good habits for your British Shorthair
When you buy a cat from a registered breeder, she will be up to date on all her current vaccines, de-wormed and generally in the best possible shape as far as veterinary care goes. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can drop the ball. Your cat should have a regular vet visit at least once a year, more often if she has any kind of health problem that might need interventions.
There are also a number of simple preventative measures you can take at home to ensure that your kitten or cat stays in tip-top condition between those yearly trips to see the vet. Right from the get-go, you need to start getting your British Shorthair used to some simple grooming procedures.
To start with, there’s the matter of grooming her fur. British Shorthairs tend to shed a lot and they can get hairballs if they ingest the loose fur too freely. Kittens don’t have a great deal of hair initially; as your cat gets a little bigger and her coat grows in, though, you will need to start brushing or combing her regularly. When your kitten is still young, a simple wipe down with a damp cloth to pick up loose hair will be sufficient. When she gets her full coat, you can progress to a brush or a shedding comb. BSH cats should be brushed at least once a week, preferably more.
The regular grooming session is a good time to give your young cat a once-over and make sure she doesn’t have any obvious scratches, bumps or abrasions. Look for raised areas under her fur that could be swelling and check for abrasions or injuries that might not be obvious. In particular, keep an eye out for infestations with fleas, ticks or other parasites; besides more obvious signs like bug bites or the presence of an actual flea or tick, you might see small black bits of debris in your cat’s fur. These are the droppings of fleas and are a sign that your kitty is due for treatment with anti-flea medication.
You should also get into the habit of checking her eyes, ears, toes and under the tail. Eyes and ears should be clean and free of mucus or “gunk”; this should be wiped away with a clean wet cloth. If it comes back repeatedly, get it checked out by the vet. Check for mites or signs that your cat has been over-grooming her ears, as this can be a sign of an infection or infestation. Keep an eye out for small light-brown objects around the cat’s anus — these are a symptom of internal parasites and mean that your kitty needs to be dewormed. Like most cats, this breed can run into issues with their teeth and gums if their teeth are not regularly brushed.
Although this might seem like a minor issue, it can escalate into severe health problems that may shorten your pet’s lifespan. Teeth should be brushed at least once a week, preferably more. Try a meat-flavoured pet toothpaste if your cat doesn’t take to the process. You should also keep your cat’s nails clipped to prevent her from scratching herself or developing ingrown claws.
Although it’s less of an issue in young cats, the early months of your cat’s life are the perfect time to acclimate her to the clippers. Only do one or two claws at a time and be very, very careful to only clip the very tip of the claw. If you cut too close to the quick, you’ll hurt your kitten and put her off the clippers for a long time to come.
Early years: the British Shorthair kitten
When you take home a properly registered British Shorthair kitten, you can do so in the reassuring knowledge that she’s had all the proper veterinary interventions: checkups, vaccinations, de-sexing and so on. Even so, you should book her in for a checkup with your family vet just to be on the safe side. No matter how diligent, one vet may miss something that another vet picks up and it’s smart to ensure that there are no irregularities with your kitten’s health before too much time has elapsed.
Now is a good time to start introducing your kitten to some useful life skills, such as teaching her to come when she’s called and getting her to use her litter-box. You can set her up for healthier adulthood by teaching her some simple games; this breed is supremely trainable and loves learning tricks like fetching a ball. The more you play with your kitten at this age, the better. As well as reinforcing the social bond between you and your cat, the additional exercise will help her musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary development and will also get her used to a more vigorous lifestyle. When buying your kitten’s first toys, litter-box and other equipment, keep her small size in mind.
Everything for an adult British Shorthair needs to be scaled up for their larger breed size but your kitten will need smaller equipment until she grows up a little; make sure she can climb easily in and out of her box or she may start holding everything in (a common cause of long-term health issues in cats). Another thing that needs to be properly sized is your kitten’s water source. I’m a huge fan of pet drinking fountains but they are usually too big for a tiny kitten — just give her water in a ceramic dish for now, and introduce the fountain when she’s a bit bigger. Your kitten’s immune system hasn’t fully developed yet so it’s important that her food dishes and living environment be kept clean and free from sources of infection.
I’m a strong advocate for keeping your cats indoors if at all possible and that goes double for kittens, who are too little to defend themselves against many threats and who won’t know what to do if they get into trouble. In my opinion, you really need to prevent your kitten from leaving the house until she’s at least a year old. Even if you have a fenced back garden or an outdoor “catio” enclosure, you still need to keep her trips outside short and carefully supervised.
It only takes a moment for your kitten to sneak off into the big wide world, which unfortunately is full of hazards that can curtail a British Shorthair’s life expectancy. By the time you get your kitten, she should be at least 12 weeks old and fully weaned. You will be responsible for making sure she gets the right nutrition at this crucial stage in her life; we’ll discuss this further in the following sections.
Feeding your kitten for a longer life
This breed grows relatively slowly but your kitten will be doing a lot of development in the first few weeks of her feline career. She needs a good healthy diet that provides all the protein, nutrients and calories she’ll require to build a healthy body and support her playful, inquisitive kittenish lifestyle. Don’t just feed your British Shorthair any old cat food. Yes, your cat may happily consume whatever junk is put in front of her (I have met picky BSH cats but not many).
That doesn’t mean the food is of the appropriate quality. Your kitten needs and deserves a high-protein, grain-free cat food with all the nutrients a growing kitten requires to stay healthy. The importance of vegetables in a cat’s diet is hyped up by manufacturers who pay less per gram for turnip than they do for meat; they’re not bad, exactly, but they’re not necessary and at this stage they just contribute low-quality bulk. Go for a brand that lists meat (preferably poultry or rabbit) as the main ingredient.
There’s a lot of back-and-forth among cat lovers about the necessity of specially formulated kitten food. My personal position is that this isn’t really necessary but if it reassures you, go ahead and buy the kitten food. If nothing else, kitten formulas have a nice, soft paté-like texture that’s perfect for little mouths. Later on you will need to start thinking about portion control but now is really not the time. Never in all my years as a cat owner and cat lover have I seen an overweight kitten — it just doesn’t happen. Thus you can feed your new baby pretty freely without worrying about weight gain.
The only problem you might encounter is setting out too much food. Small kitten tummies can’t hold a great deal — if you put out too much, you’ll probably find that she leaves a lot of it on the plate. It’s okay for food to stay out for short periods but if it’s out for more than an hour or two it will start to go bad. Your adult cat might have no problem eating food that’s begun to go a little rancid but a kitten is a different matter. They can’t fend off food poisoning as easily and you may make them ill. This means, I’m afraid, that you’ll have to supervise their meals for the first few months, feeding them up to five times a day. if you’re not around during the day, have someone stop by and give them a little extra around lunchtime. That way you can fit in three or four meals during the morning and evening, ensuring your growing British Shorthair gets what she needs.
Kittens and human food: health concerns
If you want to set your kitten up for long and healthy life, avoid letting her eat “people food”. Yes, she’s adorable; yes, you’ll want to treat her all the time; yes, you’re going to want to offer her a little of your chicken or a lick of gravy. Try to resist the temptation, however. Human foods are not formulated for cats and can often contain things that are bad for them. In particular, I really want to see “give the kitten a saucer of milk” consigned to the dustbin of history.
Milk is not good for cats — no, not even kittens. A weaned kitten can longer tolerate dairy and needs solid food, mostly meat, high in protein and not too high in fat. While you can’t really overfeed a kitten, getting her into the habit of begging for scraps will have negative consequences down the line. Once she’s bigger and doesn’t need the additional energy, getting fed from your plate will promote issues like weight gain and high blood pressure. Accustom your kitten to eating a good brand of quality cat food rather than seeking extra meals where she shouldn’t. The one exception to the “no people food” rule is a little baby food from time to time.
Most baby foods nowadays are low in salt and other additives, making them an acceptable treat for your kitten. Choose a recipe that doesn’t include onions or garlic as these are toxic to cats. Baby food shouldn’t be her staple diet but it’s useful as a treat when you’re training her or if she needs a little boost to her food intake. If your kitten is disinterested in the usual teaser toys, she may perk up and take notice of a dab of baby food on the end of a stick or a long spoon. You can also place a small dollop of baby food on items you want her to get used to, such as her nail clippers or toothbrush, and let her lick it off; this will help her associate the items with a pleasant experience. Just a dab, mind — she shouldn’t be filling up on non-cat foods.
One year old: your kitten grows up
As we’ve noted earlier, the British Shorthair can take at least three years to finish growing. It’s very common for BSH cats to keep growing until they’re as much as five years old. By one-year-old, though, your British Shorthair will have achieved most of her adult size and growth will have slowed down significantly. Activity levels will also have slowed down so you shouldn’t be feeding her more than three times a day.
By this age your cat will be ready to put aside her kitten-sized equipment, if she hasn’t already, and move up to the big leagues with full-sized items. Switch out her baby litter-box with a full-sized model; this will need to be half again as long as she is, from nose to hindquarters. Because BSH cats are such large kitties, you may want to skip the litter-trays in your local pet shop and jury rig something a little more substantial by cutting down a large plastic storage box (the ones that fit under your bed are the best, as they’re low and broad). If you haven’t yet got her an adult sized scratching post, you should really get on that — cats need to stretch out to their full length when scratching in order to work all their muscles and get rid of those pesky claw sheaths. Like the litter-tray, your 12-month-old British Shorthair’s scratching post should be half again as long or tall as she is. Now your cat has reached something approaching her full size, you should also look into getting her a harness.
As I’ve said before, letting your cat roam around outside is a bad idea; walks on a lead, though, are fantastic. You can’t use a collar-and-lead arrangement as for a dog, however. You need to fix the lead to a body harness. Give your cat plenty of time to get used to the harness before you even think about putting it on her. Leave it by her food bowl, leave it near her bed, drape it over her while she’s relaxed — work up to actually putting it on and give her plenty of time to acclimate at every stage. Once she’s good and ready, you can take her on lots of exciting voyages of discovery. Not all cats are fans of walking in harness but I know several who absolutely love it. If your kitty hasn’t already seen a vet for her annual checkup, go ahead and book her in (if only to show off how well she’s doing).
One to seven years: the mature British Shorthair
Between the ages of one and seven, your British Shorthair is in her prime. No longer an awkward adolescent but not yet a senior kitty, she’s perfectly placed to work on the good groundwork established during her first years of life and further develop those good habits. Now that she has outgrown her kittenish exuberance, she might need a little help and encouragement in staying active.
The wonderfully relaxed and reserved temperament of the British Shorthair has few downsides but one is that they can start to get a little lazy as they get older. You can help by providing a stimulation-rich environment that encourages your cat to move around and enjoy a more active life. Set up cat trees and habitats for her to climb around and explore. Make sure there is at least one good solid scratching post for her to use. Take her for walks in her harness, if she takes to it. Above all, set aside some time during the day where you play with your kitty: invest in teaser toys, fishing-pole toys and other toys that you can use to get your cat up and moving.
Providing this kind of active play is the best way to ensure that your otherwise sedentary BSH gets the physical activity she needs for good health, as well as curtailing any tendency to stress, anxiety or destructiveness. Active play also helps make her life more enjoyable — and it’s good for you, too. Once you get a feel for the toys, playing with your cat will rapidly become one of your favourite ways to relax and let off some steam after a busy day. It might feel like a chore initially but pretty soon you’ll want to pick up her toys and get started as soon as you come home from work. If physical mobility is an issue, choose a fishing pole toy that you can use from your chair or bed.
As long as you’re careful to avoid your cat’s eyes, a laser pointer is also a good toy if you can’t move around too much. Set aside at least three blocks of 15 minutes per day to play with your cat, preferably right before mealtimes. This will help make sure she’s nice and relaxed when it’s time to set off for work or go to bed.
Seven years and older: the senior British Shorthair
Those yearly vet visits are more important than ever now as your cat is inevitably at greater risk for various health issues. In particular, your vet will want to keep a close eye on cardiac functions. One of the few conditions that British Shorthairs are rather prone to is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. While this can occur at any age, it is rather more common in older cats (although still quite rare in females). If it’s caught early, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can be managed very effectively and need have little impact on your pet’s quality of life; if it’s not treated, though, it could mean a miserable end for your companion.
Other conditions that you really need to be alert for in older cats are cataracts, which can leave your cat blind, and UTIs. These can occur at any age but are more of an issue for older cats. Be advised that although your cat may be in great health, she will probably need even more encouragement to remain active than she did as a young adult. Keep a sharp eye on her activity levels and how ready she is to engage in play; while this breed does tend to become less active with age, a sudden drop in energy levels can be a sign of some health problem you need to address. In particular, look out for painful or swollen joints; feline arthritis is a very common problem. While your vet might not be able to get rid of it altogether, there are lots of treatments that can keep your cat comfortable and make her achey joints less of a bother to her. You might also need to change your cat’s diet.
In most cases this will simply mean feeding her a little less; her caloric needs are lower now and she may not need as much food as she used to. In some cases it may be necessary to make more drastic changes to your older cat’s diet. Typically this will mean switching to a higher-protein recipe, one with fewer calories but plenty of nourishment. Some senior cats also benefit from cutting down things like sodium and potassium; you can easily find brands for senior cats that accommodate these requirements. If you’re accustomed to feeding your British Shorthair treats between meals, you will want to look at reducing those. This doesn’t mean spoiling her fun — just replace food treats with other things she likes, such as favourite games, fun activities and other kinds of treats such as catnip. Cats who fuss and cry when they finish their food can benefit from slow feeder bowls. These are special ceramic dishes with separate compartments.
The idea is that you mash the wet food against the sides of the compartments so that the cat has to work a little harder to get at every scrap, instead of just ploughing through everything in the dish and meowing for more. Your cat still needs plenty of playtime and exercise, although it might be a bit harder to get her to join in. You can help by providing new and different toys that will entertain her in different ways. For example, if your cat’s eyesight isn’t as acute as it used to be, she might enjoy toys with a stronger tactile component such as crinkle balls, or toys that include a squeaker or a bell. Because this breed is so food-motivated, I strongly recommend forage toys.
These are balls, tubes, mazes and puzzles that provide small pieces of kibble when manipulated correctly. The point of forage toys is that the cat has to work to get at the food, providing exercise and slowing down consumption. After the age of seven, your cat still has a lovely long life ahead of her — she just needs a little support to make the most of it.