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The direct descendants of European cats brought to America in the early 1600s, the American shorthair (the purebred version of the common domestic shorthair) was originally prized for its uncanny ability to protect the grain harvests from rats and mice. People selected and bred these cats purely on their hunting ability. But, over time, their compact athletic bodies and boldly colored dense coats started to attract attention from pet lovers. And, because these animals were also so intelligent and affectionate, they quickly caught hold with the American public who began to invite them into their homes. American shorthairs are a medium-sized cat breed that requires little maintenance to keep their dense coat glistening. If you’re looking for a new family cat, or simply want to learn more about this breed, here’s everything you need to know about the American shorthair.
The phrase that “form follows function” was never truer than it is with American shorthair breed. That’s because this gorgeous and athletic breed was shaped and designed to be the ultimate in pest control. With a broad chest, well-muscled body, strong jaws, and thick neck, the American shorthair is the quintessential example of feline beauty.
American shorthairs are a medium- to large-size cat breed with a thick, dense coat that has a tendency to thicken during the winter months. Grooming is minimal for their tight, short coats. American shorthair colors include white, blue, black, cream, red, silver, golden, brown, cameo, and chinchilla. Patterns can be calico, solid, bi-color, tabby, smoke, tortoiseshell, and shaded. Although brown or silver tabby is the most common and treasured color patterns. Eye color can vary with coat color but include green, blue, copper, gold, hazel, or odd-eyed (each eye of a different color). Unlike its close relative the domestic shorthair which comes in a variety of styles and body types, the purebred American shorthair cats all have a similar appearance.
For a cat breed that was originally developed only to kill rats and mice, American shorthairs have an amazingly sweet and affectionate personality. They love to be around their family and are even fine being carried about by younger humans. American shorthair cats are known for being easy-going and docile, yet curious enough to make an entertaining companion. They’re also fine with other furry family members as long as they are introduced properly. American shorthairs love attention, but aren’t demanding about it and are generally pretty quiet.
The American shorthair is a versatile breed, ready and willing to live anywhere. After all, they started out living on ships and farms, so any comfortable apartment or home will be just fine with them. They are an intelligent breed that enjoys interactive games as well as traditional cat toys such as felt mice, plastic balls, and fishing teasers. Like other breeds, the American shorthair will enjoy climbing on a cat tree or sunning on a padded shelf by a bright window. Yet, when it’s not off exploring, an American shorthair will be just as happy taking a cat nap on your bed or lap. This breed is fine being left on its own and won’t destroy your home if left alone for the day.
Just because the American shorthair has a short, dense coat doesn’t mean you can skip on grooming. A weekly brushing, especially when your kitty is shedding its winter coat, will eliminate dead hair, dirt, and any potential mats. These cats have thicker seasonal coats. Ingrid Johnson, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant, Cat Groomer, and author of Fundamentally Feline uses a special brushing technique. For this breed, “I comb quite vigorously,” she says. “Then I comb backwards to agitate the coat; it gets out a lot of the coat,” she says. She suggests regular grooming for your cat. “If you maintain your cat’s coat, it’s a lot more pleasant for the cat,” she says.
American shorthairs don’t need much extra social care because they can be self-entertaining when they have to be. Otherwise, they are quite social and when you have friends over, an American shorthair will roam around happily like it owns the place. (Let’s face it, all cats “own” the places they live).
When you have generations of working cats in your ancestry, you can be assured this cat has evolved to be a rugged, healthy breed. An American shorthair’s lifespan can be anywhere from 15 to 20 years and they don’t really have any breed-specific health issues. Some animals can develop hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) or hip dysplasia, but this is fairly rare in this breed. Otherwise, with regular vaccinations, an American shorthair will remain healthy and happy. Of course, like other breeds, the American shorthair needs regular dental and nail care and should always be spayed or neutered and kept indoors at all times.
If the Daughters of the Revolution had a feline counterpart, the American shorthair would be on the top of the list. It has been documented that a calico cat was on board the Mayflower and quickly gave birth upon landing in Massachusetts. Bred for their rat killing prowess, this amazing breed quickly spread across the country, often selling for 50 to 100 dollars in locations where rat plagues were common. By the 1890s, American shorthairs had developed such a following they were first shown at the first national cat show in Madison Square Garden in 1895. By 1906, it was one of the first breeds recognized by the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA). It is believed that without the American shorthair, the history of our country might have been radically different if the early settlers, farmers, ranchers, and miners didn’t have these cats to protect their harvests or to keep them safe from the plague.
The image of an American shorthair has appeared in a wide variety of advertising campaigns including the Royal Canin cat food line and even the board game Cat-opoly.
- Writer Mark Twain was a huge cat fan and owned a number of animals that in vintage photos look a lot like today’s American shorthair (remember they were not called American shorthair until 1906). He once said, “If a man could be crossed with a cat, it would improve the man, but deteriorate the cat.”