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September 15, 2021 |0 min read

American Shorthair Cat Breed: A Comprehensive Guide

Written by

Sharilyn Vera

Are you looking for a cat that will be a playful, gentle companion for years to come? If so, look no further than the American Shorthair. This American icon is the purebred cat version of the more common mixed-breed Shorthair, and they are one of the most adaptable pets out there.

American Shorthair cats are super smart, devoted fur babies that are easy to train and groom. They’re famous for their robust health, sweet personality, and friendly nature toward children, dogs, and other pets.

Breed Overview

Before we dive in, let’s introduce you to the American Shorthair with some basics:

  • Height – 8 to 10 inches
  • Weight – 10 to 15 pounds
  • Lifespan – 15 to 20 years, indoor
  • Temperament – Sociable, affectionate, and bold
  • Intelligence – High
  • Coat Length – Short
  • Shedding – Yes, medium amount
  • Activity Level – Active
  • Colors – White, black, orange, blue, red, gray, cream, beige, tan, chocolate, sable
  • Patterns – Bi-color, solid, tabby, tri-color, calico

History of the Breed

The American Shorthair cat is a direct descendant of European cats that were brought to America in the early 1600s. The earliest written evidence of this breed is a 1634 publication crediting Shorthairs with saving New England crops from squirrels and chipmunks.

In fact, American Shorthairs are thought to be descended from other domestic Shorthairs, such as those that:

  • Traveled on the Mayflower in 1620
  • Lived with the first settlers of Jamestown
  • Sailed with the Spanish explorers to Florida 

These domestic shorthair cats weren’t pampered pets, but working cats prized for their ability to protect the grain harvests from mice, and catch rodents aboard ships and inside households. Europeans and early Americans bred these cats for their hunting prowess.

In fact, without these agile hunters protecting the harvests of early American settlers, farmers, ranchers, and miners, the history of the United States could have been radically different. 

Over time, people began to adore them for their beauty, affectionate personality, and hunting skills, and soon invited them into their homes as pets.

Since then, American Shorthairs were selectively bred for their hardy build and revered for their: 

  • Beautiful faces
  • Loving nature
  • Striking colors

While this breed greatly resembles alley cats, purebred American Shorthairs can consistently produce kittens of the same appearance, coat quality, and constitution, whereas a mixed-breed cannot.

Fun Fact: In the late 19th century, cat connoisseurs had an interest in developing and showing shorthaired breeds that represented the North American working cat. A brown tabby cat was offered for sale for $2,500 at the Second Annual Cat Fanciers’ Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1896. In 1906, the association officially recognized the cat as one of its first five registered breeds.

Physical Characteristics

The American Shorthair is a classic example of feline beauty. This gorgeous, medium-sized breed has a compact, athletic body that was originally designed for pest control. 

They also have a broad chest, muscular body, and strong-boned legs, as well as a large, round head, strong jaws, and rounded eyes and ears that come to a soft tip at the ends. American Shorthairs can weigh anywhere from 10 to 15 pounds and can live 15 to 20 years. 

These agile cats excel at vigorous exercise and can swiftly jump up on tables and countertops, and find their way up to the highest corners of your home.

American Shorthair cats require very little maintenance to keep their ultra-soft coat glistening, and they don’t shed as much as long-haired cats. The silver tabby is one of the most common; however, other colors of this breed include:

  • White
  • Black
  • Blue
  • Cream
  • Orange
  • Red
  • Brown
  • Cameo
  • Chinchilla 

American Shorthairs can also present a variety of patterns, including: 

  • Calico
  • Solid
  • Bi-color
  • Brindle
  • Smoke
  • Tortoiseshell
  • Shaded 

The eye colors of American Shorthairs vary but typically include green, blue, copper, gold, hazel, or odd-eyed (with each eye presenting a different color). Unlike its mixed-breed relative, American Shorthairs are all quite similar in appearance. 

Personality

For a domestic cat that was originally bred to kill mice and rats, American Shorthairs have an incredibly sweet, playful, and easygoing personality. They love being part of the family and don’t even mind being carried around by children. Their entertaining temperament fluctuates between docile, curious, and active at different times of the day, 

American Shorthairs are even friendly and downright loving with other pets such as dogs, as long as they are introduced properly. While these animals love attention, they aren’t particularly demanding about it, and they do enjoy their solitude. American Shorthairs have no problem being left alone for hours at a time.

Behavior Characteristics

A versatile breed, American Shorthairs have a genetic predisposition to thrive in many environments. Most often, American Shorthairs will be comfortable living in most spaces, from a large house to a small apartment—or anything in between. After all, they started out dwelling on ships and farms in early America.

These furry companions will follow you around the house when you’re home, and will also entertain themselves when you’re gone.

American Shorthair fur babies also seek out warmth and love to sleep in the sun for hours. They may even curl up in your lap like a puddle of fur or lay beside you luxuriously while you read a book or watch TV.

Highly intelligent, the American Shorthair loves to play with toys and games. They enjoy:

  • Felt mice filled with catnip
  • Fishing teasers with dangly feathers
  • Laser lights to chase around
  • Plastic rolling balls with bells chiming inside

The American Shorthair is also sensitive, curious, and loves to explore. Many of their behaviors are underlying instincts carried down the generations from their wild ancestors—they will scour your home to find potential hiding spaces, as they seem to particularly like being able to observe their environment without being seen. 

They also love to claim their favorite spots, such as the back of the couch or a cozy nook.

In the wild, climbing trees was part of these cat’s daily life. As such, providing your cat with boxes or a tall, multi-tiered condo to climb will enrich their indoor environment and provide them (and you) with endless entertainment.

Like other cats, American Shorthairs are nocturnal, so it’s natural for them to be more active at night. When left alone during the day, they will often spend most of the time sleeping. 

Because your cat American Shorthair is on the opposite schedule as you are, providing them with toys during the day can help to keep them more active during the day, and playing with them before bedtime can help them expend energy, so you can both get more sleep at night.

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Grooming & Care

Most cats take a keen sense of pride in their appearance, spending almost half of their waking hours primping and preening themselves to furry perfection. With their sand-paper tongues, your American Shorthair is eager to groom themselves, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t help them with their pampering routine.

As their name describes, the American Shorthair has a dense, short-haired coat that grows thicker in the winter months and sheds in the summer. Very little grooming is required for this breed, but brushing a few times a week will:

  • Remove dead hair, dirt, and potential mats
  • Distribute skin oils to keep their coat sleek and shiny
  • Prevent dry, itchy skin

Shorthairs tend to enjoy it when their humans brush them, and they will reward you with purring affection.

Starting a regular grooming routine at a young age is essential as it will become a part of their regular routine:

  1. Use a fine-toothed metal comb to remove any mats or tangles

  2. Grab a natural bristle brush to comb the coat vigorously. First, brush backward toward the head, then brush upward against the fur to eradicate dirt, dead hair, and skin. 

As with any cat, American Shorthairs also need quick but frequent physical exams to check your cat’s pearly whites, eyes, and ears. Along with the cat’s exams, you’ll also want to make sure there are no lumps or bumps beneath the skin. While you examine your kitty, use soothing words, treats, and loving strokes to keep them calm and happy.

Nail Trimming

American Shorthairs need their nails regularly checked to see if it’s time for a trim. If they spend most of their time outdoors, or you have a good scratching post in the home, your cat will most likely not need nail trimmings. 

Similarly, outdoor cats need their nails for climbing and defending themselves, and will only need nail trimming if the nails are at risk of:

  • Overgrowing – If your cat’s nails are long and curved, it’s probably time for a trim. 
  • Ingrowing – Weekly checks and occasional trimming also prevent ingrown claws, which are characterized by claws growing inward into the pads of the foot, much like an ingrown toenail. Severe cases of ingrown claws can often cause painful symptoms and infection.

Trimming a cat’s claws requires a specially designed cat-claw trimming tool. These are available at pet stores and the vet’s office. 

Note: Scissors and human nail clippers should never be used.

In order to trim your cat’s nails:

  1. Press your cat’s paw gently between your thumb and forefinger to unsheathe the claw.
  2. Snip off only the transparent tip of the claw.
  3. Never clip higher than that, or you will snip into a blood vessel and it will be very painful, and likely to bleed. 

You may want to have another human nearby to help you with this process, as your cat could become agitated. Additionally, consult a vet immediately if the bleeding is excessive or you can’t get it to stop with pressure.

If you don’t feel comfortable trimming your Shorthair’s nails yourself, it can be done at the vet’s office, too.

Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth

Just like humans, the American Shorthair needs daily dental care to keep their teeth strong, healthy, and dental disease free. More than half of cats have periodontal disease, which is an infection of the tissues surrounding the teeth. This starts out as gingivitis, a result of plaque coming into contact with the gums. If you don’t brush your cat’s teeth regularly, periodontal disease can progress and result in tooth loss or decay.

Training them to allow you to brush their teeth takes time and patience, but it’s relatively easy once they’re used to the process. 

Daily brushing is the most beneficial, but brushing at least 3 times a week is sufficient. When brushing your cat’s teeth, follow these steps:

  1. Choose a quiet place or a time when your domestic cat is tired
  2. Place your cat in your lap or on a surface such as a table, safely, with their bed or a towel beneath them.
  3. Never use toothpaste intended for humans—Use cat toothpaste and a toothbrush designed specifically for cats.
  4. Gently brush along the gum area where the tissues touch the teeth, on the outside surfaces only.
  5. Brush 30 seconds per each side of the mouth, being sure to reach the back teeth on either side.
  6. Don’t worry about brushing the inner side of the teeth, as most of the damage from gingivitis occurs on the outer edges. 

Cats’ mouths have a lot of bacteria, so either wear gloves or wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after brushing. Also, it’s important to replace the toothbrush every 3 months.

Always Spay or Neuter Your Cat

Spaying or neutering can help your furry friend lead a longer, healthier life. Generally, it’s safest to spay or neuter your cat when they are between eight weeks to five months old. However, you should always check with a vet.

The benefits of spaying and neutering go beyond preventing a cat from reproducing. These procedures can lead to longer life expectancy, and lessen the chances of malignant breast cancer and urinary tract infections in female cats.

Did You Know?

Want to know more about the American Shorthair? Take a look at these little-known facts:

  • The American Shorthair was exhibited at the first U.S. cat shows starting in 1895.
  • The Cat Fanciers’ Association recognized the American Shorthair as one of five founding breeds in 1906.
  • The breed was named American Shorthair in 1966 to distinguish it from other short-haired cats.
  • American author Mark Twain was a zealous cat fan and owned several American Shorthairs. He once wrote, “If man could be crossed with the cat, it would improve the man but deteriorate the cat.”

Give Yourself and Your American Shorthair the Best with PrettyLitter

American Shorthairs are a wonderful breed of cat that any home would be lucky to have. One thing a home isn’t lucky to have? The stench of smelly litter. 

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Pretty Litter is a silica cat litter that traps odor instantly and eliminates moisture, so you’ll never have to hold your nose while you walk by the litter box again. 

Cats are also notorious for hiding health problems. Luckily, Pretty Litter changes color to alert you to a potential health issue before it becomes urgent. With Pretty Litter, you can save money on expensive vet bills. 

Our litter is also cleaner and safer than traditional litter—Pretty Litter is made from clean materials that help control odor and reduce dust. It’s family- and pet-friendly too!

Sources: 

Purina. “American Shorthair Cat.” https://www.purina.com/cats/cat-breeds/american-shorthair

Daily Paws. “Cat Breeds: American Shorthair.” https://www.dailypaws.com/cats-kittens/cat-breeds/american-shorthair

WebMD. Cat Nail Clipping: How and When to Cut Nails” https://pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/cat-nail-clipping-care#1

VCA Hospitals. “Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth.” https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/brushing-teeth-in-cats

The Cat Fanciers’ Association. “The American Shorthair.” https://cfa.org/american-shorthair/

Written by

Sharilyn Vera

Sharilyn is a proud cat owner, long time storyteller and researcher. Her work spans beloved podcasts, television shows, media outlets, and independent documentaries. She likes to strike a balance between education and comedy, which you can hopefully tell when you read her articles!

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