The British may be known for their staunch tradition, but when it comes to cats, they’re pioneers of progressive breeding techniques.
Let’s take a closer look at 10 of Britain’s most recognizable cat breeds!
1. British Shorthair
This is probably the most recognized and oldest cat breed throughout Britain. These cats were believed to have been brought over during the Roman period and were used to help keep the rodent population down. However, after WWI, British Shorthair numbers fell drastically. To revitalize the breed, they were mated with Persian cats. The breed bounced back; however, that joy was short-lived. When WWII came, the population once again declined and Persian cats were once again needed to reinforce the gene pool. But today, they are quite populous and among the most common cats across the UK.
2. British Semi-Longhair
The British Semi-Longhair came about as the result of the crossbreeding between British Shorthairs and Persians during the two World Wars. The intermingling of genes between the two is vastly spread, but they are still classified as separate breeds. This means that two “pure-bred” British Shorthairs can produce a British Semi-Longhair breed!
3. Scottish Fold
These adorable little buggers are the result of a genetic mutation first discovered in 1961. On a farm near Coupar Angus, Scotland, a white kitten named Susie was born to owners Mr. and Mrs. McRae with unusual folded ears. The couple thought nothing of it until a neighboring farmer and cat enthusiast pointed out the extraordinary feature. Two years later, Susie had her litter with two of the offspring having the same folded ears. And as each generation passed, more of these “lop-eared cats” were born.
4. Scottish Straight
While the Scottish Fold is now a highly sought-after breed, some breeding restrictions limit their viability. Two Scottish Folds cannot mate together as the offspring will have homozygous genes which will lead to skeletal deformities. This means that Scottish Folds must be paired with one of two accepted breeds: the British Shorthair or the American Shorthair. The resulting kittens are born with upright ears; however, they’ll begin to fold over at around three to four weeks. Those kittens whose ears remain upright are known as Scottish Straights.
5. Cornish Rex
In July of 1950, a tortoiseshell cat named Serena gave birth to a healthy litter of five kittens. There was nothing unusual about this except that one of the kittens had been born with an unusually short and curly coat. This cat named Kalli went on to become the progenitor of the Cornish Rex breed.
6. Devon Rex
The Cornish Rex isn’t Britain’s only short curly-coated cat breed. In 1959—nearly ten years after the discovery of the Cornish Rex—a woman named Beryl Cox took in an old stray tom that had been living in a nearby deserted tin mine. And this tom also had an unusual coat. This tom then mated with another of her rescue cats with the litter producing another curly coated offspring.
Shortly after, Beryl saw a photograph in the newspaper for an upcoming cat show featuring Du-Bu Lambtex, a Cornish Rex touted as the only curly-haired cat in Britain. Upon reading, Beryl immediately reached out to Du-Bu’s breeder explaining that she too had a similar situation. This prompted the purchase of Kirlee (Beryl Cox’s kitten) by Mr. Brian Sterling-Webb, a contemporary who worked on the original Cornish Rex breed.
As he went to cross Kirlee with other Cornish Rexes, he discovered something astonishing. All of the offspring produced had straight hair. This meant that the curly-haired gene from both Kirlee and the other Cornish Rex kittens were different and that there had been two entirely separate curly-haired breeds discovered in Britain within ten years.
The Chinchilla is one of the world’s oldest man-made cat breeds. It looks very similar to the flat-faced Persian; however, its facial features aren’t as pronounced. They’re known for their easy going temperament and their beautiful silvery or golden colored coats. The breed first came about in 1882 when a Blue Persian was mated with a stray tom producing a smoke-colored kitten. This smoke-colored cat Persian cross was then later bred with a silver tabby and produced a litter. And it was one of the kittens from this litter which later gave birth to the first Chinchilla male.
Burmillas are a relatively new breed only appearing on the scene in the early 1980s. They came about as the result of accidental breeding when a Lilac Burmese female escaped from her home and mated with a nearby Silver Chinchilla male. The litter produced four short-haired female kittens that were all black-shaded in color. But it wasn’t their coats and beauty that was so intriguing. It was their calm, yet playful intelligent demeanor. And in 1997, the breed was granted recognition.
The Oriental is a very peculiar cat breed. It was first bred in the UK in the 1950s by breeders looking to create a Siamese cat without the traditional color markings associated with it. They’re long and slender beauties that are both intelligent and affectionate to boot. Sometimes referred to as Foreign Shorthairs, this breed was engineered using the lineages of Siamese, Abyssinians, Russian Blues, and domestic shorthairs.
10. Havana Brown
Another of Britain’s man-made cat breeds is the Havana Brown. This breed was first bred during the 1950s when a Siamese male was crossed with a black shorthair female. The resulting litter produced four kittens, three blacks and one very curious brown male. This brown, named Elmtower Bronze Idol, went on to sire other litters and with the help of other breeders established the breed.
British Cat Breeds and Breeding Techniques
As you can see from the cats above, the UK has cat breeding down to an art. They’ve been able to rescue certain varieties from the brink of extinction through specialized breeding, create new breeds through selective crossbreeding, and even harness spontaneous genetic mutations.
Featured image credit: Dzart, Shutterstock