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The American Shorthair is the pedigreed version of the well-known and beloved domestic shorthair. This versatile cat can be bred for any number of colors and patterns, including the popular silver tabby.
The aptly-named American Shorthair has some interesting family history: His ancestors arrived on the Mayflower (maybe even earlier!), making their way to the New World alongside pilgrims, sailors, and adventurers.
Most of us have either lived with or come across a domestic shorthair, a cat that closely resembles the pedigreed American Shorthair. The one difference between the two breeds: Unlike domestic shorthairs, which come in a variety of looks, the American Shorthair produces kittens with the same distinct appearance.
The American Shorthair is an easygoing and tolerant cat who takes life as it comes — preferably while perched on a sunny windowsill where he can indulge in his favorite hobby of bird-watching. If he’s well socialized as a kitten, he’ll happily interact with guests — toddlers should be supervised, so they don’t tug on his whiskers or tail — as well as cat-friendly canine companions.
Like so many other immigrants to the United States, the ancestors of the American Shorthair arrived by ship. They had one job to do once they disembarked: Rid homes, farms, and businesses of mice and other small vermin. There’s no doubt that they came over on the Mayflower, and it’s likely that earlier settlers, such as those at Jamestown, also brought cats with them to the New World.
During the 19th century, cat shows became popular and domestic shorthairs — as they were originally called — were exhibited alongside pedigreed cats. Breeders eventually began to select for the specific traits that now define the American Shorthair: a large head, a face with full cheeks and a sweet expression, a wide muzzle, a powerful jaw, and that coat of many colors. In 1966, the cats were given the name American Shorthair to differentiate them from random-bred felines. They are now the eighth most popular breed registered by the Cat Fanciers Association.
The affectionate and friendly American Shorthair is adaptable to the needs of his family, making him an excellent companion for everyone from singles to seniors. Although he doesn’t demand constant affection, the American Shorthair is content to spend time with you and loves being held — just be sure to support his back feet to help him feel comfortable. When he does want attention, he’ll give you a little “Hey, look at me!” love bite.
American Shorthairs are good at entertaining themselves, but they also appreciate interactive play that involves “hunting” the lure at the end of a fishing-pole toy, batting at a big peacock feather or figuring out how to release treats from a puzzle toy. They’re smart, trainable, and willing to learn things — like using a scratching post in place of your couch.
Since they are social cats, American Shorthairs also enjoy the company of other animals, including dogs. But they’re not terribly talkative; their expressions communicate their needs instead. Perhaps their best attribute: Patience — which no doubt contributes to their success as hunters.
The American Shorthair is generally healthy, but one health issue that can affect the breed is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common form of heart disease in cats. It causes thickening (hypertrophy) of the heart muscle. An echocardiogram can confirm whether a cat has HCM. Avoid breeders who claim to have HCM-free lines. No one can guarantee that their cats will never develop HCM. American Shorthairs that will be bred should be screened for HCM, and cats identified with HCM should be removed from breeding programs. Do not buy a kitten whose parents have not been tested for this disease.
Brush the American Shorthair weekly with a stainless steel comb or a rubber curry brush to keep his thick coat shiny and healthy. The rest is basic care: aside from regular ear cleaning, trim his nails as needed, usually every 10 days to two weeks.
You want your American Shorthair to be happy and healthy, so do your homework before you bring him home. For reputable breeder recommendations, check out these websites: Cat Fanciers Association, Fanciers Breed Referral List, and The International Cat Association.
A reputable breeder will abide by a code of ethics that prohibits sales to pet stores and wholesalers and outlines the breeder’s responsibilities to their cats and to buyers. Choose a breeder who has performed the health certifications necessary to screen out genetic health problems to the extent that is possible, as well as one who raises kittens in the home. Kittens who are isolated can become fearful and skittish and may be difficult to socialize later in life.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include kittens always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any kitten, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your feline friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and unhealthy catteries can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick kitten, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy kittens.
Put at least as much effort into researching your kitten as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Once you find the right breeder, be patient. American Shorthairs are popular and most breeders have waiting lists — even for pet-quality kittens. If you want a particular pattern or color, it’s not uncommon to have to wait six months or more for a kitten to become available. Many breeders won't release kittens to new homes until they’re between 12 and 16 weeks of age.
Before you decide to buy a kitten, consider whether an adult American Shorthair may better suit your lifestyle. Kittens are loads of fun, but they’re also a lot of work and can be destructive until they reach the more sedate adult years. If you’re interested in acquiring an older cat, ask breeders about purchasing a retired show or breeding cat who needs a new home.
A breeder isn’t the only source for an adult cat. Pedigreed American Shorthairs aren’t usually found in shelters, but their domestic shorthair cousins are readily available. If you’d prefer to have a pedigreed cat, contact local shelters, peruse the listings on Petfinder, Adopt-a-Pet.com or ask breeders if they know of any American Shorthairs in need of a new home.
Regardless of how you acquire your American Shorthair, make sure that you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group. In states with “pet lemon laws,” confirm that you and the person you get the cat from both understand your rights and recourses.
Once you’ve found a good American Shorthair match, take your kitten or adult to a veterinarian as soon as possible to detect problems quickly, as well as set up a preventative regimen to prevent future health issues.
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