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Choosing a Domestic Shorthair

By: J. Anne Helgren

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While the domestic shorthair is not considered a breed as such by the cat associations, it always will be best of breed in American homes and hearts. And since an estimated 95 percent of all domestic cats in North America are random-bred, our "ordinary" everyday short-coated house cats win the popularity contest paws down. There's nothing ordinary about them. Random-bred or mixed breed shorthaired cats, with their healthy mix of genes and diverse personalities, colors, patterns, and body styles, make champion companions. The smallest domestic shorthair deserves just as much love, quality care, and respect as the finest grand champion purebred.

History and Origin

Shorthaired domestics have been with us from the earliest days of domestication. It's thought that our modern day domestics are descendants of the shorthaired African wildcat, Felis silvestris lybica. Put them side to side, and you might have a difficult time distinguishing the African wildcat from your average shorthaired tabby-striped couch cougar. These wildcats interbred easily with domestic cats, so easily, in fact, that conservationists fear the African wildcat will become extinct as a pure species.

Around 10,000 years ago, when humans evolved from hunter-gatherers to members of settled communities who grew and stored food, cats learned that humans provided a reliable food source -- the rodents attracted to the stored food supplies. At first, these shorthaired, shy felines lived at the edges of settled communities. Humans soon discovered that these cats were useful in ridding the granaries and fields of ravaging rodents, and a symbiotic relationship developed. Although cats were first welcomed for their rodent and snake-killing abilities, around 4,000 years ago in Egypt cats became beloved household companions as well. Later, during the time of the Egyptian cat cult, cats were considered sacred physical manifestations of the goddess Bast.

The Egyptians were fiercely protective of their sacred felines, but eventually Phoenician traders transported cats to Europe and the British Isles. Romans smuggled cats out of Egypt and brought them along into conquered regions such as France, Germany, Holland and Spain. Buddhist Monks transported cats to the Orient.

With the advent of sailing ships, cats were transported to new areas, including the New World. They appear in American paintings and needlework samplers of the 1600s and 1700s, indicating that cats arrived with the pilgrims or shortly after. These hardy shorthaired feline immigrants established themselves in America and today the domestic shorthair enjoys a worldwide popularity.

Appearance

The variety of the domestic shorthair knows no bounds. Big or small, white or black, calico patched or tabby striped, the shorthaired American domestic is diverse and outnumbers the domestic longhair approximately 10 to one. Coat type, pattern, and color vary from place to place, and certain areas often have a greater number of, say, tabbies, calicos, or solids, or the ever popular tuxedo cat, with her black and white formal wear. Nothing is remarkable about this. Cats choose mates from their immediate vicinity. If that area has many cats with tabby coats, those cats will pass along their dominant tabby genes to their offspring.

Body type also varies depending upon area as well. Cats from colder climates tend to have stockier bodies and denser coats, while cats from warmer regions have slimmer bodies and thinner coats.

Sometimes, a domestic shorthair looks like a particular pedigreed breed. For example, a domestic shorthair can possess the colorpoint pattern of the Siamese, or may possess the short, solid blue coat of the Russian blue. However, usually these cats merely resemble their pedigreed cousins, and are random-bred domestics rather than purebreds that somehow found their way into the domestic cat population.

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