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Choosing a Russian Blue

By: J. Anne Helgren

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The Russian blue, a gentle, courteous cat that wears a perpetual Mona Lisa smile, is a growing favorite with fanciers. Although currently still rare, an increasing number of cat lovers are discovering the joys of singing rhapsodies in blue. With his vivid green eyes, silver-blue coat and pleasing body style, the Russian blue is a strikingly beautiful breed. And his pleasing personality and playful temperament make him a delightful companion.

History and Origin

The Russian blue has been around long enough for its ancestry to be shrouded in legend and conjecture. According to accounts, the Russian blue has existed for centuries in the White Sea port town of Archangel in northern Russia, about 150 miles from the Arctic Circle. No direct evidence exists to prove this, but the breed's thick coat gives credence to the theory that they developed in a cold climate, and, according to reports, blue shorthairs still exist in Russia today.

It's thought that British sailors transported Russian blue cats to Great Britain in the 1860s. At the first modern day cat show held at London's Crystal Palace in 1871, a Russian blue was shown under the name "Archangel Cat." Early photos show the cat as a solid blue feline of foreign type with a short, dense, glossy coat. Besides Archangel Cat, in the past the breed was also known as the Spanish blue, foreign blue and Maltese blue. Over the years, the term "Maltese" came to mean any solid blue cat.

In 1912, the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) acknowledged that the Russian blue was distinctly different from the British blues with which it had been competing and granted the breed a class of its own. The breed made good progress until World War II when it almost ceased to exist. While people were struggling to stay alive, maintaining their cats' bloodlines wasn't their main priority.

During the 1940s and 1950s, two breeder groups, one in Britain and one in Scandinavia, worked to save the breed from extinction by crossbreeding the few hardy survivors with other breeds like the bluepoint Siamese and the British blue. In 1965, a group of British breeders began efforts to restore the Russian blue to its original appearance by breeding together the lines developed in Scandinavia and Britain.

The Russian blue arrived in America in the early 1900s, but it was not until the 1960s that serious attempts at promoting and developing the breed began. Imports from Britain helped improve the U.S. stock, and today America's Russian blue is considered so highly that examples of the breed have been sent to Europe to improve their bloodlines. While still uncommon, the Russian blue has gained an enthusiastic following both in North America and in nearly every other continent of the world.

Appearance

The Russian blue's body style is "foreign," which means long, lithe and slender. While appearing slim, the Russian blue is actually quite muscular and strong and can leap to the top of the tallest bookcase with ease. Its head is wedge-shaped, but the face appears more broad than it actually is because of the wide set of the eyes and the thick facial fur. The large ears are also set far apart and are wide at the base. The slight upturn to the corners of the mouth make Russian blues appear to be forever smiling at some secret joke. The eyes are always vivid green.

This breed's most distinctive feature – its beautiful coat – is silky, plush and so dense it stands out from the body. The thick undercoat gives the coat its density, and no doubt helped protect the cat from the harsh winters in its native land.

The Russian blue, as one might expect, comes in only one color and pattern – solid blue. The color that cat fanciers call blue is actually gray to the rest of us. The coat's outer hairs are decorated with silver tipping that reflects light, giving the coat a silvery sheen. Although blue is the only color accepted by the North American registries, other colors are accepted in other countries. The Australian Cat Federation (ACF), for example, accepts the Russian in blue, black, and white.

Personality

Russian blues are gentle, reserved cats that usually can be found under the bed when strangers come to call. Russian blues like their usual routine and dislike environmental changes more than the average cat. With their own chosen humans, however, they are playful and affectionate and develop close bonds of loyalty and love. Active but not annoyingly so, Russian blues like nothing better than retrieving a tossed cat toy or chasing sunbeams for your amusement. Agile and light-footed, blues pussyfoot about the house with the grace of small, furry dancers.

It usually takes some time to develop a relationship with this breed, but fanciers say it's well worth the extra effort. In time, blues become deeply devoted companions that crave your attention. When you're home, they follow you around, unobtrusive but loyal, and show their affection with forehead kisses, shoulder perching and purrs of affection. Blues are vocally quiet and well behaved and usually are easy to train. After you've developed a bond, blues want to please and a simple "no" is generally all that's needed to discourage unruly behavior.

Grooming

Since the coat is dense and he possesses a thick undercoat, the Russian blue does require some grooming to look its best. Figure a good combing with a good quality steel comb at least once a week, and two to three times a week during the seasonal shedding periods. The Russian blue generally goes through two yearly sheddings – once in the fall when they shed their summer coat and once in the spring when they shed their winter coat.

Cost

Pet quality Russian blue kittens range around $400 to $700, depending upon the breeder and area. Some breeders do not differentiate between breeder and show quality, figuring if the cat's not good enough to show it shouldn't be bred, either. Breeder and show quality kittens start at $800 and go up to $2,000, depending upon bloodlines, conformation, quality of coat and color, and show prospects.

Association Acceptance

  • American Association of Cat Enthusiasts (AACE)
  • American Cat Association (ACA)
  • American Cat Fancier's Association (ACFA)
  • Canadian Cat Association (CCA)
  • Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA)
  • Cat Fanciers' Federation (CFF)
  • The International Cat Association (TICA)
  • United Feline Organization (UFO)

    Special Notes

    The breed is relatively rare, and most breeders maintain waiting lists. It's more important to find a good breeder than to find the first available kitten. When choosing a kitten, keep in mind that Russian blues are usually reserved around strangers. Shyness is not necessarily an indication that the kitten won't make a great companion once you establish a relationship. See how the kittens interact with the breeder and family to get an idea of their personalities and to gauge the amount of handling the kittens have received.

    Because of this breed's natural shyness, early handling is vital if the kittens are to grow up to be well-socialized cats. That means you want a breeder who has raised the kittens "underfoot," and has given each kitten an ample amount of handling and attention. Russian blue kittens need consistent handling and a stimulating environment to help them overcome their innate shyness.

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