The Chartreux cat breed is one of the most well-loved in Europe and yet there are lots of questions around the origins of the breed and whether they should be recognized as a distinct breed at all. They are sometimes incorrectly referred to as Maltese or Korat cats.
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Everybody recognises these soft cats with their blue-grey coat and yellow eyes. The cats in the Sheba cat food advertisements are from the same breed. People sometimes refer to these cats as Maltese cats, which is simply a term used to describe cats with grey fur including long-haired Angora cats, to British Shorthairs with blue-grey fur, as well as Chartreux cats.
The Chartreux Cat Breed
The Chartreux is one of the oldest recorded cat breeds, thought to originate in the Middle East, in Syria or the mountainous regions between Turkey and Iran. The breed was originally sold for its thick, soft fur, which is how it made its way into France via the Middle East. Systematic breeding of the Chartreux began in the 1920’s with the Léger sisters who found a colony of the cats on Belle-Ile-sur-Mer, an island off Brittany. These semi-feral, free-roaming cats formed the neucleus of the modern Chartreux breed. The breed was first shown in 1931, with the name “Mignonne de Guerveur“ (or ‘dainty guardian’).
The free roaming cats of the Breton Isles shaped the distictive appearance of the Chartreux. These cats are strong and muscular with a well developed, angular muzzle and a wedge-shaped head. The head is broad at the neck and narrow at the forehead, with well developed cheeks, framing the face like a hood, particularly in males. The cheeks can help you distinguish males from females. The ears are set high on the head and erect, and tend to be close together. The body is muscular and well rounded, with medium-length legs that are muscular at the rear, finished with large, round paws. The Chartreux has very striking yellow eyes, with colours ranging from very dark yellow to copper. Their blue-grey fur is short and very thick – a thicker undercoat helps to give the coat a ‘woolly‘ appearance.
The blue-grey colour of the coat comes from an autosomal recessive gene that causes the black pigment in the fur, Eumelanin, to be diluted to blue. This same gene also causes dilution in the coat colour of other cat breeds, turning ginger to cream and brown to lilac.
In spite of the similarity in coat colour, the appearance of the Chartreux is decidedly different to other blue-grey breeds such as the Russian Blue, British Blue or Korat. Cross-breeding between Chartreux and these different breeds should be avoided.
Chartreux cats are known for their intelligence and sociability with humans. The French often describe them as ‘dog-cats’ because they love to be stroked and play fetch. These cats are very attached to their owners, happy to travel and live a peaceful existence. Their nature means that they make easy, uncomplicated companions – in contrast to some of the louder, oriental cat breeds, the Chartreux has a quiet, gentle ‘miaow’, and often prefers to communicate with a simple chirrup. Their gentleness extends to their sweet, ‘smiling’ faces, with the characteristic ‘Chartreux Smile’.
The Chartreux is a quiet, relaxed cat; highly social and not prone to aggression. This makes them ideal as indoor cats, but they also enjoy the freedom of being outdoors. Their short, thick coat does not tend to tangle and is easy to keep clean. This can be a useful trait in cats that like to explore in the undergrowth and shrub areas of the garden!
If you plan to have just one cat at home, and you plan to keep it indoors full-time, you should ensure that your Chartreux has plenty of entertainment and distractions available, to make sure that it gets enough exercise and intellectual stimulation. Cat trees and scratching posts are good for climbing and physical activity, whilst a selection of different cat beds and hideaways such as cat dens provide somewhere to hide away and relax. Some of the ceiling-height cat trees on the market offer all of these possibilities in one. Cats are notoriously inventive in selecting their own favourite spaces in your home: a spot on a bookshelf might be your cat’s favourite place for a snooze (just add a cat blanket), whilst other cats like to keep strict lookout from a cat cushion placed on a windowsill. If there is space on a radiator, a radiator bed is a great invention for ensuring that your cat has somewhere cosy and snug to relax, high enough off the ground to make sure he can see all around.
The Chartreux type is thought to originate in modern-day Syria. They were introduced into France over ancient trading routes.
Legend has it that the monks of the order of the Grande Chartreuse at Grenoble started breeding Léger Chartreux cats sometime in the middle ages. Even if the Chartreux’s noble and majestic appearance suggests that it would have been a treasured guest in a draughty monastery, this is unlikely to have been the case. The monks devoted themselves less to cat-breeding, but rather to the production of a herbal liqueur called "Elixir de Vegetal de Chartreuse". It is more likely that the monks were active in the fur and cloth trade, using the Chartreux to create the carthusian wool that was well-known in France in the 16th century. Carthusian cats were prized for their wool and fur in the late middle-ages.
Systematic breeding of the Chartreux began in Brittany in the early 20th Century with the Léger sisters, who began to breed from the beautiful colony of semi-feral cats on Belle-Ile-sur-Mer, under the cattery name ‘de Guerveur’.
The breeding stock shrank considerably during the second world war, which led to cross breeding with similar breeds such as the British Shorthair. Modern breed standards do not allow this type of cross breeding, but it does help to explain the similarities between the two breeds. It also helps to explain why the international breeders association FIFe gave the blue-grey colouring of both races the classification ‘Chartreux’ in the early 1970s. Cross-breeding with Persian cats also altered the genuine make-up of the Chartreux during that period. The blue-grey coat was the remaining common feature.
At the same time, the few remaining original pure-breed Chartreux in France, Belgium and the Netherlands were selectively bred and spread to other countries in Europe, which allowed the genuine breed characteristics to be preserved. In 1977 FIFe designated the Chartreux as a distinct breed with its own breed standards, which means that only ‘true’ Chartreux can now be described as such. However, some people still describe blue-grey coloured British Shorthairs as ‘Chartreux’, so clearly some confusion still exists.
If you are interested in owning a genuine Chartreux cat, it would be wise to go to a registered professional breeder.
If you’ve fallen in love with the Chartreux with its friendly, smiling face, gentle nature and soft coat, you may want to find out more about breeders. High prices may mean you are tempted to buy from someone who claims to sell pure-bred cats without certification, but be warned: these sellers tend to place more emphasis on producing a lot of animals for sale, than on any ethical considerations. Chartreux cats are bred across the UK and mainland Europe and there are many reputable breeders that care for the welfare of their animals.
Registered breeders will ensure that cat parents are paired to minimise any risk of inbreeding or passing on genetic defects and to ensure that the kittens produced meet the breed standards. A caring cat breeder will not allow mother cats to breed continually, instead allowing the mother cats to have recovery time between litters. Rearing a litter of kittens is an exhausting process for both mother cat and it costs the breeder money, time and effort. A top breeder will provide round-the-clock care for his or her feline charges. It is also important that any breeders that you approach do not offer to sell you kittens younger than 12 weeks, because young kittens need time to grow, learn and develop essential life skills before they can leave their mother. They also need time to play and fight with their brothers and sisters and grow used to gentle contact with humans before they are ready for life in the big, wide world! A good breeder ensure that the kittens are well fed with a good quality, breed-specific food, that they receive regular health checks from the vet, and that they are well socialised prior to allowing them to go to their new homes. Some breeders will offer to have the kitten immunized and neutered for a supplementary charge, but this is generally your responsibility as the owner. The breeder should be able to provide you with written evidence of health checks and immunisations as well as any relevant breed papers when you collect your kitten.
If you would like to own a pure-breed Chartreux you can expect to pay up to £1000 for a kitten. At that price you are not just paying for the privilege of owning a pure-breed, but for the work that is put into caring for the cats and kittens by the breeder. Cat rearing is an expensive business. Responsible breeders set great store by keeping their breeding cats healthy and feeding them a proper, high-quality diet. Mother cats should be regularly checked by a vet whilst they are pregnant and more vet visits are required once the kittens have arrived to check that they are healthy.
Health and Welfare
Buying from a registered breeder is the first step to making sure that your cat is healthy and unlikely to suffer from inherited defects. Good breeding has meant that the Chartreux breed as a whole tends not to be prone to genetic problems. One exception is FNI, or Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis. It is common for Chartreux cats to be blood type B. Pairing a queen with blood type B with a male of blood type A or AB risks cases of Feline Neonatal Isoerythrolysis in the kittens. If a mother cat with blood type B produces a kitten with blood type A (which it may do if the father cat is type A/ AB), the antibodies produced in the mother’s milk are toxic to the kitten. The milk of a mother cat of blood type B contains antibodies against blood type A, which leads to red blood cells being excreted in the kitten’s urine, leading to anaemia, which can be fatal in acute cases of FNI. The Chartreux breed shows the highest predisposition (44%) for FNI.
The good news is that it is easy enough to prevent a pairing of cats with incompatible blood groups. If you are considering using your Chartreux for breeding purposes it is essential that you determine their blood group prior to breeding from them. All reputable breeders do this as a matter of course, to help to prevent FNI.
Care and Keeping of your Chartreux
Apart from the genetic abnormality mentioned above, the Chartreux is easy to care for and robust. Their quiet ‘miaow’ and friendly, sociable nature makes them a versatile pet as they are happy both indoors and out. They get along well with other cats and humans and also tend to respond well to dogs. However, although they are known for their relaxed attitude to life, it is important not to cause them too much stress. They do not need to be kept in pairs, so long as there is enough human contact for them to feel secure and loved.
It is sensible to feed your Chartreux a species appropriate diet. Cats are meat eaters and their digestion can only cope with small amounts of carbohydrate. This means that it is important to feed your cat a diet that is high in good quality animal protein, with a few plant-based ingredients to make sure that it gets the right nutrition to stay healthy.
Annual check-ups are essential for all cat breeds, and will include annual vaccination boosters, plus a full health check including listening to the cat’s heart and lungs and a check of their teeth to rule out tooth decay. Cats that are allowed outside also need to have regular treatment against fleas and other pests. Microchipping your cat is vital, in case it goes missing, and you should always make sure your details are up to date on the microchip register, especially if you are moving house.
To care for your cat’s overall wellbeing, it is a good idea to create a cat-friendly environment in your home. Ideally your Chartreux should have lots of opportunities to behave naturally, which means scratching, hiding, resting and playing. It is particularly important that there is plenty in your home to keep them entertained if you plan to keep them indoors full-time. As the Chartreux are very sociable cats and enjoy human company it is also essential to give them plenty of attention, affection and play. Given their natural charm, it may be hard to tear yourself away!