15 February 2024 | Are you looking for an adaptable cat for domestic life, if possible with a long coat? Also commonly referred to as the Highlander, the British Longhair is the semi-longhaired alternative to the British Shorthair, sharing its friendly, even-tempered manner but with a lesser urge for activity.
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The British Longhair is closely related to the British Shorthair in terms of their shared history. After all, both breeds meet the same standard and the only real difference is the British Longhair’s long, soft coat, which came about through cross-breeding with Persian cats.
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British Longhair cats combine the characteristics of British Shorthairs and Persian cats. They are calm, even-tempered animals that in most cases are ideal to be kept in the home. As with most cats, they like attention and love contact with ‘their’ people, especially regular stroking and play sessions.
It is particularly important for house-based animals to take part in extensive play – even cats with outdoor access enjoy playing with their owners. The British Longhair is a very docile cat that likes mental stimulation. Give your cat numerous toys and opportunities to play – from the classic toy mouse to balls or intelligence games, which are now on offer for both cats and dogs. Your cat’s going to love having to hunt for its food!
The myth that cats aren’t trainable only applies in limited cases. It’s true that cats can’t be trained in the same way as dogs, but they are very fast learners. Consistency is important for cats too. For instance, don’t let your cat beg at the table – this is particularly relevant for cat breeds that spend the majority of their day indoors and are therefore less active and more prone to becoming overweight…
Like their shorthaired relatives, Highlanders have a stout body that is ideally muscular but not fat. The legs are short and the chest wide and powerful. Their head is round, whilst the nose is short, wide and slightly indented in contrast to many other longhaired cats. As with the British Shorthair, the ears are small and round. Along with its large, dark round eyes and plushy fur, this makes the British Longhair look like a teddy bear. Females weigh between 4 and 6kg, whilst males weigh up to 8kg. Compared to larger-framed cats like the Maine Coon, the British Shorthair is compact but often appears bigger due to its thick coat.
The most renowned characteristic of the British Longhair breed is its thick semi-long coat. The Highlanders inherited their fur from their Persian forefathers, who were cross-bred with British Shorthair cats. At first the long coat appeared coincidental and longhaired British Shorthair cats were considered an unwanted ‘by-product’ and a collector’s breed, thus were excluded from breeding. Indeed, even nowadays almost all large umbrella associations refuse to recognise the British Longhair as its own breed. Since many shorthaired cats carry the recessive gene for long fur, longhaired cats can still emerge amongst the breed, even if both parents have a short coat.
Since the British Longhair’s coat is shorter than that of the Persian cat, it is classed as ‘semi-long’. An incredibly thick undercoat makes the Highlander’s fur stick out from its body, giving it a very plushy look.
Since the British Longhair is closely related to the British Shorthair, possible colours and markings are very similar. There’s something for every taste amongst the 300+ colour combinations! Silver cats are particularly popular.
The British Longhair originates from breeding British Shorthairs with Persian cats. Originally, such cross-breeding took place in order to increase the British Shorthair gene pool that had become smaller after the First and Second World Wars. The gene for long fur is transmitted recessively, therefore is carried in the breed’s gene pool in a concealed manner. Sometimes longhaired cats are only produced several generations later…
This is also true of the British Shorthair. However, the breeding standard for the British Shorthair demands a short coat – longhaired cats were at first excluded from the breed and passed on as a castrated collector’s animal. Many shorthaired cats carry the recessive gene for long fur, so even nowadays it can still be possible for longhaired cats to emerge amongst the breed, even if both parents have a short coat.
The British Longhair has now been recognised by some breeding associations as its own independent breed. In terms of breed standard it corresponds to the British Shorthair, with the only difference between the two being the length of their fur. However, according to the breed the British Longhair can either be bigger or smaller, with the actual length of the coat also varying. Some breeders favour large-framed cats, whereas others prefer to breed more compact animals.
As with the British Shorthair, the Highlander comes in mono-colour and multicolour varieties. The selection of colours ranges from classic black, chocolate brown, cinnamon and red to so-called ‘dilutions’: blue, lilac, fawn and cream. Black and white and tricolour cats often appear to be longhaired house cats. Cats described as ‘shaded’ only show the specific colour in the hair-ends, therefore can only be recognised by their shading – a stunning effect in the Highlander’s long coat!
We have summarised the most important of over 300 colour varieties for you:
Colourpoint: Only the tips of the body (face, ears, legs, tail and the genital area on male cats) are tinged in the basic colours.
Chinchilla: British Shorthair Chinchillas have a very interesting colouration: an eighth of the hair is in one of the basic black colours, whilst the rest is silver-white from the roots.
Tabby: ‘Tabby’ means more than just stripy. Depending on how the colouration looks, British Shorthair Tabbies can be described as mackerel, classic, blotched, spotted or ticked.
Tortie: Refers to a tricolour British Longhair, also called a ‘tortoise shell’. Due to genetic prerequisites, British Longhair Torties are nearly always female.
Torbie: These cats are a mix of the Tortie and Tabby in terms of colouration.
Bicolour: Every colour with white – as a result, depending on the colour proportion there can be either a “harlequin” with just 1/6 coloured fur, a “van” with a high proportion of white or a “bicolour” with an exact balance of white and colour.
A long coat requires more care than short fur. However, the effort needed to care for the British Longhair’s coat can be kept under control. To avoid the undercoat matting and becoming knotted, your cat usually needs brushing thoroughly just once a week – perhaps more often when moulting or for animals with a longer coat.
Cats should get used to brushes and combs from an early age to prevent knotted fur from the offset. There’s a huge range of cat brushes and combs on the market – what works for you and your cat often depends on individual preference. Start off with a very soft brush that doesn’t pull at fine kitten fur or damage the skin. Give a small treat each time you have finished brushing. If regular coat care doesn’t cause any problems for you or your cat, if necessary you can try even more effective brushes and combs when they reach adult age.
Cats are very clean animals that predominantly take care of their fur themselves. Covered with tiny teeth, the cat’s tongue is undoubtedly the most effective care tool! However, this also results in your cat swallowing a not insignificant amount of hair when it cleans itself. Longhaired cats produce about the same amount of hair as the average shorthaired cat, but of course it is considerably longer… To support the natural removal of these hairs, you can offer your cat special treats or cat grass in addition to its regular food. Ensure though that you buy cat treats with added benefits and high-quality ingredients, ideally without sugar or unnecessary plant by-products!
Although the Highlanders are uncomplicated cats on the whole, they are prone to some of the typical illnesses suffered by their shorthaired relatives. As with the British Shorthair, obesity is, for example, a big problem for pets kept primarily indoors. The best antidote to this is regular exercise. Get into the swing of things and enjoy playing with your cat!
British Longhairs suffer increasingly from polycystic kidney disease. Since this hereditary disease occurs increasingly amongst British Shorthairs and Persian cats, the British Longhair is also affected as a cross between these two breeds. Kidney cysts develop very early in the younger years and can be very easily detected by ultrasound.
Furthermore, a heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) occurs frequently with British Longhairs. Regular heart ultrasounds are the best way of recognising the disease in its early phase and excluding affected animals from breeding. Whilst there is no cure for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an early diagnosis offers the possibility of treatment to ensure that affected cats still live a long life.
The British Longhair is a relatively young breed that has still not been recognised by all breeding associations. Those that do acknowledge the British Longhair allow it to be paired with the British Shorthair. Many shorthaired cats actually carry the longhaired gene, and there are even genetic tests to specifically identify such cats for breeding.
As a young breed, there is usually a wide variety of sizes, weights and coat lengths amongst British Longhair cats. Each breeder has different priorities and favours different cat types for breeding. As a result, a more unified breed standard often only comes about after several years of targeted breeding.
How to find the right breeder
The hereditary diseases common to British Longhairs, such as HCM and kidney cysts, stress the importance of choosing animals that are allowed to breed. In fact, polycystic kidney disease is actually inherited dominantly, meaning that a cat with cysts always passes them on to its offspring!
A serious breeder bears in mind the health of his animals and their offspring and offers regular health provision and check-ups regarding frequent hereditary diseases. The breeder should therefore be able to provide you with the veterinary reports of the parent cats!
Never trust unprofessional breeders offering ‘cheap pedigree cats without documentation’. Lack of supervision from breeding associations can often lead to unsuitable pairings that disproportionately increase the risk of hereditary diseases. Cat breeding is an expensive and time-consuming hobby. Breeders who want to give their cats away as cheaply as possible often don’t just scrimp on high-quality food and injections, but also on preliminary tests and giving the female cats sufficient time to recover from each pregnancy.
Pedigree cats are expensive, so they’re worth the extra money if you want a cat that is sufficiently socialised and healthy as well as easy on the eye.
Animal shelters and protection organisations are a great alternative, with lots of short-and longhaired cats of all ages waiting for a fantastic new home!
In terms of its nutritional requirements, the British Longhair is not too different from other cat breeds. The best basis for nutrition is a high-quality wet or dry food with a high proportion of meat and protein, along with plenty of fresh water. Plant-based substances or by-products should be at the bottom of your cat’s ingredients list.
To make it easier to get rid of any fur they swallow, you can treat your Highlander to a food with added benefits. Dry foods for longhaired cats or treats that support moulting make it easier to naturally get rid of hairballs. Catgrass is another good alternative for cats that hate hairballs!
If your vet has detected HCM or kidney cysts, you can specifically target your cat’s diet to this. Your trusted vet can make concrete suggestions for you.
We wish you and your friendly British Longhair a wonderful life together!