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Are British Shorthair Cats Hypoallergenic?

Are allergies an issue but you love that plush coat on a British Shorthair? Learn ways to mitigate shedding and manage allergens in your home.

MJ Shaffer writer with Dog

Last Updated: January 17, 2023 | 9 min read

British Shorthair Cat laying next to brush and clumps of hair on bed

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British Shorthair cats, one of the oldest British breeds, are still a minority breed in the United States per the Cat Fanciers Association. They’re still the most popular pedigreed cat breed in the United Kingdom. Beloved for their dense coat and the rich “British Blue” color, their calm personalities and Cheshire cat smiles make them great family pets. 

British Shorthairs trace their ancestry back to the domestic cats of Rome in the first century CE. Their physical strength and hunting ability were valued traits. By 500 CE, domesticated cats were commonplace. Because the Romans had settlements in early Britain, they brought these cats to the British Isles to control the rodent population. The modern British Shorthair was created by these early imports, breeding with European wildcats to produce the cat on which the original breed standard was based.

British Shorthairs have a gorgeous short but very dense coat. Does having short hair mean they qualify as hypoallergenic? We’ll look at their history and appearance, factors affecting shedding, maintaining their coat in good health, and more.

British Shorthair Cat History

The history of the British Shorthair is longer than the history of Britain as a unified kingdom. Tracing back to the Roman cats brought to control rodents in their British settlements, the modern breed was standardized by artist Harrison Weir, also known as the father of the cat fancy. Although he promoted the idea of the cat show generally, Weir was quoted as saying that his “first love would always be for the shorthaired domestic cat.” In 1871, his British Shorthairs were at the first-ever cat show in London at the Crystal Palace.

Although cats of this domestic shorthair type were ubiquitous in farm and city settings for hundreds of years, their numbers dwindled by World War I with the influx of other breeds, including the Persian. To bring back the breed’s numbers, preservationists crossed the remaining individuals with other breeds, including the Russian Blue, Persian, and the French Chartreux. To avoid this recreated breed looking too much like other breeds, preservationists carefully curated the breed until the desired traits bred true.

British Shorthair Appearance

The signature color of the British Shorthair is “British blue,” a solid grey with orange eyes. However, the breed comes in other colors, such as black, white, red, cream, silver, golden, cinnamon, fawn, tabby, and tortoiseshell. Conversely, not every grey cat in Britain is a British Shorthair.

The British Shorthair’s most notable feature is, of course, his thick shorthaired coat. While they lack an undercoat, their single coat is exceptionally dense. Ancestors of the modern breed needed a weatherproof coat to brave the elements, and the British Shorthair has retained this trait. In 2021, one British Shorthair took the internet by storm as water ran off his coat instead of soaking him outright.

Body-wise, British Shorthairs are compact, medium to large cats with powerful, broad chests. They have short to medium-length legs and rounded paws. Their heads, too, are round and have good width between the ears. Healthy adult British Shorthair males are more massive than females. British Shorthairs take up to three years to fully mature. Males average 9 to 17 pounds at maturity, while females weigh around 7 to 12 pounds.

How Much Do British Shorthair Cats Shed

British Shorthair Cat being brushed
Because they are single-coated cats, they have no undercoat to lose and shed their coat seasonally during spring and fall.

Although their short coat is dense, British Shorthairs shed less than most other breeds with a similar coat type. If they are indoor cats and subject to artificial light, seasonal shedding will be less pronounced than if they are outdoor only.

Because hair and dander are the most typical allergens cats produce, British Shorthairs are not hypoallergenic cats. They do produce dander. They shed, but they are tidier than most similar breeds if minimizing cat hair in your home is a priority. There are ways to mitigate and manage even heavy seasonal shedding, but the less our cat sheds, the less allergen-triggering protein there is available to spread through your home.

Health Factors That Affect Shedding

British Shorthair Cat sitting next to bowl of food looking up
Your cat could have bald patches and dry, scaly skin from nutritional deficiencies.

Your British Shorthair should be a moderate shedder, but several health problems can make a cat shed unnaturally. If you notice bald spots or red, irritated skin patches, one of the most common causes is external parasites such as fleas. If pests are not the problem, consult your veterinarian to check on the following.

External Parasites

If you see live fleas or dark “flea dirt” on your cat, fleas may be causing skin irritation. He’ll be especially susceptible if he is allergic to them. Eliminate fleas, and you may resolve his itching. If you see no fleas, but your cat is chewing on and scratching his skin, he could be reacting to microscopic mites invisible to the naked eye. Your vet can perform a skin scrape to identify and eliminate any external parasites.

Allergies

Just like people can be allergic to cat hair, dander, and saliva, cats can have itchy, irritated skin that loses hair because of allergies. Food allergies are the third most common cause of allergy symptoms in felines, just behind flea bites and inhaled substances. Food allergies cause small, pale, fluid-filled lumps on your cat’s skin, and these cause him to scratch, further irritating sensitive skin. If you notice these around your cat’s head and neck, they’re probably from a food allergy.

If you suspect your British Shorthair has a food allergy, you can try to determine the ingredient(s) that bother him. Talk to your veterinarian about an elimination diet with a novel source of protein and carbohydrates. If your cat’s symptoms improve after ten weeks on this diet, you know food allergies are the problem. Reintroduce each protein and carbohydrate one at a time to discern what triggers your cat’s hair loss. Symptoms will return in about a week when the offending ingredient is reintroduced.

Bacterial And Fungal Infection

Cats can develop bacterial infections from bites or irritation from allergic scratching. Cat bites or other injuries are hard to detect under a coat as dense as the British Shorthair’s and may turn to abscesses under the skin. Subsequent scratching opens the skin to secondary bacterial or fungal infection.

Ringworm is one common skin fungus that’s easy to recognize. You’ll notice circular patches of hair loss with itchy, scaly skin. When your vet performs a skin scrape, they’ll be able to determine if this fungus is the cause of the hair loss and treat it accordingly with antibacterial or antifungal medication.

Other Factors That Affect Shedding

Season

Cats shed more as the calendar moves through Spring and Fall. Your British Shorthair sheds his summer coat and grows a thicker winter coat as the days get shorter and chillier. In spring, he sheds his winter coat for a lighter summer coat as the days get longer and warmer. Cats that spend more time outdoors in the elements will do most of their shedding during these two times of the year. If your British Shorthair is an indoor-only cat, artificial light will mitigate this natural phenomenon somewhat, but he will still grow a thicker coat when the daylight hours grow shorter.

Environment

If your cat lives outdoors, her shedding will be more pronounced as her body reacts to the environmental changes around him. Indoor cats experience less temperature and daylight fluctuation than cats who live outdoors and experience more natural changes, so they shed more steadily. A stable temperature can lessen shedding, but it won’t stop it altogether. Extending the day through artificial lighting can trigger early shedding or keep animals from putting on a heavy winter coat.

Nutrition

Healthy skin sheds appropriately, but unhealthy skin sheds hair and cells more than it should. If your cat has a thin coat, slow hair regrowth, scaly spots, and faded color, you might need to investigate his food options. Be sure your food conforms to AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) standards for nutritional adequacy. It will need enough protein, fat, essential fatty acids, and minerals to meet your cat’s needs at each life stage.

Genetics

Certain breeds of cats have alopecia (hair loss) because it is a genetic trait. An example would be thinning hair on the rear flaps of certain breeds’ ears and the preauricular region (the top of the cat’s head in front of his ears) of aging cats of all breeds. While British Shorthairs are a calm, even-tempered breed, some individuals could develop psychogenic alopecia or hair loss from stress.

How Do I Groom My British Shorthair?

As cats go, British Shorthairs are relatively easy to groom. Their fur, although dense, doesn’t tend to mat. Use a wide-toothed comb or brush to keep his coat healthy and remove loose hairs. Brushing him stimulates the oils in his skin to keep his coat soft and water-repellant while minimizing shedding in the home.

British Shorthairs are friendly but often don’t want to be overly handled. They might tire of lengthy grooming sessions. Even the most relaxed cat can run out of patience when required to sit still for long periods. Quickly inspect your cat’s skin for cuts, rashes, or other lumps and bumps.

British Shorthairs love people. Your grooming sessions can be a great bonding time. Be gentle and work quickly when you brush loose hairs from your British Shorthair. Be patient when combing through to the skin, and always brush in the direction her hair grows.

Managing Shedding

In addition to keeping your British Shorthair in optimal health and grooming his coat regularly, there are a few other ways to reduce the allergen load in your home. Vacuuming and air purification can help reduce hair and dander on surfaces and in the air in your home.

Air Purification

You can minimize how much your British Shorthair sheds with good nutrition and frequent grooming, but you can’t stop him from shedding. Adding air purification to your home has benefits beyond tackling cat hair, but it can reduce the amount of hair in your home and the allergens in the air. The most significant allergen cats introduce is Fel d 1, which can spread via dander, the dead skin cells constantly sloughing and falling along with shed hairs. Unneutered male cats produce the highest amount of this allergen, although production rates vary by individual. Having neutered males and females can help reduce the allergen in your home. Some companies are even trying to reduce the amount of Fel d 1 a cat will produce.

Cat dander is roughly five to ten microns, although it can be smaller. An air purifier that effectively eliminates airborne particulates smaller than this can significantly reduce the amount of pet dander available to trigger allergic symptoms. The Filtrete Air Purifier FAP-C03BA-G2 claims to capture 99.97% of airborne particles (as small as 0.3 microns), including dust, lint, dust mite debris, and mold spores, pollen, pet dander, smoke, smog, bacteria, viruses, exhaust particles, and ultrafine particles.

Vacuuming

Vacuuming effectively reduces the amount of hair, and hence dander, in your home. If your air purifier eliminates the airborne particulates that trigger your allergies, a mechanical vacuum can remove those that land on surfaces in your home or car. Choose a lightweight vacuum, or you may be reluctant to use it frequently. Try to find a versatile model to tackle multiple surfaces in your home and your vehicles.

While it is a traditional handheld stick vacuum, the Bissell Featherweight Cordless XRT also includes specialized pet tools. It converts to a handheld vacuum with a crevice tool and upholstery brush to get pet hair wherever it settles. This lightweight vacuum handles hard surfaces and area rugs but may not have the power for a home with wall-to-wall carpets.

Carpet increases how much hair and dander stay trapped in a room. For carpeted surfaces, consider the more powerful Bissell ICONPet Edge. The best floors for allergy sufferers are hard surfaces like laminate, tile, or hardwood that can be vacuumed or wiped clean of hair and dander.

What Does Hypoallergenic Mean?

The label “hypoallergenic” means something is less likely to cause an allergic reaction than most things in a category. Because the allergen cats produce that typically triggers an allergic response is in their saliva, skin, and urine and transfers to their dander and hair, no cat can be entirely hypoallergenic.

Some breeds lose less hair and dander than others, and certain breeds produce less of this protein. They would be less likely to trigger a reaction in an allergic person, but they can. Spaying or neutering your pet also reduces how much Fel d 1 they produce. Some breeds considered less likely to trigger allergies are the Siberian, Russian Blue, Bengal, Burmese, and Sphynx.

Final Thoughts

Although British Shorthairs shed less than many breeds, they are not hypoallergenic. Paying attention to your cat’s health and nutrition and grooming him regularly minimizes how much hair and dander stay in your house. Consult your physician to help manage your allergy symptoms. If you are allergic to cat hair or dander, you may need to choose a nearly hairless breed or one with the lowest amount of Fel D1, the allergen that triggers cat allergies in most people.

A British Shorthair is a personable companion even if he’s more comfortable beside you than in your arms. His Cheshire cat grin endears him to all he meets. No cat is truly hypoallergenic, but with some attention to managing the shedding and dander of a low-shedding breed like a British Shorthair, this pleasant breed with its ties to ancient lines may be the perfect fit for your home.

Cleaning a cat's ears next to a person holding back a dirty cat ear

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