Making sense of the shorthair cats – American vs. Domestic vs. British

Web Image of Example of Domestic Shorthair red tabby
Domestic shorthair red tabby Photo: ©

Have you ever wondered, “What’s the difference between the American Shorthair (ASH), the British Shorthair (BSH), and the Domestic Shorthair (DSH) breeds?”  I know we certainly did!

When our family first began our life with purebred cats we found ourselves on a an intense ride with much to learn.

Growing up on a rural farm in the Pacific Northwest, I had once assumed that cats were pretty much all created equal.  There were shorthair cats and longhair cats of a variety of color patterns.  Black and white tuxedo cats, calicos, and garden variety tabbies were common place.  Occasionally, we would chance upon a beautiful seal point and globally identify them all as “Siamese”.

Web Image of National Winner Teddy Cat Hugo Blue British Shorthair
British Shorthair NW TEDDY-CAT HUGO Photo: ©

My introduction to the purebred British Shorthair came many years later, about 2 years prior to acquiring our first purebred cat (an American Shorthair kitten we named Hannah).  Family friends had recently brought home a British Blue Shorthair (BSH) cat.  She was in all ways the stereotypical BSH.  A stout, compact cat, with the ever popular, dense plush blue coat.  Her broad head and wide eyes were reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat.  And her laid back, independent attitude was a magnet for us all.  My whole family was intrigued.


Web Image of Grand champion National Winner KELLOGGS ROCK N ROLL REBEL an American Shorthair classic silver tabby
American Shorthair GC, NW KELLOGGS ROCK ‘N’ ROLL REBEL Photo: ©

As we began to research the British Shorthair breed we soon came across its distant cousin — the incredible American Shorthair Cat.  We found ourselves immediately drawn to the spectacular classic tabbies.  Knowing ourselves and our active family, we were looking for a bold, affectionate, confident and kid-friendly cat.  The “working cat” history as a well-bred mouser also appealed to us on or family farm.

Below, we’ve outline a few of the key characteristics of these commonly confused terms, “Domestic Shorthair”, “American Shorthair”, and “British Shorthair” cats.


  Domestic Shorthair American Shorthair British Shorthair
Abbreviation DSH ASH BSH
Pedigreed Not Purebred Purebred Purebred
Physical traits Varies, but frequently not at robust as the ASH/BSH.  Head tends to be more angular, and eyes are more almond shaped Broad head with large round eyes and robust build. Strong bodied, agile, and athletic.


“Teddy Bear-like” with a broad head and large round eyes.

Solidly framed body with a tendency toward obesity.


Size Varies Medium to large build Slightly smaller & more compact than the ASH
Weight Varies – 8-12 pounds 11-16 pounds 7-18 pounds
Coat Short Coat Short, Thick, Lustrous, Soft Coat Short, Dense, Plush Coat
Color Varies – all Silver Tabby (most common), also red, brown, blue & smoke tabbies, shaded silvers, black, cameo and tortoiseshell, with or without white Blue (most common) also black, white, lilac, silver tabby, shaded silver, tortoiseshell and chocolate, with or without white
Personality Varies Active, curious, easygoing, playful, confident, adaptable, affectionate

Often get along well with other animals, including dogs

Easygoing, gentle, loyal, patient, poised, shy, affectionate, but often do not like to be picked up
Web Image of GC BWC NW CAT LIFE MOONFACE American Shorthair silver and white tabby
American Shorthair GC, BWC, NW CAT LIFE MOONFACE Photo: ©

We’d be the first to agree that ALL cats are fantastic, incredible creatures, regardless of their breeding, lineage, or availability of a pedigree.  Having a pedigree will certainly not make one cat more suitable than another to be a loving and faithful companion.  One of my dearest pets was a regular old, every day, “moggie” barn cat.  But the pedigrees do allow breeders to continue to develop and showcase the beautifully unique characteristics of these magnificent felines we love.


Photo Compraison: Domestic Shorthair vs. British Shorthair

Web Image of Example of Domestic Shorthair tuxedo cat
Domestic Shorthair Photo: ©
Web Image of China NW Snowdance Melan British Shorthair Cat
British Shorthair CHINA NW SNOWDANCE MELAN Photo: ©

Photo Compraison: British Shorthair vs. American Shorthair

Web Image of Bagira Lovely Panther CZ British Shorthair Silver Tabby
British Shorthair BAGIRA LOVELY PANTHER *CZ Photo: ©
American Shorthair Silver Tabby Photo: ©

Photo Compraison: Domestic Shorthair vs. American Shorthair

Domestic shorthair brown tabby Photo: ©
Image of American shorthair brown tabby round eyes broad head face
American shorthair brown tabby Photo: ©


Let’s Talk Tabby: Identifying Cat Coat Patterns

A tabby cat is a cat of any breeding that displays a coat pattern featuring stripes, swirls, dots and rings.  The tabby pattern is determined by the agouti gene which controls the distribution of pigment within each hair of the cat.

Diagram of Agouti color banding on individual hairs Image: ©

While the tabby pattern is common in many breeds, it is not a breed in and of itself.  Both longhair and shorthair coated cats may exhibit a tabby pattern. You will find tabby cats in a vast array of coat colors as well, ranging including cream, cameo, lilac, seal, gray, silver, red, brown, golden, cinnamon, chocolate, blue and black smoke.


There are 4 distinct tabby patterns:  Classic Tabby, Mackerel Tabby, Spotted Tabby and the Ticked Tabby.

Let’s take a look at the key features of each here:

The Classic Tabby Pattern

This tabby pattern is characterized by broad bands of dark striping against a lighter background.  On the forehead between the eyes there is a characteristic “M”, on each side of the cat you will see a concentric swirl called the “bullseye”, on the back between the shoulders there is a lighter area knowns as the “butterfly”, and 3 dark stripes follow along the spine.  Additionally, many classic tabbies will have spotted bellies and striped bands around the neck and down the legs. These striped markings are known as necklaces and bracelets.

The Mackerel Tabby Pattern

Like the Classic tabby, the Mackerel tabby also sports a characteristic “M” on its brow.  The stripes of the mackerel tabby tend to be narrower though, and run vertically across the body of the cat.

The Spotted Tabby Pattern

The spotted tabby pattern is most frequently seen in the Australian Mist, Bengal, Egyptian Mau, Maine Coon, and Ocicat breeds. This tabby pattern is generated by a color modifier that interrupts the stripes of the Classic or Mackerel tabby patterns and creates the appearance of spots instead. In some cases you will note three distinct coat colors within the spotted tabby pattern: a dark ring surrounding a lighter “spot”, both of which rest on a lighter still base coat color (see photo examples below).

The Ticked Tabby Pattern

Unlike the previous tabby patterns, ticked tabbies may show few visible stripes across their bodies.  The striping instead occurs on each individual hair within the cat’s coat, as determined by the agouti gene.  Many ticked tabbies will display barring or “ghost striping”  on the legs and tail, and may also show a darker line down the spine.