The name of the breed is just “European”, but as to not confuse them with the humans inhabiting Europe, the breed is more commonly known as European Shorthair. Some confusion has arisen over the years due to cat literature using the nomenclature “European Shorthair” about the domestic house cats of Europe. WCF has the breed “Celtic Shorthair”, which has some similarities in common with the European Shorthair, but not quite the same standard, and WCF now register cats bred according to the European Shorthair standard as a European (Shorthair).
The breed has its origin in the beginning of the 20th century. As the popularity of especially longhaired cats was booming with the arising popularity of the cat fancy and cat breeds, a wish to preserve the original Nordic cats arose. The earliest pictures of European Shorthairs with a breed description, which makes it clear the breed already is an established breed, can be found in cat books from the 1930s.
According to genetic research cats were domesticated in the area known as the Fertile Crescent around 8000 years ago. There is evidence of cats spreading from Southeast Asia to Europe as early as 4400 B.C., with a second wave of cats coming from Egypt 1500 B.C. In the history of painting, most cats are pictured as shorthaired, harmonious and curious creatures. The aim of breeding European Shorthairs is to keep the type of the breed as close to those original cats. The familiar classic (or blotched) tabby coat of cats first appeared during the middle ages, and became familiar in domestic cats during the 18th century.
The European Shorthairs are especially known for being tabbies, as this was the first colour recognised for the breed. Only later came the recognition of the breed in the solid colours.
The breed is primarily Nordic and to some degree European in origin and predates the larger organisations like FIFe etc. The oldest European Shorthair registered in FIFe is from 1940, and must have been an older cat when FIFe was founded in 1949. The breed is listed on the homepage of FIFe as fully recognised in 1949/1981.
"Silver Queen of Bredgade” a Danish female European Shorthair youngster from the 1930s
The reason for 1981 is that the European Shorthair for a shorter period of time was lumped together with the British Shorthair and Chartreux to make one breed. This decision was much to the unhappiness of most breeders of all three breeds. The separation process took place at cat shows and was based on phenotype instead of pedigree lines to the frustration a lot of European Shorthair breeders. Nowadays a look at pedigrees from the 1970s shows that a European Shorthair mated with a British Shorthair could produce Chartreux, British Shorthair and European Shorthairs depending on type and colour. At the time the cats were probably registered with the same breed name, and had it changed after the separation.
Several of the non-European Shorthair lines did not get used for breeding in the European Shorthair after the separation, and the breed is still largely a breed based on the Nordic populations of cats, with the largest number of breeders being in Finland. In Finland around 100 European Shorthairs are born each year; Denmark and Sweden registering lower numbers. Denmark is having an average of around 50 European Shorthairs registered each year in the period from 1999-2016.
EC Miss Priss Casper, a Swedish European Shorthair male from 1983
Due to the continually low population size, and - as for all breeds - even lower effective population size, one might fear a high level of inbreeding and low heterozygosity. In reality a study by Professor Leslie Lyons has shown the European Shorthairs to be a distinct breed with high genetic variation and moderate to low inbreeding. The reason behind results in the report by Professor Leslie Lyons is probably a very wide genetic foundation of the breed and the continuous tradition amongst the breeders for an occasional use of novices from the originating countries. This, together with most of the breeder group always having had focus on health and a wide genetic base, seems to enable this small breed, soon celebrating its 100th year anniversary, to maintain high genetic variation. Especially Finland seems very capable of having a sex ratio nearing 1:1, a practice many breeders of other breeds sometimes seems to neglect.
The breed standard differs from almost all other breed standards by clearly stating that the ideal European Shorthair is presumed free of any admixture of other breeds – and the aim of the breed is a harmonious cat without any extremes. As the breed still primarily is a European - especially Nordic - breed it is only registered in few of the larger organisations, FIFe being the major organisation for most European Shorthair breeders with a few breeders registering in WCF.
WCF use the same standard as FIFe, which calls for a medium to large cat, which is supple and robust. The keywords in the standard are medium – a cat where everything is in harmony and you’re not noticing one particular feature more than others.
As opposed to the British Shorthair the European Shorthair should appear rounded, not round. The body is muscular, strong and well developed, but not cobby, with medium length strong legs and a medium long tail tapering to a rounded tip. The head is rounded and should be slightly longer than wide, with a firm chin, well developed cheeks, a slightly rounded forehead and a shallow indentation marking the transition between the forehead and the straight nose. The ears are medium in size, with a width suitable to the height. The ears are placed fairly upright, but set well apart. The eyes are rounded, set with a slight slant and well apart. The coat is glossy, the normal length for a shorthaired cat and springy – springy meaning that the coat should fall back into place, if stroked the wrong way.
The European Shorthair is recognised in the normal colours for cats in the Northern European countries; black, blue, black tortie, blue tortie, red, cream and pure white. Classic (blotched), mackerel and spotted tabby are, together with silver/smoke, allowed in all colours. The solid colours, without tabby or smoke, are allowed to have white spotting from bicolour to van. The scale of points in the standard are sought to be distributed so no part of the cat is more important than others.
The personality of a European Shorthair should be much like the aim of the standard; a very harmonious cat with a robust psyche able to handle the life of an active family without problems. They are medium active with good capability to entertain themselves with a toy or similar – without being destructive. Both body and mind are curious and agile, but they prefer catching the occasional rodent or bird in the garden to learning to open doors or emptying the shelf for everything on it. A European Shorthair without access to a fenced garden etc. will benefit greatly from having another animal, cat or dog, as companion for creating stimuli in the still indoor environment.
European Shorthairs like attention and being petted, but are capable of being satisfied by being close, if their humans are busy. Evenings are best spent on the couch laying on, or alternatively next to, their humans – with a shorter active period for spending the last energy of the day - before coming to bed together with their owners, the cats often preferring the children of the family, if there are any.
They are a friendly and outgoing breed, which comes to the door to greet guests without insisting on being the new best friend of the guests. They co-exist very well with other cats, dogs and other pets, and have good social skills in reading the body language of other cats, and respecting their boundaries.
All in all, the breed seems to be doing well due to the breed practices and diligence of the breeders to conserve this unique breed. The most common owners of a European Shorthair seems to be families, often with children, who wish to make sure that their pet has an excellent temperament and will love to be part of the life of a busy family.