The term ‘domestic shorthaired cat’ refers to all domesticated cats with short hair. Technically that includes all short haired purebred cats too. However, the phrase usually applies to random breed cats with short hair. ‘Random bred’ means of mixed ancestry. Sometimes domestic shorthair cats are referred to as ‘mixed breed’ cats. Strictly speaking, this is incorrect because the domestic shorthair is not a breed of cat.
The well known American Shorthair, a popular purebred cat, was for many years called a Domestic Shorthair. In the 1960s the name was changed to American Shorthair. The name change indicates the history of the breed. The American Shorthair is a random bred cat that was made into a purebred cat through selective breeding and registration of pedigree.
Although there are many purebred cats with names that include ‘shorthair’, in cat fancy language, they are not domestic shorthair cats. However, if we are describing cats generally then clearly if a cat is short haired it does not matter if the cat is purebred or not. The domestic shorthair should not be confused with the American, British or European Shorthair purebred cats.
Whereas shorthaired purebred cats have coat types – color and pattern – that are proscribed by the cat association’s breed standard, the random bred domestic shorthair has a coat type that is selected naturally. And this is an interesting area of discussion.
The domestic cat’s progenitor wild cat species is the African wildcat or Eastern European wildcat. These wild cats have brown/grey mackerel (striped) tabby coats – all of them. This pattern is made up of narrow, curving vertical stripes.
The original domestic cats, therefore, had mackerel tabby coats. Whereas by natural selection, which is based on survival of the fittest, the wild cat always retained a tabby coat as it provides the best chance for survival – allowing it to stalk prey more efficiently and providing natural camouflage – the domestic cat evolved under different circumstances (see comparison between wildcat and tabby domestic cat). The wild cat does show some variation particularly in coat density and length dependent on the climate in the region where the cat is found, but essentially it is the same coat type.
The strict forces of natural selection were no longer required for the domestic and semi-domestic cat. Accordingly a wide range of coat types and patterns developed. These patterns and colors are dependent on the region where the cat is found although the tabby cat is still the most common of all the coats.
Probably the next most common coat is the bicolor – white and another color. Tabby and white is very common, for example. Also the body conformation of the domestic shorthair varies from region to region. The more slender lighter cats are found in warmer places such as Asia and the Mediterranean. Heavier domestic SH cats are seen in North America for example. This variation is found in the purebreds too (e.g. slender Siamese). This is to be expected as all purebred cats were random bred cats at one time. Although that is a tricky point because some cats that have bred randomly have done so in island communities resulting in natural breeding that is hardly random.
Body size variation in domestic cats is reflected in the variation in body size of the wild cat species. For example, the Scottish wildcat is more stocky than the African wild cat and the Siberian tiger is larger than the Bengal tiger….
In the cat fancy – the breeding and showing of cats – the domestic shorthair can be shown at cat shows despite not being purebred cats. Some have pedigrees.
Purebred cat will have some coat types that you will not see on domestic shorthair cats due to careful selective breeding. This takes breeding out of the natural and into the deliberate for human aesthetically pleasing reasons.
The spelling of ‘shorthaired’ is interesting too. There are several variations:
- short haired
- SH – common abbreviation
How are these used? You will find that ‘short haired’ is less commonly used but should be used when for example saying, ‘short haired cats are more common than long haired cats’. A generic use. Whereas the compressed ‘shorthaired’ is used when attached to the word ‘domestic’ – domestic shorthaired cat. In the cat fancy ‘short hair’ is always compressed to ‘shorthair’ when used in conjunction with the breed name but if used generically – ‘this cat has short hair’ – the word is split into two sometimes although habit probably means that ‘shorthair’ is used more often. The most popular online dictionary, Free Dictionary, spells it ‘shorthaired’.