The Chartreux

Natural History

Pedigreed History

Temperament

Physical Characteristics

Care and Health

 

 

Natural History Back to Top

Chartreux cats were raised by the Carthusian monks at La Grande Chartreuse monastery near Grenoble, France because the cats were as mute as the monks who had taken the vow of silence.

Although this quaintly sweet legend persists, it cannot be verified, as the monks (who are famous for their Chartreuse liqueur) kept no written records -- at least not any that have existed into modern times. The monastery has been destroyed eight times and any records are long since lost. Even the recipe for the liqueur is handed down by word of mouth.

However, the legend cannot be entirely discarded, either. Some Carthusians certainly had an interest in genetics and experience in selective breeding of plants and animals. Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, was a Carthusian monk. Reportedly the Swiss Carthusian monks developed the St. Bernard dog, and the Spanish Carthusians developed the Andalusian horses. Perhaps indeed the Carthusian monks of La Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps intentionally bred these beautiful blue working cats with dense fur, smiling face and quiet affectionate disposition.

Although it is difficult to separate fact from fiction, it is known that cats who were similar to our current-day Chartreux have been documented from at least the sixteenth century, and at times actually referred to by this name. In the “Universal Dictionary of Commerce, Natural History and the Arts and Trades of Savvary of Brusion” it was noted in 1723 that “finally we find several cats which tend toward bleu, these latter are commonly called Chartreux. This name was used to distinguish the blue cats. Incidentally, the furriers trade in the skin of the cats, especially those cats which were called Chartreux.”

It is almost certain that Chartreux descend from the "Cat of Syria," described in the early 16th century as a stocky cat with a wooly ash-gray coat and copper eyes, which was first brought to Europe during the Crusades. In 1753 Brande Aldobrande referred to a cat of pale ash color that was said to have originated in Syria, describing the cat’s round muzzle, muscular chest, and its affection for its household.

The father of taxonomy, Carolus Linnaeus described four types of cats, including the Felis catus Chartreuse. The naturalist Georges Louis Leclerc de Buffon mentions Chartreux by name in the “Universal Dictionary of Animals.”

With their wooly double coat, substantial body, and hunting prowess, it is understandable why the people of those times would appreciate these cats of antiquity for utilitarian reasons. In medieval Europe their meat was eaten and they were prized as fierce ratters. In 1806 Professor Beauregard wrote in “Our Animals” that the coat “of the Chartreux is cut and dyed and sold as Otter fur.”

As a naturally developed breed, they are unusual in our current cat fancy, where most breeds are man-made.

Pedigreed History Back to Top


During the World Wars most of the animals, including cats, were decimated throughout Europe. Hence there were very few remaining Chartreux in the countryside of France.

After World War I some breeders, in order to try to save the characteristics of various breeds of cats, began outcrossing to other breeds. Breedings were made between the Chartreux and the European (feral) cats, the British Shorthair cats (blue, blue-cream and cream,) Blue Persians, and the Russian Blue cats. This practice continued well after World War II. Some European “Chartreux” in name, even today, are of mixed hybrid matings of cats of different breeds, producing shorthaired gray cats that are not “pure” Chartreux by pedigree.

In 1928 a standard was written for the Chartreux and it was listed as a breed in the new Federation Feline Francaise (FFF) founded in Paris, France.

The Leger sisters of “de Guerveur” cattery wrote in 1935 that they had found on the island of Bell-Ile-sur-Mere off the coast of France “some blue cats with short fur that were called, at le Palais, the cats of the hospital. In the country, we also found these cats and the strange thing they were all of the same type, despite breeding with the European cats of the land, they had kept their characteristics. We acquired several of those cats, and from the first generation we obtained remarkable results. From the very first breeding of a blue male cat and a female blue cat, we had a litter of kittens all blue and perfectly typed.”

Initially the Leger sisters bred only those feral blue cats found on the island, but eventually they acquired cats from other breeders in Europe to incorporate into their breeding program.

Because of the great amount of outcrossing of the Chartreux with other breeds, they became confused with the blue British Shorthair, or Maltese. Indeed, in 1970, the primary European association of cat fanciers, Federation International Feline (FIFe), decided to assimilate the Chartreux with the British Blue under the name "Chartreux" but conforming to the British Shorthair breed standard. This decision was made because many of the member countries were not actually interested in

the breed, but preferred the name and long history of the "Chartreux" to the name and history of the blue British Shorthair.

In 1970, John and Helen Gamon of San Diego, California, went to France and imported the first Chartreux to the US, three from the original de Guerveur lines. Since then there has continued to be a small coterie of breeders who are passionate about the Chartreux, maintaining some of the purest lines without hybridization.

Breeders in the US and France have tried to preserve the Chartreux unchanged throughout the years, even with selective breeding programs. Many other breeds have changed in appearance substantially over the decades. Yet, the Chartreux female Mignonne de Guerveur, who was named the most beautiful cat in the Paris show in 1931, could easily have become a Grand Champion even today.

Pedigreed Chartreux are now recognized and have championship status in the North American cat associations including the American Cat Fanciers’ Association (ACFA,) the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA,) The International Cat Association (TICA,) the Cat Fanciers’ Federation (CFF), and the Canadian Cat Association (CCA.)

They are also again recognized as a unique breed in FIFe. Chartreux breeders had protested the 1970 FIFe merging of the Chartreux and British Shorthair breeds. In 1977, FIFe reverted back to separate registries and standards for the two breeds. The US organizations and FIFe do not allow any outcrossing or hybridization of Chartreux to other breeds.


However a few independent European cat clubs continue to use the name "Chartreux" for blue European Shorthairs, blue British Shorthairs, as well as for hybrids of these and Chartreux. If one is looking for a “pure” Chartreux, knowledgeable caution should be employed.


Several famous French people have owned pedigreed Chartreux cats, including General Charles de Gaulle and the authoress Colette, who wrote of her Chartreux, Saha, in her book “La Chatte. “

It is customary to use the French naming system for Chartreux kittens. The first letter of the cat's given name is determined by the year of the cat's birth, following a 20-year cycle. The letters K, Q, W, X, Y, and Z are not used. For example, 2004 was the “V” year, so Chartreux born in 2004 have given names like “Velure” and “Velvet.” Both America and France use the same alphabetical system and are in sync, so that from January 1 through December 31, 2005, both French and

American breeders will have given all their Chartreux kittens born during that time names beginning with the letter “A.”

By convention, in North America, the first name of the cat is the cattery name of the breeder. This is followed by the given call name. A suffix can be added including “of” followed by the cattery name of the present owner.

In Europe, the given name of the cat is the first name, followed by the name of the breeder’s cattery.

Temperament Back to Top

The first thing one may notice when getting acquainted with their Chartreux is the almost absent use of voice. Although most Chartreux can meow (especially if brought up alongside more vocally expressive cats), they seldom use their voice. Some have even been reported to be mute. The more common sounds they make are chattering or chirping noises, and purrs. Some Chartreux have a very loud purr that is much louder than ever expected from such a small creature; others have a deep rumbling purr that is more easily felt by the owner when holding the cat than actually hearing the sound.

Much of the communication of Chartreux is by eye contact and body language. It may take a while for a new owner to get used to the wants and desires of the cat. If the owner is expecting loud meows when the cat gets hungry before feeding it, the poor cat may not get fed for a very long time!

Chartreux often exchange “kitty kisses” with their owner, blinking their eyes while looking at you. You can have several exchanges of slow eyelid lowering reciprocating between you and your cat, as you send "kisses" to each other.

Chartreux are very affectionate, and have been called the dog-like cat. Indeed, they usually learn to get along well with the family dog.

They often follow you around the house from room to room, keeping tabs on all your activities. However, they are seldom intrusive, though sometimes they might enjoy helping with the project you are working on.

They love to be near their people – if not on their lap, then beside them, sitting on top of them, or sleeping with them. They enjoy being softly stroked and petted, and this is almost the only grooming that they need.

Chartreux are natural hunters and will play as though they are going to kill their prey, watching for just the right time to pounce. They usually have a burst of energy, running around the house for a few minutes each morning and then again each evening -- living the life of the proverbial mellow couch potato the rest of the day.

They are very observant and quite intelligent. Because their growth, both physical and emotional, is slow, you may need to be patient teaching them new things. Though unusual, it is not unheard of for a Chartreux to learn to play fetch or to learn to use the toilet!

Chartreux have always been known for their gentle amiable spirit. Though dignified, they are also amazingly tolerant of other cats, dogs, and children. They are sensitive and their feelings can be easily hurt. They know when they are being made fun of. If pestered too much, they will withdraw from the situation rather than retaliate.

Due to their placid nature, Chartreux are great travelers, riding well in cars or planes.

Although some breeders and owners have a personal preference for gender, in reality both sexes make equally good companion pets after having been neutered or spayed, as then their sex hormones are not affecting their inate congeniality and playfullness.

One can never guarantee with whom the cat will primarily bond – it may be the new “owner” in the family, the spouse, the teenager, the family dog or the entire family.

But to whomever the Chartreux bond, they are forever devoted.

Physical Characteristics Back to Top

The natural selection of the Chartreux has resulted in a breed that is adapted to the harsh cold weather that would have been the norm in the French Alps at the monastery. There is more lanolin in the coat of the Chartreux than in any other breed, contributing to the water repellence, and resulting in “breaking” of the fur, as in sheep’s’ wool. Coat texture tends to become more wooly with age, colder environment, and in males. They are the only “unbalanced breed,” meaning that the body, neck and head are much more massive relative to the fine boned legs, small paws, and rather short ears and tail. They have even been referred to as “potatoes on toothpicks.” This body habitus maximizes heat conservation. All these features contribute to a cat that is able to tolerate cold weather very well.

They have an exceptional amount of fat deposit, the only breed that normally has a pannus – a flap of fat hanging beneath the belly. (Although this commonality among Chartreux has not yet been addressed in any breed standard, it is very frequently present nevertheless, and Chartreux breeders do not discriminate against it.)

Overall, at first glance the Chartreux is a primitive appearing unbalanced gray shorthaired cat with a robust body and short thick neck contrasting with the fine-boned legs and dainty paws. The tail is medium length with a thick base. The magnificent broad head is topped by medium-small ears that sit erectly. The rounded eyes are deep golden. Intensity of eye color often lessens with age, and the eyes become paler, though there are exceptions. The muzzle is narrow but not pointed. Though the teeth remain properly aligned, the powerful jaw slopes toward the receding chin, resulting in a sweet smiling expression. The Chartreux is the only breed of cat that has this smile. Most standards refer to the “primitive” look, consistent with the breed’s long history of living in harsh conditions, and minimal human interference to change the appearance of the breed over the years.

There is a marked dichotomy between the appearance of male and female Chartreux. The males simply look masculine, and the females simply look feminine. Males are usually significantly larger, with mature males weighing about 10-14 pounds and females weighing around 6-9 pounds, according to the ACFA breed standard.

Whole males develop massive stud jowls. As the intact male matures his head broadens, causing the distance between the ears to increase so that his ears no longer appear quite as erect as those of his female littermates. His coat is usually more coarse and wooly than that of a female.

The females cheeks remain petite. As she ages, the female's ears remain more erect because her head does not become so broad. The female's coat is usually less dense, softer, and silkier than that of a stud male.

Pet males tend to resemble females, because they have been neutered.

The double coat has longer straight guard hairs, which yield the blue (gray) color. The color ranges from ash to slate gray, and there is no preference or penalty in the show ring for any shade of clear blue. The longer guard hairs are also ticked, with alternating lighter and darker bands of blue along the hair shaft. The tips of the longer guard hairs are edged in silver, giving the Chartreux an iridescent sheen, particularly noted in those cats with a paler shade of gray, and in any Chartreux in the areas of shorter fur such as the face, ears and legs.

The undercoat consists of shorter slightly crimped wavy light colored hairs. These yield the wooly coat texture. The breaking is most notable in unbathed sexually intact cats who have a particularly large amount of lanolin in their fur.

Rarely a long haired Chartreux is born. The long hair autosomal recessive gene is present in some Chartreux, although the prevalence is quite low, and most breeders select against it. This gene was probably present in some of the original Chartreux, such as in the hospital cats of the Leger sisters, as well as from Persians and British Shorthairs. The long hair gene can remain undetected for generations because it requires two copies of a recessive gene, one from both the mother and from the father, for the phenotypic trait to be expressed. Therefore, it is virtually impossible for a recessive gene to be eliminated from a breed. However, application of strict breeding criteria can diminish the incidence.

Chartreux are actually tabby cats, with usually either mackerel or classic tabby patterns present at birth. It may take up to two years for the tabby markings to disappear. Meanwhile, ghost barring and tail rings may persist. Most show standards allow for remnants of these markings in cats less than two years of age.

Occasionally the white spotting gene will be expressed and the Chartreux will have a locket of white on his chest, or less often a white button on the belly. Any white spot is a disqualification in the show ring. As with the long hair gene, the white spotting gene has probably been present, but seldom expressed, throughout the history of the Chartreux.

Almost all Chartreux have blood type A. Although the blood types of cats are different than those in humans, there are two feline blood types, A and B. If kittens have a different blood type than their mother, they can die at birth from breakdown of their red blood cells caused by the reaction of the kitten with the antibodies in the mother’s milk. Most all Chartreux breeders refuse to breed any cats with type B blood, as this cause of neonatal kitten death can readily be prevented with selective breeding of only cats with type A blood. Of course, blood type can only be determined by laboratory testing, and is not of any concern to the pet owner or exhibitor.

Though the Chartreux is a study of contrasts, the overall appearance of power and beauty is very pleasing to the eye and touch.

 

Care and Health Back to Top

Most breeders require that their Chartreux cats are kept indoors only and that they are never to be declawed. The cats are exposed to traffic, parasites, diseases, and other dangers when allowed outdoors.

Most cat registries only allow pedigreed cats to be shown if they have all their claws, as declawing is considered a cruel and unnecessary procedure. Declawing, or onychectomy, is primarily an American surgical procedure and involves complete amputation of the distal bone of the cat's paw at the joint. Declawing is illegal in most European nations.

As all cats, Chartreux need a constant supply of fresh clean water.

They are not fussy eaters, and are usually content with premium quality dry cat food in front of them at all times as they are usually “grazers.” Premium foods may cost more than the grocery store brands, but the quality is higher and you should see a shining difference in the coat.

Spayed and neutered Chartreux can easily become overweight. You may need to change to a “less active” or “lite” cat food, or only feed him twice a day, to keep proper weight. Be judicious in offering treats.

You may need to exercise your cat daily by playing games with him. He will run after a spot of light, such as that from a penlight or laser, but never let the light shine into his eyes. He will also delight in playing with feathers, ping-pong balls and other kitty toys. Chartreux love catnip, which initially excites cats, then makes them very mellow.

Remember, the pannus is normal for Chartreux. So if your cat otherwise seems to be in good weight, your veterinarian should consider this before announcing that your cat is overweight and needs to be on a diet!

All cats may be sensitive to food changes and any cat can develop inflammatory bowel disease, which may require treatment such as steroids prescribed by your veterinarian. Make any changes in food very gradually, over several weeks. Some foods, even the dry foods, may be too rich for your Chartreux. You may even need to change to an adult food for a five-month kitten if the kitten food he is on seems to be either causing him to gain too much weight or causing loose stools. Stress can worsen inflammatory bowel disease in any cat.

Some Chartreux develop stress-induced diarrhea at about age four to six months as they begin to teethe. This is very distressing to new owners, but teething in cats, just as in human children, causes only a temporary illness. When all the teeth are in, the stools usually become normal. While teething, kittens often enjoy having something soft to gnaw on, such as a wet towel or sock. They especially may want to nibble your toes at this age! Their appetite may decrease until teething is completed.

It is important to get your kitten adjusted to being handled over his entire body. He should allow you to pet him all over, caress his ears, clip his claws and put your fingers in his mouth. These are valuable lessons, as sometime you may need to brush your cat's teeth or give him oral medications.

Always handle your kitten gently. When picking him up, support both his front and hindquarters, as these are relatively heavy. Never drop your cat onto a table or other surface, as this is very hard on his fine boned legs and knees.

Chartreux are slow to develop, physically and emotionally. In fact, even the growth plates of the bones of the Chartreux do not close as early as those of other breeds. The relatively heavy weight of the torso on those fine legs may contribute to the bowing of the tibias that, in some individuals, can lead to patellar subluxation. This condition of the knees is perhaps more common in Chartreux than in other cats, and in serious cases it may require corrective surgery. Patellar subluxation may not be apparent until the cat is two years old. Chartreux breeders try to select against unsound knees in their breeding programs. However, this condition is polygenetic and probably never can be completely eliminated.

Petting your Chartreux daily is the best grooming. The short thick coat does not require much maintenance. You may want to use a comb, especially in the spring when he may be shedding his winter coat, to minimize hairballs, as well as reducing the amount of hair on the furniture and on your clothes.

If his coat becomes overly oily, you may want to bathe him. The lanolin in the coat, along with the dense wooly undercoat, can make bathing difficult, as the fur is so water repellant. To remove the lanolin oils, some show exhibitors bathe the cats in a dishwashing detergent. Although you may occasionally need to use a grease-cutting detergent to remove excessive oils, the need for this is much less common in spayed and neutered cats than in intact breeding adults, who may also need special feline grooming products to become “show” clean. Pet Chartreux can usually be bathed with any feline shampoo.

A recently bathed Chartreux will usually have much less coat breaking. However, the wavy hairs of the undercoat will still cause the guard hairs to stand out somewhat away from the skin, still showing a slightly wooly texture as compared to the sleek coated breeds.

Remember, because of his water-repellant coat, it can take quite a long time to bathe a Chartreux as it takes a while to get water down to the skin. It can also take longer to dry a Chartreux than other shorthaired breeds.

Also, remember that your cat “can do no wrong” while being bathed. This is an unnatural frightening act for the cat, and he is only graciously allowing you to do this to him. Never scold the cat if he becomes upset. This will only make things worse. Rather, gently comfort him with your voice and hold him close to your body, and after a couple of bathing experiences he will probably come to trust you fully and even enjoy his baths.

Especially in the dry air of the cold winter months, cats can be shocked by static electricity as one reaches to pet them. Often the electricity will arc from your fingers to the cat’s ears. The cats quickly learn to avoid their owners after being shocked a few times! To prevent this uncomfortable and scary shocking experience for your cat, occasionally rub him with a fabric softener sheet. Rub very lightly over the head and trunk, and be very certain that the ears, feet, and tail are well treated with the antistatic sheet.

Provide a scratching post, preferably made of sisal or sisal rope, for the cat to shed the excess cuticle from his claws. Trim his claws with a small scissors-like claw trimmer. Gently extend the claw by pressing on the upper and lower aspects of the toe. Then, being certain not to cut into the quick where the sensitive nerve endings and blood vessels are, cut the claw from side to side. This creates a clean trim, and prevents damaging the claw. If your cat scratches in inappropriate places, there are soft plastic caps that can be placed over each claw by your veterinarian. Remember that cats are attracted to rough textured, nubby fabrics and surfaces. Smooth surfaces and fabrics such as polished cotton or leather are much less appealing and less likely to become inadvertent scratching areas. You may consider treating areas that the cat is inappropriately scratching with a product such as “Feliway”, a pheromone spray made by Farnam Companies Inc.

Never give your cat any medication unless prescribed by your veterinarian. Some over-the-counter remedies, as well as some herbs and plants, may be fatal to your cat.

When my own cats and kittens need extra medical attention that I cannot provide, they visit Dr. Melinda Chambers and all the wonderful people at the Central Kansas Veterinary Center. There, outstanding veterinary care is given to my cats in a high-tech, yet warm and supportive, hospital which is staffed around the clock every day. They even have an on-line library of pet information. Before your cat gets sick or injured, develop a good relationship with your own veterinarian, and let him meet your new Chartreux.

Your Chartreux needs an annual distemper (Feline viral rhinotracheitis-Calici-panleukopenia aka FVRCP aka three-in-one or a feline viral rhinotracheitis-Calici-panleukopenia-chlamydia aka FVRCPC aka four-in-one) vaccination. With your veterinarian you will need to decide if you wish to vaccinate for other diseases, considering the area in which you live, if you will be traveling, and if your cat is expected to come into close contact with other cats.

Some Chartreux tend to get gingivitis if their teeth are not well cared for. It is a good idea to bring your Chartreux to the vet for periodic check-ups and dental cleaning. You may want to teach your cat to allow you to brush their teeth as your veterinarian can instruct you.

Before bringing your new Chartreux into your family, pet-proof your home by putting childproof latches on cabinet doors, putting plastic covers into any unused electrical outlets, and removing any plants, which may be poisonous to cats. Do not allow your cat to get into any situation in which he could contact any products containing phenol or radiator antifreeze, as these substances are fatal to cats.

Also, only use flea and tic products prescribed by your veterinarian as such over-the-counter products can sometimes cause deadly illness in your cat. Do not put on any collar without a safety release feature which will prevent your cat from getting caught or hanged by the collar.

Give your Chartreux lots of love and attention by petting him, talking to him, rubbing his cheeks, and scratching under his chin. He will repay you may times over with purrs, kitty kisses, head butts, and naps on your lap. You will be his person!

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