Chartreux: Cat Breed FAQ

Picture
of GC Lutece Hymne a la Joie

The Chartreux is a natural French breed of great antiquity. It is known for its gray-blue color, wooly double coat, powerful build, and mild temperament. Although it is a massive cat, it has a sweet, smiling expression and a tiny voice. It is always gray-blue in color, with gold to copper eyes. Authors through the centuries have praised the Chartreux as a gentle cat, a quiet cat, an excellent hunter, devoted to its master, easy to keep and a good traveler. These characteristics were prized in a working breed, and are still true of the Chartreux today.

History

Stories of the "blue cats of France" began during the sixteenth century. It is thought that these cats descend from the "Cat of Syria," described in the 16th century as a stocky cat with a wooly ash-gray coat and copper eyes, which was first brought to Europe during the Crusades.
People probably began to use the name "Chartreux" for these cats during the 17th century. By the beginning of the 18th century, trade dictionaries and encyclopedias listed "Chartreux" as the common name of a type of blue cat whose pelt was prized by furriers. The naturalists, Linnaeus and Buffon, wrote of the Chartreux as the cat of France and gave it a Latin name (Felis Catus Coeruleus, "blue cat") to distinguish it from the domestic cat (Felis Catus Domesticus).
Natural colonies of these cats were known to exist in Paris and in isolated regions of France until the early twentieth century. They were never very numerous. Although known as the cat of France, they were also thought of as a cat of the common people. They did not lead easy lives, as they were valued primarily for their pelts and meat, or as ratters.
After WWI, French cat breeders became interested in preserving this ancient breed for posterity. The initial breeding stock came from geographically isolated colonies of Chartreux; one important colony was on an island, Belle Ile. Early breeders put together a breed standard based on the 18th century naturalists' descriptions. They were careful from the beginning to utilize only those cats that bred true to the standard. Chartreux from these breeding programs were exhibited in European shows beginning in 1928.
By the end of WWII, there were no known natural colonies of blue cats left in France. Since that time Chartreux have been available only from breeders. They are still relatively rare, even in France. They are unknown in many countries including the UK. Chartreux were first imported to the US in the 1970s, and since then, the US is known to have some of the purest breeding lines of Chartreux.
Breeders in the US and France have tried to preserve the Chartreux unchanged through the years. The early show cats from the 1930s could be Grand Champions in our shows today. This is unusual in the cat fancy (many breeds have changed substantially in that time). It is due to the continuous effort of breeders dedicated to preservation.
Quite a few notable French have owned pedigreed Chartreux, including General de Gaulle, and the well-known writer, Colette. Colette's book La Chatte features Saha, one of her Chartreux.

Characteristics and Temperament

Chartreux are less talkative than other breeds. Many Chartreux are completely mute: they purr, but cannot meow. Others have a quiet, high pitched meow or chirp which they use infrequently. This quietness can be a plus, but remember that a silent cat cannot let you know when it is lost or in trouble.
Neither gregarious nor shy, Chartreux are calmly attentive to the world, and will tend to hang back and observe, rather than rushing in. They are tolerant and gentle with strangers, small children, and other animals. They tend to withdraw from conflict rather than becoming fearful or aggressive. They accommodate themselves to most situations without complaint, travel well, and do not mind being left alone for long periods.
They are natural hunters, more interested in chasing and "killing" a toy than in romping around or wrestling in play. Even in play they are efficient, watching until the perfect moment and then letting loose with a fast and accurate pounce. They play in short spurts, sleeping and relaxing the rest of the time. They are creatures of habit and enjoy the same games and rituals day after day.
Towards those they love, Chartreux display a passionate devotion that strangers would never guess at. They prefer to be nearby, preferably getting their jowls scratched and giving loving head-bumps to their owners! They will follow you everywhere, comfort you when you are sad or ill, and prefer to sleep with you or on top of you. Their supportive, cheerful presence can be wonderful for elderly people and people living alone.
Yet this devotion is never obtrusive. They do not demand attention, and are content to sit quietly when you are busy. They have a strong sense of proper behavior and strive to be "good citizens." They likewise appreciate courtesy from others, and remember how they have been treated. Chartreux are highly sensitive to scolding and praise, although they can sometimes be slow learners. Be patient and forgiving with this gentle breed.

Care and Grooming

The short thick coat does not require much maintenance. During shedding season you will want to spend some time brushing out dead hairs so that they do not cover your clothes and furniture. If you ever need to bathe your Chartreux, be forewarned that it will take time to get it wet down to the skin. The coat repels water due to its thickness and texture.
Chartreux are not picky eaters, but can sometimes be sensitive to changes in diet or very rich food. Some Chartreux breeders switch to adult food around age 4 or 5 months because the premium kitten foods are so rich. Older Chartreux may need to be switched to a "light" cat food so that they do not become overweight.
Some Chartreux have small and close-set incisors which can get pushed out of line when the adult teeth come in, and might need to be pulled. Also, some Chartreux tend to get gingivitis if their teeth are not well cared for. It's a good idea to bring your Chartreux to the vet for periodic tooth check-ups and cleaning.

Special Medical Concerns

Patellar luxation (displacement of the kneecap) is sometimes seen in Chartreux. This condition, when mild, does not usually cause any symptoms in the cat, but if it is severe, it can cause lameness. Because this condition is hereditary, most reputable breeders screen their breeding animals for it and do not use questionable animals for breeding. You may want to ask questions about patellar luxation when you talk to breeders.

Chartreux and British Blues

Some cat books claim that the Chartreux is the same cat as the British Blue, or that it "once was a separate breed, but has now become identical to the British Blue." This is not true. Not only do the two breeds have different physical and temperamental characteristics, but pedigree research and blood typing confirms that the breeds have distinct ancestry. These books are referring to the confusing use of the name "Chartreux" by certain European cat clubs to refer to the British Blue.
In 1970, FIFe (the European federation of cat fanciers) decided to assimilate the Chartreux with the British Blue under the name "Chartreux" but with the breed standard of the British Blue. This decision came about because many of the member countries were not interested in the Chartreux as a breed, but preferred the name "Chartreux" with its long history to the less interesting name "blue British Shorthair." They sought to save the name and apply it to another breed.
Chartreux breeders protested, and in 1977, FIFe overturned its earlier decision and returned to separate registries and standards for the two breeds. However, since the 1970s, a few "independent" (non-FIFe) European cat clubs have continued to use the name "Chartreux" for the blue British Shorthair, or for the blue European Shorthair, or for hybrids between these breeds and the Chartreux. This practice is more common in those countries like Germany where there are fewer genuine Chartreux available.

Recognition

Chartreux have championship status in all major associations in the US (CFA, TICA, ACFA, and CFF). They also have championship status in the major European association, FIFe. The US associations and FIFe do not allow hybridization with other breeds. Chartreux registered in these associations are pure Chartreux.
Chartreux are not recognized by the major association in the UK (GCCF).
Use caution when buying Chartreux from European breeders that are not FIFe affiliated. Some European cat clubs that are not affiliated with FIFe use the name "Chartreux" for cats of other breeds such as the British or European Shorthair. These "Chartreux" are not the same breed as the Chartreux accepted in the US and in FIFe. Some of them even have long hair or come in colors other than blue.
When choosing a registered name for your Chartreux, it is customary to use the French naming system. The first letter of the cat's name is determined by the year of the cat's birth. The years follow a 20 year cycle (the letters K, Q, W, X, Y, and Z are not used). For example, 1993 was an "I" year, so Chartreux born in 1993 have names like Isabelle and Indigo.

Breed Standard

This is a highly condensed and edited version of the CFA breed standard for the 1994-1995 show year. Other US associations have similar standards for this breed; European standards differ slightly. If you want to show or breed your Chartreux, you should get a copy of the current breed standard from your favorite association, and study it carefully!

The Chartreux is a sturdy French breed coveted since antiquity for its hunting prowess and its dense, water repellent fur.
Broad, rounded head with powerful jaw and full cheeks. Straight nose with a slight depression between the eyes. Comparatively small, tapered muzzle. Sweet, smiling expression. Medium sized ears set high on the head, with a very erect posture. Rounded, open, expressive eyes.
Robust, medium-long body with broad shoulders and deep chest. Solid and dense. Females are medium in size, males are large. Tapering, moderate length tail. Comparatively short and fine-boned legs. Feet are round and appear almost dainty compared to body mass.
Slightly wooly, medium-short coat (slightly longer than most shorthairs). Dense undercoat; longer, protective topcoat. The coat should clump up like sheepskin (we say the coat "breaks") at the neck and flanks. Silkier, thinner coat permitted on young cats and females.
Color: Any shade of blue-gray from ash to slate; tips of hairs lightly brushed with a pale silvery color. The coat should be clear (not have shadow barring) although young cats may have some barring or tail rings. Slate gray nose leather, blue lips, rose-taupe paw pads. Eye color is copper to gold, with brilliant orange preferred.
Cats with a white spot, kinked tail, green eyes, or any signs of lameness in the hindquarters, are disqualified and may not be shown.

Point score (the relative importance of these characteristics):
Head structure: 35
Body structure (including legs and tail): 30
Coat length and texture: 20
Coat color and eye color: 15

Frequently Asked Questions

"Are they really blue? More bluish than other gray cats?"

In the cat fancy, we use the term "blue" to refer to the gray-blue color also known as gray or "maltese." This neutral tone takes on different tints at different times, sometimes appearing bluish or almost lavender. The apparent tint is affected by variation in coat shade and texture, as well as variation in lighting and background. Blue cats can be difficult to photograph accurately!

"What other breeds come in blue?"

The Chartreux, Korat, and Russian Blue are only accepted in solid blue. They are known as the "blue breeds" of the cat fancy. The British Shorthair often appears in solid blue, although it can come in many other colors as well. In fact, solid blue can appear in almost any breed as well as in the "domestic" (the non-pedigreed cat). Solid blue does not indicate that a cat is related to the Chartreux or any other breed.

"Are Chartreux good for allergic people? Do they shed?"

Chartreux have a thick undercoat ("double coat"). Once or twice a year, they usually have some heavy seasonal shedding. Even though they do not shed heavily during the rest of the year, the short, downy undercoat hairs tend to drift through the air and sometimes get in your eyes and nose! For this reason, Chartreux are NOT recommended for allergic people, or people who frequently have allergic houseguests.

"How big do they get?"

Like the Maine Coon, the Chartreux is a massive, slow-maturing breed. The males are usually much larger than the females and slower to mature. Female Chartreux take about three years to reach their full size of 7-10 lbs. Male Chartreux usually take four or five years to reach their full size of 12-16 lbs or more. As a male Chartreux matures, his head and body broadens, his jowls (chubby cheeks) develop, and his coat becomes thicker and woolier.

Looks can be deceiving with the densely built Chartreux. An average sized male Chartreux has the same bulk as many of the other large breeds, but the Chartreux appears much smaller because of his shorter legs, compact build, and short coat. Pick him up, however, and you'll be surprised at his weight!

"How much do they cost?"

Chartreux sold as pets usually cost $800-1000. Because Chartreux are rare and demand is high, breeders often have waiting lists of 4-8 months for pet Chartreux. Sometimes breeders will have older cats available to a good home for much less; these can be excellent pets. If you are looking for a Chartreux to breed or show, spend time talking to several breeders and learn as much as you can about the various bloodlines before you buy.

"Where did the breed's name come from?"

Legend says that these cats were brought back from the Crusades by the Carthusian monks (the monks who are famous for the Chartreuse liqueur) and were later raised by the monks as companions. Although this story suits the unobtrusive temperament of the breed (some people even say the cats "took the vow of silence") the present day order of Carthusians does not have any record of these cats.

Another hypothesis is suggested by the early mentions of the Chartreux as "a type of blue cat whose pelts are traded by furriers." The pelt was valued for the thick, wooly texture of the fur. It is possible that fur traders and clothing makers named the cat after a type of fine wool called "pile de Chartreux" which was considered very luxurious at the time.

"How do you pronounce the name?"

The "X" is silent!!! Most US breeders pronounce the name as "shar-TROO", and a few say "shar-TROW". For a better approximation, if you are familiar with the French pronunciation of "Chartreuse" (like the liqueur), "Chartreux" should sound the same except that you omit the final consonant sound.

Breed Clubs

  1. Les Amis des Chartreux (USA)
    CFA affiliated Chartreux breed club since 1983. The club publishes a newsletter, "Griffonage", and gives the Gamon Award to CFA's highest scoring Chartreux kitten, adult, and premier. Contact: Kitty Kisrow, 202 Scott Ave, Nashville, TN 37206.
  2. Club du chat des Chartreux (Europe)
    Large, active FIFe affiliated breed club which promotes the Chartreux throughout Europe. Also publishes a newsletter. Contact: M. Simonnet, 66 rue de Ponthieu, 75008 Paris.

Bibliography/References

  1. The Chartreux Cat, Jean Simonnet, 1990. This 200 page book is the English edition (translated by Jerry Auerbach) of Jean Simonnet's treatise on the breed and its history. It is available from: J. Auerbach, 823 Debra Street, Livermore, CA 94550
  2. "The Blue Cats of France," Genevieve Scudder, Cats Magazine, February 1975.
  3. "The Chartreux," Pierre Vincent, Cat Fancy, February 1978.
  4. "The Chartreux," Andrea Hawkins, Pet News, January 1980.
  5. "The Chartreux," Pierre Vincent, Cat Fancy, September 1981.
  6. "The Chartreux," Andrea Hawkins, 1981 CFA Yearbook.
  7. "The Chartreux - France's Fascinating Feline," Andrea Hawkins, Cats Magazine, May 1983.
  8. "The Chartreux," Andrea Hawkins, Cat Fancy, June 1985.
  9. "The Chartreux," Alexis MacPherson, 1986 TICA Yearbook.
  10. "The Chartreux - Living Legends," Debra Rexelle, Cat World, April 1987.
  11. "The Chartreux," Phil Maggitti, Cats Magazine, August 1990.
  12. "The Chartreux - Not Just Another Blue Cat," Marcus Click, CFA Almanac, March 1992.
  13. "The Chartreux," Cats Magazine, June 1994.

Related Web pages

  1. The Fanciers mailing list is a discussion group of cat breeders and exhibitors.
  2. The France homepage includes a clickable map of France. The city of Paris also has a nice homepage.

Breeders of all breeds of cats may be found through the Fanciers breeder listing page

This document is Copyright © 1994-2003 Orca Starbuck. All rights reserved. Please contact the author if you wish to reprint this article in whole or in part. Photo: GC Lutece Hymne a la Joie, CFA's National Best Chartreux 1993-1994.
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