Published on September 2nd, 2016 | by Debbie Martin0
Cat Breed Series: Russian
The famous Russian Blue breed stands out from the crowd thanks to its famously blue coat. Each strand of fur has a silver tip, which gives the coat a wonderful glistening quality as the animal moves. Though the blue version of this breed is the more famous (and arguably more desirable) other forms of the Russian also exist, like the Russian White and Russian Black.
Breeding associations are notoriously finicky about the animals they recognise as Russian blue, and it’s for this reason that the qualities that constitute the breed have been so well-maintained throughout its history. Let’s examine the breed in closer detail, and see if we can find out how a Russian cat might fit into your home.
Profile: What is a Russian?
The trademark coat of a Russian is notably short and dense. So much so, in fact, that you’re able to draw on its coat with your finger – the hairs will not return to their original position until they’re smoothed back again. Beneath the fur lies a body that’s lithe, functional and musculature. The skeleton is slightly finer that the competition, and this is often displayed via the cat’s natural posture, which is often regal and haughty, accentuating its natural lines.
Another quality which sets the Russian breed apart from its rivals are the size of its eyes. These are large and disc-shaped, and set above wide cheekbones and between similarly-large, flared ears. These qualities combine to give the cat an air of aristocracy that comes from its heritage.
They’re about as long-lived as other breeds, and are capable of living into their late teens – and even beyond. And like most breeds, they’re sexually dimorphic, with males being slightly larger than females.
History: Where did the Russian come from?
It’s probably no great revelation that the Russian can trace its heritage back to its homeland of Russia. But much of the breed’s history takes place outside of its home – a fact which you might have deduced by the fact that Russians would not have named the cat ‘Russian’ – just as the English did not name the Devon Rex after England, but after a specific part of it.
Sure enough, when we examine the breed’s history, we find that it had another name in its early years. In the 19th century, we find it referred to as an ‘Archangel Blue’. And sure enough, we find that it first came to be discovered in the port city of Archangelsk, to the country’s North. This place enjoyed strong trade routes with Europe via the White Sea, and it’s thanks to this quirk of geography that the breed found its way to England via sailors in the 19th century (had the city been an inland one, it’s unlikely that the breed would have spread anywhere near as widely).
The breed enjoyed its debut at a British show in 1875, where it was displayed in Crystal Palace as ‘the Archangel Cat’. It competed with other blue cats until the early 20th century, before being honoured with a category of its own.
But the cats which first arrived in Europe were quite unlike the breed we know today. It was only after export that the breed’s development really kicked off. These breeding efforts were centred largely in England and Scandinavia – places at which, not coincidentally, Russian sailors would have stopped on their journey back and forth between Archangelsk and Whitley Bay.
After the Second World War, the history of the Russian Blue would take a different turn, as the breed was introduced to America. During the war, the breed’s numbers had dwindled (since the industry had been put on hold until the war had been won.) Siamese was therefore introduced into the bloodline as the breed made its way to the states. The Siamese qualities have now, however, been largely bred out. Russian blacks and whites would come later in the 1960s. Breeders in both the UK and Australia would set to work creating new sorts of Russian cat, the aforementioned White and Black.
Personality: What’s a Russian like to own?
Like many breeds of cat, the Russian blue is amiable and intelligent. When first introduced to someone, it will be wary of associating with them – it won’t bound up them in the same way that more sociable breeds like the Siamese might. During this period of initial introduction, the breed will make a decision about whether it would like to associate with the new person – and afterwards, they’re generally as friendly and playful as any other breed.
Many interpret this period of initial aloofness as evidence of the cat’s snobbish or aristocratic nature. It’s easy to imagine the Russian upper classes of the 19th century treating the lower classes with the same condescension. But really, this reputation is undeserved – and it makes little sense, anyway, as the Russian Blue comes from the distinctly un-regal world of dockland in freezing North-Russia.
The Russian blue is affectionate, and a loving companion for all members of a household – including children and other animals. That said, they’re also able to function if left to their own devices for a while. As such, they’re perfect pets for both busy households where people are constantly coming and going, and for people who live alone and would like some warmth and companionship when they return after a late shift. They’re relatively comfortable being confined to small spaces (which is probably what equipped them to make the initial perilous sea-voyage to England) and are therefore suitable to being housebound.
Being a short-haired cat, the Russian requires very little special care when it comes to grooming. A short brushing session once a week is sufficient to get rid of any loose or dead hairs. This needn’t be a dreaded affair – many Russian blues will appreciate the attention of a soft-tipped brush.
Any Special Health Issues?
Since they’re not the product of short and forceful breeding programme, Russian blues are largely free from genetic health issues. They have just as good a chance at a long and prosperous life as any other breed.