Last updated: February 18, 2017
France’s national cat, the Chartreux is also known as the “potato on toothpicks” due to his unique, primitive body structure. This is an old breed that is not that common and can be difficult to come by, particularly if you are looking outside of his native France.
The Chartreux is a medium to large cat with females typically weighing at least 6 – 9 pounds and males 10 – 14 pounds. He is always blue in colour although the shade of blue can range from ash gray to slate. The body of the Chartreux is considered primitive with a very sturdy torso with broad shoulders and a deep chest. Although large, the body should be agile and well-muscled. The body sits on finely boned legs which is where the potato on toothpicks concept comes from.
The head is round and broad with full cheeks and powerful jaws. The ears are small to medium in size and sit high on the skull. The tips are slightly rounded. The eyes are large and rounded although not completely round. They are gold to copper in colour with orange being the preferred shade. Overall the head should appear to be smiling and sweet in expression.
The most unique feature of the Chartreux though is his unique coat. It is woolly in texture and quite water resistant. It is thick and dense and features a soft, warm undercoat. It should not be brushed but instead, finger combed. It is a medium length.
These cats can be quite slow to mature, with males taking up to 4 to 5 years to reach their mature body type.
As with many other breeds, the exact origins of the Chartreux are unknown. They have been mentioned in French literature since the 14th century and were well known as mousers during that period. Some have suggested that they came to France from Persia alongside knights returning from the Crusades and found their way into monasteries, including the head monastery, the Grande Chartreuse, which was the headquarters for the Carthusian monks in the French Alps. These are the same monks that produced the liqueur known as Chartreuse and the legend claims this is where their name came from.
Others have suggested that the name came from the similarity between the cat’s coat and that of the Spanish wool of the same name. Regardless of how they came to be named, the cat’s coat was valued for its unique texture and in some cases, they were raised for fur. They were mainly kept as mousers though and were apparently quite adept at it.
As with many other breeds, the two world wars decimated the population of Chartreux and other breeds including the British Shorthair, Russian Blue, and Persian were used to rebuild the breed. The French have adopted them as their official cat and they have been owned by many famous French people including Colette and Charles de Gaulle. They were not well known outside of France for a long time and only came to the United States in 1970 when they were imported by John and Helen Gamon. Today, they have many admirers but can be hard to come by. People should expect to have to go on a waiting list to acquire a kitten.
The Chartreux is a relatively healthy breed. They typically live 12 – 15 years. They are prone to hip dysplasia and patellar luxation. The latter is an inherited dislocation of the knee and can occur in one or both rear legs. Both of these diseases are orthopedic issues that cause few problems in mild cases but can be treated surgically if necessary.
Struvite stones in the urinary tract and polycystic kidney disease also occur in the Chartreux. These conditions can be managed through diet and medication but eventually the kidneys will fail. The earlier the disease is caught, the better it can be managed. Common symptoms of struvite stones include difficulty urinating, inappropriate urination, and unusually frequent but small urination. Properly trained cats do not forget about their litter box, provided that it is kept clean. Cats that suddenly start urinating in odd places should be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Polycystic kidney disease does not always provide many symptoms although increased thirst and excessive drinking are always signs of a problem that should be brought to your vet’s attention. Cats with polycystic kidney disease may also develop stones.
The Chartreux is a cat that prefers to be on the ground. He does enjoy climbing but is not given to flying through the air like some other breeds. They prefer not to be picked up although they will gladly occupy an available lap. This should not be interpreted as a lack of intelligence or playfulness. They can be silly and enjoy playing with toys and interacting with their families.
They are a quiet breed with some hardly ever vocalizing at all. When they do, it tends more towards chirping than the typical meowing of most cats.
The Chartreux is a calm breed that tends to get along well with the whole family although they often become particularly attached to one person within the family unit. They are patient and will do well with children. When they get annoyed, they have a tendency to walk away rather than react. Periods of playfulness are usually followed by naps and quiet times.
They will do well with cat-friendly dogs and other felines. Their history as a mouser makes rodents an unwise pet choice and they will spend hours watching birds with equal intensity so small pets in general are not advisable.
They are adaptable pets and approach new situations with caution, including guests. Once they have decided that they approve of the new situation, they handle it with typical dignity. They are well suited to travel and will adapt to homes where someone is home frequently or they are alone for extended periods of time.
Like many other purebred cats, they can have dog-like tendencies including enjoying games like fetch, coming when called, and following their people from room to room. They enjoy attention but do not demand it the way some breeds do. They make an excellent choice for most situations provided the other pets are not likely to bring their hunting instincts to the fore.