The Exotic is a medium to large breed with short, thick legs and a muscular, heavily boned, cobby body. The head is massive and round with a wide skull set on a short, thick neck. The eyes are large, round, and set far apart. The nose is short, snub, and broad with a break centered between the eyes. Ears are small and rounded at the tip, set far apart and low on the head. When viewed in profile, the prominence of the eyes is apparent and the forehead, nose, and chin appear to be in vertical alignment.
The tail is thick and short but in proportion to the body. Adult males weigh 7 to 14 pounds; adult females weigh 6 to 10 pounds. Type is more important than size. Balance and refinement are essential—all parts should come together in a harmonious whole, with neither too much nor too little consideration given to any feature.
The fur is soft, dense, plush, full of life, and stands out from the body due to the undercoat. Like the Persian, it has a thick undercoat (referred to as “double-coated”), and while considered a shorthaired breed, the coat is slightly longer than that of most shorthaired cats. The CFA standard calls it medium in length; the length depends on the proper undercoat. The tail brush is very full. The dense coat and round body leads to what is sometimes called "the teddy bear look."
Exotics are available in a rainbow of hues too numerous to mention, including the pointed pattern and colors. Eye color depends upon coat color. Outcrossing is allowed with the Persian and Himalayan in most associations.
This Persian in his pajamas, as the Exotic is sometimes called, wasn’t created to give fanciers a break from grooming. During late 1950s and early 1960s, some American Shorthair breeders began to crossbreed Persians with their American Shorthairs (then called Domestic Shorthairs) to improve the conformation and to introduce the Persian’s spectacular silver color into their breed. As a result, the American Shorthair began to take on Persian characteristics. Their faces became rounder and broader, their noses shorter, their ears smaller, and their bodies more boxy and compact in design. Their hair became longer, softer, and denser, too.
The Persian was not an allowable outcross for the ASH, of course; breeders were drawing outside the bloodlines without letting anyone in on their secret. They were rewarded for these illegitimate pairings, however, because the hybrids did well in the cat shows.
Other American Shorthair breeders were appalled at the changes. They had worked very hard to get the ASH the respect it deserved, and they didn't want to see their breed transformed into a shorthaired Persian. The breed standard was revised to disqualify any cat showing evidence of hybridization—but they allowed the striking silver color to remain. The as-yet unnamed ASH/Persian hybrids might have quietly vanished if it wasn’t for Jane Martinke, a CFA judge and American Shorthair breeder. She was the first to see the potential of these handsome hybrids, and in 1966 she proposed to the CFA board of directors that these cats be recognized as a new breed.
At first, the suggested name was Sterling for the recently introduced silver color. They finally settled on Exotic Shorthair, because silver wasn’t a color previously found in the American Shorthair, thereby making them "exotic." Some fanciers felt the name was confusing to those who were not familiar with the breed, but even so the name stuck. In 1967, the Exotic Shorthair was accepted for CFA championship. In 1993, CFA shortened the name to Exotic, although five of the other eight cat associations still refer to the breed as the Exotic Shorthair.
In those early days, Exotic breeders had their work cut out for them because many Persian breeders opposed the new breed. Few would allow their cats to be used in Exotic breeding programs. Breeders who bred both Persians and Exotics had an easier time of it, since they already had access to good Persian stock, but progress was slow. However, the Exotic and its breeders outlasted their opponents. The Exotic has been the most popular shorthaired breed for decades. In 2014, however, the Exotic took the number one slot away from the Persian, and earned the coveted place of the most popular breed overall, according to CFA’s 2014 registration totals.
Initially, Exotic breeders used Burmese and Russian Blues in addition to American Shorthairs to introduce the dominant shorthair gene. Breeders used these shorthaired breeds just long enough to get the shorthair gene into the bloodlines. After it was introduced, crossing back to shorthairs was unnecessary and made it more difficult to achieve the prized Persian type. In 1987, CFA closed the Exotic to shorthair outcrosses altogether, leaving the Persian as CFA’s only allowable outcross.
This left Exotic breeders with a problem. One of the frustrating difficulties was that Exotic kittens with long hair could be born if both shorthaired parents carried the longhair recessive gene. Because the Exotic was and still is periodically bred to Persians to keep the desired body and head type, many Exotics do possess one copy of the recessive longhair gene and one copy of the dominant shorthair gene. Such heterozygous Exotics will have short hair but can pass the gene for long hair onto their offspring. The gene can be passed for generations without showing up in the offspring's physical appearance. But when two heterozygous Exotics are mated, on average litters will include one longhaired kitten, two heterozygous shorthairs and one homozygous shorthair, which possesses two copies of the shorthair gene.
Because Exotics are regarded as hybrids and Persians are not, these longhaired kittens are still considered Exotics—a longhaired version of a shorthaired Persian, the oxymoron of the cat fancy. In the beginning, this was a major problem for Exotic Shorthair breeders because the longhairs they produced could not be registered or shown as either Exotics or Persians. They could be used in Exotic breeding programs, but the show ring was closed to them.
In 2010, however, CFA changed these rules. Now, Exotic Longhairs that meet Persian color descriptions are eligible to compete in Persian color classes. The Exotic Shorthair parentage is indicated by special registration prefixes. The longhair division for Exotics was created for scoring purposes, and national and regional points accumulated by Exotic Longhairs shown in Persian color classes count toward Exotic Longhair breed and color class wins, not toward Persian wins. This is fair for the Persians being shown, since they aren’t completing against show Exotic Longhairs, and it gives the Exotic breeders a way of exhibiting and earning points for outstanding examples of Exotic Longhairs.
In AACE, ACFA, CCA, CFF, and UFO, the Exotic Shorthair and the Exotic Longhair are accepted for championship competition as separate breeds, with crossbreeding allowed. ACFA recognizes the variety under the name Longhair Exotic; in CCA, the two breeds are judged separately but share a single breed standard under the name “Exotic.” In TICA, the Exotic Shorthair, Persian, and Himalayan share a single standard and are part of the Persian Breed Group; these breeds may be bred with one another and are judged according to their appearance and hair length. This way, good-quality longhaired Exotics can be shown for championship, and breeders don’t have to worry about what to do with the longhaired kittens who will continue to be born.