The Oriental Shorthair comes in every kitty color you've ever imagined, and likely some you haven’t. Sometimes called "Ornamentals" because of the myriad possible color and pattern combinations, the breed has the body type of the Siamese but is not confined to the colorpoint pattern or the four traditional colors. OSHs are the most colorful cat breed on the planet—masterpieces that would have made Leonardo da Vinci proud.
The Oriental Shorthair has the Siamese body type—the ideal Oriental is a svelte cat with long, tapering lines, very lithe but muscular, fine-boned, elongated, and tubular. The head is a long, tapering wedge in good proportion to the body. The total wedge starts at the nose and flares out in straight lines to the tips of the ears, forming a triangle with no break at the whiskers. The neck is slender. Adult males weigh 7 to 10 pounds; adult females weigh 5 to 8 pounds. Show cats are in excellent condition and are not flabby, bony, or fat.
The ears are strikingly large, pointed, and wide at the base, continuing the lines of the wedge. The legs are long and thin, in good proportion to the body with the hind legs higher than the front, and dainty, small, and oval paws.
The tail is long, tapering, and not kinked. The eyes are almond-shaped, medium in size, not crossed, and are either blue, green or odd-eyed, depending upon the coat color and pattern. The eyes are set not less than one eye width apart, with a slight slant toward the nose.
This breed’s fine-textured coat is very short, soft, satin-like and close lying to the body. Colors and patterns are too numerous to name, but are divided into the classes of solid, shaded, smoke, parti-color, bicolor, pointed, and tabby. This makes for a bewildering array of variables, but some colors are more common than others. For example, solid ebony, pure white and some of the tabby patterns are particularly popular.
The OSH can be outcrossed with the Siamese and the Colorpoint Shorthair in CFA; in TICA the Balinese is also an allowable outcross. However, in CFA, Oriental Shorthair litters born after June 15, 2010, resulting from pointed to pointed breeding (any cross between a pointed Oriental Shorthair and a Siamese or a Colorpoint Shorthair), are not allowed to be shown, nor are such litters registerable.
Although the Oriental Shorthair wasn’t developed until the 1950s, its parent breed, the Siamese, has been around for centuries. In the past, blue-eyed, pointed-pattern cats were owned by religious leaders and royalty, and were kept in Siam's temples and Royal Palace.
However, the breed we call Siamese was only one of several varieties native to that area. The Cat-Book Poems, a manuscript written in Siam (now Thailand) some time between 1350 and 1767, describes and shows a variety of native cats, including solid black, black and white bicolor, solid brown, solid blue (also known as gray), and shaded silver, as well as the royal cats bearing the pointed color pattern. In fact, the first cats imported to Britain from Thailand in the 1800s were often solid brown or blue. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the blue-eyed, pointed cat became the Siamese norm in Britain.
Today’s Oriental Shorthair is not a direct import from Thailand, but rather a Siamese hybrid. The breed’s creation was deliberate and planned. Breeders wanted a cat similar to the Siamese but in a wider range of colors and patterns. In the 1950s, British breeders crossed Siamese cats with domestic shorthairs and Russian Blues. In the late 1960s, American breeders, excited by the British success, crossed Siamese, domestic shorthairs, and Abyssinians to create new colors. The sleek, lean body style of the Siamese was not sacrificed for color and pattern, and by crossing back to the Siamese the breeders preserved the body type and personality traits of the Siamese.
At first, some cat fanciers weren’t happy about the creation of yet another Siamese hybrid, because the Siamese has been used in the matrix of so many of our modern breeds; but soon the charming personality and striking colors and patterns of the new hybrid won over the opposition.
In 1972, CFA accepted the Oriental Shorthair for registration. In 1976, the breed was given provisional status, and only one year later was granted full championship status. Since then the Oriental Shorthair has rapidly increased in popularity. In recent years the Oriental Shorthair has consistently ranked high among the shorthaired breeds. In 2014, the Oriental ranked the 13th most popular breed out of the 41 breeds CFA recognizes for championship, according to CFA’s registration totals. Today, all North American associations recognize the Oriental Shorthair and many Siamese breeders breed Orientals as well.
In 1995, two major changes occurred in CFA for the Oriental Shorthair. First, the Oriental Shorthair and the Oriental Longhair became a single breed called the Oriental. Before this time, the Oriental Longhair was a separate breed and, therefore, if two Oriental Shorthairs produced longhaired kittens (possible if both parents possessed the recessive longhair gene), those kittens could not be shown as either Oriental Longhairs or Oriental Shorthairs. Now offspring can be registered and shown in whatever division they belong.
Second, the CFA accepted a new color class—bicolor. Bicolors were previously relegated to the non-champion Any Other Variety (AOV) class. Now those cats can be shown for CFA championship. This decision doubled the number of accepted colors and patterns.
In 2013, CFA added one more color class: pointed. This added many additional color and pattern combinations not previously accepted, and made the most varicolored breed recognized today even more diverse and colorful. The CFA pointed color class for Oriental Shorthairs includes red, cream, cinnamon, fawn, blue-cream, lilac-cream, fawn-cream, and patterns including lynx point, tortie lynx point, smoke, silver, and shaded. However, to eliminate confusion between Siamese and Orientals, the traditional Siamese colors of seal point, chocolate point, blue point, and lilac point are not allowed.
In addition, effective with Oriental litters born after June 15, 2010, no Oriental litters that result from pointed to pointed breedings will be registrable. This means crosses between pointed Orientals and Siamese, and between pointed Orientals and Colorpoint Shorthairs are not permitted.