Dragon Li Cat: The Embodiment of the Free Spirit

Dragon Li kitten lying in bed
Martha Harvey
Written by Martha Harvey

People today are getting busier and busier with their work and social life, and this could be the main reason why so many of them are reluctant to adopt a cat; they’re not sure that they would be able to give the cat the attention and care they deserve. Luckily, some cat breeds are more low-maintenance than others, and the Dragon Li cat is one such breed.

It’s easy to fall in love with the Dragon Li, seeing as they have black marks around the corners of their mouth that make them appear to be perpetually smiling. Known also as the Chinese Li Hua, the Dragon Li cat is one of the oldest domesticated cat breeds in the world. There are historical write-ups supporting their role in the ancient Chinese civilization.

Dragon Li cat lying down and looking at the camera

They are loyal and fiercely independent. Don’t be surprised if you find presents in the shape of animal carcass at your doorstep every morning because these cats were originally bred to be in-charge of hunting mice. Those presents are proof of their love and devotion.

In this article, you will get to know more about these lovable cats’ traits, breed type, needs, and history. We’ve made sure to include every little detail about these amazing cats. As you learn more about them, you will surely come to adore them to the point of no return.

Breed Characteristics

  • Adaptability: High

  • Grooming: Low Maintenance

  • Health: Very Good

  • All-Around Friendliness: Average

  • Exercise Needs: Above Average. Requires daily exercise to help prevent obesity

Cat Breed GroupShort-Haired, Natural Breed
SizeAverage; a height of around 10 to 14 inches
Weight8 - 11 pounds
Lifespan9 - 16 years

Known for having a large, sturdy, and well-proportioned body, the Dragon Li cat’s trademark is their short and thick coat of brown mackerel hue. They also have big paws and a muscular tail. The outer corners of their large, almond-shaped eyes are placed higher than the inner corner. The eyes are usually green, yellow, or brown, while the ears are medium-sized and ending in a small tuft of fur.

If there is a defining characteristic of the Chinese Li Hua cat that makes them endearing to anyone even at first sight, it would be the small black mark on the upper corner of their mouth. This charming touch makes the beautiful tabby look like they are always smiling.

Dragon Li cat lying on the floor in house

Another striking and distinguishing characteristic of this Chinese cat breed is their standout pattern. Each strand of hair starts with a darker shade of black that progresses into a light yellow around the middle and ending with a brown tip. The legs usually have black rings while the tail usually has a black tip as if it had been lightly dipped in ink.

The Chinese Li Hua cat is highly adaptable. With their active yet calm manner, this breed is considered a great cat for families with children and cat-friendly dogs. This cat breed is known for enjoying interactive toys, and they are smart enough to easily learn a trick or two. Encourage kids above the age of six years old to pet the cat and to treat them nicely and with respect.

Main Highlights

  • In China, the Dragon Li is also known as Li Hua Mao.

  • The coat has ticked hairs which are black around the roots, lighter around the middle, and brown at the tip.

  • Chinese owners of the Li Hua are known for holding weddings for their feline companions.

  • Chinese Li Hua cats have been around for centuries but were only recognized as an experimental breed by the Cat Aficionado Association in China in 2003.

  • This cat breed is distinguished by the two black marks at the corner of their lips that make them appear to be eternally smiling.

  • This cat is naturally healthy although they grow rather slowly and it would take around three years for them to reach their full adult size.

  • This is a very intelligent breed. They are receptive to being petted by small children and can live harmoniously with cat-friendly dogs.

  • They were raised in China to serve as pest control. This natural hunting instinct translates to the need to have ample physical activities every day in a domestic setting, or the cat could get lazy and obese really fast.

Breed History

While it was the Egyptians that had a reputation for revering cats, recent archaeological discoveries have placed the domesticated beginnings of cats in a different place: China. A breed that was most likely a big part of the early domestication process in China is the Dragon Li cat. The Dragon Li is in fact considered as the unofficial national cat of China. This breed is not a product of cross-breeding as it is a natural breed.

Reports have it that the history of the cat breed started in the Chinese village of Quanchun hundreds of years ago, when a group of wild cats descended from the local mountains and began to integrate themselves into the villagers’ life. This is also known as the earliest known evidence of the commensal relationship between cats and people. The early cats of the settlement were believed to be the ancestors of the Li Hua. The cats were raised to catch rats and protect crops and grains.

Dragon li kitten holding his mother

Although the Li Hua are known for their ancient origin, they are a relatively young pedigreed cat. The Dragon Li starred in many a Chinese folklore. They are highly revered and, as one of the stories would have it, they are believed to even be capable of speaking. But they decided that they benefit more by just leaving the talking to the humans.

Today, the cat can be found in different parts of the world, but this breed continues to hold a special place in the lives and the hearts of the Chinese people. In China, people would even hold wedding ceremonies for their cats.


The Chinese Li Hua have an average height of 10 to 14 inches and weigh about 9 to 12 pounds. They are known for having a wide, sturdy, and strong body, although they do take their time growing into their adult body. While other cats can reach full maturity in about one or two years, the Dragon Li requires three years or more.

A dragon li cat lying on hisback and paying attention to his owner

They have a hexagonal diamond-shaped head that is wide and rounded around the ears. They usually have green, yellow, or brown eyes and medium-sized pointed ears. Their body is strong with characteristically muscled legs that are longer than their tail. The Li Hua is slow to mature and may only reach its full mature size when it reaches three years old.

Personality and Character

Chinese Li Hua cats are easygoing, affectionate, playful, agile, and intelligent. They are quick learners, and you can teach them to perform tricks. They were at first raised to become ratters, but they have also grown to become a most-loved domestic breed due to their friendly personality.

There is a Chinese urban legend claiming that an owner named Zhao Shangzai trained his cat to fetch the daily paper. This is not surprising as the Li Hua is known for having a good memory and is analytical by nature. It is very likely that your cat will figure things out on their own.

Dragon li cat playing with a toy mouse

It is important to note that Chinese Li Hua cats are not lap cats. They would demand very little of people’s affection and touch. Rather than cuddling with you or sleeping in your lap, they would be happier if they were allowed to be energetic and active. Always make sure that your cat has ample toys to play with and space to roam inThe Dragon Li prefer to spend time in outdoor areas where they can bask under the sun and explore. If you don’t mind allowing them to roam outdoors, you should install a cat door so your cat can go out and come in whenever they like.

If you are someone who hates loud noises, then the Chinese Li Hua is the perfect companion for you. Since they do not demand too much attention, they are not vocal. You probably would only hear them meowing when they are hungry or have something urgent to say. They may also want to get your attention to show off their catch. This is the type of cat that will bring home rats, birds, and lizards as offerings to you.

Health and Potential Problems

Every cat has the potential to develop health problems, but fortunately for the Li Hua, there is currently no known breed-related diseases. It could be attributed to their wildcat ancestry and their status as a natural breed, or it could just be due to the fact that this is a very new cat breed and much is yet to be discovered about them. To be safe, keep up to date with your cat’s vaccinations and take them to the vet for routine checks.

cat relaxing in cat tree

If you allow your Dragon Li to roam outdoors, make sure that the cat is protected from diseases that are frequently picked up from other free-roaming or stray cats, such as ticks, fleas, and diarrhea. But if there is any potential health problem that pet owners need to be especially careful with, it would be obesity. Especially if you keep them as indoor cats, you have to make sure they get enough exercise, so they don’t get overweight.

Care Features

Owners of Chinese Li Hua cats can trust that their pets are naturally healthy because they are descendants of wild cats. However, owners need to look after their cats in chilling wintry conditions because they lack an undercoat.


Speaking of their coat, it is short, smooth, and easy to maintain. A weekly grooming, brushing, and combing session should be enough for them. Their teeth, on the other hand, should be brushed often to avoid periodontal diseases. The corners of their eyes should be cleaned regularly with a soft, damp cloth to remove discharge and reduce the risk of infection.

Feeding Schedule

To avoid obesity in your Li Hua cat, make sure that you watch their weight carefully. Choose food that the cat will like and has all the right nutrients, and balance their calorie intake with exercise. As this cat breed needs at least three years to grow fully, it would be best to ask your vet to devise a proper feeding schedule for them during each of the stages of their life.

Coat, Color, and Grooming

To better understand the grooming needs of your cat, it would help to first understand their physical characteristics. The greatest identification mark of the Chinese Li Hua cat is their striking brown mackerel tabby coat which is short-haired and thick.

The hairs are recognized for their unique black roots, light-yellow middle, and brown tip characteristics. The coat needs to be brushed or combed weekly to remove the dead hair. Shedding is minimal because they don’t have an undercoat.

Kitten sitting next to a litter box

The Chinese Li Hua also has a brownish-yellow lower belly with two vertical and four horizontal leopard spots. The legs and tail also have black tips. But perhaps the most endearing quality of the Li Hua is the small black marks at the upper corners of the mouth. These make it seem like the cat is perpetually smiling. Overall, the cat does not need frequent trips to the grooming salon as they are easy to care for.

Children and Other Pets Compatibility

Apart from being useful around the house by being an excellent rat hunter, this cat is also a perfect addition to families with children. These cats may not actively seek your kids out to play with them, but they also won’t cause any trouble. This cat is also known for getting along well with dogs when they are introduced properly.

A cat lyingin bed

Although the cat is well-behaved, they are not lap cats. The best way for kids to interact with them is by telling them to lie down and then pet or massage the catIf you are looking for a cat to add to your family, the Chinese Li Hua is a perfect choice. Their free-spirited yet loyal nature would naturally make them endearing family members.

Wrap Up

There are many beautiful cat breeds all over the world, but these days, people prefer to choose a breed that is easy to take care of. If you want a cat that is known for being naturally healthy, independent, and has very little maintenance needs, the Dragon Li is perfect for you.

These cats will fit right into any family—even those that have little children or other pets—as long as they are introduced slowly and are shown respect. Children should, however, be taught that this is not a lap cat. While the Dragon Li generally enjoy being petted, give them ample room to walk away if they wish to.

Kitten sleeping on a pillow in bed

Do you love yourself a cat that is independent and fearless like the Chinese Li Hua? Or do you not mind having to spend more time and attention caring for your pets as long as they return your careful maintenance with plenty of love and affection? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

About the author
Martha Harvey
Martha Harvey

Martha Harvey is a skilled veterinarian and a member of American Veterinary Medical Association from Greeley, Colorado. She has 20 years experience of working in Animal Hospital. Martha loves all of her patients, but her favorite one is the Russian Blue cat Stitch, who lives with her.