Editor’s note: With all the emphasis being placed on felines with curly coats, we thought we’d share this article:
Those Kinky Cats
by Tracy Petty
Mutations can cause all sorts of changes in cats, just like in other animals. When someone with some knowledge of genetics spots a mutation that they think is interesting, they might develop it, test that it is not harmful, and eventually, that mutation may become the basis for a new breed.
That’s what happened to create six varieties of “kinky cats.” Each of these breeds were developed from separate gene mutations which affected the coat of the offspring. None of these breeds have any known relation to one another; they are all separate mutations occurring at different times and places, but each was carefully bred to make these wonderful and interesting breeds.
First found in 1950 in Cornwall, England, the Cornish Rex coat is short, soft, and wavy. While most cats have three layers to their coat, Cornish Rex have only the very shortest “down” layer. For most cats, this layer is hidden amongst the longer layers of hair as an insulating layer. Without guard hairs, the Cornish Rex coat is extremely soft and warm to the touch. The curly coat should lay down in waves, resembling the old-time Marcel wave hairstyles. Cornish Rex are very athletic cats, with long legs and sleek, muscular bodies. They are very active and extremely friendly, and can jump quite high — especially for toys!
Also discovered in England less than a decade later, the Devon Rex mutation was originally thought to be the same as the Cornish Rex, but test breedings quickly proved that this was a different mutation entirely. The Devon Rex coat is also soft and curly, but includes the “awn”, or second layer of coat. The awn hair is only slightly longer than the down hair, but often does not lay in waves close to thebody. Rather, it can form loose Marcel waves or be more free-form waves all over the cat. The head of the Devon Rex has a pixie-like appearance with high cheek bones and very large, wide-set ears. They are extremely loving, people-oriented cats and like the Cornish Rex, their short coats mean minimal shedding and very little coat maintenance.
First discovered in the mid-1960s, the American Wirehair is very unique and distinct from any of the Rex breeds. Unlike the Cornish and Devon Rex, the American Wirehair’s curl is in the guard hairs, the longest, outer layer of coat. This is the layer that is meant to protect cats from the elements more than insulate, so it has a harder feel, and thus a completely different texture to the curl. As the name Wirehair implies, this is a coarser, tightly curled coat and it does not lay down in waves, but forms a plush layer of hair around the entire cat. Following a body style similar to the American Shorthair, they don’t have the other-worldly look of the Cornish and Devon Rex, and have a quieter, more reserved demeanor, while still being very affectionate and playful.
Another American mutation first found in 1987 in Montana is the Selkirk Rex. Like the American Wirehair, the Selkirk curl is in the outer guard hairs, but the coat is soft rather than wired. The curls tend to be large and loosely organized, sometimes gathering in “ringlets” in both the long haired and short haired variety of Selkirk. Several heavy-boned breeds were used to develop the Selkirk Rex breed, so this is a broad, substantial cat with a round head and large, expressive eyes. It is a gentle, patient, and loving breed which requires minimal grooming, as excessive brushing or bathing may relax the curl.
While a completely separate mutation from other other curly breeds, the LaPerm has taken bits and pieces from the others and formed a unique look and feel. The first LaPerms were found in Oregon in the early ’80s, but were not developed into a breed for nearly a decade after that. Like the Selkirk Rex, LaPerms can be either long haired or short haired, and have a coat texture that is not as soft as the Rex breeds but not as coarse as a Wirehair. It has a more rippled texture, sometimes laying in waves, or ringlets, or even corkscrew curls. They have a moderate body style and medium boning, and unlike the other curly breeds, the LaPerm has long flexible whiskers that don’t break off. These are gentle, affectionate cats that are quick to purr and are always ready to be the perfect lap cat whenever a lap should appear.
While not technically a kinky-coated cat, the Sphynx is certainly the most risqué breed, daring to go bare! The Sphynx mutation causes hairlessness, or near hairlessness, as most will have a bit of very short hair on the face, ears, feet or tail, and may have a very short, fine “peach fuzz” over the body. Their skin is wrinkled, especially on the legs, head and neck area, and while the body may appear smooth, they can suddenly move and send wrinkles cascading down the body. Sphynx have a full midsection as if they’ve perpetually just finished a good meal, and they love to be the center of attention and will do what they have to do to get and hold your attention. Although they require a bit of upkeep and cleaning to remove body oils that would usually be absorbed by a coat, shedding and dander are minimal and so Sphynx are sometimes tolerated by people who are otherwise sensitive to cats.