Like the Scottish Fold, the American Curl’s defining characteristic is its unique ears. In the Curl’s case, the ears curl backward in a smooth arc. Show quality Curls must have a curl arc that is at least 90 degrees and no more than 180 degrees. The moderately large ears must be erect and must have firm cartilage from the ear base to at least one third of the height. The ears are set equally on top and to the side of the head. The shape is wide at the base and open, and the ear tips are rounded and flexible. Furnishings are desirable. Adult Curls are disqualified if the tips of the ears touch the back of the ear or head, or if they have ears that are severely mismatched.
The curled ears are expressive; they perk up in curiosity, swivel to listen, and twitch back in annoyance. They can’t lie flat, however, because of the firmer cartilage.
American Curls are well-balanced cats, semi-foreign in type, flexible and moderately muscled, and slender rather than massive in build. Boning is medium—neither fine nor heavy. They are small to medium in size—adult males weigh approximately 7 to 10 pounds; adult females weigh approximately 5 to 8 pounds. Proportion and balance are more important than size. The tail is flexible, wide at the base but tapering at the end; its length is equal to the body’s length. Legs are medium length in proportion to the body.
American Curls come in both long and shorthair varieties. Longhairs have fine, semi-long, silky coats that lie flat, with minimal undercoat. The tail hair is full and plumed. Shorthairs have short, soft, silky coats that lie flat and are resilient without being plush or dense. They also have minimal undercoat. For both, all colors and patterns are accepted, including the pointed pattern. Allowable outcross breeds are domestic longhairs and shorthairs.
In June of 1981, two stray cats with unusual curled ears arrived on the doorstep of Grace and Joe Ruga in Lakewood, California. One suffered an unfortunate accident soon after arriving, but the other, a longhaired black female, was adopted by the Rugas. They named her Shulamith, a variation of a Hebrew term that means “black but comely.” At first, they paid little attention to their cat’s unique ears; they assumed other curly-eared cats existed somewhere, even though they could find no mention of them in books at the local libraries and pet stores. They were more impressed with Shulamith’s deep devotion and loving personality. In December of 1981, however, Shulamith gave birth, and two of the four kittens also had curled ears.
Although the Rugas didn’t know much about genetics at the time, this indicated that the gene governing the trait was dominant, since the father, a local longhaired tom named Mr. Grey, did not have curly ears or the gene for them. Because the curl gene is dominant, only one parent needs to have the gene to produce or sire Curl kittens, which is a big advantage for a breeding program. Unlike a recessive gene, a dominant gene will always be expressed in the cat‘s physical appearance. If a cat doesn’t have curled ears, she doesn’t have the curl gene. A spontaneous genetic mutation in the domestic cat population was very likely responsible for the unique ears.
Shulamith continued to have litters with the local toms, adding to the local Curl population. The Rugas gave away kittens to friends and family, including Grace’s sister, Esther Brimlow. Both long and short hair appeared in early litters, and many colors and patterns, including pointed.
Esther Brimlow gave two Curls to former Australian Shepherd breeder Nancy Kiester, who showed her Curls to cat judge and Scottish Fold breeder Jean Grimm. Grimm told Kiester that Curls were unknown to the cat fancy. Kiester teamed up with the Rugas, named the breed the American Curl, and, with Nancy Grimm’s help, wrote the first breed standard. Both hair lengths and all patterns and colors were included. They also made the very good decision not to include pedigreed breeds as outcrosses; this could have created resistance from other breeders in the cat fancy.
They first exhibited the American Curl at the October 1983 CFA show in Palm Springs, California. Cat fanciers immediately recognized that the Curl’s unparalleled ears were unique and acceptance quickly followed. In a comparatively short time, the American Curl gained recognition that has taken other new breeds decades longer.
Even with the minimal undercoat, longhairs need combing twice a week with a good steel comb to remove loose hairs and prevent matting. Shorthairs need a grooming session only once every few weeks or so. However, grooming your shorthair Curl more often can reduce hairballs and fur on your carpets and furniture, and can help you bond with your Curl since they enjoy the attention. The ears usually need regular cleaning. Talk to your breeder about the proper technique and equipment when you get your Curl.
If you are interested in a pet quality cat, you may be offered a straight-eared Curl. They are still pedigreed cats but they don’t possess the curl gene and can’t be shown. However, they do have the same body style, coat type and charming personality as the curly-eared cats.
The breed seems to be very healthy and free of genetic defects, likely a benefit of an open gene pool and conscientious breeding. Unlike the Scottish Fold, which has skeletal defects associated with the fold gene, the curl gene appears to have no negative health effects. Two renowned geneticists, Dr. Solveig Pflueger, genetics committee chair for TICA, and the late Roy Robinson, author of the illustrious book Genetics for Cat Breeders, studied the American Curl. Neither found any defect associated with the Curl gene.
American Curls can be outcrossed to non-pedigreed domestic longhairs and shorthairs as long as the litters are born before January 1, 2015. Outcrossing to pedigreed cats of other breeds is not allowed. As of 2015, the gene pool will be closed, unless the deadline is again extended. The original deadline was January 1, 2010, but breeders thought this was too soon for the health of the breed. Outcrossing will help ensure the genetic diversity of the breed, making sure Curls don’t become inbred. However, even with careful selection of outcrosses, different body styles, head shapes, hair types and personalities will be added to the bloodlines. It will take time for the breed to achieve a consistent type that approaches the ideal outlined in the standard.
Did you know?
The American Curl was the first CFA breed accepted for championship status as a single breed with two coat lengths, because both hair lengths were established from the breed’s beginning. Others have been accepted since this precedent was set.
The Curl’s unusual aural arrangement is not the only thing that makes the breed ear-resistible. They are devoted and affectionate, and extremely people-oriented. Far from being aloof, Curls have sweet dispositions and love to cuddle with their chosen humans. American Curls never seem to grow up; they are energetic, inquisitive and playful not only into adulthood but also into their senior years. Many learn to fetch and enjoy bringing the ball back to you long after you tire of throwing it. Curls are usually good with children and seniors, and enjoy feline companionship, too. Most get along well with other cats and cat-friendly dogs, as long as they are properly introduced.
Curls are not overly vocal, but they will vocalize when they have something to say, such as “Feed me! Pet me! Play with me!” Their voices are usually sweet and melodious.
American Curls do require a lot of love and attention. They can become lonely and bored if you spend too much time away from home. Providing them with a compatible cat companion can be a big help.