The Selkirk Rex is a medium to large cat with heavy boning that gives the cat surprising weight and an impression of power. The substantial, muscular torso is more rectangular than square, but is not long. The back is straight with a slight rise to the hindquarters; shoulders and hips appear to be the same width. Legs are medium to long with substantial boning, and end with large, round, firm feet. The tail is medium length, in proportion to the body, heavy at the base and neither blunt nor pointed at the tip. Males are more massive than females, but the females are not dainty. Adult males weigh 11 to 16 pounds; adult females weigh 6 to 12 pounds.
The head is round and broad with full cheeks. The muzzle is medium width with well-padded whisker pads that give the impression of squareness; the underlying bone structure is rounded. The tip of the chin lines up with the tip of the nose and the upper lip in the same vertical line. The nose has a downward slant with a convex curve and is set below the eye line; the cat’s profile reveals a nose stop. The ears are medium in size, broad at the base, tapering, set well apart and fit into the rounded contours of the head without distorting it. The eyes are large, rounded and set well apart; the inside and outside corners of the eyes are in the same level plane. Any eye color is acceptable.
The Selkirk Rex comes in both shorthair and longhair varieties. Both coat lengths are soft, dense, full and obviously curly. Even the whiskers and ear furnishings are curly. The fur is random and unstructured in loose, individual curls that appear to be in clumps or ringlets rather than an all-over wave. In both longhairs and shorthairs, curliness may show more around the neck, on the tail and the belly. Although the amount of curl varies by hair length, gender and age, the entire coat shows the effect of the rex gene. A humid climate increases the curliness of the hair. Any genetically possible color or combination of colors is accepted, including the pointed pattern.
The difference in the two hair lengths is most clearly seen on the ruff and tail. On shorthairs, the tail hair is the same length as the coat, which is approximately one to two inches, and the tail curls are plush and lie compactly around the tail. The ruff is the same length as the coat fur. The shorthair coat stands out from the body and is not close-lying or flat.
On longhairs, the coat texture is soft, full, and obviously curly. It doesn’t feel or look as plush as the shorthair’s coat, however, it doesn’t appear thin and is not close-lying. The coat is dense and full with no bald or thinly covered areas.
Since the gene pool is still quite small and inbreeding is a concern, Selkirks can be bred with a few other breeds. Allowable CFA outcrosses include the British Shorthair, Persian and Exotic. However, kittens born on or after January 1, 2015, may have only Selkirk Rex parents. By then the breed should have sufficient diversity. In TICA, allowable outcrosses include all of the breeds just mentioned plus the American Shorthair, although fanciers today rarely use this breed in their programs.
The first Selkirk Rex was born in Sheridan, Montana, at a shelter called For Pet’s Sake. Curly-Q, as she was originally called, a blue-cream and white female with a curly coat resembling lamb’s wool, was given to Peggy Vorrhees of the Bozeman Humane Society, who gave her to longtime Persian breeder Jeri Newman of Livingston, Montana. Newman, fascinated by cats in general and feline genetics in particular, had made it known she was interested in adopting cats who were in any way unusual. The young cat, as plush and huggable as a child’s stuffed toy, was certainly that.
Newman soon found that not only did the kitten have a unique coat, but she had an appealing personality, too. She named the kitten Miss DePesto because she followed Newman everywhere, begging for attention. When “Pest” came of age, Newman bred her to Photo Finish of Deekay, one of her champion black Persian males. The mating produced a litter of six, three of which had the distinctive curly coat. Since Newman had studied cat genetics, she knew that this meant the gene governing the curly coat was dominant -only one parent needed to possess the gene for the trait to appear in at least some of the offspring.
That litter also included one straight-haired longhair kitten. Interesting, Newman thought. Not only did Pest carry the dominant curly gene, but also the recessive gene for long hair. (Both parents had to possess at least one copy of the longhair gene to produce longhaired offspring.)
Newman then bred Pest to Pest’s son, a curly black and white male named Oscar Kowalski. The resulting litter of four produced three more curly kittens, including one red point shorthair male whom Newman named Snowman. This proved that Pest also carried the recessive gene for the pointed pattern, which she had passed on to her son Oscar. Clearly, Pest had a unique and diverse genetic makeup.
Newman asked for more information about Pest’s past, and was told that Miss DePesto’s mother and five littermates all had normal coats. No one knew who the father was or whether he had a curly coat, but it seemed probable that the curly coat was the result of a spontaneous genetic mutation .
Newman believed that these curly-coated cats should be developed into a recognized breed. Because of the interesting variety of genes, hair lengths and colors, she decided that all colors and both hair types should be allowed from the start. She wrote a breed standard and, since Pest’s body type was unbalanced and not that pleasing to the eye, she based the standard on the best features of Pest and her son Oscar. With his rounded, half-Persian body style, Oscar was much closer to Newman’s ideal than his mother, and he can be found in the pedigrees of many of today’s Selkirks. Newman’s standard called for a semi-cobby body style similar to the British Shorthair.
Since she didn’t want to follow the tradition of the Cornish Rex and Devon Rex-breeds named for their places of origin-Newman called the breed Selkirk, honoring her stepfather’s family name, and Rex to associate it with the other curly- and wavy-coated breeds.
Newman went on to combine the best qualities of the Persian, Himalayan, British Shorthair, American Shorthair and Exotic Shorthair into the Selkirk bloodline. By this time, she had recruited other breeders to help further the Selkirk’s cause. She approached breeders who were working with breeds she was interested in adding to her Selkirk lines, and asked if they’d be interested in working with the new breed. Some accepted the challenge.
In 1990, only three years after the breed’s discovery, the Selkirk was presented to TICA and was accepted into the New Breed and Color (NBC) class. This meant the cats could be registered and exhibited but could not compete for awards. Going from shelter to show cat in only three years is a testament to the uniqueness of the breed. In 1992, amazingly quickly for a new breed, CFA accepted the breed in the Miscellaneous class, which also gave them registration and exhibition privileges. Breeders worked hard to keep the Selkirk healthy, establish a consistent physical type and gain acceptance, and in record time earned champion status in six North American associations, including the two largest, CFA and TICA. The future looks bright for this cat in sheep’s clothing.
No breed-specific health problems have been reported by Selkirk breeders. However, since the breed was developed using established breeds known for certain hereditary health problems and since Selkirks are still crossbred with most of these breeds today, there’s a chance that Selkirks may inherit some of these health concerns. In particular, it’s wise to buy from a breeder who screens for polycystic kidney disease (PKD) , which can cause renal failure and is known to exist in some Persian, Himalayan, and Exotic Shorthair lines. According to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in California, more than 37 percent of Persians have PKD. Genetic testing is available and it’s vital to test Persians, Himalayans, and Exotics before using them as outcrosses.
Also, some Persian and American Shorthair lines are known to possess feline hip dysplasia and the inherited heart disease feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). HCM can develop at any age, but is more common in older cats who have already had the opportunity to pass the disease along to offspring. This disease is serious because the first noticeable symptom of HCM is often sudden death at a relatively young age.
Careful breeding has helped keep the Selkirk Rex relatively free of these serious health problems, but better safe than sorry. Talk to your cat’s breeder about his or her breeding practices and ask if the breeding cats were screened for PKD. Be sure to get a written health guarantee from the breeder. A veterinarian’s health certificate at the time of sale is not enough, because the majority of these problems do not manifest until later in the cat’s life.
Grooming the Selkirk is necessary, but is more complicated than with some breeds because combing tends to straighten the curly coat. Ask your cat’s breeder to coach you on the proper techniques, and make sure he or she will be available to answer questions as needed.
Despite rumors to the contrary, Selkirks are not hypoallergenic. That’s because it’s not cat hair that causes the allergic reaction in humans., it’s an allergenic protein called Fel d1 that is secreted in saliva and from the sebaceous glands. This protein is spread onto the fur during grooming. Selkirks groom their fur and produce just as much of this protein as any other breed.
Some breeders say people with mild allergies may tolerate Selkirks by bathing their cats weekly, keeping the cat out of the bedroom, and wiping the cat down daily with distilled water and a sponge or absorbent cloth to remove the offending saliva. But if you’re allergic, be sure to spend some time in their company to see how you react before you buy a Selkirk.
Did you know?
Selkirk Rex kittens are cute, curly furballs at birth, but at around 16 weeks their hair suddenly straightens out. Selkirks continue to have bad hair days until eight to ten months of age, when they slowly acquire their curls again. The coat’s curliness increases until the cat is about two years old. Climate, season and (particularly in females) hormones can also influence the coat’s curliness.
So what’s it like to share your life with a Selkirk Rex? Not only are Selkirks cute and cuddly, they are wonderful, loving companions as well. Owners say that Selkirks are sweet, playful cats who love to be loved. Fanciers often say they are the most affectionate cats they’ve ever had. They don’t demand attention, but they seek it from their human families and love to receive it.
Very people-oriented and gentle, Selkirks usually love everyone in the family, making them good family pets. Selkirks generally fit in well with other cats and cat-friendly dogs, as long as the proper introductions are made.
Selkirks are known for their mellow, tolerant personalities. They tend to take life as it comes and are easygoing, adaptable and patient—courtesy of the British Shorthair and Persian influences. Ever-present companions, they enjoy being held and cuddled, and like to curl up in any available lap. Some even want to ride on their owners’ shoulders to get a cat’s eye view of the action.
However, they aren’t couch potatoes or furry door stops, and breeders say they have inherited the best personality traits of all the breeds that have contributed to the bloodlines. They are intelligent, clever and entertaining, and particularly enjoy games in which their owners take an active role. They are not destructive or mischievous; curls just wanna have fun.