Getting to Know the American Curl

By Caroline Scott
from The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book American Curl Shorthair

The discovery of a novel cat that eventually leads to a new breed is an event of great importance to feline fanciers. Introducing the American Curl is such an event. Its unique ears that curl back in a graceful arc offering an alert, perky, happily surprised expression is what distinguishes this unusual breed. Most people break into a big smile when seeing the "Curl" for the first time. Their unusual ears first appeared as a natural occurrence, or in CFA terms a spontaneous mutation, and are comparable to those of a Lynx with long tufts accentuating the swept back look which complement its overall elegance and dynamic presence.

Boasting head adornments that could have easily been fashioned by a hat designer, along with its plumed tail resembling a feather boa, the American Curl has developed a worldwide audience that is often in awe of the breed. When Curls are born, their ears are straight. In three to five days they start to curl back staying in a tight rosebud position, unfurling gradually until permanently set at around sixteen weeks. This is the time breeders determine if the kittens' ears make them pet or show quality cats. Of course, an individual cat's physical conformation is also a major consideration. The degree of ear curl can vary greatly, ranging from almost straight (pet quality) to a show quality ear with an arc of 90 to 180 degrees resembling a graceful shell-like curvature. Although the distinctive feature of the American Curl is its uniquely curled ears, the medium-sized rectangular body, silky flat-lying coat, and expressive walnut-shaped eyes are equally important aspects of the breed. Curls are available in long and shorthair coats, which are seen in a variety of colors and patterns.

Their Personality

American Curl

The Curl personality is truly unique. Not only are they attracted to water, television, and sleeping in salad bowls, they are people-oriented, faithful, affectionate soul mates adjusting remarkably fast to other pets, children, and new situations.

People say they are very dog-like in their attentiveness to their owners, following them around so they do not miss anything. When introduced into a new home, American Curls seem to have an inherent respect for the pets that were there first, giving them room to adjust to the new kid on the block. They are astute and become easily engrossed in assisting their owner in whatever project is at hand such as helping to fix dinner rather than just watching. Not overly talkative, the Curl's curiosity and intelligence is expressed through little chirping sounds when it wants to comment or would like an opinion from you on something that is momentarily puzzling. Because they retain their kitten-like personality throughout adulthood, it is not surprising to see a twelve-year old Curl frolicking and jumping effortlessly for a favorite toy, keeping up with the twelve-week olds.


When grooming the American Curl for cat shows mentor support can be extremely important. The breed's semi-long, silky body coat has to be in peak condition and cleanliness when shown in competition. The show bath and preparation for it is extremely important as well as using the correct grooming tools.

Take precautions with the cat's ears prior to bathing. Gently place a Q-Tip soaked with a commercially manufactured, non-oily ear cleaner (no alcohol) into the outer furrows of each ear, working up and away from the canal opening. Avoid pulling on the delicate cartilage or getting water inside the ears. Never use an oily cleaner such as mineral oil, or pour any liquids into the ears.

Start the bath with a cleaner called GOOP® (available at grocery and hardware stores) working it well into a wet coat and rinsing it out thoroughly. You may then wash the cat with Dawn® dishwashing liquid again rinsing it very well. Next, shampoo the cat with a quality cat shampoo that is recommended by Curl breeders and proven to be effective. Keep in mind you can never over rinse and it is probably the most important part of the entire bath.

Squeeze out the water from the coat with a clean towel and blow-dry the cat with a hand dryer. A professional metal comb, half fine-tooth and half medium-tooth, is an important tool for separating the fur while drying it. Cream rinses are not necessary and can weigh the coat down, but may be used sparingly in the winter to control static.A well-experienced grooming mentor is the best way to learn how to bathe a show cat.

Breed History

Historically, "Shulamith" is the name of the original American Curl from which all authentic pedigrees trace their origin. It began on a summer day in June 1981 on the doorstep of two unsuspecting residents, Joe and Grace Ruga (Curlniques Cattery). Grace, seven months pregnant with their first child, remembers, "trying hard not to do anything" on the day that they discovered the first American Curl, which was in their path. Joe had returned home from work that evening and spotted two kittens outside their home that looked approximately six-months old. According to Grace, when Joe went in to change clothes, she promptly fed the kittens and noticed that they had "ears that curled back from their heads in a funny way."

The kittens appeared to be sisters with their coats being fine and silky. She named the black one Shulamith, and the other, black and white, she named Panda. Although Shulamith was very protective of her sister, Panda disappeared two weeks later, leaving "Shu" to become the foundation cat for the American Curl breed and Joe's constant companion.

In December 1981 after the birth of Shu's first litter, the Rugas who described themselves as casual pet owners changed their minds when they realized that her unique ears could well indicate an entirely new cat breed. Two noted geneticists were contacted to study this unusual mutation, and they each determined that the curled ears were a genetic trait and was inherited in every case, causing it to be labeled a dominant gene with no apparent defects associated with it. The cat was referred to as a spontaneous mutation; the gene that causes the ear to curl appeared to be following a single dominant pattern. Diligent research and test breeding began, while Shulamith continued her life not suspecting that her legacy was to produce several more litters before her untimely death.

Jean Grimm, a respected CFA judge and breeder of Scottish Folds, was contacted and asked to determine if these unique cats were candidates for recognition by CFA as a separate breed. The Cat Fanciers Association, then and now, has the most stringent and thorough registering procedure of all cat associations and is recognized as the most prestigious cat registry in the world. After closely examining Shulamith and her offspring, Grimm determined Curls were unique. She warned all parties involved that the road to breed recognition and championship status was a very long and hard one. The Curl fans were ardent and a path was forged with Grimm's support leading to the first public presentation of the American Curl which took place at a CFA cat show in Palm Springs, California on October 23, 1983.

After careful study of CFA breed standards and illustrations from "The Book of the Cat," the first American Curl breed standard was drafted. Although the Abyssinian, Egyptian Mau, and Ocicat standards were used as structure references, the Curl does not resemble these breeds. Since the breed originated as a domestic cat with an unusual mutation, the standard was formulated around Shulamith's characteristics to preserve their unique identity. This varied the Curl enough to distinguish it from all other breeds. Significantly, the Standard dictated that the only allowable outcross for the Curl would be non-pedigreed domestic cats that closely matched the Curl standard. Not only would this vast domestic gene pool diversity ensure optimum health, vigor, and longevity, breeders who worked with other breeds in addition to the Curls reported that Curl litters were less susceptible to the usual kitten illnesses and shot reactions seen in their own breeds. The first Curl-to-Curl breeding occurred in January 1984 with the resulting kittens born in March. Playit By Ear, a black and white male kitten from this litter, became the first known homozygous American Curl, meaning that all of his offspring would have curled ears, regardless of his pairing with curled or straight-eared females.

American Curls were first accepted for CFA registration in 1986, achieved Provisional status in 1991, and advanced to Championship status in 1993--unprecedented in CFA for a new breed, due mainly to the impressive presentation before the Executive Board. Also unprecedented was that the American Curl became the first breed to be admitted to the Championship Class as one breed with two coat lengths because Shulamith delivered the first shorthair Curl (with later offspring following suit), producing both longhair and shorthair kittens. Due to their diverse domestic ancestry, Curls are available in both coat lengths, and can be any color or coat pattern, including the rare colorpoint, which were initially noted in Shulamith's first litter. Both coat lengths are presented in the Longhair Division, and in 1999 since more shorthairs started entering the show rings, they also started turning up in the longhair finals since they are judged together. Since new Curl owners are so taken by how personal and " unlike any cat they have ever had", they usually come back for one or two more. Breeders usually make their new kittens available between the ages of twelve and sixteen weeks . Pricing on American Curls usually depends on ear degree, body type, specialized colors such as the blue-eyed colorpoint, and bloodlines. Preferred pedigrees are distinguished by the kitten's parentage being Grand Champions, Regional and/or National winners, or Distinguished Merit descendants. When the dam (mother) has produced five grand champion offspring, or the sire (father) has produced fifteen grand champion offspring the Distinguished Merit, or "DM" title is achieved.

By sixteen weeks of age American Curl kittens should have had their basic inoculations and developed the physical and social stability needed for a new home, for show, and for being transported by air. Keeping such a rare treasure indoors, neutering or spaying, and not declawing are essential elements for maintaining a long and joyful life with cats of this breed. The American Curl experience is like no other--so it is no wonder that one just never seems to be enough--they are deliciously ear-restible.

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