Getting to Know the American Wirehair

By Robert Bradshaw
from The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book

The American Wirehair breed is a newcomer to the sport of pedigreed cat exhibiting, in the sense that it has only been in existence since 1964. This breed has the distinction of being among the first American spontaneous mutations recognized for registration and championship exhibition in the Cat Fanciers' Association. Its first year of championship status in CFA was 1978. At that time it had the honor of attaining a national championship award. The parent breed from which the American Wirehair mutated is our own familiar resident breed, the American Shorthair.

At first glance, the American Wirehair looks like any other ordinary feline, but as you gaze closer, you realize that the coat looks different and feels different. As a matter of fact, the coat is quite unconventional. At first appearance, it seems coarse, somewhat like steel wool. However, the strange feel of it is softer, creating a very pleasant sensation. It is a mutation of the usual feline coat. Each hair is hooked or crimped which gives it a wooly appearance. The Wirehair coat comes in different degrees of wiriness, from soft wooly like a new bath towel to harsh, sparse and spare. It has a varied range of textures and densities. The optimum coat has all three types of hairs: awn, awn down and guard hairs bent or kinked and present over the entire body of the cat. There is no other breed of cat that has a coat even similar to this breed. One cannot help but notice the difference in the coat even from a distance.

Their Personality

American Wirehair

Wirehair temperament can be described as warm happiness. There has never been a Wirehair that does not like to rub its head or leg against its significant human. It is a calm yet alert breed. Socialization is an important aspect for the American Wirehair. Although each will have a favorite member of the family, it is important to them to make time for all family members. This is most obvious at bedtime. American Wirehairs will tuck everyone in before retiring to their favorite pillow.

Wirehair mothers take excellent care of their kittens. They treat all littermates alike, even those with normal coats. They do not require much help when delivering their own kittens. The wire-coated kittens in each litter are often more extroverted than their normal-coated littermates. There are few wire-coated kittens placed in pet homes. However, because of the efforts of breeders throughout the world, many will eventually share the joy of living with this special companion animal.

The Wirehair interacts freely with children, dogs, cats and most other animals. These clever cats sometimes master the skill of opening cabinet doors and full-size doors. They may team up with other cats, open difficult cabinet doors that contain cat food, and then the party is on.

It is amazing how often you may find this cat napping among your soft clothes whenever you open a dresser drawer. They love the sun and you can often find them basking in a single ray of sunlight streaming into a room. They also enjoy lying on the kitchen stove when the oven is on. The opening of the refrigerator door is an open invitation to check out the larder.

Even when they are busy they make the time to pay great attention to all family members. However, everyone must pet them, hug them and tell them how wonderful they are. They will usually respond with boisterous purring and rub their heads against you as a reward for your efforts. Wherever you are in the house, your Wire companion will be present, supervising or observing.

It has been noted that the wire-coated kittens are usually the first ones to climb out of the birthing box. It has also been observed that the wire-coated kittens are the first ones to venture to the food bowl during the weaning process which means sitting in the middle of the food dish. These subtle differences are present from a very early stage of development. It is rare to see a shy or temperamental American Wirehair kitten, as a matter of fact the breed usually craves attention and handling.

Coat Care

Maintenance of the Wirehair coat for show ring presentation is relatively simple; during the bath, they only require a shampoo that is devoid of conditioner or additives. Texturizing shampoos or cleaners can add to the overall feel of the finished coat. The key to any of these texturizers is that they must be rinsed thoroughly off the cat. Hair sprays and mousses should not be used to enhance the coat. These products can be harmful to cats as well as to humans. These products can leave the coat feeling sticky or gummy. An experienced handler or judge will notice this.

Coat care for pet American Wirehairs is even simpler. An occasional bath is desirable to reduce the effect of shedding. No blow-drying is ever necessary. The cat should be placed in a draft free area until dry. An American Wirehair will stay as clean as the environment in which he lives.

Breeding American Wirehairs

American Wirehair breeding is not complex, but to breed a cat that comes up to the written standard is difficult. The wirehair mutation is a dominant, semi-penetrating gene. This means that only half of any litter will receive the wire gene for coat, when an American Wirehair is bred to an American Shorthair. When you breed wirehair-to-wirehair 90% of the litter will be wired. The breed is allowed the same colors that are present in the American Shorthair. Color is not the principal objective in American Wirehair breeding. The coat comprises 45% of the AWH breed standard which is a greater percentage than in any other CFA breed.

The American Wirehair is still considered a minority or specialty area in mainstream cat breeding. This is mainly due to the fact that in the outcross litters half the kittens are unqualified for showing because of their coats, which will be like the American Shorthair coat. Such cats can only be sold as pets. American Wirehairs are hearty and hale in general. There are no known genetic faults within the breed. Even with close line breeding, no documented problems concerning health have occurred to date.

Breed History

The first American Wirehairs were born in a barn on the Council Rock Farm, Upstate New York, where four wire-coated kittens appeared in a litter as a spontaneous, natural mutation. The litter's parents were named Fluffy and Bootsie and were ordinary barn cats.

The owners of the cats made a call to Mrs. Joan O'Shea of the HI-FI Cattery, in Vernon, New York, a breeder of German Rex and Havana Browns. Mrs. O'Shea was known as the cat person in her own hometown. She was told that some unusual kittens were born in their barn. Mrs. O'Shea drove to Council Rock Farm and looked at the litter and found not only one, but four unusually coated kittens and offered to buy all of them. She was turned down. Three days later, the owner of the farm called her and said she could come and take what was left of the litter. Sadly, a weasel had gotten in the barn and attacked them. There was only one kitten left. The remaining kitten was a red tabby and white. She named him Adam. She also took his dam and sire. Mrs. O'Shea bred the two adult cats several times but, alas, lightening did not strike twice. The original sire and dam of the first known wirehair mutation never produced any more. Little did anyone realize that the kitten, Adam, would be the forefather of all wirehairs to this present day.

Adam, the original Wirehair was an orange tabby domestic barn cat. His head was narrow and his ears were large, but he was not a small cat. He was rather a long and lean male. Although Adam was typical of most farm cats, his unusual wire coat was one of a kind and remarkable. It was kinky from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. It stuck straight out from his body. At that time it was the most different thing anyone had ever seen on a cat. His personality was also even and well balance since he was living in a large, walk-in cage with two male Havana Browns: three males in one area and no spraying.

All American Wirehair colors are unique due to the look and feel of the coat. Colors that are produced by Foreign Shorthairs are not allowed nor are any pointed colors allowed such as those on the Siamese. The Show Standard for this breed has the most point allotment given to any breed for coat: 45 out of 100. The AWH's are a recognized breed in all cat registering associations In North America. The Cat Fanciers' Association was the first to accept the breed for registration in 1967, and granted the breed championship status in 1978. Since that time the American Wirehair breed has achieved many national and regional honors.

Breeders find them easy to care for, resistant to disease, and good producers. Pet owners are delighted with their reserved and loving ways. From the barn to the show arena and ultimately to pet homes around the world, these rough coated treasures will be sure to win your heart.

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