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Getting to Know the Selkirk Rex

By Donna Bass
from The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book Selkirk Rex Longhair

A strange looking kitten found in the Big Sky country of Montana has provided the Cat Fancy with a unique breed with a unique motto; The Cat In Sheep's Clothing. The Selkirk Rex has won friends with its combination of lambswool coat and clownish personality.

A mother cat dries off her newborn kitten, a kitten covered with a downy, curly coat. Every little hair is arranged within little ringlets that lie close to its body. Even the hair on the tiny little tail is curly. The whiskers are curly, and let the breeder know she has a kitten that may grow up to be a top show Selkirk Rex. Straight whiskers indicate a straighthair kitten that will never see a showhall.

The amount of curl in the coat at birth seems to be an indicator of how curly the mature cat will be. As the kitten grows and develops, the coat can fluctuate in curliness. At about one year of age, the coat settles down and the breeder can breathe a sigh of relief if the kitten has developed the wonderful curls that are treasured, or sigh in frustration if the coat lacks the spectacular curl. Even during the teenage gangly stage that both body and coat go through, the coat should exhibit some curl around the neck and on the tummy.

From one year of age on, the coat becomes a playground for hands and fingers. A mature male, neutered or not, or spayed female will have the best coat. In the best examples, the curling is strongest on the flanks, tummy and around the neck, with some curl on the back. The harder hair on the back seems to be the most difficult to keep in curl, regardless of the softness of the rest of the coat, especially on the shorthair variety. The Longhair variety has enough length of hair that curling becomes more obvious.

A mature whole (unspayed) female, however, can at times appear either curly or nearly straight, depending on the state of her hormones. Her whiskers will continue to be curly, regardless of hormonal state. In estrus (heat), pregnant or lactating, a female's coat looks nearly straight. Between cycles, the coat can curl back to its normal state but may not. At no time, however is the coat entirely straight. It is just not as curly as it was before hormones started raging.

Think of your favorite teddy bear when it was new. The body was covered with a thick, plush fur that encouraged you to cuddle, stroke and pat it. The Selkirk Rex coat feels and looks the same: thick, full and plush with no thin patches, whether the coat is long or short.

The second thing people notice about the Selkirks (after the coat, of course) is the whiskers. Every Selkirk Rex exhibitor hears "Did you clip its whiskers?" "What's wrong with its whiskers?" "Doesn't it need the whiskers to find its way around," and on and on. Since Selkirks grow up with short curly whiskers, they are used to finding their way around just fine.

The newborn's fine little whiskers can be difficult to see late at night when the mothers almost always want to have their babies with them. However, the morning light allows for proper classification as either a straighthair or a curly. This is a time when a magnifying glass would be most appreciated as well as strong light. The kittens should be kept out of the light as much as possible, however.

The whiskers on a Selkirk can be described as short, curly and sparse. Because the whiskers are curly and brittle, they break off when they get too long. Occasionally, long ones will be visible, but they do not last long. The whiskers do not change as the cat gets older. If they are curly at birth, they are curly as an adult. There also appears to be a lack of whiskers, since few Selkirks show more than a few whiskers, certainly not a full set most of the time.

This breed has the nickname, "The Cat in Sheep's Clothing" because the coat (especially shorthairs) can feel like lambswool, but without the oily, lanolin feel. Younger cats can look like Persian lambs with little spit curls all over. This is a coat that begs to be played with, enjoyed and treated like one's favorite teddy bear. It is difficult to keep from stroking and playing with the curls and the plushness. Unfortunately, too much handling in a ring can relax the curl too much, until a spritz of water (between rings) brings it back to its original plush, curly condition.

The Selkirk Rex is a medium to large cat, with males weighing between 12 to 15 pounds, females 10 to 12 pounds. A Selkirk Rex should be solid, with boning in proportion to the size of body, neither too refined nor too coarse to match the body and head length.

A Selkirk Rex's head is round, with round eyes that are set well apart, at least one eye's diameter apart. The cat should have a sweet open expression to match its personality. This is a breed that has a definite muzzle with a nose for getting into everything.

Their Personality

Selkirk Rex

Imagine a clown covered with lambswool who can open doors and steal your heart . . . or a toy. A big, plush teddy bear that will trip you up by sucking on your toes or climb on your back when you bend over to clean the litter box. The combination of intelligence and silly streak makes these plush little charmers hard to resist. Even whole males love to have their people cuddle them, almost enough to make them forget girls.

The original cat, Miss DePesto, got her name because she was a "pest" for attention and she has passed that trait on to her descendents These are friendly cats that can be "in your face" about expecting attention and love when you are around, but will accept a "lick and a promise" if time is short. They have quiet little voices and will not demand immediate attention at all hours of the day or night, but they will not accept being ignored for long periods.

The combination of quiet voice, curly coat, big round eyes and loud purrs can convince even the most hard-hearted that these cats are the perfect lap cat. Although they prefer to have all four feet on the floor, a warm lap is even better. If you like to talk to your cats, these kitties will answer back. If you need entertaining, they would be more than happy to oblige with a quick chase, a little peek-a-boo, and if you have a teaser toy such as a feather or a laser pen (even a flashlight), it will be like heaven. A forward roll, swivel hips in mid-air, or a graceful leap to the top of the cat tree are easily done by these plush clowns.

Care and Maintenance

Rarely has a Selkirk Rex turned down food. Although they do like to eat, they are not gluttons and can have food in front of them all day without overeating. Children and Selkirks can get along as long as the Selkirks are not handled roughly.

The Selkirk Rex, best described as a "wash and wear" cat, rarely needs a bath. The Selkirk Rex pet owner needs no fancy grooming tools. The best ones are attached to the end of your arms, your hands. Use your fingers in a gentle scratching motion to help your kitty's curl look its best. When your pet is on your lap, an excellent way to spend quality time is by gently running your fingers or a comb through the coat. This removes the dead hair and keeps hairballs to a minimum. Because this is a full-coated cat, it sheds just like any other full-coated cat. The Selkirk Rex coat does not mat easily, even in the longhairs, but combing will make sure none form.

If a bath is required, a moisturizing shampoo is usually all that is needed. Coat conditioner is rarely necessary. Blow-drying a Selkirk is not necessary and can give it that "poodle" look. Rewetting the coat will bring the curl back. The coat will air dry in a few hours.

Show grooming the Selkirk is a little more involved. Much of the process, and the products chosen, depend on the length and feel of your cat's coat. A shorthaired cat with a stiff, oily coat requires different grooming than a soft, floaty longhaired coat. No matter what kind of coat your cat has, always err on the side of cleanliness.

Proper grooming for show is a trial and error process until you discover what works best for your combination of cat, water and shampoo. What works for you may not work for someone else. Show grooming begins with combing out the complete coat to remove loose hairs so they will not be licked up by the cat during the drying process and cause hairballs.

If the coat shows signs of greasy areas, especially at the base of the tail or behind the ears, use a degreasing soap. For heavy greasiness, Goop Hand Cleaner is recommended. For lighter greasiness, Dawn Dishwashing liquid works well. If no signs of greasy coat are obvious, (by feel or look) you can avoid the degreasing stage to keep from drying out the coat too much. Rinse well.

Next, shampoo the cat with a good people oily hair shampoo, or anti-microbial shampoo. Rinse well. Shampoo the cat for a final time with a color shampoo appropriate to your cat's color. Ask your breeder or someone at a pet supply outlet.

Rinse well. Rinse some more. Remember that you cannot rinse too much.

Experience will teach you whether your cat's coat requires a conditioner and what kind. As with the shampooings, rinse until you are sure your kitty is clean, then rinse some more. Never allow your cat's coat to be greasy or too dry.

Gently blot the cat as dry as possible with a clean towel. After blotting out as much moisture as possible, gently comb the coat (using a medium comb, rather than a fine or large comb) to remove additional loose hair and to check for mats that may have formed during the shampooing. After combing the coat through, leave the cat in a warm room to dry. During the drying process, squeeze the coat to help it loosen up and curl. For longhaired cats, separate any large clumps with a hair pick (This is an invaluable tool, especially for longhairs, and can be found at beauty supply shops). Allow your cat to air dry thoroughly.

Just before taking your cat to the show ring, spritz it lightly with a leave-in conditioning spray or re-hydrating spray. A light spritz is all you need. Do not put on more than will dry before the cat is handled. Do not use too much during the day.

Squeeze the cat's coat lightly against the grain to accentuate the curl. If the curls look too clumpy, separate them with a hair pick.

Check the ears for cleanliness as well as the eyes and nose, and under the tail. These areas are easy to overlook but can affect even the cleanest cat on a moment's notice.

Unlike a Devon or Cornish Rex, the Selkirk coat should not be smoothed down, especially on the back, which is the one place where the curl is apt to be least noticeable. To enjoy the Selkirk coat, the fingers should be raked through the hair to lift the curls to allow them to fall free and easy and to feel the density of the thick, plush coat.

This is a big breed and prefers to have "four on the floor." Because of their size, most do not like to be off the ground for very long, and show how upset they are by wiggling until they are set down. Holding up the front of the cat to check the tummy for curls is usually acceptable to the cat, since many of the breeders do the same thing with their cats, to enjoy the curl. Selkirks like to play with toys and despite their size can be quite agile when chasing a teaser or a peacock feather.

Breed History

The history of the Selkirk Rex began the same way that many breeds did, based on spontaneous mutations, with someone noticing an unusual looking kitten and wondering what it was. In the case of the Selkirk Rex, it almost did not happen. A woman who ran a shelter out of her home in Sheridan, Montana rescued a dilute calico that was missing a foot after being caught in a trap.

The cat had a litter of kittens in 1986, shortly after being rescued. A female out of the litter of six kittens was born with an unusual coat. The unusual kitten was placed with someone when she was very young, but she came back because the new owner could not stand her crying. When she was seven-months old, a Persian breeder in Livingston, Montana took her in and named her Miss DePesto of NoFace. Her whiskers were curly, her ears were full of "brillo" hair, and her body looked like she had had a "body wave."

At 14 months of age, Pest was bred to a black Persian male and delivered her offspring on July 4, 1988. Miss DePesto not only had six babies (4 shorthair, 2 longhair), three of the babies were definitely curly. The breeder discovered that no one had seen a curly male in the vicinity and no other curly kittens had been produced. Thus, it was believed that Pest was the start of a new mutation, a dominant coat modification gene.

Unlike many new breeds, Selkirk Rex were not named for the country or area of origination, which would have made them American Rex or Montana Rex as the Cornish and Devon were named for the parts of England from which they came. Instead, the breeder decided to honor her stepfather by calling the breed "Selkirk" after his family name.

The word "rex" historically was used to mean a coat that was not a "standard" coat (that is, straight). Thus, it was decided that Rex was the perfect descriptor for this new breed's coat.

At the February 1992 Board Meeting, CFA accepted the Selkirk Rex for Registration and in February 2000, the Selkirk Rex achieved Championship Status.

The Selkirk Rex is a unique breed with a unique coat. It consists of a combination of intelligence, silliness and friendliness; a big, cuddly, curly coated, plush coated, purring, living teddy bear. What more could you want in a cat?

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