Unusual cat breeds

14 Unusual Breeds of Cat

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The difference between cat breeds isn’t quite as vast as that of dogs but many cat breeds have unusual features that make them unique. This may be curled ears, short legs or unusual fur. Most of the cats arose from a spontaneous mutation and were developed to create new cat breeds.

New breeds which arise from spontaneous mutations take years to develop, breeders must determine if the mutation is dominant or recessive and if it causes any long-term effects on the cat. Established breeds or domestic (mixed-breed) cats are often utilised in order to increase the size of the gene pool.

Dominant vs recessive genes

Cats acquire two copies of each gene, one from the mother and one from the father. A dominant gene only needs one copy for the trait to be expressed, whereas two copies of the recessive gene must be inherited to be expressed.

Some cats may inherit one dominant and one recessive gene, the dominant gene overrides the recessive, which is not expressed. However, if the cat mates with another cat who also carries the same recessive gene and the kitten receive a copy from each parent, the trait will be expressed. This is known as a carrier.

In some cases, a doubling up of a dominant gene (homozygous) is lethal.

American Bobtail

American Bobtail

The American Bobtail is a bob-tailed cat which was developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s after John and Brenda Sanders came across a short-tailed tabby cat near an Indian reservation in Arizona. The couple brought the cat home and mated the newly named Yodie with Mishi, a Siamese female and the resulting litter contained kittens with short tails like their father. Himalayans, Siamese and Birmans were used to establish the breed.

The tailless gene (T) has four alleles (four different versions of the same gene), and while the mutation in American Bobtails is believed to be unrelated to the mutation found in the Manx cat, DNA analysis has found some shared alleles which cause haploinsufficiency of Brachyury. Which essentially means a single copy of the standard (wild-type) allele at a locus (location on the gene) in heterozygous combination with a variant allele is insufficient to produce the standard phenotype (long tail).

Appearance:

American Bobtails are a well-muscled, medium to large cat which occurs in both short and longhair. The tail ranges in length from one to four inches and may be straight, slightly curved or kinked.

All colours and patterns are accepted although there is a preference for the wild-type tabby.

Personality:

The American Bobtail is an extremely intelligent and playful breed of cat who is easy to train to do tricks or walk on a leash and they travel well. American Bobtails form close bonds with their human family but can be shy towards strangers.

Mode of inheritance:

Dominant.

American Curl

American Curl

A distinctive looking cat with backward curling ears, the American Curl history began with two homeless cats who were found by Joe and Grace Ruga (Curlniques Cattery) in 1981. Both cats, a black female and a black and white female had unusual curled back ears. The Ruga’s named the cats Panda and Shulamith. Panda vanished shortly after the Ruga’s took her in, but Shulamith remained and in late 1981 gave birth to four kittens. Two of these kittens had the same curled back ears as their mother and the Rugas established a breeding programme in 1983. Outcrossing to domestic shorthairs and longhaired helped to increase the gene pool.

The mutant gene is designated as curl and symbolized by Cu and is caused by a change in cartilage formation. Unlike the Scottish Fold, the homozygous American Curls (ie; CuCu) have been produced with no reported anomalies.

Appearance:

The American Curl is a medium-sized cat with a rectangular body. The prominent feature is the curled back ears. Kittens have straight ears at birth which start to curl back from 3-5 days and are fully set by the 16th week. The degree of the curl of the ears can vary from almost straight to an arc of 90-180 degrees.

The coat of the American Curl can be short or long, with little undercoat. All coat colours and patterns are accepted.

Personality:

Inquisitive, intelligent and loving are words used to describe the American Curl. This is a breed who loves to be a part of everything in the house.

American Curls retain their kitten-like nature well into adulthood, they make an exceptional family pet for homes with children and other pets.

Mode of inheritance:

Dominant.

Bengal

Bengal cat

The Bengal is a domestic cat breed created by Jean Sudgen who an Asian Leopard Cat with a domestic shorthair in 1963 to create a domestic cat with a wild-type coat. The programme was abandoned after the death of Jean’s husband.

In 1980, Jean, who had remarried as Jean Mill wanted to restart her breeding programme and obtained several hybrid kittens bred by Dr Willard Centerwall. Dr Centerwall had been working on a breeding programme which involved crossing the Asian Leopard Cat to domestic cats to study the feline leukemia virus in the hope of combatting leukemia in humans. A stray cat from Delhi (Millwood Tory of Delhi) was added to the programme which introduced the stunning glitter to the Bengal coat.

Appearance:

The Bengal is a medium to large cat with an athletic build. The outstanding feature of the Bengal is the coat which is made up of darts, spots, rosettes (spotted) or swirls (marbled) on a lighter background.

Personality:

The Bengal is an active, intelligent and curious breed of cat. Many Bengals love water which they have inherited from their Asian leopard cat ancestors.

The Bengal loves to be up high, and their intelligence makes them easy to train to walk on a harness or play a game of fetch. This is a breed who retains a kitten-like nature well into adulthood.

Mode of inheritance:

Not applicable.

Cornish Rex

Cornish Rex

The Cornish Rex is a curly-coated cat which was first occurred in Cornwall, England. A tortoiseshell barn cat called Serena and owned by Nina Ennismore gave birth to five kittens on 21st July 1950. One kitten named Kallibunker had an unusual curly coat. Kallibunker was mated back to Serena and the next litter produced one straight coated female and two curly-coated males, one of whom died at a young age. The other kitten, a blue-cream tabby was named Poldhu. Kallibunker and Poldhu sired several litters with Serena as well as domestic shorthairs.

Sadly, Kallibunker, Serena and several other cats in the breeding programme were euthanised in 1956 due to the financial burden of maintaining a breeding programme. Only two male Cornish Rex cats remained, Poldhu and Sham Pain Charlie. Poldhu was accidentally neutered during tissue extraction and it was Sham Pain Charlie and Kallibunker’s surviving progeny who saved the breed.

The coat of the Cornish Rex is caused by a recessive gene which causes congenital hypothricosis.

Appearance:

The Cornish Rex is a fine-boned breed with a wedge-shaped head that is longer than it is wide, large high-set ears and a short, wavy coat. Due to outcrossing to domestics, the Cornish Rex occurs in all colours and patterns.

Personality:

Active, playful, curious are words used to describe the Cornish Rex. This is a cat who is on the go all the time. Cornish Rexes are acrobatic and love to be up high, either riding on the shoulder of their human family or watching from a height.

The Cornish retains his or her playful side well into adulthood which makes them the ideal family pet.

Mode of inheritance:

Recessive.

Devon Rex

Seal Point Devon Rex

The Devon Rex shares a similar history to the Cornish Rex. A stray male had been spotted living in an abandoned tin mine in 1959. Attempts had been made to catch him, but he avoided capture. A homeless tortoiseshell female gave birth to a litter of four kittens in a field at the end of a garden owned by Beryl Cox. One kitten, a black-brown male had the same curly coat as the stray cat.

This was around the same time as the Cornish Rex programme was struggling due to low numbers. The kitten, named Kirlee was purchased from Mrs Cox for £25.00 and joined the Cornish Rex breeding programme. Unfortunately, matings with the Cornish Rex cats produced straight-coated kittens and it was determined the rexing gene of the Devon was different from that of the Cornish. Kirlee went to live with Mrs P. Hughes who mated Kirlee to one of his straight-coated Cornish daughters by the name of Broughton Purley Queen. The resulting litter comprised of three kittens, two were straight coated, and one blue-cream female (Broughton Golden Rain) was curly-coated like her father – and so the Devon Rex breed began.

As with the Cornish Rex, the gene responsible for the curly coat causes congenital hypotrichosis, however, it has been established that the Cornish Rex and Devon Rex genes are different. If a Cornish Rex and a Devon Rex mated, the kittens would all be straight coated.

Appearance:

The Devon Rex is a small to medium cat with an elf-like face, wide cheekbones and large, wide-set ears. The coat is soft, wavy and close-lying. In contrast to the Cornish who has a wavy coat, the Devon Rex’s coat is looser with a more open curl compared to the waved coat of the Cornish Rex.

All coat colours and patterns are accepted with the Devon Rex.

Personality: 

Devon Rexes are suited to active households who want an interactive cat who is part of the family. Their people-loving nature means that they are best suited to homes where somebody is present most of the time.

The Devon Rex loves to be up high, preferably on the shoulders of their human family and their kitten-like nature makes them the ideal family pet.

Mode of inheritance:

Recessive.

Donskoy

Don Sphynx

Also known as a Don Sphynx, the Donskoy is an almost hairless cat which originated in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. Cat breeder Elena Kovaleva rescued a blue tortoiseshell kitten who she named Varvara. At four months old, Varvara began to lose her fur. She was treated for fungal and skin mite infections, but her coat didn’t grow back.

A year later, Varvara mated with a local tom, Elena gave one of the resulting kittens to her friend Irina Nemykina. Like her mother, the kitten, Chita began to lose her fur at four months old. A second mating produced four male kittens who developed a velour coat (a velvet coat with a bald patch on the head which is called a monk’s cap, hair falls out although some may remain on the face, legs, and tail).

These cats were to become the foundation stock of the Donskoy, European Shorthairs were used to increase the gene pool.

Appearance:

The Don Sphynx is a medium-sized cat with a muscular build and a wide chest bone. The head is a modified wedge with a flat forehead and finely outlined cheekbones. Ears are large and wide at the base and tilted slightly forward.

The coat comes in four types:

  1. Rubber or Sticky bald: Kittens are born hairless and stay that way.
  2. Flocked: Appears hairless but has a chamois-like coat, this may fall out in some cats by the time they have reached two years old.
  3. Velour: Born with a velvet coat, however, there is a bald patch on the head which is called a monk’s cap. Hair falls out although some may remain on the face, legs, and tail.
  4. Brush: Born with a thick coat of wavy, soft, bristly or wiry hair which remains although there may be bald patches on the head.

Personality:

Affectionate, playful, energetic and intelligent, the Donskoy is an extremely people-oriented breed of cat who loves nothing more than spending time with his or her human family. Their gentle and people-loving nature make them an exceptional family pet.

Mode of inheritance:

Dominant.

Related breeds:

  • Peterbald – Donskoy, Oriental cross

Japanese Bobtail

Japanese Bobtail

Several tail deformities have been described in cats from Asia. The Japanese Bobtail is a bobbed breed which arrived in Japan over 1,000 years ago and is thought to have originated in China or Korea.

Japanese nobility kept these cats and would walk them on a lead. However, when an infestation of rodents threatened to ruin the silk industry and in 1602 Japanese authorities decreed that all noble cats were to be released to control the rodent population.

The Japanese Bobtail is a symbol of good luck and happiness when found in the traditional colour of mi-ke (three fur), which is white with red and black patches. This is the traditional colour of the Beckoning Cat, who is also known as the Lucky Cat.

It has been found that the T-box (family of genes which play a critical role in embryonic limb and heart development) gene responsible for the tailless Manx is different to the causative mutation for the Japanese Bobtail.

Appearance:

Japanese Bobtails are well-muscled, medium-sized cats with short or semi-long fur which is soft and silky to the touch. The head should form a perfect equilateral triangle with high cheekbones and a long parallel lose.

The tail of the Japanese Bobtail is between 5 – 10 cm long, and can be found in many shapes and sizes.

Japanese Bobtails are found in all coat colours and patterns, but it is the classic calico that is the most sought after.

Personality:

Words used to describe the Japanese Bobtail include curious, active, talkative and playful. This is an intelligent and lively breed people-oriented breed. Due to their intelligence, it is easy to train the Japanese Bobtail to walk on a harness or play fetch.

The Japanese Bobtail remains playful well into adulthood and due to their loving nature, makes a great family pet.

Mode of inheritance:

Recessive.

LaPerm

LaPerm cat

Also known as the Dalles LaPerm, the LaPerm is an unusual curly-coated cat whose history began in 1982 when a barn cat called Speedy who was owned by Linda and Richard Koehl gave birth to six kittens. One kitten was born completely bald, but when her fur grew, it was curly. This kitten, aptly named Curly also had an unusually sweet nature.

Curly went on to have a litter of five male kittens, all of whom were bald at birth but grew the same curly coat within a few weeks. These curly-coated males mated with local cats, including a local black cat who also produced a litter of five curly-coated kittens.

A breeding programme to establish these curly-coated cats as a new breed was started by the Koehl’s. TICA granted the LaPerm new breed status in 1995 and championship status in 2003. The CFA awarded the LaPerm championship status in 2008.

Appearance:

The LaPerm is a medium cat of moderate foreign type with a modified wedge head which is longer than it is wide.

The beautiful soft coat stands away from the body and may be wavy, rippled or curly and comes in both long and shorthair.

All colours and patterns are accepted.

Personality:

The LaPerm is a gentle, sweet, loving, affectionate and loyal cat who form close bonds with their human family. LaPerms are an active breed who loves to be up high, but they are also just as happy to sit on your lap.

Like the curly-coated Devon and Cornish Rex, the LaPerm loves to sit on her human’s shoulders.

Mode of inheritance:

Dominant.

Lykoi

Lykoi cat

The Lykoi is a relative newcomer to the cat fancy and is recognised by its unique werewolf appearance due to a recessive mutation which resulted in fewer hair follicles and hair shafts.

The first cats were born in 2010 to a black domestic cat (Eve Havah) and were found in a rescue centre. Cat breeder Patti Thomas acquired them to determine if the unusual fur was caused by the same mutation as either the Devon Rex or Sphynx. However, genetic tests determined the mutation was different from that of the Devon and Sphynx.

The two cats were given to Dr Johnny Gobble and his wife, Brittany. Two additional cats (Hillbilly Moonshine and Opossum Roadkill) with the same unusual coat were adopted by the Gobbles and in September 2011, the first Lykoi to Lykoi kitten was born.

Appearance:

The Lykoi is a foreign (slender) type with a medium body and athletic build. The head is a modified wedge, with rounded contours from the nose to the cheek. Ears are tall with rounded tips and the eyes are large.

Lykois are the only breed whose coat occurs in roan which is defined as an even mixture of white and pigmented hairs. The undercoat is absent and hair on the legs, feet and face is sparse.

Personality:

Words used to describe the Lykoi include intelligent, playful, inquisitive and loyal and Lykois love to be close to their human family.

The Lykoi has a strong prey drive, a trait inherited from their feral origins, therefore they are best kept as indoor cats to prevent hunting. Another unique feature of the Lykoi is their dog-like personality and tail wagging.

Mode of inheritance:

Recessive.

Manx

Manx cat

Probably the best-known of the unique cat breeds, the Manx is a tailless cat from the Isle of Man which is located off Britain’s west coast.

The genetic mutation (M) happened hundreds of years ago, although the exact timeframe remains a mystery. In its homozygous form (the offspring receive one copy from each parent), the Manx gene is lethal.

Appearance:

The Manx cat is a sturdy cat with a broad chest and powerful legs, the front legs are longer than the hind legs.

There are four types of Manx tail:

  • Rumpy (true Manx) have no tail at all
  • Rumpy riser where a small number of tail vertebrae can be seen or felt
  • Stumpy where the tail is longer but deformed.
  • Longie the tail is longer than the previous three but shorter than the average tail on a cat

The coat can be short or long, longhaired ‘Manx’ cats are known as Cymric. All colours and patterns are accepted  exception of colour-point, chocolate or cinnamon and their dilute derivatives lilac or fawn.

Personality:

Manxes are placid, gentle, affectionate and easygoing. It is not uncommon for a Manx to form a strong bond with one particular member of the household.

Despite their placid nature, Manx cats are extremely playful, which stays with the cat well into adulthood. They are easy to train to fetch balls or toy mice and walk on a harness.

Mode of inheritance:

Dominant.

Munchkin

Munchkin cat

The Munchkin is a short-legged cat whose history started in 1983 when two short-legged cats were chased under a truck by a dog and rescued by Sandra Hochenedel from Louisiana. Sandra gave away one cat but kept one, named Blackberry who was pregnant. Blackberry delivered four kittens, two of whom had short legs like their mother.

One of the short-legged kittens, Toulouse was given to Kay LeFrance and it is Blackberry and Toulouse who became founders of the Munchkin breed.

The short legs are due to achondroplasia, which is a form of dwarfism affecting the long bones.

Appearance:

The Munchkin is a medium-sized cat who is well muscled. The head is a modified wedge, ears and the eyes are round and set well apart.

The coat can be long or short, and all colours and patterns are accepted.

The most notable feature of the Munchkin is the short legs which come in three sizes; standard, super-short and rug-hugger (also called VW Microbus).

Personality:

Munchkins are playful, sociable and affectionate cats who like to be a part of whatever is going on. Their short stature has no impact on their ability to zoom around the house and jump, although not as high as normal legged cats.

The Munchkin is known for its love of hoarding which has won it the affectionate nickname magpie cat.

Mode of inheritance:

Dominant.

Related breeds:

Several breeds have been developed with the same short-legged appearance as the Munchkin which includes:

Selkirk Rex

Selkirk Rex

The Selkirk Rex is a curly-coated breed who originated in 1987 in Montana, USA when a kitten with a curly coat was born to an otherwise normal litter of kittens. The kitten, her littermates and mother were taken to a shelter in Wyoming. Peggy Voorhees of the Bozeman Humane Society took the kitten, who had been named Curly-Q to Persian breeder Jeri Newman.

At 14 months, this girl, now named Miss De Pesto was mated to a black Persian named Photo Finish. The resulting litter contained three curly-coated kittens like their mother and three straight-haired kittens. One of the curly kittens, a black and white male (Noface Oscar Kowalski) was mated back to his mother and four kittens were born, three had curly coats and one had a straight coat.

The breed was developed using these foundation cats along with Persians, Exotics and British Shorthairs to increase the gene pool.

Appearance:

The Selkirk Rex is a stocky and muscular cat with heavy bones, a large and round head with a short muzzle.

The curly coat can be short or long. Kittens are born with curls, which disappear around six months and then reappear when the kittens are around ten months old.

Personality:

Selkirk Rexes are laid-back with a similar temperament to their Persian and British ancestors. This laid-back personality doesn’t inhibit their playful nature and the Selkirk Rex loves to play but is not as active as some other breeds.

They are extremely sociable and get along with everyone, including children and other pets. They love to sleep in their human’s lap.

Mode of inheritance:

Dominant.

Sphynx

Sphynx cat

The Sphynx is a hairless breed of cat which was developed from spontaneous mutations that occurred in Toronto, Canada and Minnesota, USA.

The first Sphynx was born in Toronto in 1966 when a black and white domestic female delivered a bald kitten who was named Prune. A local science student became interested in this unusual cat, and along with his mother Yania Bawa, who obtained both cats. Elizabeth was mated back to Prune which resulted in more bald kittens. A breeding programme was established, and American Shorthairs were used to outcross. The Cat Fanciers Association granted the cats new breeder status, however, this was evoked in 1971 and the lines died out.

Cat breeder Shirley Smith of Toronto, Ontario found three hairless kittens in her neighbourhood in 1978. The kittens were named Bambi, Paloma and Punkie. Bambi was desexed and in 1983 Paloma and Punkie were sent to Dr Hugo Hernandez in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, a farm cat from Minnesota by the name of Jezabelle and owned by Ethelyn Pearson gave birth to a bald female kitten who was named Epidermis. The following year Jezabelle had a second hairless kitten, named Dermis.

All Sphynx cats descend from four cats. Epidermis, Dermis, Paloma, and Punkie.

Sphynx cats have hypotrichosis a type of congenital alopecia of the KRT71 gene.

Appearance:

Sphynx cats are a medium size, muscular with a deep chest and barrel-shaped body. The head is wedge-shaped with high cheekbones and large ears.

Although the Sphynx looks bald, if you look carefully you will see the body is covered with fine, downy hairs. All coat colours and patterns are accepted.

Personality:

Sphynx cats are affectionate, sociable, intelligent and very busy. They love to be involved in everything their human family is doing and have been described as ‘part cat, part dog, part monkey and part child’.

Due to having little fur, the Sphynx feels warmer to the touch than other cats.

Mode of inheritance:

Recessive.

Related breeds:

  • Dwelf – Munchkin, American curl and Sphynx cross
  • Bambino – Munchkin, Sphynx cross
  • Ukrainian Levkoy – Donskoy, Scottish Fold cross
  • Elf – Sphynx, American curl cross

Scottish Fold

Scottish Fold

The Scottish Fold is a breed of cat with folded down ears which occurred as a spontaneous mutation in a white kitten in 1961. Susie was born on a farm near Coupar Angus in Scotland. William Ross, a neighbouring farmer and cat enthusiast noticed Susie’s unique ears and when she had a litter of kittens two years later with the same folded down ears, William received a kitten who he called Snooks.

Snooks produced more folded down ears, and a new breed was established named Lop Eared Cats.

London based breeder Pat Turner visited the Ross’s and returned home with a male cat called Snowdrift. She began an experimental breeding programme and convinced the Ross’s to change the name to Fold.

The ears of the Scottish Fold are normal at birth but start to bend forward from the fourth week of age. The gene responsible is dominant with incomplete penetrance. In its homozygous form it is lethal.

The affected gene (Fd) causes a type of osteodystrophy known as Scottish Fold osteochondrodysplasia (SFOCD), which affects cartilage and bone throughout the body and is characterised by skeletal deformities including folded ears, short, thick and inflexible tails, abnormal feet and joints and fusion of the bones in severely affected cats.

Appearance:

Scottish Folds are a cobby cat with a rounded appearance. The head is well rounded with prominent cheekbones, the eyes are round and expressive, and the nose is short, wide with a slight nose break.

The most prominent feature of the breed is the ears which are wide-set and point down and forwards, which gives the head and face a round appearance.

Personality:

A friendly, gentle, sweet, well-adjusted are all words used to describe the Scottish Fold.

Scottish Folds get along well with other cats and children and are not easily upset. While the breed is affectionate, they are not clingy.

Mode of inheritance:

Dominant.




Julia Wilson is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care.Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. She enjoys photography, gardening and running in her spare time.Full author bio Contact Julia