Kitties come in so many different colors, shapes and patterns. And we are in love with all of them! Soft, curly cats, however, seem to be exceptionally captivating and spell-binding. Have you ever wondered about the role of genetics in your cat’s charming locks? The time has come to unravel some science behind curly cat coat.
Curly cat coat: It all curls with a bit of DNA
Curly coat is an unusual genetic variation which occurs in many mammals including cats, dogs, horses, rabbits and rats. The genetic variation resulting in soft, curly fur is named rex mutation. Rex mutations cause changes in the structure of groups of hairs and in the cross-sections of individual hairs, which subsequently leads to the curly appearance of the fur. A curly coat is scientifically referred to as rexed coat. Rexed mutations are not frequent, but they can occur spontaneously in a variety of genes, thus creating various types of curly coats.
In cats, several different rexed mutations have been identified and selected for, including the following: r (found in Cornish Rex), gr (found in German Rex), re (found in Devon Rex), ro (found in Oregon Rex), Se (found in Selkirk Rex) and Lp (found in LaPerm). There are many other genes that produce curly divas too, and new rexed mutations sometimes occur spontaneously in freely bred cats as well. Thus, the genetics behind curly coats are relatively complex and variable. Each genetic variant leading to rexed coat can influence the formation of distinctly unique types of curls, which is why rexed cats can vary considerably in appearance.
Curly cat breeds
Currently, only four rexed breeds are internationally recognized: Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, LaPerm and Selkirk Rex. The curly coat in all of these four breeds is encoded by different rexed mutations, which is why their appearances greatly vary too. The Cornish Rex doesn’t have outer or middle coat layers (guard hairs and awn hairs). It only has a fine, soft and curly undercoat about 1cm long. Cornish Rexes are very prone to hair loss, however, and many of them develop a thin undercoat which goes partially bald over certain body parts over time. The coat is encoded by a recessive gene called r, meaning only homozygotes (cats that inherit the r gene from both their mother and their father) will carry the trait.
The Devon Rex has a short, curly and plush coat without the undercoat. Its coat is a result of a recessive mutation called re, meaning that, again, only homozygotes will be curly.
LaPerms carry a dominant mutation (Lp) that gives them their ‘perm’, meaning that a LaPerm will be curly even if it only inherits the Lp mutation from one parent (this is called a heterozygote). LaPerms have a very iconic, sensuous coat with pompous and soft curls. They can be both short-haired and long-haired. Some kittens may be born hairless or lose the short, wavy coat within the first three weeks after birth. During the first four months of their life, these kittens go through different stages of baldness before finally growing their luxurious and iconic locks.
And finally, the Selkirk Rex is a cat with presumably the ‘highest’ curled coat of the four. Their coat is a lot denser and longer than in Devon Rex and Cornish Rex cats, but plusher and fuller than in LaPerms. Selkirk Rexes can be both short-haired and long-haired, and their curls are a result of a gene called Se. Se is incompletely dominant, which means that all cats will be curly. However, heterozygotes will have fuller coats with less tight curls and homozygotes will have less voluminous coats with tighter curls.
There are other, less-known, developing rexed breeds too, including the German Rex, Ural Rex, Tennesse Rex, Skookum and Tasman Rex. Spontaneous rexed variants have been noted in domestic cats, Maine Coons, Persians and other cats.
RELATED: Genetics of Cat Coat.
Tips and tricks: How to care for kitty locks?
Some curly cats, such as Cornish Rex and Devon Rex, have fine coats with loose curls, and they are often prone to complete or partial baldness. This leads to a common misconception that their coat is low-maintenance, but the truth is, these cats need just as much grooming as a Ragdoll, if not more. Because their skin is more exposed, it is prone to irritations, allergies, diseases, injuries and sunburns.
This is why it is important to monitor their exposure to sunlight, moisturize their skin as needed and help them efficiently maintain body temperature. Because they have fine coats, they don’t have enough hair to absorb oils naturally produced by skin, which is why they will require occasional baths.
Other curly cats, such as LaPerms and Selkirk Rexes, have much denser and tighter curls, and their coat care is very different. They require combing at least twice a week with a specific hairbrush adapted for curly coats. Pay special attention to neck, tummy and legs – the locks tend to be the tightest in these areas! Make sure to comb out all the tangles and keep your kitty’s fur soft and clean. Combing will also give you a purrfect opportunity to keep an eye for pesky parasites, skin irritations and allergies!
Most of the time, brushing and combing will be enough to keep your kitty’s curls healthy and shiny, however, sometimes some shampooing and trimming may be necessary. And finally, whether your kitty sports fine, subtle curls or rich, luscious locks, don’t forget to brush their teeth and clean their ears, too. If you need more advice on coat care, please refer to this article.
What’s cuter than a fluffy cat? A cat that’s even floofier! It’s no surprise that curly kitties are taking over the internet by storm. The soft curls on a kitty are truly an eye candy. Do you have a curly kitty of your own? Share a photo of their beautiful locks with us, we’d love to meet them! Don’t forget to share your very own tips and tricks!