The Floppy-Eared Darlings: The Scottish Fold
Meet the only cat who has ever been described to resemble an owl. Yep! The enchanting Scottish Fold is a carrier of a distinctive feature of forward-folded ears and a reputation of remarkably loving companions. Scot folds come in all coat colors, patterns and lengths. Interestingly, they are notorious for sleeping on their backs with all fours up in the air! Read on for a small dose of these mesmerizing bundles of love.
The main features
The Scottish Fold is a medium-sized feline breed, typically reaching 2 to 4 kg (females) and 4 to 6 kg (males). They have a rounded body and face, large eyes and short, gently curved nose. Scot Folds can be short-haired and long-haired, coming in nearly any coat color observed in domestic cats. Their coat is soft, thick and dense.
The distinct and unique feature of this breed is a naturally occurring dominant-gene mutation that affects cartilage throughout the body. This condition is known as osteochondrodysplasia (OCD). Cartilage is an elastic tissue that covers and protects the ends of long bones at the joints. It is an important structure in the rib cage, nose, intervertebral discs, bronchial tubes, ears and other body parts. The mutation affecting this tissue is termed as the "fold gene" – Fd. The allele for the folded ears is dominant over the allele for the straight ears. As a result of this mutation, the cat’s ears will be bent forward and down towards the face.
Because the mutation is dominant, a cat with folded ears can be both heterozygous and homozygous for the gene. Heterozygous forms carry an allele for the straight ears (fd) and an allele for the folded ears (Fd). Homozygous forms carry two copies of the fold gene (FdFd). Straight-eared cats should have two copies of the straight ears allele (fdfd). In the litter of Scot Folds, all kittens initially have straight ears. Within 21 days, the carriers of the fold gene will begin showing the distinctive features. The rest of the kittens who don’t develop the characteristic fold are known as "straights".
The fold gene is inherited as an autosomal dominant trait. This means that mating a homozygous fold with any cat will result in all folds, as the homozygous fold doesn’t have any alleles to pass on except for the fold alleles. All of the offspring will be heterozygous for the gene as they will inherit one fold allele from one parent and one straight allele from the other parent. Mating with heterozygous forms can result in both fold-eared and straight-eared offspring (Table 1).
Table 1: Inheritance of the fold gene (Fd) in the Scottish Fold: A) all the possible genotypes produced by mating all three possible genotypes with each other, B) resulting phenotype of each genotype. Fd – folded ears, fd – straight ears.
In 1961 in Perthshire, Scotland, a shepherd named William Ross noticed Susie, this beautiful white cat with unusually folded ears. When Susie had kittens with a local tom, William Ross adopted one of the kittens who he named Snooks. And thus began the development of the new breed – Scottish Fold.
The new breed was registered in 1966 with the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) when Ross started the breeding program. The program produces 76 kittens of which 42 were fold-eared in just 3 years. The breed first made its way to the US in 1971.
The Scottish Fold has a notorious reputation of being unusually loving. They adore the hoomans of their choice and follow cherish every minute they get to hang out with them. This social and friendly cat hates being left alone. They will gladly engage in games with you and follow you around. Folds are moderately active but very smart and agile. Such a mesmerizing personality, combined with their captivating appearance, make Folds typically more expensive than kittens of some other feline breeds.
As the folded ears are a result of a mutation affecting cartilage and causing osteochondrodysplasia (OCD), Scottish Folds are at high risk from degenerative joint disease. Homozygous forms are typically more severely affected than heterozygous folds, and at an earlier age too. This is why ethical breeders always breed folds with non-folds to avoid producing homozygous cats.
Scot folds may also be prone to polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and cardiomyopathy. The average life expectancy of the breed is 15 years.
Fun facts about the floppy-eared cats
1. Scot Folds once carried a different name. Did you know that these cats were originally called "Lop-eared" or "Lops" after the lop-eared rabbit? Yep! It wasn’t until 1966 when the breed was finally registered that "Scottish Fold" became their official name.
2. Longhaired variants are known under unusual nicknames. While some may simply call them Scottish Fold Longhairs or Longhair Folds, these variants of the floppy-eared breed are also famous under the names Highland Fold and Coupari.
3. They’re not as popular in Europe as they are in America. Despite their European heritage, Scot Folds are much more popular in America than they are in their home continent. As mentioned above, GCCF accepted the breed in 1966. However, in 1971 they forbid pet owners from registering more folded kitties as they were worried about their health due to their unique physical feature. They worried about the joint disease, ear mites and infections as well as deafness. Even though these concerns aren’t an issue anymore, the cat is still not shown in Europe to this day. CFA, on the other hand, gave provisional status to the Scottish Folds in 1977. Ever since they’ve become extremely popular in the US. Breed fans are sometimes wait-listed and they pay a lot of money for a floppy-eared kitten.
4. They’re famous for weird poses. It may be a weird thing to be famous for, but Scot Folds are notorious for their comical positions. You might often catch them lying on their backs with all fours in the air, standing on their hind paws or chilling in a "Buddha" position.
5. They’re frequent stars in literature. The Scottish Fold was featured in novels "The Cat Who Went to Paris" by Peter Gethers and "The Bone Bed" by Patricia Cornwell, in the anime series "Beyond the Boundary" and the Disney franchise "Kingdom Hearts." Oh and Meredith and Olivia, Taylor Swift’s Scottish Folds, have a few of their own fans out there too.
Do you happen to have a floppy-eared little buddy? Share with us; we would love to meet them!