The American Curl cat
The origin story of the American Curl cat went something like this:
HUSBAND: Did you see that skinny kitten wandering around outside? Don’t feed it.
WIFE: *feeds cat and brings it inside.* 
The year is 1981 and the husband-and-wife duo are Joe and Grace Ruga, who live in Lakewood, California. They’re not cat people. They assume their new kitten’s ears are normal for whatever breed she must be.
They name the kitten, who is black, with long, silky fur, Shulamith, after the woman in the Song of Songs, a collection of Old Testament love poems. Shulamith is described in the poems as “black and beautiful” with hair that is “long and flowing.”
Shulamith (the cat) hits it off with some of the neighborhood toms, and has several litters of kittens. The kittens are a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns, with both long hair and short, and also a mixture of curly ears and typical ears.
The Rugas dutifully find homes for the kittens amongst their friends and relatives, including their neighbor, Nancy Keister, who’d just read an article about Scottish Folds, a cat breed in which the ears fold forward. Keister reached out to a Scottish Fold breeder, a noted Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) judge, who looked at Keister’s new kittens and declared that she’d never seen anything like them.
By 1986, fewer than six years after Grace Ruga made Shulamith a member of the family, the CFA would register a new and fascinating breed of cat called the American Curl.
What is the “curl” in American Curl?The “curl” refers to a unique feature of some American Curl cats in which the top portion of the ears roll backwards, toward the back of the skull.
Show cats are expected to sport just a certain amount of curl: not too much, nor too little. The “right” amount of curl is described as 90° to 180°, which means that the tip of the ear should fold all the way over, but not touch the back of the head.
At least the bottom third of the ear is expected to be firm cartilage – much firmer than the supple ears of any other cat breed, more like a human ear – while the backward-curving tip should be rounded and flexible. The curl should form a smooth arc from base to tip. 
Not every American Curl has curl
I say “some” American Curl cats because not every kitten in a litter is born with curly ears. In fact, a breeder will have no idea how many kittens in a litter will turn out curly.
All American Curl kittens are born with straight ears. The ears of the kittens will curl up tightly within three to five days after birth. But they’ll gradually unfurl again over the next 16 weeks. Where they end up is anybody’s guess, but after 16 weeks, the amount of curl is set for life.
Interestingly, the amount of curl in a kitten’s parents’ ears has no bearing on how curly a kitten’s ears will be. Extremely curled parents can produce kittens with only modest curl, and vice versa. Similarly, the amount of curl in a kitten’s ears is also unrelated to whether one or both parents are curly-eared.
The genetics behind the American CurlFeline geneticist Roy Robinson studied 383 American Curl kittens from 81 litters and determined that the ear-curling gene is autosomal dominant.
Autosomal dominant means that the gene is not located on the chromosomes that determine whether a cat is male or female. So, there is likely to be as many male as female cats born with the curly-ear feature.
Autosomal dominant also means that a cat has to have only one copy of the curly gene to have curly ears. So, a cat could have one parent with no curly genes at all, and another parent with only a single curly gene, and still have curly ears.
This is an important conclusion as it relates to how breeders can safely grow the American Curl breed. More on this in a minute.
The difference between the Scottish Fold and the American CurlOne of the most interesting and important findings in Robinson’s study was the lack of any genetic defects amongst the kittens that he analyzed. This conclusion is in strong contrast to another cat breed with unusual ears, the Scottish Fold.
Like the American Curl, the Scottish Fold was also a spontaneous mutation. Nobody “made” the Scottish Fold, or the American Curl. They were both accidents of nature that humans enjoyed and wanted to perpetrate.
But the gene that causes the American Curl’s ears to roll backward is not the same gene that causes the Scottish Fold’s ears to flop forward.
In addition to folded-over ears, the Scottish Fold gene also, unfortunately, causes abnormal bone development in cats’ ankles, wrists, and tails. Many argue that the Scottish Fold gene is actually a genetic disease, and that breeding Scottish Folds is unethical. Consequently, some cat fancy organizations refuse to recognize the breed.
There is no such controversy surrounding the American Curl.
Read, “The Scottish Fold Cat,” to learn more about this unusual cat breed.
What does an American Curl cat look like?
When you look at an American Curl cat, it’s hard to focus on anything but the ears, which are not only curly but often tufted like the ears of a lynx. So cute!
But there is more to an American Curl than just ears.
An American Curl is a medium-sized cat, about five to 10 pounds, with females being a little smaller (five to eight pounds) and males a little bigger (seven to 10 pounds).
An American Curl’s head is described as a “modified wedge,” which only means that it’s kind of a triangle shape, but not as extreme as, say, the head of an Oriental Shorthair. A Curl’s eyes are an unusual shape: oval on top and rounded on the bottom.
Cat fancy people describe the body of an American Curl as “semi-foreign” which only means that they are longer than they are tall, but that they don’t have the skinny, tubular body of a Sphynx or Siamese. They may not be super-skinny, but there is no stockiness or roundness to them, either, as in an American Shorthair.
What about an American Curl’s coat?Here’s the interesting thing about an American Curl: unlike many other pedigreed cats which are only allowed to be bred with each other for their kittens to be pedigreed, American Curls are permitted to be bred with any non-pedigreed cat.
This is because American Curls are so rare that there just aren’t enough of them to be safely bred only with each other.
The upside of this “problem” is that the American Curl actually has an enormous genetic pool!
The other upside is that all that genetic variety means that the American Curl doesn’t have just a singular look. The American Curl comes in every coat type imaginable: both long and short hair in every color and pattern imaginable.
Most American Curls have soft, silky coats – whatever the color or pattern – and the longhaired varieties have only minimal undercoats, which makes them easy to groom and less likely to mat or tangle.
What is the personality of the American Curl?
It’s going to hard to find a situation in which this adaptable cat doesn’t fit. The American Curl is friendly, gentle, and loves people.
Curls love kids and seem to seek out their company. How unusual for a cat! But be sure to teach children how to respectfully interact with a cat. It’s not only imperative for the cat’s safety, but it’s an important life lesson for growing humans.
The American Curl is a joyous cat. Although it takes this breed two to three years to reach full physical maturity, it’s like they never really grow up. American Curls remain active, curious, and playful, their entire lives.
But while energetic, the American Curl is not an overactive cat. After a few rounds of fetch, your Curl will be happy to settle in your lap for a snooze. When he’s not in your lap, he’ll probably be following you around the house, just to see what you’re up to. Perches are a must for this cat who needs to keep an eye on things in the household.
The American Curl is smart. Challenge her by teaching her tricks and providing puzzle toys. Otherwise, she’ll find her own mischief, by learning to open doorknobs, for example.
Is the American Curl a healthy breed of cat?
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Thanks to the American Curl’s large genetic pool, courtesy of the policy of outbreeding Curls with non-pedigreed cats, the American Curl is a healthy cat.
The only thing American Curl guardians should be aware of is that their special ears require delicate handling. Rough handling can break or damage the ear’s sensitive cartilage. Children who interact with your American Curl should be taught not to touch or play with this cat’s ears.
Some American Curls have narrow ear canals that may be prone to infection. Wipe your cat’s ears gently, with a cotton ball moistened with ear cleanser weekly.
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
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 Bloch, Chana. “Shulammite: Bible.” Jewish Women's Archive, https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/shulammite-bible.
 “Bible Gateway Passage: Song of Solomon 6 - Easy-to-Read Version.” Bible Gateway, https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Song+of+Solomon+6&version=ERV.
 American Curl Article – the Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc. https://cfa.org/american-curl/american-curl-article/.
 Robinson, R. “American Curl Cat.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 Sept. 1989, https://academic.oup.com/jhered/article-abstract/80/6/474/824892?redirectedFrom=fulltext&login=false.
 “American Curl Cat Breed Information.” Vetstreet, http://www.vetstreet.com/cats/american-curl#1_jsyik8bv.