The Origins of 15 Fascinating Cat Breeds

Some of these cat breeds were carefully created, while others are the result of sheer luck and the occasional accident.
A Selkirk Rex kitten.
A Selkirk Rex kitten. / Erich Schmidt/imageBROKER/Getty Images

People tend to know a bit about popular dog breeds, but cat breeds are just as interesting. Here are how 15 very distinct types of domestic felines got their start.

1. Selkirk Rex

A Blue longhaired Selkirk Rex cat.
A Blue longhaired Selkirk Rex cat. / Shirlaine Forrest/GettyImages

Most new breeds are built from the birth of just one or two special kittens—as was the case in 1987 with a feral cat mom in Montana. That cat had five kittens, with one standing out from the pack, thanks to her thick and curly hair. The special kitty ended up with a Persian breeder who steadily bred the feral cat into its own breed—the Selkirk Rex, which you might now know as “the poodle cat.”

2. Highlander Cats

There can only be one! At least, that was the thinking that went into the creation of the Highlander back in 2004. Breeders specifically aimed to make a new domestic cat breed that had the appearance of a wild “big cat,” and went about doing that by carefully crossbreeding other domestic felines. As big and powerful as the Highlanders may look, they are known for their amusing antics and affection. They are very high energy and are best amused with fun chase games and lots of human attention.

3. Scottish Folds

A Scottish Fold cat in a cozy blue sweater.
A Scottish Fold cat in a cozy blue sweater. / Anadolu/GettyImages

Originally called “lop-eared” or “lops” (like lop-eared rabbits!), all Scottish Folds spring from one lovely lady feline—a Scottish (obviously) white barn cat named Susie who was first found in 1961. Susie’s ears had a special fold in the middle, giving her a quizzical and owl-like look and when Susie had her first litter, two of them had that same fold!

4. Ragamuffin Cats

You may have heard of ragdoll cats, but have you met their “Ragamuffin” cousins? The breed first popped up in 1994 as a spin-off of the still new ragdoll distinction, one that was eventually beefed up by way of crossbreeding with Persians, Himalayans, and other domestic longhaired cats. Ragamuffins still share plenty of characteristics with the original breed—like being extremely affectionate with their owners, to the point that they “go limp like ragdolls” when being held. They love people so much that they’ll wait at the door for their family members to return before following them around the house.

5. Khao Manee

While the Khao Manee may have ancient roots, it’s taken whole centuries for this very special breed to be formally recognized. Originally from Thailand, it’s easy to spot a Khao Manee—after all, each of them comes with one blue eye and one eye of another color (all different variations of copper, yellow, and green) to offset their stunning white coats. Despite their intense appearance, Khao Manees are playful, social, curious, and remarkably adept at greeting and cuddling up with even new guests to their home.

6. Donskoy Cats

photo of a Donskoy kitten
This Donskoy kitten is bald and beautiful. / Сергей Кузенный/500px/Getty Images

In 1987, a Russian professor rescued a kitten, only to have the cat lose all of her hair as she matured. When the cat had her first litter a few years later, some of her kittens were born completely without hair, and those who did have hair promptly lost it, just like their mom. One of her kittens was steadily bred into its own new breed—the Don Sphynx or the Donskoy—and the line has matured into a very smart, very affectionate new type of cat.

7. Minskin

There is nothing quite like a Minskin, a newer breed of shorties with fur only at certain points. The result of careful breeding of Munchkins and Sphynx, Minskins are very affectionate and very agile, despite their short stature. What little fur they do have is extremely soft and comparable to cashmere (adorable!).

8. Ojos Azules

It’s easy to see where the Ojos Azules get their name—it’s Spanish for “blue eyes,” and that’s what sets this breed (in both shorthair and longhair versions) apart from others. First found in 1984 in New Mexico, it is believed that most known Ojos Azules spring from one female ancestor. This mother was bred to unrelated males who didn’t have such sparkling peepers, but all of her kittens displayed her bright eyes, distinguishing the trait as a dominant one (and one easy to breed for).

9. Minuet

Another adorable shortie breed, the Minuet (formerly known as the Napoleon) also comes from breeding between Munchkins and another very special breed—in this case, the Persian. The first Minuets were bred back in 1996, when a Basset Hound breeder attempted to make a cat version of his beloved low-slung canine.

Aiming for a cute kitty with little legs, he crossed doll-faced Persians with small-legged Munchkins to make Minuets. The breed is distinguishable by its looks alone, but they are also uniquely gentle and affectionate. While some Minuets still have long legs, all are recognizable by virtue of their big, round heads and big, round eyes.

10. Burmilla

A purebred Burmilla cat.
A purebred Burmilla cat. / Giorgio Cosulich de Pecine/GettyImages

A cross between a Chinchilla Persian and a Burmese, the British Burmilla was first introduced in 1981, reaching official breed status in the 1990s. Unlike other new breeds, the creation of the Burmilla was purely accidental—a left-open door allowed a Chinchilla Persian and a lilac Burmese to, ahem, meet up and make the cute new breed.

11. Sokoke

A native breed from Kenya’s Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Preserve, the Sokoke’s roots go back long enough that various tribes in the area all have experience with the exceptionally beautiful breed. They were first introduced into domesticity in 1978, when a pack of kittens were discovered by a local woman who eventually bred two of them together and started exporting the offspring to a friend who lived in Denmark at the time.

12. Pixiebob

The Pixiebob could stand out in the cat crowd simply thanks to its cute name, but the big and brawny cats have a full package of other traits to make them unique. The Pixiebob, which first originated in 1985 in an effort to get a bobcat look, is the only recognized breed that is allowed to exhibit polydactyly (extra toes, though the maximum allowed on each foot is seven) and they can use those extra tootsies for trotting along with their family, as they can be leash trained for maximum fun.

13. Serengeti

Much like the Highlander, the Serengeti was bred to emulate a larger, wild cat—in this case, the stunning African serval. A breeding program was put into place back in 1995, and it continues around the world, particularly in the U.S., the UK, and Europe. A combination of Bengals and oriental shorthairs, Serengetis do not actually have any serval ancestors. Serengeti cats can be shy upon first meeting, but once they warm up to people (and other pets!), they are very affectionate and involved. They are also big athletes, and will consistently run around the house at full speed.

14. LaPerm

A chocolate and white bicolor LaPerm cat.
A chocolate and white bicolor LaPerm cat. / Shirlaine Forrest/GettyImages

It’s easy to see where the LaPerm gets its name—it sure looks like the soft-shagged breed has gotten a perm to give its fur such a gentle wave. The first LaPerm was born in 1982 when a kitten came into the world hairless with a tabby pattern clear on her skin. As she grew, her fur steadily grew in, only to eventually turn into a soft and wavy full-body mane. When she had offspring of her own, some straight-coated kittens shed their original fur, went bald, and then grew their own curly locks. LaPerms are classified as clownish and clever, and they enjoy being around people and participating in everyday activities. Their ringlets tend to make them look angelic, and their affectionate personalities only bolster that.

15. Toyger

A Toyger cat.
A Toyger cat. / Shirlaine Forrest/GettyImages

If nothing else, the Toyger breed is a winner by virtue of their adorable name alone. Like the Highlanders and Serengetis, the Toygers were bred to resemble tigers, thanks to their “mackerel tabby” markings that look more like tiger stripes than regular tabby lines. Toygers were first bred in the late 1980s in an attempt to clarify such markings, and a new breed was born from the tiger-like ideal. While Toygers don’t look exactly like mini tigers, their fur color is typically an alluring combo of orange and black.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013; it has been updated for 2024.