People seeing a LaPerm for the first time might think that the kitty stuck its paw in an electrical socket, or that its owner styled its fur into a bad ‘80s ‘do. But the real story behind the cat’s curly coat (and its kinky whiskers and eyebrows) is that the trait stems from a genetic mutation. Here are six things to know about the rare, ringlet-covered feline.
1. THE LAPERM IS DESCENDED FROM A HUMBLE BARN CAT NAMED SPEEDY.
With its flashy name and distinctively wavy coat, it’s hard to believe the LaPerm we know and love today is descended from a barn cat. In 1982, cat owners Linda and Richard Koehl, who lived in the The Dalles, Oregon, noticed that their gray tabby mouser, Speedy, had given birth to an unusual-looking kitten. Unlike its fuzzy siblings, the baby was bald, with tabby stripes on its skin. It also had a long body and big ears, yet it still weighed less than the rest of the litter.
Linda thought the quirky kitten would die, but it survived—and at 8 weeks old, the female tabby kitty grew a coat of downy curls. The Koehls dubbed her Curly, and she eventually bore five tomcats of her own. Just like their mother, the babies were bald and later grew wavy fur. (Later, geneticists confirmed that a dominant gene is responsible for the LaPerm’s curls, meaning that only one cat parent needs to be a carrier to pass it on to their young.)
The curly-haired felines mated with other neighborhood cats, which resulted in a wide range of unique, curly-coated cats. Their fur lengths differed, as did their patterns and colors. Linda Koehl did some research, and realized she might have a new breed on her hands, so in 1992 the cat owner took four of her cats—which she had by then named LaPerms, after their distinctive wavy fur—to a cat show in Portland, Oregon sponsored by the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA).
The LaPerm dazzled its feline-loving audience, so Koehl enlisted breeders and geneticists to help her officially establish a new breed. The enterprising cat owner launched her own cattery, wrote an official breed standard for the LaPerm, and waited for North America’s major cat organizations to officially recognize her remarkable kitties.
In 2003, The International Cat Association (TICA) accepted the LaPerm for championship status, and in 2008 the CFA finally followed suit. Eventually, groups in France, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa also embraced the LaPerm.
2. THE LAPERM'S COAT COMES IN DIFFERENT LENGTHS, SHADES, AND PATTERNS.
The LaPerm is a medium-sized cat with long legs, a wedge-shaped face, and large, flared ears. Its crowning glory is its fur: a mix of loose waves and tight curls, topped off with a soft, plumed tail.
The coat can come in any shade or pattern. The cat’s neck, ruff, underside, tail, and ear bases are covered in tight corkscrews, but the rest of its fur is gently crimped. Even its whiskers and eyebrows are wavy.
Some LaPerms are born with straight coats, and pass on the curly gene to their kittens. Litters can also include kittens with both straight and curly coats. Adding to the variety, breeders have created both shorthaired and longhaired versions of the feline. But don’t worry, lazy pet owners: Neither is a high-maintenance feline. Regardless of fur length, the cat's undercoat doesn’t shed or mat easily, making grooming a breeze.
3. LAPERMS CAN BE BORN BALD, OR WITH STRAIGHT OR CURLY FUR.
LaPerm cats are occasionally born bald, but the kittens may also sometimes be covered in wavy or straight fur. Around 2 weeks of age, they’ll often start losing their coats, starting with a patch on top of their heads. They’ll remain bald for a while, until they eventually sprout a new coat that mimics the original texture.
If you have your heart set on owning a curly cat, wait for a LaPerm litter’s kittens to mature before purchasing one. That way, you’ll have a much better idea of what the cat will look like as an adult. And keep in mind that even when the kitty's full grown, its coat will continue to change, partially or completely molting during life stages like pregnancy, puberty, and neutering or spaying.
4. THE LAPERM IS A "REX" CAT.
The LaPerm is a “rex” breed—a term people people use to describe animals with a genetic mutation that causes soft, curly fur. There are several recognized rex cats, including the Cornish Rex, the Devon Rex, the Selkirk Rex, and, yes, the LaPerm. Their coats are similar, but aside from that the kitties don’t have that much in common. Each has its own unique build, coloring, and personality, plus experts say they’re genetically different from one another.
5. THE LAPERM ISN'T HYPOALLERGENIC.
Some people say the LaPerm is hypoallergenic, claiming that their coats don’t shed often and that their tight curls suppress dander. But breeders of the cat will set the record straight: No cat, including the LaPerm, is 100 percent hypoallergenic. There are many types of cat allergies, and not every person responds to them the same way. Plus, the LaPerm—like other cats—still produces the Fel d 1 protein, an allergenic protein found in cat saliva and skin oils.
6. IT'S A RARE BREED IN NORTH AMERICA.
If you’re a cat lover who’s never heard of the LaPerm, don't worry—you haven’t been living under a rock: The cat is still relatively rare, and as of 2014, the CFA’s registration statistics showed that it was only the 40th most popular cat in America, out of 43 breeds [PDF].