American Curl22Author: Karen O’Brien, CFA American Curl Breed Council Secretary,
Copyright ¬© 1995 Karen O’Brien, All Rights Reserved.

“What did you do to their ears? Are their ears always like that? Did you use a curling iron?”

Yes, their ears ARE always like that and no, a curling iron was NOT used to achieve those extraordinary ears! The curled ear is a natural genetic mutation and first time admirers are always surprised by the American Curl’s unique ears and impressed by their overall striking beauty. Curls quickly become a favorite with all who come to know them.

The American Curl’s ears, which are firm to the touch and curl back in a graceful arc away from their face toward the center back of their head, are a genetic mutation given to us by none other than Mother Nature. Discovered in California as a stray cat in 1981, the American Curl is now recognized as one of the United States’ native American cat breeds.


On a sunny day in June 1981 in Lakewood, California, a longhair silky black female kitten with unusual ears wandered up to the doorstep of Joe and Grace Ruga. Joe scrutinized the situation and determined that the most effective solution to this stray kitten problem was to ask Grace not to feed the kitten. Grace, not abiding by her husband’s wishes but listening to her heart instead, left a bowl of food on the porch. The affectionate black kitten quickly worked her way into the Ruga’s hearts (especially Joe’s) and they named her Shulamith, which means “black but comely”. Such are the beginnings of the American Curl as it is known today. True American Curls must trace their pedigree back to Shulamith, the foundation female.

In December 1981, Shulamith delivered her first litter of kittens. Out of four kittens, two had the same curly ears as Shulamith. A geneticist was contacted to study this phenomenon and he confirmed that this unusual ear was a genetic trait and was inherited in every case, causing it to be labeled a dominant gene, with no deformities attached to it. Referred to as a spontaneous mutation, the gene that causes the ear to curl appeared to be following a single dominant pattern.


Selective breeding and presentation of the Curls began in 1983 allowing cat fanciers their first opportunity to get a glimpse of a rare, new addition to the world of cats. Curls were first accepted for CFA registration in 1986 and achieved Provisional status in 1991 followed by their advancement to the Championship Class in February 1993, setting a precedent in CFA by being the first breed to be admitted to the Championship Class as one breed with two coat lengths. Due to their domestic ancestry, American Curls are available in both longhair and shorthair varieties and come in any color or coat pattern. Both coat lengths are presented in the Longhair Division at CFA cat shows.

Breeding partners for American Curls are limited to other Curls or non-pedigreed domestic cats which closely match the Curl breed standard with the exception of the curled ear. By outcrossing to domestic cats, the American Curl gene pool grows large and optimum health is maintained due to genetic diversity. When breeding Curl to Curl, the resulting kittens will usually all have curled ears. However, a Curl bred to a straight ear cat, regardless of whether or not it is a domestic cat or an American Curl Straight Ear, will produce at least 50% Curls and sometimes more due to the dominant nature of the curl gene. American Curl Straight Ears from such litters are very valuable in a planned breeding program and also make outstanding pets.

Characteristics and Temperment

When Curls are born, their ears are straight, but within two to ten days after birth, their ears begin to curl back. During the first 4 months, the kitten’s ears will gradually curl and uncurl in varying degrees until they are set permanently at 4 months of age. At this age, breeders can determine the kitten’s quality (pet, breeder, show). Along with the kitten’s overall conformation to the breed standard, degree of curl to the ear is a key factor in determining quality as follows: first degree (pet), second degree (breeder), and third degree (show) being the most desirable curl to the ear, emulating the graceful curve of a full crescent. Ear furnishings (hair tufts) fanning outward from the ear accentuate and further enhance the curled ear.

The ideal American Curl is a medium sized, alert animal with an elegant appearance and a sweet, open expression complimented by their remarkable ears. Both longhair and shorthair Curls have soft, silky coats, but the longhair Curl has the distinction of sporting a beautiful plumed tail. Because both coat lengths have minimal undercoat resulting in non-matting hair, grooming an American Curl is easy — an occasional bath and combing is all that is needed. Care should be taken when handling the ears to avoid breaking the cartilage — do not force the ear into unnatural positions.

The Curl’s temperament is one of curiosity and companionship. Being very people-oriented, they like to assist in all household projects and delight in “bumping heads” with their owners or new human acquaintances. Curls are even tempered and intelligent, yet they retain their kitten-type behavior throughout their adult life. Not overly talkative, the Curls will tell you when they need something or desire attention. American Curls easily adapt to almost any home situation and adjust to other animals remarkably well. Simply stated, they are extremely affectionate and absolutely ear-resistible!

Pricing of American Curls usually depends on each individual kitten’s degree of curl, bloodlines, type and markings. Many breeders allow pickup of new kittens between 3 and 4 months of age. Along with reaching their permanent degree of curl by 4 months, kittens have had basic inoculations and developed the physical and social stability to adjust to a new environment. Four months is also the minimum age requirement for cat show participation and transportation of kittens by air.

Find American Curl breeders on the Fanciers Breeder listing site.

Last updated 06/29/98

Karen O’Brien,