5 min read

These Curly Cats Are All Descended From One Rescue Kitten

Even their whiskers are curly!

Photos of an unusual orange kitten have gone viral this week — because the kitten has unbelievably curly hair.

Cats come in many shapes and sizes, and most animal lovers are familiar with silky fur, wiry fur, even no fur, but rarely do you come across a cat covered in fluffy ringlets. The picture of the curly-haired kitten, accompanied by the caption “I’ve never seen a cat with curls until now,” has taken social media by storm, leaving many in a state of disbelief (with plenty of “OMG” and “I want it” thrown in for good measure).

But this is no trick.

While rare, there are four cat breeds with naturally curly hair. The breed that the Instafamous kitten, with its curled whiskers and tightly coiled fur, most likely belongs to — the Selkirk rex — can trace its roots all the way back to one very special rescue cat: Miss DePesto.

Miss DePesto began her life in a Montana shelter in 1987. Though her four siblings had straight coats, she was born with wiry, unruly curls similar to a sheep’s coat. Local Persian breeder, Jeri Newman, of Livingston, Montana, could tell she was special, and quickly adopted the odd little kitten.

Leinwand/Wikimedia Commons

Named “Miss DePesto” after a character from the 1980s TV show “Moonlighting” as well as her tendency to pester Newman for attention, her lovely personality and unusual appearance prompted Newman to breed “Pest” with a black Persian named Photo Finish of Deekay. She produced a litter of six kittens — three of which, shockingly, had curly coats.

This discovery led Newman to believe that Pest’s curls were a dominant genetic trait, unlike other curly-coated cat breeds such as the Cornish rex and Devon rex. Pest’s unique makeup allows for cross-breeding without fear of losing the curl, notes Mother Nature Network, and this genetic diversity is key to healthy cats.

Likened to a “living teddy bear” or “a cat in sheep’s clothing,” the Selkirk rex is known for plush curls and an easygoing personality, earning it the nickname of “poodle cat.” Kittens with distinctive coats can be identified soon after birth by their curly whiskers (that’s right, even their whiskers are coiled).

The breed got its name from the nearby Selkirk mountains, and the rex mutation — a genetic variation that results in soft curly or wavy fur. Scientists at University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, declared the Selkirk rex a new cat breed in 2012, and though it hasn’t been on the scene for long, these bouncy housecats are making a big impression.

Ironically, the Selkirk rex breed highlights just how important it is to adopt from a shelter. People may assume shelter animals are unhealthy or unwanted, when, in fact, they tend to be healthier than pets bought from a store — not to mention social, loving and well-adjusted. Without a little shelter cat named Pest, and her accidentally fluffy coat, these unique and adorable cats wouldn’t exist.