Ever wonder how different cat breeds came to be? Sometimes they’re the result of selective breeding conducted by people. But other times a new, unique cat breed occurs due to spontaneous genetic mutation. Read on to meet 10 of these surprising mutant cat breeds.
The American Curl cat breed it known and named for the distinctive shape of its ears, which curl backward in an unusual way. The breed was discovered in California in 1981, when a family found stray kittens with the strange ears that have come to define the breed. The curled ears are a result of a natural, spontaneous genetic mutation. American Curls were quickly recognized as a distinct cat breed.
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The American Ringtail is named for its unusual tail, which curls over the cat’s back in a spiral shape. These tails also have larger, stronger muscles at the base than a typical cat tail. The Ringtail mutation was first seen in a cat named Solomon in 1998. Since this is still a new and experimental breed, it has not been officially recognized, but it’s on its way. The American Ringtail should not be confused with the ringtail, aka the ring-tailed cat, which is actually a member of the raccoon family, and not a cat at all. Confusing, we know.
The Japanese Bobtail gets its name from its characteristic puff of a tail. These tails can vary in size, but are normally around 4 inches long. However, because they also curl in a corkscrew shape, they appear even shorter. The Japanese Bobtail has been around for centuries, so the answer to where and when the tail mutation first appeared is lost in time.
In 1982, an Oregon cat gave birth to a litter of six. Five looked perfectly normal, but one was born hairless, looking nothing like its mother or littermates. Over the next few months, the bald kitten grew out a coat of unusually soft, curly fur, the result of a spontaneous mutation. “Curly” the cat was the first LaPerm. Aside from its signature curly fur, this breed is also noted for being particularly affectionate, as well as hypoallergenic.
The Lykoi is a very new breed of cat that has developed over only the last few years. It originates from a genetic mutation that first appeared in a litter born to a domestic shorthair cat in 2010. This particular mutation stops the growth of a full fur coat. Lykoi cats have no hair around the eyes, nose, ears or mouth. They are described as looking like werewolves and behaving like dogs.
The Manx, like the Japanese Bobtail, is a very old breed that resulted from a spontaneous mutation that affected the tail. But while Japanese Bobtails are left with a short, stubby tail, Manx cats have no tails at all. Unfortunately, Manx cats also suffer from health problems related to having no tails. The mutation that eliminated their tails often leads to spinal and neurological problems. The sum of these disorders is called Manx syndrome.
The Munchkin is truly a unique breed. No other kind of cat looks like these cute, Dachshund-shaped felines. First documented in the 20th century, the Munchkin is a result of a genetic mutation that created cats with elongated bodies and short, stubby legs. Contrary to popular assumption, Munchkins are not especially prone to spinal problems as a result of their unusual body structure. For more on this breed, read our guide to Munchkin cats.
While polydactyl cats are not a breed unto themselves, they are nonetheless the results of genetic mutation. Basically, a polydactyl cat is one that’s born with more than the usual number of digits on its paws, usually the front paws. Normally, cats have five toes on each front paw and four and each back paw. The most polydactyl cat on record was Jake, who boasted 28 total toes. Polydactylism can appear in any cat breed.
The first Scottish Fold was a barn cat named Susie who was born in Scotland in 1961. She was a solid white longhaired cat, and through a spontaneous mutation, she was born with the unique, folded ears that give the breed its name. Over times, Scottish Folds have been bred with American Shorthairs, Exotic Shorthairs, Persiand and Burmese cats to develop the breed, but all Scottish Folds can be traced back to Susie.
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Early attempts at breeding hairless, Sphynx-like cats were first made in Ontario, Canada, during the late 1960s after a kitten named Prune was born through a spontaneous mutation. A similar mutation cropped up again in nearby Minnesota and Toronto in the late 1970s. These furless cats were crossed with Devon Rexes, a similar, nearly hairless breed. Today’s Sphynx cats can be traced back to the offspring of the pairing between the Devon Rex and the Sphynx's naturally occurring, genetically mutated ancestor.