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The Selkirk Rex is a relatively new curly-coated cat breed, which originated in the USA. It is similar in type to the British Shorthair, to which it is out-crossed, with a rounded head, cobby body and sturdy legs. As they may also be out-crossed to Persians and Exotic Shorthairs, Selkirk Rex can be either a plush shorthaired cat or the more dramatic longhaired variety. In the UK, all Selkirk Rex cats are to be found in the British Shorthair section at shows - this is a breed in its own right and is neither a variant Curly British nor a Curly Persian. Like other rex breeds of foreign type, they may be bred in a very wide range of coat colour and pattern combinations. The Selkirk Rex first arrived in the UK in 2002, and gained full breed recognition here in 2009. The Selkirk is unlike most other Rex cats in that the curly coated gene is dominant, and even with out-crossing to broaden the gene pool, it still produces 50 per cent 'rexed' litters. This breed is sometimes referred to affectionately as the Teddy Bear of the cat world, because of its soft curly coat and cuddly nature, and in America (where it originated) as 'the cat in sheep's clothing'.
As this is such a recent breed, the history of the Selkirk Rex is very well documented, with the origins resting with just one breeder in the USA. It started in 1987 with an apparently non-pedigree female tortoiseshell shorthaired kitten with curly hair being born at a pet rescue centre in Montana, USA. A Persian cat breeder called Jeri Newman, who had a great interest in feline genetics, adopted the kitten and originally thought that it might be a throwback to the British Devon Rex or Cornish Rex. She named her Miss DePesto of NoFace (known as 'Pest'!), after a curly-haired character in the TV series, Moonlighting! In due course Jeri mated her to one of her own black Persian males, and Pest produced a litter of both longhaired and shorthaired kittens with a mix of both straight and curly coats. Further matings (including one to her son) showed that Pest's rexing mutation was not only a dominant gene but that she was also carrying the recessive longhair gene. Jeri decided to name the new breed after the nearby Selkirk mountains, and all Selkirk Rex today can be traced back to the original Miss dePesto. The first Selkirk Rex cats arrived in Britain in 2002 from Austria, gaining preliminary breed recognition here a year later, and full Championship status in 2009.
The curly rex coat is evident as soon as the kittens are born, but may then disappear completely, returning when the cat is a young adult - the amount of curl on the body varies with climate, season and also hormonal factors. The longhaired version demonstrates a better coat texture when the cat is the result of both the rex gene and the straight-haired gene, which will produce the most amazing effect as if the cat had got ringlets! It can take two years for this coat to develop its full potential, and so kittens and young adults are judged on head and body type, rather than on coat. The head is round, broad and full-cheeked, and whiskers are either curly or short and stubby. The ears are a medium size, broad at the base and may be tufted at the tips - any hair showing inside the ears will be curly. Eyes are large and round and may be any colour - eye colour is not dictated by the coat colour. The coat texture varies slightly between the longhaired and shorthaired versions of this breed. In the longhaired variety, the coat is actually semi-long, with plumy tail curls that stand away from the tail. The ruff hairs are longer and frame the face. In the shorthaired version, the coat is a fairly uniform length over the entire body. The ruff and tail hairs are much the same length as the rest of the body, although the tail hairs feel plush and lie flat against the tail itself. It is the dominant rexing gene that causes each part of every hair (i.e. the guard, the down and the awn) to form a gentle curl or wave that produces a very soft feel, and the coat is generally very random and unstructured, rather than rows of neat curls! All coat colours, patterns and colour combinations (including white markings) are acceptable. Unlike the other rex varieties, the Selkirk Rex does moult quite heavily, and may not be suitable for those with typical allergies to cats.
The Selkirk Rex is a very affectionate breed and is often described as being patiently tolerant, making it ideal as a family pet with children. It has a very laid-back nature and is happy to sit on a lap, being as cuddly as it looks, and yet it is still very playful and inquisitive, enjoying playing with toys well into adulthood. It is another very sociable breed, and will appreciate plenty of company, human or feline, hating to be left alone for any length of time.
This is generally a healthy breed of cat without any known breed-related defects, although it is not always easy to generalise with such a new breed, but it appears to be a robust breed and some of the earliest examples have lived up to 15 years. They need annual vaccination boosters against the common feline ailments of flu and enteritis, as well as against Feline Leukaemia if they go outdoors.
Every single hair of the Selkirk Rex is curled and although the cat will need regular grooming, excessive brushing and combing (especially after a bath) can straighten the hair. They will eat most good quality brands of cat food, but will also enjoy treats of cooked chicken, ham and grated cheese. However, cows' milk will probably give them a stomach upset, and a bowl of water should always be available.