The Selkirk Rex is a fairly new breed, with the kitten bearing the mutation from which it began having appeared very recently, in 1987. However, unlike other Rex breeds such as the Devon Rex and Cornish Rex, where all pedigree cats of that breed look the same, there are different types of Selkirk Rex. Some are short haired, others are long haired, and these both have the distinctive loosely curled or ringletted hair of the breed, which leads to the Selkirk Rex sometimes being described jokingly as the “cat which is having a bad hair day”. But other Selkirk Rex cats, while still purebred, have straight hair. These are known as Selkirk Rex 'variants'. So how is it possible to have such different looks in the same breed? To understand this we need to look both at the history of the breed, and at the genetics underlying it.
In 1987, a dilute tortie kitten with thick curled hair unlike all her littermates appeared in a litter born in Montana, USA. She was named Miss DePesto, and was taken home by a Persian breeder, Jeri Newman, who was interested in genetics and unusual cats. She thus became the mother of a new breed.
Jeri Newman was very taken by the thick coat and robust build of the cat, but felt that the head needed to be larger, and that a longer coat would better show off the eyecatching loose curl. So she bred Miss Depesto, or Pest, to her own Persian. Interestingly, the resulting litter had three curly coated kittens and three straight haired ones, showing the gene responsible for the curly coat to be Dominant...more about this later. Some of these kittens were bred to Persians, Exotics, and British Shorthairs, which are still allowed as outcrosses.
So right from the start, Selkirk Rex cats have carried both short hair and long hair genes. So it is hardly surprising that it is still possible to find them with different hair lengths, and both are accepted by the main cat registries, the breed having been accepted by TICA in 1994, the CFA in 2000, and the GCCF in 2009.
The gene for the curly coat of the Selkirk Rex is Dominant. Briefly, every cell has two copies of each gene, which codes for a particular trait. If the two copies are different, one will show up and 'hide' the other, as it were. It is easiest to explain this with an example...
Let us call the gene for the Selkirk Rex curly coat C, while the straight coated gene is s. Since there are two copies in each cell, each cat will have either CC, ss, or Cs. But both the CC and Cs cats turn out to have curly coats. This is because the C is Dominant, ie it 'hides' the s.
This is very important when it comes to breeding, when the new kitten receives one copy of the gene from each parent. If the mother is CC and the father ss, all the kittens will be Cs, but all will be curly coated. If, however, those kittens are bred to each other, both mother and father will be Cs, but the kittens might be Cs, CC, or Cs. Theoretically you would expect to have 25% CC, 50% Cs, and 25% ss, but of course this might not turn out to be exactly the case in practice (don't worry about this if you can't follow it!). The CC and Cs kittens will have curly hair, although in practice the CC cats, or 'homozygotes' tend to have more tightly curled hair and a slighter build than the Cs kittens, or 'heterozygotes. However, the ss kittens will have straight hair, since they have no gene for the curly coat. They will still be pedigree Selkirk Rex cats, with the personality, build and other characteristics of the breed. They are known as Selkirk Rex 'variants'.
It is not easy to recognise the different coat lengths of the Selkirk Rex when they are kittens, and not even clear which ones have curly hair. However, the whiskers are the give-away, as the Selkirk Rex cats destined to have curly coats will have curly whiskers, which distinguishes them from their straight haired variant siblings. This may be important if you particularly want a curly coated Selkirk Rex, and also if you plan to show a Selkirk Rex, as the straight haired ones cannot be shown.
The genes for both the Devon and Cornish Rex coat are recessive. This means that two copies of the curly gene are required for the offspring to be curly coated, and in any outcrosses the kittens will not look like Rex cats (although some will be able to carry the recessive Rex gene to the next generation). However, the LaPerm and American Wirehair both Dominant mutations. This means that they too may produce straight coated variants, ie those cats which have two copies of the recessive straight coated gene.
So there you have it – the Selkirk Rex exists in short haired, long haired, and straight haired varieties. So you might expect to have a lot of choice when choosing your Selkirk Rex kitten. Well, possibly not. For a start, as stated above, it is quite hard to know when the kittens are young exactly how their coats will turn out in the future. Also, Selkirk Rex breeders are relatively few and far between, so you may not have a huge choice of kittens in the first place. But it may not really matter. Whichever type you choose, the Selkirk Rex is likely to have the easygoing temperament of the outcross breeds – the Persian, Exotic, and British Shorthair. Your new kitten is likely to be laidback and friendly, content to relax and be near its owner. And its coat, even if long, will require little in the way of grooming and other care. What more could you want from your cat?