The Scottish fold is a cat breed with a distinctive physical feature that sets them apart from cats of other breeds, being their curved or folded over ears. This produces a distinctive appearance that makes Scottish fold cats very eye-catching and cute-looking, and many cat lovers find cats of the breed highly appealing and aspire to owning one of their own.
However, the folded ears that the Scottish fold is so famous for occur as the result of a genetic mutation, which can also come accompanied by a number of other physical traits that are not so obvious, but that can have far-reaching and sometimes acute health and care implications for cats that inherit them.
This means that the practice of breeding and selling Scottish fold kittens is one that is very contentious, and the UK’s main registry and authority body for cats and cat breeds (the GCCF or Governing Council of the Cat Fancy) not only fails to recognise the breed at all, but also campaigns against its very existence.
If you are considering buying a Scottish fold kitten, it is really important to do plenty of research into the breed and its suitability for you, even before you begin browsing adverts or arranging kitten viewings. As part of this, you should pay special mind to learning the ins and out of the breed’s sometimes complex health and health challenges, and their wider implications for the breed and cats as a whole.
In this article we will explain everything you need to consider if you are thinking of buying a Scottish fold kitten, and outline in detail the arguments surrounding Scottish fold cats and why they are problematic. We will also examine the legal status of Scottish fold cats in the UK, and share information on the special considerations for their care. Read on to learn more.
The Scottish fold is a distinctive cat breed (referred to as a cat type in some circles, reflecting the fact that the breed is not formally recognised as such by many breed registries) that developed as the result of a naturally occurring gene mutation that affects the body’s cartilage.
This mutation results in the cat’s ears folding or collapsing downwards towards the front of the skull, resulting in the breed’s distinctive and somewhat owl-like appearance. Not all cats of the breed inherit curled ears, and Scottish fold cats with straight ears can be born within litters too. These are usually simply known as “straights.”
The breed as we know it today was formally named the Scottish fold in 1996, and has previously been known by a range of other names throughout its history, including the lop-eared cat, the Highland fold, and the Coupari. Some of these terms are still used in other parts of the world today.
The folded ears that give Scottish fold cats their unique and distinctive appearance occur as the result of a genetic mutation, which causes some kittens that inherit it to display folded ears.
All Scottish fold kittens are born with normal, pointed ears at birth, but for kittens that inherit the folded ear trait, the ears begin to curl downwards when the kittens reach around three weeks old. Kittens whose ears never fold downwards are known as “straights” to reflect this.
The actual medical cause of the ear folding caused by the Scottish fold’s gene mutation is a condition called osteochondrodysplasia or OCD, and this is a type of developmental abnormality that affects both the bone and cartilage throughout the cat’s body, and not just that of the ears.
Whilst the only visible physical symptom that osteochondrodysplasia causes within Scottish fold cats are their folded ears, it can also result in a complex and varied range of health problems that can have a significant impact on cats that exhibit them.
The genetic mutation that causes osteochondrodysplasia in the Scottish fold and that results in their folded ears appeared as a naturally occurring anomaly within the very first cats to exhibit it, which resulted in the birth of a cat in Perthshire (Scotland) with folded ears, a trait that was replicated within this cat’s own offspring.
However, the spread of this genetic mutation and its use to establish the foundations of the Scottish fold cat breed was something that was deliberately undertaken on the part of humans, using selective breeding to promote and spread the trait throughout a much larger population of subsequent generations.
Whilst the folded ears that we now associate with the Scottish fold cat did first develop on their own, the spread of the gene that causes them and its establishment within the breed population can be fully attributed to human intervention, making the Scottish fold a cat breed that was created rather than one that evolved on its own.
The Scottish fold breed is one that was founded and developed in very recent history, and we can actually pinpoint the origins of the breed right back to the initial cat that founded it.
Whilst it is entirely possible that other cats with folded ears have appeared on isolated occasions previously or in other parts of the world as a result of a spontaneous gene mutation of their own, the recorded history of the Scottish fold breed as we know it today can be traced back to Perthshire in Scotland in 1961.
The very first Scottish fold was a white domestic moggy (a farm cat, in fact) called Susie, who was found to have distinctive ears with a noticeable fold in the middle of them. She subsequently had a litter of her own, within which two of her kittens also exhibited ears that folded over shortly after birth.
One of these two kittens was sold or gifted to a neighbouring farmer and cat enthusiast named William Ross, who wished to develop the trait into the foundations of a new breed and achieve formal recognition for it.
As a result of this, Ross successfully lobbied the GCCF (Governing Council of the Cat Fancy – the UK’s main authority for pedigree cat breeds) to register and recognise the newly-formed Scottish fold breed, which was achieved in 1966.
This saw the beginning of a formal breeding scheme to establish the Scottish fold, which resulted in the birth of 76 kittens in a space of three years, of which 42 displayed the folded over ears, and 24 had normal straight ears.
However, the GCCF ultimately withdrew approval of and support for the Scottish fold breed in 1971, which we will discuss in more detail later on.
All Scottish fold cats today have a known ancestry going right back to Susie – a humble farm cat who went on to found a whole new, if controversial, cat breed in the UK.
Whist the Scottish fold’s folded ears are the most distinctive feature of the breed and the one that makes them instantly recognisable, these ears are in their turn caused by a congenital condition called osteochondrodysplasia, which is itself caused by the inheritance of a gene mutation.
It is the presence of this gene mutation, how it is expressed and how it is passed on from cats to their own subsequent offspring that dictates whether or not a cat has folded ears, and so in order to understand how the Scottish fold’s folded ears are inherited, you need to understand the basics of the genetics behind it.
The gene mutation that results in the breed’s folded ears is inherited following the autosomal dominant mode of heredity with incomplete penetrance. This gene is referred to as an Fd or fd gene (big Fd and small fd respectively), depending on the variant passed on to each cat.
For a cat to have a chance of inheriting folded over ears, they need to inherit either one or two copies of the big Fd gene mutation. If a cat inherits two copies of the small fd gene, their ears will be normal.
If a cat only has one parent that passes on a copy of the big Fd gene, they may well have folded ears – but not necessarily. Litters of kittens that inherit one copy of the big Fd gene usually contain a mixture of both straight eared and folded eared kittens.
If a cat inherits two copies of the big Fd gene (one from each side of their parentage) they will definitely have the folded ears – and so it might seem obvious that to ensure an entire litter has folded ears and no kittens inherit straight ears, you need to breed two cats with folded ears that both carry the big Fd gene.
However, the inheritance of two copies of this gene does much more than just ensuring that the litter that possesses it has folded ears, and it also comes accompanied by a range of serious and acute health issues too for the vast majority of such cats too.
Whilst breeding Scottish fold cats is considered to be controversial in general, the practice of deliberately breeding two cats with big Fd genes in order to ensure fold kittens is widely considered to be highly unethical, even amongst other Scottish fold breeders.
Breeding Scottish fold cats to reliably reproduce the folded ears that are the breed’s signature can be complicated, because of the variable expression of the gene that causes them, and the fact that it is something of a lottery in terms of which kittens within a litter will inherit the trait.
Most Scottish fold litters contain a combination of folded eared and normal eared kittens, and the kittens with normal or straight ears can of course make for great pets and be used within further breeding programmes with folded eared cats, but they tend to be less desirable amongst kitten buyers as they don’t display the breed’s most distinctive feature.
Some Scottish fold breeders prefer to use British shorthair cats to contribute the non-fold genes in mating matches, to ensure that a straight-eared Scottish fold does not pass on a copy of the fold gene in combination with a folded-eared mating match, as they may still carry the gene themselves and so, result in the double inheritance of the big Fd gene mutation.
However, limited or low expression of the genetic mutation that causes folded ears may even result in litters of kittens that develop folds in their ears in the normal way, but whose ears eventually reverse the process to become straight or pointed again.
Deliberately breeding two cats with the big Fd gene mutation will result in all of their kittens having folded ears, but also, a range of associated health problems too. This means that whilst doing so will maximise the number of kittens born with the apparently desirable folded ears, it will also directly cause a range of serious and acute health issues for the kittens too.
For this reason, mating two cats with the big Fd gene mutation is widely considered to be highly unethical, and is strongly discouraged by responsible breeders – however, this practice is something that is still undertaken by some breeders, despite the risks.
The health of the Scottish fold cat breed as a whole is very complex, and Scottish fold health and wellness is inextricably linked to the controversy that surrounds the breed as a whole.
Whilst the average lifespan of the Scottish fold as a whole is quite impressive at around 15 years, the breed is also widely associated with a number of widely spread health problems and conditions that develop as a direct result of the breed’s gene mutation.
The full range and remit of potential Scottish fold health problems encompasses conditions including polycystic kidney disease, cardiomyopathy, and degenerative joint disease. The latter condition tends to cause limited movement and pain for affected cats, in areas such as the legs and tail.
Polycystic kidney disease is a hereditary condition that is passed on by the autosomal dominant mode of heredity, which means that just one parent with the condition may well be sufficient to pass it onto their kittens.
Osteochondrodysplasia is perhaps the best-known and most prevalent health condition that can affect cats of the Scottish fold breed, because this is the condition that results in the ear folds that breed enthusiasts find so appealing.
Osteochondrodysplasia is a congenital developmental abnormality that causes the Scottish fold cat’s distinctive ear folds, but it also affects both bone development and cartilage formation in the rest of the cat’s body too. This means that all Scottish fold cats are thought to have osteochondrodysplasia, although the effects that this causes aside from the folded ears can be variable from cat to cat.
Cats that inherit two copies of the big Fd gene are homozygous for the condition, and tend to have very malformed bones that result in degenerative joint disease developing at a young age, which is usually very painful and disabling.
Cats that inherit one copy of the big Fd gene are heterozygous for it, and still inherit osteochondrodysplasia too, but to a far lesser degree. Some heterozygous Scottish fold cats won’t have any symptoms of the condition at all, and most that do only develop them in later life. Such cats may also develop arthritis at a higher rate of occurrence than happens within most other cat breeds.
Like any other cat breed or type (including moggies) it is never possible to predict if any Scottish fold cat or kitten will inherit or develop any other form of health problems, but the conditions mentioned above are considered to be widely spread enough within the breed to be cause for concern.
The fact that the Scottish fold’s folded ears are caused by osteochondrodysplasia and that there is no way to breed Scottish folds without this condition is the main objection to the breed’s ongoing existence, and the greatest potential threat to the health, wellness, quality of life and longevity of cats of the breed.
The Scottish fold cat breed is arguably the most controversial cat breed of all – so much so that it is not even recognised as a formal pedigree bred by the GCCF and many other well-regarded cat registries.
In order to fully understand the objections to breeding Scottish folds and the reasoning behind them, it is important to build up a full picture and take into account all of the different factors together.
We will talk in more detail about the controversy surrounding Scottish fold cats next, and break down the different points of objection to breeding and selling them.
The potential for hereditary health issues to develop within Scottish fold cats is one of the largest problems faced by the breed, and the well-publicised health issues that can be found within cats of the breed tend to be acute, serious and complex.
Polycystic kidney disease is a dominant hereditary condition which only needs one parent cat to possess it in order for it to be passed on through the breed line, which means that such conditions can quickly become established throughout a large population of cats of the breed. This is particularly true for cat breeds like the Scottish fold that don’t have a large population of unrelated cats within the gene pool in the first place.
It is not thought to be possible to produce a Scottish fold cat with folded ears but without osteochondrodysplasia based on studies into the condition within the breed, and this is a hereditary health condition possessed by all cats of the breed according to most authorities. Whilst some Scottish fold cats will suffer no apparent ill effects of the condition nor have any symptoms, they still possess this trait; and can pass it on to their own young.
There is no way of knowing whether or not a Scottish fold kitten will develop problems as a result of osteochondrodysplasia at some point in their life, and so buying one is always something of a lottery.
The very fact that producing Scottish fold kittens goes hand in hand with the heredity of a health condition that is disabling and painful for many cats that inherit it is the most pivotal point of controversy about the breed, and one that should be paid the appropriate gravitas.
Whilst all cats of the Scottish fold breed that have been studied so far have been found to have osteochondrodysplasia (whether affected by it or not), breeding two cats with folds means that their offspring inherit two copies of the big Fd gene and so, are homozygous for the condition.
Double fold cats inherit a much more severe and acute form of osteochondrodysplasia that becomes apparent at a much earlier age, and that is painful and disabling for affected cats and that often results in euthanasia when the cat’s quality of life deteriorates significantly.
The health and wellness of the Scottish fold breed itself is of great concern for cat lovers and breed organisations, but the ethics of deliberately breeding cats knowing that they will inherit a potentially very serious and harmful trait is another major bone of contention.
The fact that Scottish fold breeders knowingly produce breed lines that inherit a condition known to have a negative impact on the health of their cats is one of the main objections to breeding Scottish folds at all.
The Scottish fold’s folded ears are of course the breed’s most defining feature, and the physical trait that makes them in demand with enthusiasts. However, breeding cats solely to produce or replicate a cosmetic physical trait that has no benefit for the cat (and that in this case, can actually be harmful for them) is something else that many people have a moral objection to, and is considered by many to be irresponsible even when the trait in question doesn’t cause any ill effects.
Removing the morality of breeding Scottish fold cats from the equation entirely, there are good and bad Scottish fold breeders, just as there are for all other cat breeds. Those that do not breed responsibly – such as for instance by knowingly breeding double fold kittens, or by breeding cats with known health issues – reflect badly on those who do breed responsibly, and kitten buyers may not be able to tell a good breeder from a bad breeder until it is too late.
Because Scottish fold cats cannot be registered with the GCCF, there is no real oversight or limitation on breeding Scottish folds in terms of breeding practices or welfare assurances. Cat breeds that can be registered with the GCCF have guidelines and rules in place to help to ensure the welfare of the cats themselves, and to prevent breeding practices that may be harmful. This lack of formal regulation makes life easier for irresponsible kitten breeders, but harder for responsible breeders and prospective kitten buyers.
Buying a Scottish fold kitten is something of a lottery in terms of knowing whether or not your kitten will remain healthy for life, or if they will develop any symptoms or problems relating to their breed. Within recognised pedigree cat breeds, health testing protocols and schemes are in place to enable breeders to find out the status of their cats and make good decisions on which ones to breed before they go ahead.
The fact a kitten buyer cannot be sure of the health of their Scottish fold when they buy them is of course concerning – but there is another element to bear in mind here too. Even if you managed to find and buy a healthy Scottish fold kitten, by doing so you are contributing to demand for the breed as a whole, which results in more and more cats being bred to meet this demand.
This means that by contributing to demand for the breed by buying a kitten, you are also contributing to the breeding of more litters of Scottish folds, some of which will inherit health problems.
Caring for any cat is a lifelong commitment that needs to be taken seriously, but when you knowingly buy a cat with increased risk factors for health problems, you need to be even more speculative.
Veterinary treatment for serious, long-term or complicated conditions like those that can be inherited by the Scottish fold can be very expensive to treat and manage, and require a large time commitment on the part of their owners too. Funding the cost of such care is a major problem for many people, and cat insurance for Scottish fold cats tends to be costly too, as a result of the well-publicised health problems within the breed.
If you do plan to insure your Scottish fold to help with vet’s fees if needed, read the terms and conditions of your policy very carefully to ensure that hereditary conditions are not excluded from the policy’s coverage.
Not all cat buyers do sufficient research before they buy a kitten, and this is often even more of a problem when it comes to cat breeds that are unusual or unique-looking, and which often result in impulse purchases by people who fall for the breed’s cute-appeal.
This means that not everyone who buys a Scottish fold will even realise that the breed is complex and has heightened risk factors for health issues, and when trying to sell cats with questionable health or known problems, many breeders will deliberately avoid mentioning this lest they discourage buyers.
This is again a moral issue with two sides to the argument – the responsibility does of course lie with kitten buyers to ensure that they know what they are getting into when they buy a cat, but many people feel that Scottish fold breeders don’t do enough to ensure that their kitten buyers are well informed, and may even deliberately mislead them in some cases.
Like most in-demand cat breeds and particularly those that are low in numbers or unusual like the Scottish fold, unique-looking or apparently rare cat types often command high sale prices. The fact that Scottish folds often sell for much more than other pedigree cat breeds and the ways in which they are marketed – often described as “rare,” “unique” or otherwise special to support such pricing – is something else that detractors of the breed frown upon.
All of the objections to Scottish fold cats have solid foundations and deserve careful consideration, but perhaps the main crux of the issue is the fact that the Scottish fold breed only exists because of a genetic mutation that is also harmful to the breed as a whole. In the eyes of most professionals and cat enthusiasts, makes it a breed that should not have been developed and that should not remain viable today.
Currently, Scottish fold cats are perfectly legal to own, breed, buy and sell within the UK. However, lobbying against the breed and attempts to raise awareness of the issues that can arise within the breed mean that this might come under review in the future – and this has already begun in the breed’s historical home of Scotland.
Due to concerns about unregulated breeding practices of cats, rabbits and dogs in Scotland and the surge in popularity of so-called “designer pets,” the Scottish government undertook a consultation in 2018 into the viability of regulating breeding within Scotland, and outlawing the breeding of certain types of animals bred solely for a physical trait that is also harmful to the breed.
The Scottish fold cat was one breed specifically cited within the consultation, due to the issues within the breed that we outlined earlier on. Minister for rural affairs Mairi Gougeon stated that the resultant legislation in the wake of the consultation should be introduced in Scotland later on in the year, although the exact form that this will take remains to be seen.
Whether Scotland will outlaw the breeding of Scottish fold cats altogether, or simply seek to curtail or monitor their breeding is not yet apparent; but there are no regulations placed on the breed in other parts of the UK, and currently no breed-specific plans to introduce any.
Anyone breeding Scottish fold kittens (or any other breed of cat, for that matter) anywhere in the UK must of course still adhere to any local authority regulations regarding breeding animals, and ensure that they are compliant with the law in general.
The GCCF, which is the UK’s most widely recognised pedigree cat breed organisation, does not recognise the Scottish fold breed and does not approve of its existence. The GCCF has also clearly stated that they have no plans to recognise the breed in the future, due to the skeletal abnormalities caused by inheritance of the Scottish fold gene mutation.
The Federation Internationale Feline, which is a federation of 42 different cat registries worldwide, also refuses to recognise, accept or support the Scottish fold cat breed.
However, the Scottish fold breed is recognised and accepted by TICA – an American-based cat breed organisation that is considered to be the largest genetic cat registry in the world – and also maintains a breed standard for Scottish folds too.
Outside of the UK, the Scottish fold is recognised by the American Cat Fanciers Association, and various other country-specific registries in other countries too.
When it comes to formal cat shows that are hosted by or affiliated with the GCCF (which is the vast majority of pedigree cat shows in the UK) Scottish folds are not eligible to compete.
This is because the breed is not recognised by the GCCF, and cannot be registered with them; and the organisation as a whole takes a dim view on the breeding and promotion of Scottish fold cats full stop.
TICA also runs cats shows within the UK, although to a lesser extent than the GCCF, and as TICA recognises and registers Scottish fold cats, they are eligible to compete in TICA shows, assuming that they fulfil the other entry criteria.
Fun, local and informal cat shows generally accept entrants from cats of all types, pedigree or otherwise, and so you should be able to enter your Scottish fold in a fun, informal show without any problems.
Scottish fold cats look cute and unusual, which means that they tend to get quite a lot of attention in the media, and are sometimes used for marketing and promotional purposes within adverts and similar materials.
They are also quite photogenic and appealing, which means that they have quite a high profile on social media, which helps to spread the word about the breed as a whole, and contribute to demand for it.
A number of hugely popular celebrities own Scottish folds too, and post pictures of them online – such as Taylor Swift, who owns two Scottish folds, and Ed Sheeran, who also owns a cat of the breed and whose cats actually have their own Instagram account. This in turn also helps to increase interest in the breed, and enhance its popularity with the general public.
Scottish fold cats are certainly unusual, but are they actually rare? Well, compared to the most popular pedigree cat breeds in the UK they are harder to find offered for sale, and breeders selling Scottish fold kittens often play up the perceived rarity of the breed to increase demand – and prices.
At the time of writing (February 2019) there were a total of 31 Scottish fold cats offered for sale here on Pets4Homes, out of a total of 1,255 cats of all breeds and types. For comparison, the most popular cat breed in the UK, the British shorthair, had 215 cats of the breed showcased at the same time.
It is certainly fair to say that the Scottish fold isn’t as common or popular as many other better-known breeds and those that don’t have a strong correlation with hereditary health problems, but they’re not as rare as you may be led to believe either.
The number of cats of the breed offered for sale at present is roughly comparable to several other popular cat breeds such as the Maine Coon (currently 41 adverts for Maine Coon cats for sale on Pets4Homes), and the Siamese (currently 43 adverts for Siamese Cats for Sale).
Currently, Scottish fold adverts actually outnumber adverts for cats from several other popular and in-demand cat breeds too, such as the Norwegian forest cat (seven adverts) and the Russian blue (also seven adverts).
It is important to note of course that not all Scottish folds for sale in the UK are advertised on Pets4Homes – but as the largest and busiest pet classifieds website in the UK, the data we gather from our adverts helps to demonstrate a snapshot of wider trends, and the popularity of different cat breeds and types in general in the UK.
Are Scottish folds rare? They’re not hugely common, but if you do wish to buy a Scottish fold kitten and are potentially prepared to travel out of your home area to find the right one, this should not be too difficult.
The purchase price commanded by a cat or kitten of any breed can be very variable, even across cats that are all the same breed. Even individual kittens from the same litter might command different prices, depending on their quality and desirability.
However, by taking into account the broad averages in terms of the prices stated within current adverts for Scottish fold cats, it is possible to develop a general picture of the sorts of prices that cats of the breed command.
At the bottom end of the price scale, Scottish fold kitten adverts start from around the £500 mark, and for adult cats of the breed that are being rehomed rather than sold as kittens, prices are sometimes a lot lower.
At the top end of the scale, Scottish fold adverts range up to around £1,000 or even more, and the most costly kittens tend to be those that are registered as pedigrees with TICA, and/or that have a show-winning pedigree ancestry. Please note that this indicates TICA cat show performance, not the more common and familiar GCCF shows, which Scottish fold cats are ineligible to enter.
Kittens for sale that are a lot less costly than the broad norms might be priced in that way due to known health issues or poor quality, but not all breeders will make this clear to prospective buyers. If you see a Scottish fold kitten for sale at a price that seems too good to be true, don’t rush into a purchase – find out why this is, and proceed with caution.
Buying a Scottish fold kitten is not a decision to undertake lightly. Scottish fold kittens don’t just have cute faces and folded ears, and may also suffer from a range of serious and incurable health issues that can affect their quality of life and life span.
You cannot be sure when you buy a Scottish fold kitten if they will be healthy or not; and even if you are lucky enough to choose a kitten that lives out its entire life without problems, other kittens from the same litter may not have been so lucky.
This means that choosing to buy a Scottish fold kitten has implications not only for you and your new cat, but other cats too. Buying Scottish folds contributes to demand for them and incentivises breeders to produce more kittens, which means spreading health issues even further throughout future generations of cats.
Anyone who loves cats needs to take this into account, and view the big picture, considering the wider implications of their purchase.
You also need to decide where you stand on the argument over whether or not the breed should exist at all, and whether supporting the breed by buying a Scottish fold is something that you are comfortable with on an ethical level.
Could you care for a Scottish fold that had health problems, both practically and in terms of funding their potentially costly care? If the answer is no, you should not choose a cat of the breed.
If you want to get involved in cat showing, a Scottish fold is a poor choice of pet as they cannot be shown in GCCF competitions, and TICA cat shows are far fewer and further between. You should also bear in mind the fact that the GCCF is much more widely known and recognised within the UK than TICA, and that in GCCF terms, your cat is not classed as a pedigree.
Finally, the thing that sets Scottish fold cats apart from other breeds in terms of their appeal and appearance is just their ear folds – unless this trait is an absolute must for you, there are a huge number of handsome, lovely and healthy cat breeds you might want to consider buying instead.
If you have decided that only a cat with ear folds will do, think twice about this – choosing a cat (or any other pet) solely on the basis of one specific physical trait is a poor foundation on which begin the journey of pet ownership, and it may be wise to reassess your priorities.
You may also be able to find Scottish fold cats offered for rehoming or adoption, and this might be a good compromise if you really want to offer a home to a cat of this type without supporting the practice of breeding Scottish folds in the first place.
However, you should still do plenty of research if you wish to adopt a Scottish fold cat of any age, due to the health problems that may be found in any cat of the breed.
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