Lots of people have never heard of an American Curl cat, and even more people have never owned one. But even though this is a fairly new breed, it is gradually becoming more popular, and you can now find a few American Curls in non-American places such as France and Japan.
The way the breed got started was kind of by accident. In June of 1981, a black, longhaired stray kitty showed up at the home of Joe and Grace Ruga in Lakewood, California. This cat had funny-looking ears that sort of bent backward instead of sticking straight up like normal cat ears do. The Rugas adopted the cat and named her Shulamith. Six months later, she had kittens which also had curled ears. And this was the beginning of the American Curl breed.
In 1983, cat fanciers began selective breeding to produce cats with curled ears. They found out that it was pretty easy to do this because the curled-ear gene is dominant. Any cat with even one copy of the gene will show the trait.
In 1986 an American Curl was exhibited at a cat show for the first time, and in 1992 the longhaired American Curl was given championship status by The International Cat Association. In 1999, the breed became the first one to be admitted to the Cat Fanciers' Association Championship Class with both longhaired and shorthaired divisions.
American Curl kittens are born with straight ears which begin to curl back within 3 to 5 days. The small rosebud ears then gradually uncurl until they are "set" after about 16 weeks. This is the point at which a breeder decides whether a kitten is show quality or pet quality. The ideal curl should form an arc between 90º and 180º. If the ears are too straight or if they curl so far that the tips touch the head, the cat cannot be shown. But of course these kitties still make wonderful pets.
Any color of coat is acceptable for an American Curl. Both the longhaired and shorthaired cats have soft, silky coats that lie flat against their bodies. Because there is no undercoat, these cats don't shed much and don't need much grooming.
American Curls are very friendly and people-oriented. They are not especially talkative, but they make trill-like cooing sounds. Intelligent, playful, and curious, they keep their kitten-like personalities well into adulthood.
Because it was bred so much with non-pedigree cats while the breed was being established, the American Curl is generally a healthy breed. Their average lifespan is more than 13 years.