Cats have a history spanning thousands of years, but only in the past few decades have breeders selected unusual traits and encouraged them in newer generations of cats. As a result, we've seen the development of entirely new breeds, such as the American curl -- characterized by ears which curl backwards. Each curl can trace its lineage back to a single cat that had the breed's characteristic ears. In 1981, this first "curl" wandered onto the front porch of Joe and Grace Ruga of Lakewood, California, and was given the name Shulamith. After a year, Shulamith had kittens with identical features. As the kittens grew to become parents, the ears -- which look almost as if they've been styled with a curling iron -- showed up in subsequent litters until the breed was recognized by the International Cat Foundation in 1986 and the Cat Fancier's Association in 1993.

A curl's ears are straight at birth, but begin to bend within a few days. They will curl and uncurl for several months before finally curling permanently in the fourth or fifth month. Their bodies tend towards rectangular lines, and their eyes are often walnut shaped. Curls keep a kittenish behavioral streak throughout their lives, and have little of the aloofness that marks some breeds. They like to be in the thick of things, and are quite playful, making them a good candidate for a home with children.

Curls don't have much of an undercoat and only need to be brushed on a weekly basis. Their ears sometimes develop deposits of dark wax, which can be cleaned with a cotton swab and a non-alcoholic, non-oily ear cleanser (available from your vet). Use the swab to gently wipe upward from the canal opening through the ear furrows, being sure not to pull on the cartilage; pulling on the cartilage can cause the ears to unfurl over time or -- in extreme cases -- even break.


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