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Alan Robinson, Animal Photography
Helmi Flick, Animal Photography
Curly-coated cats come along occasionally, the result of a spontaneous genetic mutation. The tolerant and easygoing Selkirk Rex is one such breed, developed from a curly-coated cat found in a shelter in 1987. He takes his name from the nearby Selkirk Mountains.
The first Selkirk Rex cat owner named the breed after her stepfather, making it the only cat breed named after an individual.
The Selkirk Rex is gentle and sociable. He is affectionate and likes to cuddle, making him a good choice for families with older children, other pets or frequent guests. Assuming he was well socialized as a kitten, he can be a good traveler and can make an excellent therapy cat. The Selkirk is by no means a couch potato, but he is more restful to live with than the Cornish or Devon Rex.
The three Rex breeds have a curly coat in common, but the Selkirk’s body type and personality are very different from those of the Cornish and Devon Rex. With Persians, Exotic Shorthairs and British Shorthairs used to develop him, he has a round head, round eyes, a heavy, muscular body and the accompanying sweet, laidback personality.
This is a medium-size to large cat weighing six to 16 pounds, with females being on the smaller side. The Selkirk Rex comes in many colors and patterns, including pointed. The coat can be shorthaired or longhaired. Selkirk Rexes usually live for 13 or more years.
You may hear that the Selkirk Rex coat is hypoallergenic because of its texture, but that is not correct. Allergies are not caused by a particular coat type but by dander, the dead skin cells that are shed by all cats (and people, for that matter). There is no scientific evidence that any breed or cross breed is more or less allergenic than any other cat. Some people with allergies react less severely to particular cats, but no reputable breeder will guarantee that her cats are hypoallergenic.
The Selkirk Rex is well suited to any home with people who will love him, play with him and give him the coat care he needs. Keep him indoors to protect him from cars, diseases spread by other cats and attacks from other animals.
Many cat breeds are the result of a spontaneous genetic mutation that was nurtured by someone who happened to notice it, and that is the case with the Selkirk. It all started with a feral cat in Montana who gave birth in 1987 to a litter of five kittens, one of which had an unusual curly coat. Persian breeder Jeri Newman acquired the kitten, thinking that she might carry a rex gene. It was, in fact, a new rex gene, one that was dominant for a curly coat, unlike that for the Devon and Cornish Rex cats.
Newman named the kitten Miss DePesto because of her frequent demands for attention and bred her to a black Persian male. Out of the resulting litter, three of the kittens had curly coats. The International Cat Association took the Selkirk into its new breed development program in 1990 and gave it full recognition in 1994. The Selkirk is also recognized by the Cat Fanciers Association and other cat registries.
True to his parent breeds, the Selkirk is inclined to be patient, loving and tolerant. He is playful and likes to cuddle, but he’s not so active or demanding of attention that he will wear you out. Luckily, he is outgoing, because everyone he meets wants to touch his unusual coat. This is a sweet cat who is attentive to his people. He can get along well with children who treat him respectfully and cat-friendly dogs.
The Selkirk has a silly side and is sometimes described as clownish. He loves being a lap cat and will be happy to chat with you in a quiet voice if you talk to him. Although he’s not pesky about wanting attention all the time, he won’t be happy if he’s left alone or ignored frequently.
He might be laid back, but the Selkirk is also smart. Don’t be surprised when he learns to open doors or drawers in search of a treat or toy. Challenge his brain and keep him interested in life by teaching him tricks and providing him with puzzle toys that will reward him with kibble or treats when he learns how to manipulate them.
Always choose a kitten from a breeder who raises litters in the home and handles them from an early age. Meet at least one and ideally both of the parents to ensure that they have nice temperaments.
All cats have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on kittens or who tells you that her kittens are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons.Do not buy from a breeder who does not provide a written health guarantee.
The Selkirk Rex is generally healthy, but because he can be outcrossed to Persians, Exotic Shorthairs and British Shorthairs for reasons of genetic diversity, he has some health problems that may be of concern. They include polycystic kidney disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and hip dysplasia. It’s smart to ask a breeder whether she takes any steps to screen for these illnesses or if any of these conditions have appeared in her lines.
Polycystic kidney disease is a hereditary condition that causes cystic degeneration of the kidneys and eventual kidney dysfunction. It can affect one or both kidneys. Signs of illness initially appear between 7 and 10 years of age, although it can appear much earlier in some cats. Reputable breeders are working to establish PKD-free breeding programs. If one of a Selkirk kitten’s parents is an Exotic, Himalayan or Persian, ask the breeder to show proof that the cat has been screened for PKD.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common form of heart disease in cats. It causes thickening (hypertrophy) of the heart muscle. An echocardiogram can confirm whether a cat has HCM. Avoid breeders who claim to have HCM-free lines. No one can guarantee that their cats will never develop HCM. Selkirks that will be bred should be screened for HCM, and cats identified with HCM should be removed from breeding programs.
Hip dysplasia is a hereditary defect of the hip socket. It can be mild, causing little or no pain, or it can eventually lead to severe lameness. A Selkirk with hip dysplasia may move slowly or avoid jumping. Depending on the severity of the condition, weight loss, medication or surgery can help. Selkirks who will be bred should have their hips x-rayed and graded at two years of age. Ask the breeder to show evidence that a Selkirk kitten’s parents have hips that have been rated by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals as fair, good or excellent.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new kitten into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Selkirk at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to protect his overall health. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier cat for life.
Selkirk kittens are born curly. When they are about six months old, they lose their curls and grow in sparse, straight coat. Be patient. When they reach maturity, they develop a thick, soft coat that feels like lambswool.
Brush the Selkirk’s coat a couple of times a week to remove dead hair and prevent or remove mats or tangles. Ask your cat’s breeder to show you the best technique; otherwise, you may stretch out the curls.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails every week or so, and brush the teeth with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
You want your Selkirk Rex to be happy and healthy so you can enjoy your time with him, so do your homework before you bring him home. For more information on the history, personality and looks of the Selkirk Rex, or to find breeders, visit the websites of the Cat Fanciers Association, Cats Center Stage, the Fanciers Breeder Referral List, and The International Cat Association.
A reputable breeder will abide by a code of ethics that prohibits sales to pet stores and wholesalers and outlines the breeder’s responsibilities to their cats and to buyers. Choose a breeder who has performed the health certifications necessary to screen out genetic health problems to the extent that is possible, as well as one who raises kittens in the home. Kittens who are isolated can become fearful and skittish and may be difficult to socialize later in life.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include kittens always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any kitten, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your feline friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and unhealthy catteries can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick kitten, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy kittens. Put at least as much effort into researching your kitten as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Be patient. Depending on what you are looking for, you may have to wait six months or more for the right kitten to be available. Many breeders won’t release kittens to new homes until they are between 12 and 16 weeks of age.
Before you buy a kitten, consider whether an adult Selkirk Rex might be a better choice for your lifestyle. Kittens are loads of fun, but they’re also a lot of work and can be destructive until they reach a somewhat more sedate adulthood. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health. If you are interested in acquiring an adult cat instead of a kitten, ask breeders about purchasing a retired show or breeding cat or if they know of an adult cat who needs a new home.
A breeder is not your only option for acquiring a Selkirk Rex. Adult Selkirk Rexes may be available from rescue groups. It’s unlikely that you will find a Selkirk Rex in a shelter, but it doesn’t hurt to look. Sometimes pedigreed cats end up at the shelter after losing their home to an owner’s death, divorce or change in economic situation. Check the listings on Petfinder, Adopt-a-Pet.com or the Fanciers Breeder Referral List, and ask breeders if they know of a Selkirk Rex who is in need of a new home.
Wherever you acquire your Selkirk Rex, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “pet lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the cat from both understand your rights and recourses.
Kitten or adult, take your Selkirk Rex to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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