Genetic Mutation Leads to One of the Most Desirable Cats Ever

laperm cat

Story at-a-glance -

  • Rather than being a “breed,” per se, the LaPerm came about as a result of a spontaneous mutation in a kitten born on an Oregon farm in 1982
  • Affectionate, adaptable and intelligent, LaPerms are also quite energetic and friendly with children and strangers
  • One of the most eye-catching features of the LaPerm is its curly or wavy fur, which not only may not grow in completely for two or three years, but can be long, short or medium-length, and usually red, tortoiseshell or tabby
  • LaPerm kitties have no genetic diseases that experts are aware of, but any animal is capable of developing or inheriting diseases
  • When looking for a LaPerm, look to a rescue center or animal shelter in your area first for your forever kitty rather than opting for a breeder

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

With their adorably grizzled appearance, at least regarding their curly or wavy fur, it's easy to see where LaPerm cats got their descriptive name. These cats have an interesting history, starting in Oregon in 1982, when a spontaneous mutation in a farm kitten became the foundation for a brand new breed. The breed is now recognized by several cat registries, including Cat Fanciers Association and The International Cat Association.

These cats present some of the best features for cat lovers; Vetstreet gives them high marks for being affectionate, adaptable and intelligent, but they're also quite energetic and friendly with children and strangers, while getting along very well with dogs they may encounter or who live in the same family.

Socialization is important for getting pets used to children and adults in different situations, just as it is for getting along with other animals. LaPerm kittens will charm guests and family members alike with their delightful personalities, and they're a delightfully interactive cat for people who declare themselves to be bona fide cat lovers.

Speaking of socialization, the LaPerm's background and development started with a female outdoor cat the farm owner named Curly (naturally). While she had no hair at all when she was born, Curly had the classic tabby pattern on her skin. As she got older, she began growing soft, curly hair, and when she began having kittens (via random matings), many of them had her unusual fur. As Vetstreet relays:

"The owner, Linda Koehl, began to learn about genetics and breeding. Through controlled breedings, she discovered that the gene for the curly coat was dominant and was carried by both males and females. When she entered the cats in a show, she was surprised by the amount of interest shown in them. Curly, who was an outdoor cat, eventually disappeared, but she lives on in the new breed she produced."1

Older children should learn to treat all animals with respect, and they'll love these sweet-natured kitties, but toddlers, who should be closely supervised with all pets, can easily get a handful of fur with this breed, which usually results in a bad experience for both.

The Curly Fur and Other Physical Traits

CatTime2 describes the LaPerm's head shape as a modified, slightly rounded wedge shape, with expressive eyes that can be any color. Their slightly flared ears come in both medium-size and large. Longhaired LaPerms have full "furnishings," which means they have hair inside their ears. Additionally, fur on and around the outside of their ears looks a little like earmuffs.

Just like Curly, one of the interesting characteristics of this "breed" (although again, the LaPerm represents a natural genetic mutation rather than being an actual breed) is that the kitties are often born bald and their fur comes in later either curly, wavy or straight like most other cat fur. Their coats can be nearly any color, but the most prevalent is red (orange), tortoiseshell or tabby. Lengthwise, it can be long, short or in between. When it's long, the curls can become ringlets, even on their tails.

A medium-sized cat weighing between 5 and 10 pounds, LaPerms reach maturity — and grow in all their hair — only by age 2 or 3. They don't habitually shed a lot (although at times, they can shed quite a bit, and afterward have an even thicker coat), and their fur is easy to groom. Interestingly, both longhaired and shorthaired kittens can be born in the same litter. 

The tails of longhaired LaPerms are usually curly and plumed, with a full ruff, also curly, under their necks. LaPerms with short hair often have tails that look a lot like a bottle brush. For all the hair these kitties have, the texture is fine, soft and airy. That said, they can also "molt" and have a scant covering for the rest of their lives. In any case, combing it weekly is all that's probably necessary. According to Vetstreet:

"You may hear that the LaPerm coat is hypoallergenic because it is curly, but that is not correct. Allergies are caused not 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 crossbreed is more or less allergenic than any other cat."3

LaPerms: Social Butterflies, Lovable Lap Kitties

Everything that makes cats adorable can be found in this inquisitive, fun-loving, fur-covered package. Like most cats with a wild spirit and a homebody heart, they love having a cat tree around so they can climb up and observe everything going on below them. If you've met a LaPerm, you may already know they'll sometimes ride on peoples' shoulders for the same purpose: to observe.

You could also call them ambidextrous, as they use their paws as tools, like many people do. If they want to direct your attention to something (like themselves) they may reach up with a paw to gently tap your face. Even though they may have a busy, active life with lots of play involved, they rarely pass up an opportunity to sit on someone's lap, especially if there's petting involved. Cattime observes:

"Often described as clownish, he is something of a mischief-maker who makes talented use of his paws to open doors, swipe things he wants or tap you on the shoulder for attention. He's not clingy, but he likes to be with you and will follow you around ... He is moderately active and enjoys retrieving items that are thrown for him.

Despite his reputation for getting into things, the LaPerm is pleasant to live with. He rarely uses his voice, and he is affectionate, gentle and patient with his people."4

LaPerm Health

For people interested in purchasing any purebred cat, reputable breeders will always test for all possible inherited diseases. Vetstreet happily shares that LaPerm kitties have no genetic diseases that experts are aware of. However, you should also be aware that any animal is capable of developing or inheriting diseases.

Some diseases can't be screened for, but good breeders will also be cognizant of "restorative conformation" breeding, or breeding to reduce genetic diseases. Reputable rescue organizations will be able to supply pertinent information about each of their animals. Vetstreet notes:

"Before you buy a kitten, consider whether an adult LaPerm 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."5

While the LaPerm is rare and the likelihood of finding one through your local rescue group or shelter is unlikely, you never know — the very pet you hope to find may be waiting at a shelter for the perfect "parent" after their person died or otherwise had an unplanned change in their situation.

Where to Look for Your Perfect LaPerm

Rather than arranging for a LaPerm through a breeder, if you're interested in getting an adult cat, ask your veterinarian about the possible availability of a retired show or breeding cat or one who needs a new home. Here are some other ways to find the right cat from a rescue center or shelter:

Use the web. Petfinder.com6 and Adopt-a-pet.com7 are two sites to look at as sources of the LaPerm kitty you're looking for. You can be specific about what you'd like, such as a cat that's housetrained, for instance. AnimalShelter.org can point you to animal rescue groups in your area.

You can also peruse the "pets needing homes" section of local, online periodicals and newspapers. Social media may be a goldmine in terms of finding your forever kitty. Just post what you're hoping for so your "friend" community can be on the lookout.

Get in touch with area experts. Call or email the pet pros in your area, such as vets, cat sitters and pet groomers, about your quest for a LaPerm. Those individuals are far more "in the know" for trusted recommendations.

Try contacting breed clubs. While breed clubs may not be where you might think of on your quest, individuals in such organizations may be aware of homeless cats who need a home. Fanciers Breeder Referral List8 is another source to explore.

When you contact the animal shelter or animal rescue organization, Vetstreet advises, make sure you have a solid contract so everyone knows their individual responsibilities and expectations. Questions to ask that will help you be more specific in your search might include:

How old is this kitty?

What is this cat's known health issues?

Is the cat energetic or a little lazy?

Is this kitty litterbox trained?

What kind of personality does he have?

How does he behave around people, including children?

How does this cat interact with other animals?

Has this cat ever bit someone that you're aware of?

Last, but certainly not least, if and when you're able to find a LaPerm kitty to adopt, make an appointment with your integrative veterinarian as soon as possible so that he or she will be able to identify potential problems. The next step will likely be establishing a regimen, including a species-appropriate diet that's all-natural and chemical free.

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