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Getting to Know the LaPerm

By A.D. Lawrence
from The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book

The LaPerm is set apart from other breeds by its curly or wavy fur, which is a major trait. It can sport anything from a wavy coat to ringlet-type curls that can appear in any form from tight ringlets to long corkscrew curls. The tightest curls occur on the underside of the cat, on the throat, and at the base of the ears. The longhair variety is generally blessed with a curly plumed tail and often with a full, curly ruff (similar to the mane on a lion). The coat has a moderately soft texture, yet each cat's coat is unique. The shorthaired variety has more texture to the coat than does the longhaired variety. It has a "bottle-brush" type tail and the coat generally stands away from the body, parting down the middle but it does not have a ruff. The LaPerm is accepted in any color or pattern.

Some kittens are born hairless, but most have short wavy hair at birth. Often they will go practically bald beginning with a spot on the top of their heads. This process generally starts when the kittens are about two weeks old and they can be in varying stages of baldness during the first four months or so. The coat will generally come back but the cat can lose it again and again. Although not common, they can also be born with straight hair and then lose that with the hair growing back curly. For the first six months it is a guessing game as to what you might have.

The coat on both long and short varieties may vary in length and fullness depending upon the season and the maturity of the cat. Both males and females of the longhair variety may have a full ruff on the neck at maturity. Both varieties will have a saddle of shorter hair over their shoulders although this is much more apparent on the longhair.

The face and head of the LaPerm is somewhat triangular in shape with fairly wide set ears that continue the shape of the wedge, relatively full whisker pads and large expressive eyes. They boast a splendid set of curly whiskers and eyebrows.

Males tend to weigh between nine and twelve pounds and females grow to weigh between six and nine pounds. The breed is seen in both long and short hair.

Their Personality

LaPerms are very gentle and affectionate cats although they are very active at the same time. They seek human contact and purr as soon as they become aware of your presence. These cats are face lovers; they will reach for your face with their paws and rub their face against yours but will settle for your head or neck. They love being kissed and will kiss back. LaPerms beg to be held, draped over a shoulder or cradled in your arms while resting on their backs.

Care and Maintenance

The breed is a low maintenance one, requiring a minimum of grooming because the coat does not easily mat. LaPerms' curls hold the hair, much like that of a Poodle, therefore shedding is minimal. Grooming for cat shows takes a bit more effort but is still relatively easy. Confer with the breeder of your cat or a fellow exhibitor for helpful hints regarding products and bathing technique.

A bath is only necessary once a month, at the most, unless you have a male with stud tail. Frequent baths will dry out the coat and cause it to become brittle. When to bathe depends on how oily your cat's coat becomes. For some with not much coat, the Thursday before a show is fine. For others with a denser coat, you may have to bathe on the Monday before a show. Trial and error will tell you when to bathe your cat. If you bathe too late the cat will not have enough time for the replacement of natural oils and the coat will not show its curl.

Regular maintenance for non-show cats is very easy and much like between-show maintenance for show cats. The best product for keeping the coat in shape is a metal comb with rolling teeth, a comb with teeth that are not stationary but, instead, "roll" when grooming (this type of comb can be found at Petsmart and at some cat show vendors). A comb of this nature will not pull hair out that is not ready to comb. It only removes dead hair. Use it to remove dead hair two or three times a week. It will only take a minute or two and will keep the cat's coat in excellent condition. Your cat will begin to look forward to being groomed with the comb, purring all the while you are working on him. This will be pleasure time for you and the cat. Do not comb your cat or use a dryer immediately after the bath as doing so may damage the hair. A simple towel drying and then letting your LaPerm air dry naturally is the best method to protect the coat. For the first three or four days after a bath, your cat will shed much more than usual so it is important to use the comb during that time. It also stimulates the circulation and helps bring back the natural oils for coat texture. Combing out dead hair also helps prevent hairballs and matting.

The LaPerm is generally accepting of new situations such as traveling or being handled by strangers. Bear in mind however that each cat regardless of its breed may differ slightly from the ideal and therefore use caution until you learn what your cat prefers. Generally speaking, this is a breed that knows no strangers and readily adapts to being handled.

One of the most unique features of this breed is that it is extremely active. However, unlike other active breeds, the LaPerm is content to be a lap cat. They are often content to follow your lead. Even if they are busy playing and you want to sit and relax, you can pick up your cat and sit down with him and he will stay on your lap accepting all the attention you give him. They are inquisitive by nature always wanting to know what is going on around them. Kittens have been known to stop nursing and seek out the source of a human voice before their eyes open.

LaPerms have quiet voices but may become vocal when they want attention. Being working farm cats (by nature) they are excellent hunters as well as gentle companions. They adapt well to apartment life too because of their strong bonding instincts.

Breed History

The breed first made its appearance in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge, one of the most beautiful areas in the world. The area abounds with ancient Indian hunting and fishing grounds. In the midst of these grounds, near the town, The Dalles, in Oregon, the LaPerm came into existence in the spring of 1982.

The first LaPerm was a natural mutation, which sprang from strong, healthy, domestic "barn-cat" stock. The original cat was unique in a number of ways, other than just the lack of hair at birth. The body type and temperament are as much a part of the breed as the "Rex" gene, which is responsible for its unusual coat.

A barn cat gave birth to a litter of six kittens, one of which was born completely bald, looking nothing like her mother or littermates. It was, without a doubt, an ugly kitten, having no hair, large wide-spaced ears and a blueprint pattern on her skin that mimicked a classic tabby pattern.

Within eight weeks, the kitten began to grow very soft, curly hair. By three to four months of age, the kitten had a full coat of curly hair. She was named Curly. Not being very knowledgeable about cats, owner Linda Koehl accepted the kitten as unique and thought nothing more of the matter.

Curly's soft fur was so inviting to the touch that Linda found herself constantly picking her up. Curly's temperament was different too; she was affectionate but not demanding, patiently waiting quietly for her turn. She was gentle and trusting with her affection.

Curly was taken by surprise at the onset of labor and instead of seeking shelter in a barn, she gave birth to five kittens under a tree during a rainstorm, all male and all bald as Curly had been at birth. Linda realized this was some sort of "Rex" mutation. She thought of it as a novel situation but thought nothing more about it. Future litters provided only occasional hairless kittens of both sexes. Curly's insistence at being an outdoors cat eventually led to her disappearance.

Linda never found out what had become of her. She just stopped showing up for her morning visits but Curly left behind a number of kittens who had all inherited her soft, curly coat and marvelous disposition.

During the next 10 years no attempt was made to breed selectively but as the frequency of bald kittens increased Linda began to seek additional information about unusual cats. She had no knowledge of genetics or breeding and thus she allowed them to roam free through the barns and orchard for several years. They were excellent mousers and kept the property rodent free as a result.

As she became more aware of how unique they were, she started to confine and control the breeding and decided on the breed name of LaPerm, which means wavy or rippled in several languages.

It appeared that the curly gene was dominant and carried by both males and females. An occasional breeding accident led to a slight enlargement of the gene pool but at the same time maintained the same physical and personality characteristics.

To paraphrase the Beatles, "there is a long and winding road" for the recognition of a new breed. No truer phrase could be applied to the emergence of the LaPerm which started with the birth of "a very ugly kitten." CFA accepted the breed for the Miscellaneous Class in February, 2000.

Cradling a LaPerm in your arms can touch your senses by running your fingers through the coat or listening to the purr as you experience the unmatched feeling of love and respect for the breed. LaPerms are truly different from any other breed of cat because of the unique combination of their appearance and people-oriented personalities. The cats have captivated nearly everyone who has had the opportunity to see one.

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