American Curl: Cat Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

A close-up of a white American Curl cat

 eugenesergeev / iStock / Getty Images

Thanks to their fluffy, curled-back ears, American Curls are one of the most easily identifiable cat breeds today. Although their coats can come in a wide variety of colors and patterns, the unique ears of American Curls make them stand out among other cat breeds. Today, their backwards-curled ears are a desirable trait among breeders, but they were originally the product of a natural (and harmless) genetic mutation.

Despite their relatively low weight—particularly in females—American Curls are muscular and have medium-sized bones, so they're not as delicate as their body weight and length may initially imply. Their wedge-shaped heads, walnut-shaped eyes, and curled ears give them a totally unique appearance.

American Curls are friendly, affectionate, and docile cats that love to bond with their owners. Despite their affections, however, American Curls aren't quite cuddlers—they're happy just to sit next to their owner and relax, or play with their toys. Because American Curls are highly adaptable, they're suitable for a number of different home types, and homes with other pets or children.

It's important to note, however, that American Curls don't like to be left alone for too long—so you might have to consider whether or not your schedule can accommodate several hours of attention and playtime each day.

Breed Overview

Weight: Males weigh between 8 and 12 pounds, while females weigh less than 8 pounds.

Length: 18 to 20 inches

Coat: Short and silky

Coat Color: White, black, blue, cream, red, lilac, brown, and silver

Eye Color: Amber, aqua, blue, copper, green, gold, hazel, odd-eyed, orange, yellow

Life expectancy: Typically 9 to 16 years

Characteristics of the American Curl

Affection Level High
Friendliness Moderate to High
Kid-Friendliness Moderate to High
Pet-Friendliness Moderate to High
Exercise Needs Moderate to High
Playfulness Moderate
Energy Level Moderate to High
Intelligence Moderate
Tendency to Vocalize Moderate
Amount of Shedding Moderate

History of the American Curl

Despite their popularity, American Curls don't have a long history as a distinct breed. In fact, the first American Curl litter was born only a few decades ago.

In 1981, original breeders Joe and Grace Ruga found a stray, long-haired, black kitten with the Curl's distinctive curled ears and named her Shulamith. Only a few months later, Shulamith gave birth to a litter of kittens with the same curled ears. By 1983, cat breeders were working hard to selectively breed cats to preserve and propagate this unique characteristic. Fortunately, genetics were on their side: A feline geneticist named Roy Robinson found that the ear-curling gene was a dominant trait, so cats with only one copy of the gene would be born with curled ears.

The American Curl became incredibly popular over a short period of time, and was quickly recognized by the International Cat Association in 1987 and by the Cat Fanciers Association in 1993. Today, American Curls are ranked 27th among the United States' most popular cat breeds.

American Curl Care

The frequency with which you groom your American Curl depends on his or her coat length. If your American Curl is short-haired, you can expect to groom his or her coat weekly, in order to keep it healthy and shiny. If your American Curl is long-haired, grooming should be increased to twice weekly, in order to remove any tangles, mats, or debris from the coat.

Like many cats, the American Curl is susceptible to ear issues. Be sure to check your Curl's ears weekly, and gently remove any dirt or debris with a dampened cloth or cotton round. Avoid using cotton swabs, as they can cause severe damage to your Curl's delicate inner-ear structures. If your Curl's ears are very dirty, red, inflamed, or smell funny, make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. These symptoms may indicate infection or injury.

Regular dental hygiene can help protect your Curl from periodontal disease, so aim to brush his or her teeth several times per week. Daily brushing is ideal, but regular maintenance can support proper dental health. You can supplement brushing with plaque-removing treats, but give them to your Curl in moderation—they're packed with additional calories and are meant only to support a regular dental hygiene routine.

The American Curl is intelligent and needs adequate exercise, so choose games that will challenge his or her mental and physical abilities. Try puzzles designed specifically for cats or games like hide and seek. Many Curls are also happy to play fetch with a small toy or rolled up piece of paper. The American Curl requires several hours of attention each day, so it's important to make sure your family's schedule can accommodate proper playtime before bringing a Curl into the family.

Common Health Problems

American Curls are generally healthy and aren't predisposed to any specific genetic disorders. It's important to remember, however, that both pedigreed and mixed breed cats aren't 100 percent protected from developing certain health conditions during their lifetime.

Due to the unique shape of the American Curl's ears, some may be born with narrowed ear canals. These narrowed canals can trap wax, which can lead to ongoing ear infections. Be sure to examine your Curl's ears every week to prevent or identify any ear or inner-ear issues. If you're concerned about the health of your Curl's ears, call your veterinarian for advice.

Diet and Nutrition

Like all breeds, the American Curl may be susceptible to obesity or heart disease if he or she isn't properly exercised and fed a high-quality, high-protein diet. The amount of food your Curl eats each day depends largely on his or her age, sex, and activity levels, but talk to your vet if you're not sure how much you should feed your cat. Remember to give your Curl treats in moderation.

More Cat Breeds and Further Research

Before adding an American Curl to your family, it's important to do your research. The American Curl is a fairly low-maintenance cat, but does require adequate exercise and engagement throughout the day. They can also be susceptible to ear infections and wax build-up, so routine ear examinations are necessary.

If you want to learn about cat breeds similar to the American Curl, be sure to check out: