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Gray Scottish fold cat

The essentials

  • Both the Scottish fold and American curl cats were bred for their unique ears — While Scottish folds have folded-down ears and American curls have curled back ears, breeders of both saw value in these unique genetic features and have maintained the traits through generations.
  • These cats can still hear you call — Although a Scottish fold’s ears appear to be completely closed, they still hear just as well as cats with pointed or curled ears.
  • Curly-eared cats come with many nicknames — The Scottish folds have been compared to and called nicknames such as ‘owl,’ ‘pixie,’ and ‘teddy bear.’ American curls have been called Peter Pan cats because they keep their young, playful personalities for their whole lives!

Feline friends come in all shapes and sizes, each with unique features and characteristics. But perhaps no cat breeds have a more adorably unique appearance than those with misshapen ears. These cats are so special they are sought out by breeders, families, and even celebrities (we’re looking at you, Taylor Swift!) Read on to discover why so many people are enthralled with these beautiful breeds.

Breeds of cats with folded ears

There are two main breeds of cats with unique ears recognized by the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), among 45 pedigreed breeds. These are the Scottish fold cat and the American curl cat. Let’s take a look at their specific traits and commonalities.

The Scottish fold cat

The Scottish fold cat was originally bred in Scotland in the 1960s when a farmer took a barn cat named Susie and bred her with a British shorthair cat. Some of the kittens in this litter had the famous folded-over ears, just like their mother Susie. The Scottish fold was eventually recognized as a unique breed in 1974 by CFA. Their signature folded ears are actually due to a genetic mutation that causes a cartilage defect, and this can present some health problems. For this reason, Scottish folds should never be bred with other Scottish folds.

Kittens of this breed are born with upright ears, but the ears begin to fold between three and four weeks old. This trait occurs due to an incomplete dominant gene, so not every kitten’s ears will fold down, and some will remain straight. These cats are critical to the health of the breeding program.

The American curl cat

Originally bred in 1981 in Lakewood, California, American curl cat ears are curled back rather than folded forward like their Scottish counterparts. This breed came into existence when a couple took in a stray cat named Shulamith and recognized how unique the cat’s ear shape was. Her litter of kittens was born about six months later, all of which had her signature curled ears.

American curl kittens are born with straight ears, and then the curl begins to develop from 3 to 5 days after birth. At around 16 weeks of age, the kittens’ ears have set and breeders can see how curled the ears will be for the duration of their life. Cats with the most distinct curl to their ears seem to be the most coveted. Like their Scottish counterparts, American curl cats are wonderful family pets. They are affectionate and kind to children and other pets.

Appearance and characteristics of cats with folded ears

Other than their signature ears, Scottish Folds and American Curl cats have few obvious physical similarities.

Ear structure and genetics 

  • Scottish fold. These cats maintain their folded-down ears due to a cartilage defect. Breeders originally had a hard time maintaining the health of the breed, which is why two cats with the same defect cannot be bred together.
  • American curl. The genetic trait that presents as curled ears is known as autosomal dominant. This means the trait is not a genetic defect, and it will present in any kitten with even one copy of the gene. American curls can breed with other American curls and there is no danger of genetic abnormalities.

Coat colors and patterns 

  • Scottish Fold. This breed has short and dense hair. All colors and color varieties are recognized as Scottish folds by the CFA, except for white.
  • American Curl. Because they have such a diverse background, American Curl cats come in a wide variety of colors, all of which are recognized by the breed standard. They can also have either short or long hair.

Size and body shape 

  • Scottish fold. Often described as compact and stocky, they are medium-sized cats. Scottish folds tend to have round faces and flat noses. They have extremely large eyes, which are another of their signature traits.
  • American curl. These cats are medium-sized with rectangular bodies. A minimal undercoat means they experience little to no shedding. Their eyes are not as rounded as the Scottish folds, but more walnut-shaped.

Behaviors and temperament of cats with folded ears

Both Scottish folds and American curls are friendly and outgoing domestic cats. They are known to be patient and affectionate cats, making them good pets for households with other animals or young children. They don’t like to be alone for long amounts of time and prefer to have their owners at home showering them with love and attention!

Health considerations for cats with folded ears

Pet parents should know how best to care for their folded-ear cat before bringing one home. The Scottish fold breed is more prone to Otitis externa , which is an infection in the ear canal, due to their unique ears. Otitis can lead to swelling, tissue damage, and deafness if left untreated. This is why regular ear cleaning is important in all pets, but specifically in this breed of cats.

  • Susceptibility to ear infections. As mentioned, otitis externa is a common ailment, specifically for Scottish fold cats.
  • Osteochondrodysplasia.  The genetic defect which causes excess cartilage in the Scottish folds’ ears can also impact the cartilage in their bones. Bone and cartilage abnormalities can cause painful arthritis, particularly in the cat’s hips and other joints. This degenerative joint disease can cause chronic pain for your kitty.
  • Dental issues. Cats of all breeds can experience oral health problems. It’s important to maintain good dental hygiene by regularly cleaning your cat’s teeth. This will help avoid infections such as gingivitis which can not only be painful but expensive to treat.

Adopting cats with folded ears

Does a Scottish fold or American curl sound like the cat for you? It’s important to consider all of your options when looking for a new addition to your family.

Find a reputable breeder. Scottish folds tend to be rare, and since not every kitten in the litter will inherit the distinguishable trait, it makes them rarer and therefore more desirable. Coming from a reputable breeder that follows breeding guidelines, the cost for a Scottish fold kitten ranges between $2,000 and $3,000. Always make sure the breeder you are considering is registered and only breeds their Scottish fold with other cats such as the British Shorthair.

Adopt from a shelter or rescue group. Based on the sheer numbers, you’re more likely to find an adoptable American curl than you are a Scottish fold. Do your research by calling ahead to see if your local shelter or rescue group has any cats with curled ears.

Consider costs for necessary supplies. New cat owners spend about $625 on the initial adoption fees and costs of supplies for a new pet. After these upfront costs, consider vet bills, medications, grooming costs, and of course food. Adopting a new cat is certainly an investment.

Caring for cats with folded ears

Cats with folded or curled ears don’t usually require specific care different from other breeds of cats, but here are a few things to keep in mind.

Maintain a regular grooming routine. Brush your cat’s fur a few times a week, and maintain weekly ear cleanings. This is a good idea for any cat breed, as it lowers their chance of ear infections and ear mites.

Be mindful of exercise and rough play. These breeds of cats are known for their fun and playful attitudes, sometimes even being compared to dogs! You will have no trouble keeping them active with simple toys and games at home.

Ask a vet for diet and nutrition recommendations. Always talk to your veterinarian about your cat’s specific dietary needs. Cats tend to thrive best on a protein-rich diet with plenty of fatty acids.

Frequently asked questions

How do folded ears affect cats?

The folded ears on a Scottish fold cat do not affect their ability to use their ears. However, they are more prone to ear ailments due to debris and buildup than other cats. They are also more prone to genetic health issues.

Are folded-ear cats more prone to health issues?

Yes, Scottish folds are prone to diseases including osteochondrodysplasia, a condition which affects their bones and cartilage as well as polycystic kidney disease.

Can folded-ear cats hear as well as other cats?

Yes! Despite their dramatically folded-over ears, Scottish folds can hear perfectly well.

Should I be worried about my folded-ear cat’s balance?

An abnormal gait could be a sign of osteochondrodysplasia, a common ailment in Scottish folds. Schedule a vet appointment if you notice a sudden change in your cat’s walk or balance.

Do folded-ear cats require special care?

Pet parents should pay extra attention to cleaning their Scottish folds ears, as they can trap debris which may lead to infection. Otherwise, Scottish folds as well as American curls enjoy the same things many cats do: attention, a scratching post, and lots of cuddles!