The LaPerm has come a long way since its introduction to the cat fancy. Although it is still a rare breed, its popularity has increased and it has spread around the world. They seem to gain new fans wherever they go. LaPerms are genetically unique and not related to any other Rex breeds. They have an elegant and athletic build suited to their lively, sociable dispositions. But their most impressive feature is their soft coats of shaggy curls and ringlets, that feel so wonderful to touch.
In 1982 Linda and Richard Koehl had recently moved to the country for an easier pace of life, buying a cherry farm in The Dalles, Oregon. They had invested in some hardy farm cats to keep mice away from their fruit. One of these was a plain but hard-working brown tabby shorthair called Speedy who gave birth to a litter of kittens which included a rather bald, long skinny kitten a bit like the pink panther, with tabby markings on her skin. Linda wondered if something was wrong with the kitten but as she grew she developed a lovely soft curly coat which everyone liked to touch. Perhaps this was also why she turned out to be so affectionate and a favourite of everyone on the farm.
Curly grew up and took her place alongside her mum working hard on the farm. One day Curly, and the whole LaPerm breed, were almost wiped out when she climbed into the warm engine of a pickup truck and was injured by the fan when it was started up. She pulled through from this ordeal and became a house cat for while convalescing from her injuries, but she managed to find her way out and into the arms of one of the farm’s toms. As a young and innocent first time mum she didn’t know what was happening and found herself in labour under a tree in the middle of a blustery rainstorm one night. Linda heard strange noises and took a torch outside to find Curly fiercely staving off barking dogs while straddling her newborn babies. Linda popped the babies into her pockets and took the family into the warmth of a barn to make them a nest in the hay. The next day when Linda was able to look at them in daylight she realised that all five kittens had the same appearance as their mother had at birth. All five were male and grew up to have the same soft curls. None were neutered and all grew up to make fine studs so before long all of the females in the colony were giving birth to curly kittens.
Kloshe BB Papoose, Curly's lookalike granddaughter
Linda found herself with a growing colony of unusual Rex cats, initially only with short coats, but evidently carrying the long hair gene, as long hair kittens were born when a long haired cat belonging to the Koehl’s neighbours came across to mate with the curly cats. Another neighbour had a half-Siamese cat, who must have been the source of the chocolate, lilac and colourpoint kittens who appeared in the original LaPerm colony. It was only when people started commenting on her odd cats and asking what they were that Linda did some research and realised that she had some kind of Rex. She took some cats to a CFA show to ask for feedback and was told by exhibitors, breeders and judges that she had something very special. Several key people in the USA cat fancies gave her their support and a breeding programme was developed, working with TICA, who were the organisation which spearheaded the breed’s development. CFA recognition followed a little later and the group supporting and encouraging the breed’s early development included CFA judges Kim Everett and Dennis Ganoe, and the head of TICA’s genetics committee Dr Solveig Pflueger.
TICA was the first organisation to grant recognition and developed the breed’s first Standard of Points. It is this SOP which was used as the basis for the breed’s SOPs in other registries, such as CFA and GCCF, and the breed standard remains extremely unified across all registries. TICA was also the first major registry to grant full championship recognition, with the prestigious title of first champion going to Ch. Dennigan’s French Maid of Shoalwater (left), owned by Debbie Estep and bred by Dennis Ganoe. The first CFA champion was Ch. PacificGem BC Saguaro of Bosque.
The breed has grown and grown and is now a well established championship breed in several registries around the world with breeding programmes in many other countries. LaPerms are being bred in countries as diverse as Canada, Ireland, France, Sweden, Germany, Japan, Norway, Holland, Russia, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and in particular in the UK, which now has the largest LaPerm breeding programme of any country. Every year there is a new advance as the secret of the LaPerm spreads.
The LaPerm breed has an interesting link with Native American culture as the area where the Koehl’s farm is situated is in a sacred territory of the Wishram people, a Chinook speaking tribe who traditionally made a living netting, drying and trading salmon from the Columbia river. The area still contains rock carvings of the vigilant goddess Tsagaglalal, who watches over her people. It is because of this that many LaPerm breeders give Native American names to their kittens and decorate their pens with this theme in mind when showing. The naming of the breed was a carefully considered affair; several possible names had already been used or were too clumsy sounding or close to something else so a name was chosen by Linda which evocatively brings to mind the breed’s most important feature: its curly coat. It is also greatly fitting that the trade language spoken up and down the West coast in the early days of American settlement formed words in this way. The Chinook Wawa, was a mixture of Chinook, French and other languages and many French words were adopted into the language and adapted into new words by adding the definite article onto the front of the word, so the word for pipe became LaPipe, the word for apple (pomme in French) became LaPom. The name LaPerm honours this tradition.
The LaPerm is in many ways a cat of moderation with no extremes and is still true to its original type. It does however have a striking appearance because of its unusual coat. The muscular semi-foreign type body is medium in size with longish legs and neck. The head is a modified wedge with gently rounded contours and a muzzle which slightly broad of the wedge. In profile the straight nose leads into a gentle break between the eyes up to a flattish forehead. LaPerms also have rather broad noses. Their flared ears are placed to follow the line of the face, while their almond shaped eyes are medium-large and expressive.
Like other Rex cats, all colours and patterns are acceptable, although tabbies, reds and torties are well represented reflecting their origins. Also the unusual colours from the early days of the breed have been selected for, so lilac, chocolate and colorpoints are popular. Tabby points are especially attractive. Newer varieties such as ticked tabbies, shadeds and darker points are also being bred. The curl tends to open up the coat showing off shading, ticking or silver undercoats. White LaPerms are also bred, and breeders must undertake a BAER hearing test before breeding from such cats to manage and reduce the risks of producing deaf kittens.
The coat itself is described as having a unique textured feel. It is not silky, having a certain drag on the hand like velvet and the texture comes as much from the shape of the curls as from the mixture of different hair types. It should be soft and inviting, although the shorthairs will have more texture to their coats. It is said that the shorthairs feel like lambswool, while the longhairs feel like mohair. The coat is rather loose and bouncy often feeling springy when patted, and stands away from the body with no thick undercoat. It is light and airy and judges sometimes blow on the coat to see if it will part. The coat varies according to the season and the maturity of the cat but is essentially wavy or curly all over with the longest and most defined curls in the ruff and on the neck often falling in ringlets. There are also curly ear furnishings including tufts at the ear tips and ear muffs. The longhairs have a curly plumed tail while the shorthairs have tails rather like bottlebrushes, and both have long curled whiskers. Sometimes the coat falls into a natural parting along the back, jokingly referred to as “the parting of the waves”!
Sekani BC Lightning, an excellent example of a Shorthaired LaPerm
They are essentially low-shedding, low-maintenance pets. Some allergy sufferers find that they can cope with the coats, perhaps because they reduced shedding does not spread the allergens about to quite the same extent. Grooming is an easy affair, even for a show cat and a rub with a pet wet wipe is as much as most cats need. Rubber brushes should never be used as they can strip the fragile coats; only a revolving toothed comb will move through the coat easily without pulling out the fur or pulling the lovely curls straight. Too much grooming leaves the coat looking like a frizz-ball and takes away the desired definition of the curls. However, a spritz with plain water and a scrunch will help to redefine the curls. Anyone with curly hair, will recognise the care routine, including those who can think back to their perms from the 1980s! Hair products are not recommended as cats will lick and swallow these as they groom themselves, however a tiny speck of emu oil or olive oil rubbed into the palms of the hands can be stroked into the coat if it is overly dry.
Kloshe BC Dragonfly, one of breed founder Linda Koehl's show cats and a good example of a Longhaired LaPerm
LaPerms are a healthy and robust breed with no known breed-related health problems. Kittens tend to be good developers and are playful and inquisitive from the moment they can get out of the nest box to explore. Breeding LaPerms is an enjoyable challenge, and breeders endeavour to balance good type with good coat; perfection is a cat which excels in both areas. The LaPerm is certainly coming of age; not quite the new kid on the block any more, but still a fresh-faced and youthful addition. The LaPerm has earned its place in the cat fancy and is now making its mark.
The UK LaPerm Breeding Programme
The UK breeding programme fits into the world wide LaPerm breeding programme, but has its own particular characteristics, such as the foundation cats used to establish the breed in the UK, the variety of outcrossing that has been carried out here in order to ensure good genetic diversity and the GCCF regulations that the majority of us here breed to.
The first LaPerms were imported to the UK by Anthony Nichols on 23rd May 2002. He had obtained a Lilac Tortie and White female LH LaPerm called Uluru BC Omaste Po of Quincunx from American Breeder Anne D. “Andy” Lawrence This was before the Pets Passport scheme was expanded to include the USA, so Omaste went to Holland along with three other LaPerms imported there by Dutch breeder Corine Judkins. She had to wait seven months in order to qualify for her passport and then Anthony drove over and picked her up. Corine had cunningly and kindly arranged for Omaste to be mated by her Red and White LH LaPerm Woodlandacre BC Windfire of Crearwy (left), so Omaste arrived in the UKpregnant and her litter of five kittens was imported in utero. These were Quincunx Rexray Spex, a Cream Tabby boy who went on to be a prolific stud for Judy Whiteford and Louise Malone, Quincunx Sid Luscious, a Red Tabby & White boy who was a successful show neuter and one of the ‘famous first fifteen’ preliminary qualifiers, Quincunx Nancy Spongecake, a Tortie Tabby female breeding queen for Judy Whiteford (Aswani), Quincunx Evrythg ButheCurl, a Red Tabby & White variant breeding girl for Kate Munslow (Canonna) and Quincunx Siouxsie Banshee a Cream Tabby & White van pattern breeding girl who stayed with Anthony Nichols. These foundation cats were born on Sunday 2nd June 2002 and are present in a great many LaPerm pedigrees in the UK.
In November 2002 the GCCF Executive committee approved the LaPerm for registration status only and the first LaPerms were registered with the breed name but as of yet no breed number. Also in 2002 LaPerms made their GCCF show debut at the Colourpoint, Rex-coated and AOV Cat Club’s show, and were then also on exhibition at the Supreme.
In June 2003 the first two outcross litters were born: Quincunx Siouxsie Banshee had a litter from a Somali outcross, including Quincunx Chinook, Quincunx Cherokee and Quincunx Cycada Lakota, all of whom went on to be used in the breeding programme and are seen in pedigrees today. In the same month Omaste had her second UK-born litter, an outcross to a Tiffanie male which included Quincunx Cumulonimbus who is also seen in UK pedigrees today. A range of further significant outcross lines were initiated by Judy Whiteford, including an outcross mating to an Abyssinian which produced the UK’s first litter of Shorthaired LaPerms. Judy also outcrossed to Somali, Tonkinese and Balinese, and focused on breeding on from outcross lines and advancing generational levels. Judy produced several preliminary qualifiers and some of her kittens went to other breeders to help found their breeding programmes, including key stud boys such as Aswani Talisman and Aswani Fineadandy fathered by Quincunx Rexray Spex who went to June Gillies (Ballego), and Aswani Sun King to Toni Blackwell (Nihyohi), and Aswani Sundance Kid to Edwina Sipos (Cycada), both born to Judy’s Quincunx Nancy Spongecake.
As time went on further imports came into the country and were key cats in the breeding programme. These included Uluru BS Kimimi La, an American-bred cat imported by Edwina Sipos, Coiffurr BCNew Zealand by Judy Whiteford and Coiffurr BC Cappuccino, a chocolate self boy imported from Qui-Oui, also from NZ and imported by Kate Munslow; both were bred by Twink McCabe.
The LaPerm Cat Club had its inaugural meeting on 16th May 2004 in Banbury after a seminar for people interested in getting hands-on experience of the breed. Then in June 2004 LaPerms were granted preliminary status in the UK after which show managers were permitted to include assessment classes for LaPerms to be shown and compete against the SOP to win merit certificates. The breed number granted was 80, followed by L for LH and S for SH. The first LaPerms to win merits were June Gillies’ Ballego Grandmasterflash and Crearwy Madog ap Windfire, who are both also seen in pedigrees and were both successful breeding boys.
As with other Rex cats, the GCCF policies for the LaPerm allow for outcrossing to a small list of selected breeds. All the Rex breeds have relied on outcrossing to establish a viable gene pool and to continue to bring new blood into the breeds. In certain registries non-pedigree, or domestic, cats have been used as outcrosses for LaPerms, but in the GCCF no cat can be shown with unknown ancestors leaving gaps in their pedigrees, and in UK law the Trades Descriptions Act only allows cats to be sold as pedigrees if they have a fully recorded three generation pedigree. Several pedigree breeds had also been used as outcrosses for the LaPerm in advance of the UK breeding programme being established so if breeders wanted to be able to use cats from these lines they needed to have these breeds on the outcross list in order to legitimise their pedigrees.
In the CFA breeding programme the Ocicat and Somali had been recommended as the official pedigree outcrosses. The Ocicat has its own outcross breed in the Abyssinian and several of the Ocicats which were used for LaPerm breeding were actually Ocicat x Abyssinian hybrids. Therefore it was necessary for the GCCF outcross list to include the Ocicat, Abyssinian and Somali, and in fact without them on our list we would have had difficulties working with any LaPerms from these lines. LaPerm breeding in NZ had made use of other outcrosses, in particular the Tiffanie, so it was important to add this to the GCCF outcross list and for the Asian SH and Burmese to be included as these all belong to the same breed grouping meaning that Tiffanie pedigrees often contain these others.
There was also a temporary period where the Siamese/Balinese/Oriental breed group was permitted in order to give an option to increase head length in those lines which might have had overly short or rounded head type. A small number of matings to these breeds were added to the mix to bring some balance, but are no longer permitted, as they have a very heavy influence and can only be used with great care.
The last cat on the outcross list is the Tonkinese. It had not been used in any LaPerm breeding programme at the time but it was thought that it was only logical to include the Tonkinese if its parent breeds, the Siamese and the Burmese were also included. Also comparisons between the LaPerm and the Tonkinese breeds showed that it would be a useful breed to outcross to as it offered an option that is similar in type in several ways.
Currently in the UK breeding programme all of the outcross breeds have been used to some extent and the UK gene pool is exceedingly diverse with a great range of colours and patterns. Outcrossing has great improved coat texture and stability. We now have a range of different breeding lines with different outcrosses behind them and we are at a stage in the breeding programme where breeders have been focusing their efforts on wisely combining these different lines in order to best complement each other and preserve the best attributes from each one. People are getting excellent results from these matings where different outcross lines are present on either side of the pedigree. It was the initial aim in outcrossing widely in the first two or three years of the UK breeding programme that the broad range of outcrosses used could be bred down from. There would be no use in outcrossing merely to produce a litter; outcrossing should be done to introduce some fresh blood and a new line that can be bred on with and combined with other lines.
Breeding down these outcross lines gives generational progression. This means that a greater number of preceding generations of LaPerm to LaPerm matings is built up. This is important because like to like gives greater consistency in results. The GCCF LaPerm registration policy is designed to encourage people to breed on from outcrosses and not to continue outcrossing in subsequent generations.
LaPerm breeders can now focus on breeding excellent LaPerm type and ensuring they feel confident that they have an excellent understanding of the correct LaPerm look. Breeders should focus on selecting for strong, broad muzzles, with prominent whisker pads, wider than the lines of the cat’s wedge-shaped head and with a defined whisker break. Good almond eye shape is also important, this can appear rounded when the cat is alert.
A significant fault with head type that can detract from the LaPerm look is incorrect ear set. The natural lines of a LaPerm’s wedge-shaped head should be followed by the line of the ears. There should be a seamless straight line with no change of direction at the point where the ear joins the head. High ear set gives a bunny rabbit look, as seen in American-bred Turkish Angoras. This is sometimes linked with narrower heads and there should be room for a space between the ears about the same as the width of the base of one ear. Overly low ear set can be equally bad and UK breeders need to avoid using cats with poor ear set.
It is wonderful that many UK breeders are breeding Shorthaired LaPerms and that they are not just an off-shoot of the breed but a unique variety in its own right. The short coats can be more textured and the SOP makes an allowance for this, but they should still be soft and not wiry. The short coat may only be wavy and not as curly as the LH, but it still needs defined shape and should not just be fuzzy looking with no definition to the waves. Breeders can work toward this by combining the old lines and the different outcross lines.
The LaPerm Gene
The special gene which makes the LaPerm unique first reared its head with the appearance of the mother of all LaPerms; Linda Koehl’s cat Curly. Curly’s mother Speedy was a normal straight coated Domestic Shorthair so we know that Curly did not inherit the gene from her mother. Although it’s possible that Curly’s unknown father was a curly coated cat, Linda and Dick never saw one on their farm before Curly and there were no other reports of curly coated kittens being sired, so it is more likely that the original spontaneous mutation happened with Curly.
Every time a new life is created the DNA, or building code, is copied, and every once in a while a little error is made as it is copied causing a spontaneous mutation. This had a happy outcome in Curly’s case altering one of her normal genes for straight hair into a gene for curly hair. With all Rex breeds the hair follicles in the skin are altered to an oval shape instead of a round shape so that when the hair grows it does not grow in a straight line. It is a subtle difference which has a very obvious and noticeable effect.
The LaPerm gene is different from the Rex genes which had appeared before it because it is a dominant gene. All genes come in pairs and like a game of “Scissors, Paper, Stone” if the pair does not match then one will win over the other. With the LaPerm gene curly hair wins over straight hair.
The symbol for the LaPerm gene is Lp. Dominant alleles of genes are always written with a capital letter and recessives with a small letter. So the straight hair allele of the LaPerm gene is written as lp.
A normal cat would have a pair of genes for straight hair, so it’s genotype would be lplp. Although we cannot see the difference we do have two different types of LaPerm: the homozygous and the heterozygous LaPerm. The homozygous LaPerm’s gene pair consists of two LaPerm alleles (LpLp), while the heterozygous LaPerm’s pair consists of a LaPerm allele and a straight hair allele (Lplp).
When a cat breeds it is a bit like tossing a coin. Just as a coin has two sides so does a gene pair have two genes and either one could be passed on. One parent randomly donates just one gene from its pair and the other parent donates another to make a new pair.
If one parent is a homozygous LaPerm (LpLp), then it only has LaPerm genes to offer and can only produce curly coated kittens. This makes breeding with homozygous LaPerms nicely predictable. However some LaPerms are heterozygous (Lplp) so they could either pass on a Lp (curly) or lp (straight) gene. When both parents are heterozygous then there is a chance that both could pass on the straight gene and a Variant would result.
If we go back to the coin then take two coins and imagine that heads is the LaPerm gene and tails is the straight hair gene. Toss both the coins and most of the time you will get at least one heads, sometimes two. These would all the LaPerm kittens. But sometimes you would throw a pair of tails and this would be like a straight coated Variant. Toss them enough times to get an average and you will see that there is a 25% chance of a Variant. That means one in the average litter if both parents carry straight hair.
Because a homozygous cat is like a coin with heads on both sides you will always get curly coated kittens, even when bred to a straight coated cat.
If that straight coated cat is paired with a heterozygous LaPerm (Lplp) then the kittens’ coats depend purely on that 50/50 chance of whether the kittens inherit the LaPerm parent’s curly (Lp) or straight (lp) gene.
It is a random process so the numbers do not always behave! So it is always exciting waiting to see what a mum-to-be will produce. However, breeders can choose to work with homozygous cats if they wish to avoid producing variants.
The LaPerm gene is unique and is the only rex gene which acts in this way to produce curly coats. Devon and Cornish Rex genes are recessive, and the dominant rex gene of the Selkirk Rex behaves in a slightly different way as it has an additive effect when cats have a homozygous pair. What we have in LaPerms is something extraordinary and exceptional which all LaPerm breeders take joy in preserving.
Anthony Nichols, Quincunx LaPerms, May 2008
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For further information about the LaPerm please have a look at the LaPerm Cat Club website at