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Choosing a Domestic Longhair

By: J. Anne Helgren

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The longhaired cat is one of Mother Nature's most beautiful creations. As colorful and diverse as their shorthaired kin, these luxuriously furred cats come in every shape, size, color and pattern. Hair length and texture vary greatly as well. While the domestic longhair is not considered a breed as such, random-bred or mixed breed longhairs, with their healthy mix of genes and diverse personalities, coat types and body styles, make champion companions. These longhaired beauties deserve just as much love, quality care and respect as the finest grand champion Persian.

According to a new study sponsored by the Pet Food Institute, the number of pet cats in America reached a new high in the year 2000, and Americans owned more than 75 million pet cats. Of those approximately one in 10 is longhaired, although that can depend upon the area. That means Americans own approximate 750,000 domestic longhairs.

History and Origin

Although the first domestic cats were shorthairs, longhaired domestics have been with us for thousands of years. Since the species from which the domestic cat arose, Felis silvestris lybica, is a shorthaired feline, somewhere along the bloodline a mutation occurred that caused the hair to grow longer. This mutation increased the period of hair growth so that the fur reached a longer length before entering the dormant phase. The mutation probably occurred spontaneously in an isolated, cold environment where a longer, insulating coat would give the cat a better chance of surviving. Experts suggest that this may have occurred in a mountainous plateau in eastern Turkey, since longhaired cats have been found there for thousands of years. The mutation may have occurred separately in Russia as well.

Longhaired cats were transported from Turkey to Europe in the late 1500s. Later, Russian longhairs were imported into England and from there, they spread to all corners of the globe. They arrived in the New World with the pilgrims or shortly thereafter, and their long fur helped them survive the harsh New England winters. These cats developed shaggy, all-weather coats and large bodies and became the ancestors of America's own longhaired breed, the Maine coon. These hardy longhaired feline immigrants moved across the country with the European settlers and established themselves in all parts of the country. Today the domestic longhair is second only to the domestic shorthair in popularity.

Appearance

The variety of the domestic longhair knows no bounds. They come in all shapes and sizes, colors and patterns, and hair lengths and textures. Some longhairs have relatively short, close-lying body hair but sport elegant tail plumes, some have semi-long fur, and still others have ultra-long fur. The texture and thickness of the undercoat affect the cat's appearance as well. Cats with dense undercoats have much fuller coats. Even if their hair is not terribly long, the undercoat makes the fur stand out from the body, making the cat appear large. Many longhairs sport impressive neck ruffs and longer facial hair that gives the head a broader appearance. Lynx-like ear tufts sometimes decorate the ears, and toe tufts adorn the feet.

Although longhairs come in the same colors and patterns as the domestic shorthair, some colors and patterns are particularly dramatic on the longhair. For example, longhaired cats have the hair length to show off the dramatic coloring of shaded and smoke colors. The shaded silver, with its darker shading at the hair tip and lighter color on the shaft, is particularly impressive.

Sometimes, a domestic longhair will resemble a particular pedigreed breed. For example, a domestic longhair can possess the colorpoint pattern of the Himalayan, or the shaggy brown tabby coat resembling the Maine coon. However, these cats merely take after their pedigreed cousins and are random-bred domestics rather than purebreds that found their way into the domestic cat population.

Personality

Shorthaired cats are more popular and will always be more numerous because the gene for long hair is recessive, while the gene for short hair is dominant. A cat must have two copies of the longhair gene to have long hair. One copy of the shorthair gene and one of the longhair gene will produce a shorthaired cat. However, a shorthaired cat that has one copy of the longhair gene can still pass that gene onto his or her offspring. When mated to another shorthair with one copy of the longhair gene, about 25 percent of the kittens will have long hair, and about half will have short hair but carry the longhair gene. When mated to a longhair, about half the kittens will be longhairs, and the other half will be shorthairs carrying the longhair gene. When mated to a shorthair that doesn't possess the longhair gene, all the kittens will have short hair but about half will carry the longhair gene. In this way the longhair gene can be passed from generation to generation, often without anyone knowing it's there.

As varied as their multicolored and furred exteriors, domestic longhairs come in all types of temperaments. Since the ancestry of domestic longhair kittens is generally not known and (as a rule) domestic longhairs don't breed true as purebreds do, it's difficult to predict what the cat will be like as an adult. It may be quiet or vocal, large or small, outgoing or withdrawn. While purebreds do have their own unique personalities, they are more likely to follow the pattern of their breed and therefore produce predictable offspring. With the random-bred domestic longhair, anything is possible. As a rule, however, longhairs are a bit more sedate than their shorthaired counterparts. If you can see the parents -- which is often difficult -- their temperaments will give you an idea of what the kitten will be like as an adult. Remember, however, that a cat's temperament depends greatly on its early socialization and care. You need to spend time with your cat to develop a close, loving relationship.         

Grooming

Domestic longhairs require more grooming and care than shorthairs. If you accustom your cat early to a grooming routine, the time you spend grooming your cat can be a special bonding time that both you and your pet will enjoy. How much grooming a domestic longhair needs depends greatly on the length, texture, and fullness of the coat. Cats with elegant tail plumes need grooming once a week or less. Cats with semi-long fur need grooming twice a week. Others with ultra-long fur often require daily grooming. The texture and thickness of the undercoat are also considerations. Cats with a fine downy or cottony undercoat, even if their hair is not terribly long, require grooming two to three times a week to prevent matting. Fur standing out from the body indicates a downy undercoat.

All domestic longhairs can benefit from regular grooming, however, even if their hair is not long and their undercoat not thick. Grooming removes dead hair that can form hair balls in a cat's stomach (as well as forming a furry covering on your couch), rids the body of dead skin and dander, stimulates the skin, tones muscles, and encourages blood circulation. It is also a good opportunity to examine your cat for developing health problems and attend to them in their early stages.

Longhaired cats (and shorthairs, too) generally go through two periods of shedding, particularly if they are allowed outside. In the fall they shed their summer coat in preparation for their heavier winter coat, and in the spring they shed their winter coat in preparation for their lighter summer coat. Additional grooming may be needed during these times. Longhaired cats, by the way, don't shed more than do shorthaired cats. The longer hair is just more noticeable.

For more information on the domestic shorthair breed, please see the article Selecting and Showing Your Domestic Longhair.

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