The American Wirehair:
Bad Hair Day?
Or…Great Wirehair!

Photographer - Larry Johnson

by Kitty Dieterich

Our breed is a U.S. national treasure!! Still quite rare and unusual, and now being successfully bred and shown in Japan and France, someday they may be found all over the world. The American Wirehair breed is a natural mutation that occurred in the United States. Wirehairs are the third breed in the original Native American trinity comprised of the American Shorthair, The Maine Coon Cat and the American Wirehair. America has since added to this list, and can now claim another lovely mutation in the American Curl.

The first Wirehair was discovered in a barn litter in upstate New York in 1966. That first litter contained five kittens, but unfortunately only two kittens, a male and a female, survived a weasel attack. The owner of the farm was fascinated by the strange coat on the male, so he called in his neighbor, Joan O’Shea (the local “cat lady”), to have a look. Joan felt the unusual coat had merit and decided to try and reproduce it. The original male, named Council Rock Farm Adam, was bred to his sister, and, lo and behold, more “kinkies” arrived.

The process of establishing the breed was a long and arduous one involving a great deal of close line breeding. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the patient and determined individuals who chose to work with this breed. Their dedication has paid off handsomely.

When the original breeders working with Wires first mapped out a plan, they realized that it would be best to have and use an outcross to inject hybrid vigor. At that time the cat closest in type was the American Shorthair, and it has remained the only available outcross to this day. The American Shorthairs have contributed greatly to our breed and we are grateful. We would not have advanced this far without them, and they remain crucial to our continued advancement.

The Wirehair standard was written by people who had been breeding American Shorthairs and reflects the American Shorthair type as an ideal. Council Rock Farm Adam had a definitive modified wedge head with large ears placed rather high on the head. His eyes had an upward slant caused by the extremely high cheekbones. The great influx of American Shorthair blood has caused many changes in the Wirehair head and eye shape, bringing it much closer to the written standard; but what we gain in type, we sometimes lose in the required stiff hard coat.

The wired coat comes in many degrees. Our standard specifies, “Individual hairs are crimped, hooked or bent…,” so the look can vary from spiky to curly. It has been determined that the gene causing this very special coat is an incomplete dominant. This means that even when breeding wire-to-wire, not all kittens will be wired. During the early years, all of our kittens were used for breeding to increase the available gene pool and provide necessary vigor. We have now reached a point of using only those that exhibit some (no matter how little) wiring. Wirehairs run the gamut from the ideal coat – medium in length, coarse, crimped, dense, and completely covering the body – to the sparse coat – generally very hard, usually completely wired, but quite thin – to everything in between. The hardest coats seem to break easily, and we are still looking for the best way to “hold” these coats. Of course, with the incomplete dominant at work, we see MANY straight coats. Usually each litter will have some of each. If there is even the smallest evidence of wiring (just whiskers, rough base of tail, etc.), the cat does indeed carry the wire factor and can be useful in a breeding program.

Often, a wonderful show coat will drop due to various problems including weather and stress of cycling. A sparse-coated cat can, on occasion, look like a molting bird! We also have the rare, but possible, longhair in our litters, but these cats are never shown. The breed’s “unknown” origins make long hair a distinct possibility, and the “incorrect coat” is a disqualification. We breed for a short coat and do not encourage the use of longhair cats in the breeding program. They are adorable pets, but if heavily wired, look a bit like dust bunnies from under the sofa.

Our standard also calls for a “medium to large” cat with the males larger than the females. With the necessity for line breeding, we do, unfortunately, see quite a few small cats. Wirehairs are judged in one color class but many possible colors/patterns are accepted. Mother Nature has a very twisted sense of humor when it comes to painting our kinky babes. We see many really unusual patterns that are difficult to explain! When enough breeders fall under the spell of these wonderful cats, we’ll see more on the showbench, and eventually will be able to break up our color classes.

American Wirehair females very often have “silent” seasons. This makes working with this breed even more challenging. If the male and female are caged together, they manage to accomplish the deed, but the breeder may not witness it and due dates then become speculative. There is still work to be done to keep this breed healthy and hardy and to protect their very uniqueness. Of course, we still use our beloved outcross Americans, but not every generation. With all the variables involved, there are relatively few show quality cats born, but many pets. It takes total commitment on the part of the breeder to work with Wirehairs. The little devils get under your skin, however, and they are wonderful friends first…show and breeder cats second.

American Wirehairs are the original “touchy-feely” cats! Most breeders try to take disinfectant and towels to shows so that spectators CAN experience the coat. The facial expression when a person first handles a Wirehair is always a Kodak moment, as the feel is really unexpected. The cat is fairly soft to the touch, but if the coat is dense and hard, it springs back when stroked. All breeders are working to learn anything we can about this strange but wonderful coat. It appears that the coat makes the skin more sensitive to outside influence, and we have found a number of allergies in some of the cats. The skin seems to be sensitive to outside influences, so should be kept thoroughly clean through regular bathing. These cats are easy to bathe, however, and take readily to any grooming procedures you initiate. The coat requires proper attention and is often greasy due to the oily skin. This is something found in most of the rexed breeds and sometimes carries over to the production of a great deal of dark earwax that must be cleaned constantly. Breeding cats is truly an educational experience, and when you work with Wirehairs, you can expect a “pop quiz” every day! I often worry that my babies might have problems with hairballs. Can you imagine the discomfort caused by a wired hairball??! They’re all on a preventative regimen at this house.

On the whole, American Wirehairs are hardy cats with few major health problems. These cats are extremely “people-oriented.” They know no strangers, and have happy paws for everyone they meet. They are gentle, loving, playful and totally at ease with young children. Reports from pet homes substantiate this time after time.

You, too, can GET WIRED! Contact one of our breeders and put your name on a list today for a future wired kitten.