The American Wirehair’s unruly hair is a gift from Mother Nature, whose love of diversity knows no bounds. This scruffy gem of a breed is truly rare. American Shorthairs still are used in Wirehair breeding programs to increase the gene pool and keep it from becoming inbred, and over time this has influenced the Wirehair’s body and head type.
The American Wirehair’s defining characteristic is its coat, which is unique in the cat fancy. The hair is coarse, stiff, dense, resilient and springy to the touch. All three types of hair (down, awn and guard) are crimped, hooked or bent, including the whiskers and the hair inside the ears. The overall appearance of the wiring of the coat and its coarseness and resilience are more important than the crimping of each hair. The density of the wired coat leads to ringlet formation rather than waves.
The Wirehair is medium to large and moderate in type. The back is level, the shoulders and hips are the same width, and the torso is well-rounded and in proportion to the body. The head’s underlying bone structure is round with prominent cheekbones and a well-developed chin and muzzle with a slight whisker break. The eyes are set well apart, and are large, rounded, bright and clear. The eye aperture has a slight upward tilt. Adult males weigh 8 to 11 pounds; adult females weigh 6 to 9 pounds.
All colors and patterns are acceptable except those showing evidence of hybridization resulting in the colors chocolate, lavender, the pointed pattern, or these combinations with white.
The breed’s ideal look can vary from association to association. For example, in CFA the Wirehair’s breed standard has obvious differences from the American Shorthair’s, while in TICA the Wirehair is considered part of the American Shorthair breed group and shares a common standard, except for coat texture.
Coat texture sets show quality Wirehairs apart from pet quality cats. Show quality Wirehairs are so rare and valuable that virtually all are kept for breeding. A person without experience in exhibiting and breeding will have a tough time buying one at any price. To obtain a pet quality American Wirehair, find a breeder you like and get on her waiting list. Usually a pet quality Wirehair has a coat that’s too soft, or is a “straight Wire” who lacks the Wirehair gene and has an ordinary coat.
Like many new breeds, the American Wirehair began as a spontaneous mutation in the random-bred domestic cat population. In 1966, five scruffy, wiry-haired kittens were born to ordinary domestic cats on Council Rock Farm in Verona, New York. The parents, Fluffy and Bootsie, were ordinary barn cats, but Mother Nature stepped in and all five of the kittens had the distinctive coat. As fate would have it, however, all but one of the kittens were killed by a weasel, and subsequent matings between Fluffy and Bootsie produced no more Wirehairs. Whatever wizardry Mother Nature worked in that litter was a one-time deal.
However, the one surviving kitten-a red and white male appropriately named Adam-lived and prospered. Joan O’Shea of nearby Vernon, New York, an experienced breeder of Rex cats, heard about the kitten and went to have a look. She immediately realized that the long-legged, big-eared kitten was not a Rex but perhaps an entirely new breed. She bought Adam from the farm’s owner and officially named him Council Rock Farm Adam of Hi-Fi.
About a year later, O’Shea provided an Eve for her Adam. Actually, her name was Tip-Toe; she was a random-bred calico cat owned by a neighbor. Tip-Toe produced two red and white females with their father’s wiry hair and two straight-coated kittens, which indicated the gene for the wiry coat was dominant. O’Shea bought the two Wirehair kittens from her neighbor and named them Aby and Amy. Aby died young but Amy carried on in her father’s tradition. All of today’s Wirehairs are descendants of Adam or Amy. Unfortunately, Adam died of cystitis when he was four, after he’d sired only three litters.
CFA accepted the American Wirehair for registration in 1967 and granted championship status in 1978. American Shorthairs were bred into the lines to prevent inbreeding and to enlarge the gene pool, although some breeders disagreed with the decision because it changed the Wirehair’s head and body type. Since then, a handful of dedicated breeders and fanciers have kept the American Wirehair from extinction. The breed is still one of the cat fancy’s best kept secrets, even though it is now accepted for championship by most of the North American cat associations.
Don’t rub this breed the wrong way—when grooming, that is. The American Wirehair is one of the few breeds whose coat doesn’t benefit from regular grooming. Much depends upon the varying texture, density, and brittleness of the hair, but in general the wiry hair is fragile and can be damaged, particularly if a wire brush is used. During the spring and fall shedding seasons, some combing to remove dead hairs is desirable, but use a good quality steel comb and be very gentle. Some breeders recommend baths with mild shampoo and thorough rinsing rather than combing. After the bath, allow your Wirehair to dry naturally after a gentle toweling. Particularly don’t comb them or blow dry them when they’re wet; both can damage the coat. Ask your breeder for her grooming tips since she is likely to know what’s best for her lines.
Overall, American Wirehairs are healthy and long-lived; no defects have been associated with the wirehair gene. However, the American Shorthair (ASH) has been and still is widely used in Wirehair breeding programs; the ASH is the only allowable outcross and in TICA is even part of the same breed group. Therefore, some Wirehair lines may have inherited genetic problems that affect the American Shorthair. Some ASH lines carry the genes for the inherited heart disease feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy(HCM) and the inherited joint disorder feline hip dysplasia. While hip dysplasia isn’t life threatening like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, it can cause extreme pain, stiffness, and lameness.
HCM is much more serious—according to researchers it’s surprisingly common for the first noticeable symptom to be sudden death. Since HCM is an adult onset disease, researchers recommend an annual echocardiogram for breeding cats who may have inherited the disease. Researchers are working toward a genetic HCM test for the ASH that may soon be available, making it easier to choose healthy ASH outcrosses for the Wirehair. Of course, not every line of American Shorthair and American Wirehair has inherited the disease. Talk to your cat’s breeder about these and any other health concerns you have and be sure to get a written health guarantee.
Did you know?
CFA’s breed standard allots a full 45 points out of the possible 100 to the American Wirehair’s coat, more than for any other breed, attesting to the importance of the unique, wiry coat. The Cornish Rex is next, with 40 points allotted to the coat. However, some other associations assign 40 points or less for the Wirehair’s coat.
The Wirehair’s hair may be coarse and unruly, but its personality is anything but. A sweet, loving, playful disposition comes with the wiry coat. Affectionate and people oriented, Wirehairs make wonderful companions. They seem particularly in tune with their humans’ feelings and offer feline support when you’ve had a bad day. Not all are lap cats, but many enjoy sleeping beside or near you.
Fanciers say you learn a new way to pet a cat when you own an American Wirehair. While texture and hair length can vary from cat to cat, the coat is often described as feeling like steel wool. Owners knead instead of stroke.
Their barn cat beginning has ensured intelligence and an adaptable temperament. Wirehairs are only moderately talkative-they don’t bother you with their meows unless something important is on their minds, like empty food bowls. Most are enthusiastic purrers, though. Depending upon how much American Shorthair they have in their bloodlines, they can be as adaptable and easygoing as the ASH and usually need only a moderate amount of attention to be happy, as long as they can be near their favorite people.
Wirehairs are usually good with children six years and older, adults, and with seniors. They also generally get along well with other animals, both cats and cat-friendly dogs, if they are properly introduced. If you work full-time, a compatible cat companion can keep your Wirehair from becoming lonely and bored.