Why Are Scottish Fold Ears Folded?

Have you ever seen a Scottish Fold cat and wondered why its ears are folded? It’s actually a genetic mutation that causes the ears to fold forward. This gives the cats a unique appearance that has made them popular pets worldwide. Let’s take a closer look at this breed.

The Scottish Fold is a rare cat breed that originated from a naturally occurring mutant gene in a Scottish cat born in 1961. Her folded ears gave her an owl-like appearance that was aesthetically pleasing to humans, so breeders have intentionally bred this mutation into more cats creating the Scottish Fold.

This article will explore the origins of this adorable trait, how genes affect the cat’s appearance, and why ethical breeding is so important in helping to minimize the risk of health issues in these beautiful cats.

What Is A Scottish Fold?

A Scottish Fold is a domestic cat breed that carries a natural genetic mutation that causes its ears to fold over. This trait affects cartilage through the cat’s entire body and gives its face an owl-like appearance.

Scottish Folds were originally named lops or lop-eared before breeders registered the official name of the Scottish Fold in 1966. This breed is also known as a Scottish Fold Longhair, Highland Fold, Longhair Fold, or Coupari.

Where Did The Scottish Fold Originate?

As the name would suggest, the Scottish Fold originated in a barn in Scotland. We can trace the ancestry of all Scottish fold cats back to one single cat called Susie, who possessed this rare trait in 1961.

When Susie birthed a litter of kittens, they possessed the gene which caused their ears to fold over. A local farmer decided to team up with a geneticist to breed Susie. The only reproducing female of Susie’s litter was a kitten called Snooks.

Five years later, the Scottish Fold was among the most popular cat breeds in America and Europe. While the original Scottish folds had a single fold in their ears, breeders have increased that to double or triple over the years, which means that some cats possess ears that lie flat against their heads.

How Do Scottish Folds Inherit The Folded Gene

A Scottish fold can possess a single copy of the dominant mutant gene (heterozygous) or a double copy (homozygous). Combining two homozygous Folds will guarantee the classic folded ear trait is present in your offspring.

However, this double gene causes many health issues for the cat breed, and any ethical programs should avoid breeding homozygous Folds. In ethical breeding programs, you stand a 50/50 chance of producing floppy-eared offspring, as highlighted below.

Homozygous Fold FdFdHeterozygous Fold FdFdStraight Eared fdfd
Homozygous Fold FdFdFdFdFdFd
Heterozygous Fold FdFdFdFd
Straight Eared fdfdFdfdFdfd

Cats’ that has an FdFd gene will possess folded ears.

Felines with an Fdfd gene will have a 50% chance of folded ears.

A cat that has an fdfd gene will possess straight ears.

Why Is The Scottish Fold So Appealing To Humans?

The first Scottish Fold was born of a genetic mutation that could pose potential health threats, so why did humans find this trait so appealing that they purposely bred the mutation into other kittens?

One theory is based on the Lorentzian theory of beauty, which states that most people find the human resemblance of a round face more comforting than the longer, more pointed face found in animals such as wolves.

These “human” features are particularly noticeable in animals like the owl. With its folded ears, the Scottish Fold shares many facial characteristics of the owl and is, therefore, “cute” and visually appealing to humans.

Are Scottish Fold Kittens Born With Folded Ears?

No, Scottish Folds are not born with their famous ears. All Scottish Fold cars are born with straight ears, many of which begin to flop over when the kitten is three to four weeks old. However, some Scottish fold kittens don’t develop this trait and will continue to have straight ears as they transition into adulthood.

The reason for this comes down to the cat’s genes. A dominant gene mutation causes the classic folded ear; if this gene is not passed from the parent cats to their kittens, then the latter will be born with “normal” ears. Scottish Folds who do not develop folded ears are called Scottish Straights.

What Are The Effects Of A Scottish Fold Mutation On Its Health?

In the 1970s, English geneticist Dr. Oliphant Jackson produced a report on the Scottish Fold mutation. His findings stated that this particular cat breed had one thing in common – they possessed a bone problem.

Most people have two copies of the majority of their genes. However, Jackson demonstrated that Susie and her daughter Snooks were relatively normal as they only had one copy of the defective gene.

However, purposely bred Scottish Folds possessed two copies of the defective gene, putting them at greater risk of health defects. The main concern was that any cat with a double defective gene seemed to develop severe arthritis from a young age.

Jackson proposed that the breeding of Scottish Folds should be banned, and this took effect in the UK and France. But countries such as the US and Australia continued to breed Scottish Folds, which is why they are still in existence today.

In the 1990s, Australian vets teamed up to demonstrate that all Scottish Folds have abnormal bone development in their distal limbs, which means they are highly susceptible to osteoarthritis that predominantly affects the wrist and ankle joints.

Homozygous Scottish Folds often possess an abnormal walk, shortened limbs, and a stiff, painful tail. Despite these – and further scientific research on the subject – people still breed Scottish folds in the US, Asia, and Australia.

Health IssueSigns and Symptoms
Upset StomachVomiting
Loss of Appetite
Hepatopathy (Liver Disease)Loss of Appetite
Abnormal Swelling
Excessive thirst and urination
Weight loss
Feline Upper Respiratory Disease (URI – similar to the common cold in humans)Running Nose
Running or red eyes
Sores on the lips, tongue, nose or roof of the mouth
Lack of appetite
Low Energy or Lethargy
Conjunctivitis (eye infection)Watery eyes or excessive tearing
Abnormal discharge that is yellow or green
Light sensitivity
Squinted eyes
Swollen eyelids
Diabetes MellitusExcessive thirst and urination
Increased appetite
Weight loss

What Are The Common Health Risks For A Scottish Fold?

Aside from osteoarthritis, there are a number of health concerns to look out for in a Scottish Fold; the signs and symptoms of each are listed in the table below.

Do Scottish Fold Cats Experience A Loss Of Hearing?

You may assume that the folded ears of this Scottish breed would lead to sensory problems of muffled hearing, but this is not the case. Scottish Folds possess the hearing quality of any other cat with straight ears, and the folded nature of their organs does not hinder this sense at all.

Final Thoughts

The Scottish Fold is an adorable cat breed that makes the perfect family pet. A naturally occurring genetic mutation causes its folded ears, the trait first spotted in a Scottish cat in the early 1960s. While a homozygous Fold faces an array of health issues, a heterozygous Fold can live a perfectly normal, healthy life.

When purchasing a Scottish Fold, it’s vital to source it from a quality breeder who can prove that the kitten comes from an ethical breeding program. 

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