It is thought that long hair in domestic cats arose as a natural genetic mutation, most likely in response to cold climates. Where this advantageous gene was passed on among cats living in isolated areas, such as mountain regions, longhaired populations would have arisen. Wildcats with long coats are a rarity and have no role in the ancestry of domestic longhairs.
Types of Longhair
The first longhaired cats seen in Western Europe arrived some time in the 16th century. These were the Angoras, a slender, silky-coated Turkish breed that enjoyed a certain popularity until they were usurped by a new type of longhair, the Persian, in the 19th century.
Sturdier than the Angoras, Persians had longer, thicker fur, immense tails, and round faces. By the end of the 19th century they were the longhair of choice for cat lovers. The Angora vanished, not to be seen again until the breed was re-created by enthusiasts in the 1960s.
The Persian remains a steady favorite, but since the 20th century other longhairs have been attracting attention. These include cats described as semi-longhaired, which have long coats but a less dense, fluffy undercoat than the Persian.
One of the most magnificent of the semi-longhairs is the Maine Coon, native to North America. Huge and handsome, this breed has a shaggy look due to the variable length of the hairs in its topcoat.
Almost equally striking is the big blue-eyed Ragdoll, while the brush-tailed Somali has the graceful lines of the Abyssinian cat from which it was developed. More in the style of the original Angoras is the beautiful Balinese—a semi-longhair version of the Siamese—which has silky, flowing, close-lying fur.
Striving for yet more variety, breeders have crossed longhairs with some of the more unusual shorthairs. Bobtails, curled-ear and folded-ear breeds,
the wavy-coated Selkirk Rex and Devon Rex, and the LaPerm with its fleecelike curly fur are all now found with luxuriantly long coats.
Many longhaired cats shed their coats heavily, especially in the warmer seasons, when they can have a much sleeker appearance. Frequent grooming—a daily session may be needed in some breeds—keeps loose hairs to a minimum and prevents the thick undercoat from matting.