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7 Fuzzy Facts About Exotic Shorthair Cats

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Love the Persian’s sweet, docile personality, but don’t want to deal with the hassle of keeping its coat tangle-free? Consider owning an Exotic Shorthair, also known as the Exotic. The breed is nearly identical to the Persian, save one big difference—it has short fur. Here are seven facts about the friendly, flat-faced kitty.

1. THE EXOTIC SHORTHAIR IS A RELATIVELY NEW BREED. 

There are a few tales regarding the Exotic Shorthair's origins, but this one's the most common: Sometime in the 1950s or 1960s, American Shorthair breeders decided to mate their cats with silver, green-eyed Persians to create short-haired felines with the same lovely coloring. The resulting kittens didn’t resemble their American Shorthair parents. In fact, with their flat faces, round, stocky bodies, and snub noses, they looked more like Persians. A breeder named Jane Martinke took notice of the cats, and in 1966 she proposed to the directors of the world's largest registry of pedigreed cats, the Cat Fancier Association (CFA), that the unique shorthairs be used to create a new breed.

Cat fanciers originally proposed that the new breed be named the “Sterling,” since the original breed standard called for the cats to be silver. However, the cat was called the Exotic Shorthair instead, because the grey-ish coloring was new and “exotic” among American Shorthairs. Eventually, the breed standard was opened up to include cats of all colors and patterns.

Over the years, breeders outcrossed Exotic Shorthairs with Burmese and other cats to perfect its short, plush coat. The offspring were later mated back to Persians, resulting in the modern Exotic Shorthair breed.

Today, the CFA simply refers to the cat as "the Exotic," whereas other cat organizations around the world still call it the Exotic Shorthair.

2. THE EXOTIC SHORTHAIR HAS A SHORT—BUT PLUSH—COAT

The Exotic Shorthair’s fur is short, but plush. That’s because the kitty has a double-layer coat, with a thick, downy under-layer that lifts the topcoat away from the body. This trait is inherited from the Exotic’s Persian ancestors, and is unique among the various shorthair breeds.

3. THE EXOTIC SHORTHAIR IS (RELATIVELY) LOW-MAINTENANCE.

The Exotic’s low-maintenance coat doesn't shed much, so owners only have to give it a weekly comb. However, owners do have to wipe and clean the cat's eyes, which, thanks to its flat, pansy-like face, are prone toward tearing up and staining its fur. The Exotic can also experience sinus issues, or problems with tooth alignment due to its shortened jaw. And because of its short nostrils and heavy coat, it's very sensitive to heat.

4. EXOTIC SHORTHAIRS ARE MELLOW CATS.

Persians are so placid that they’re often referred to as “furniture with fur.” The Exotic Shorthair has a similarly mellow personality, but thanks to its shorthair ancestors, it's a lot livelier than the Persian.

5. EXOTIC SHORTHAIRS COME IN ALL SHADES AND PATTERNS.

Exotic Shorthairs come in all patterns and colors, ranging from black, white, blue, and tabby to Calico and a Siamese-like color point coat. As for their eyes, they range from either blue or blue-green to brilliant copper, depending on the cat's coat [PDF].

6. EXOTIC SHORTHAIRS AREN'T FAT—JUST BIG-BONED.

With their thick, short-legged bodies, wide necks, and large heads, the Exotic Shorthair looks kind of pudgy. The Exotic can weigh up to 15 pounds, but most of this weight is due to its dense bones—not because it's actually fat.

7. EXOTIC SHORTHAIRS REGULARLY GRACE THE SMALL SCREEN, THE SILVER SCREEN, AND COMPUTER SCREENS.

With their adorable, teddy bear-like appearances, it’s no wonder that the Exotic Shorthair is regularly featured in movies, TV shows, and viral Internet memes. In the movie Cats & Dogs (2001) and its sequel, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (2010), the evil Persian villain, Mr. Tinkles, has an Exotic Shorthair sidekick named Calico. On the Fox sitcom New Girl, the character Winston adopts an ex-girlfriend’s Exotic Shorthair named Ferguson, who quickly becomes his best friend. Meanwhile, two famous Internet cats, Pudge the Cat and Snoopy, are Exotic Shorthairs.

All images courtesy of iStock.

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Animal Welfare Groups Are Building a Database of Every Cat in Washington, D.C.
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There are a lot of cats in Washington, D.C. They live in parks, backyards, side streets, and people's homes. Exactly how many there are is the question a new conservation project wants to answer. DC Cat Count, a collaboration between Humane Rescue Alliance, the Humane Society, PetSmart Charities, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, aims to tally every cat in the city—even house pets, The New York Times reports.

Cities tend to support thriving feral cat populations, and that's a problem for animal conservationists. If a feline is born and grows up without human contact, it will never be a suitable house cat. The only options animal control officials have are to euthanize strays or trap and sterilize them, and release them back where they were found. If neither action is taken, it's the smaller animals that belong in the wild who suffer. Cats are invasive predators, and each year they kill billions of birds in the U.S. alone.

Before animal welfare experts and wildlife scientists can tackle this problem, they need to understand how big it is. Over the next three years, DC Cat Count will use various methods to track D.C.'s cats and build a feline database for the city. Sixty outdoor camera traps will capture images of passing cats, relying on infrared technology to sense them most of the time.

Citizens are being asked to help as well. An app is currently being developed that will allow users to snap photos of any cats they see, including their own pets. The team also plans to study the different ways these cats interact with their environments, like how much time pets spend indoors versus outdoors, for example. The initiative has a $1.5 million budget to spend on collecting data.

By the end of the project, the team hopes to have the tools both conservationists and animal welfare groups need to better control the local cat population.

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in a statement, “The reality is that those in the fields of welfare, ecology, conservation, and sheltering have a common long-term goal of fewer free-roaming cats on the landscape. This joint effort will provide scientific management programs to help achieve that goal, locally and nationally."

[h/t The New York Times]

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How Does Catnip Work?
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If you have a cat, you probably keep a supply of catnip at home. Many cats are irresistibly drawn to the herb, and respond excitedly to its scent, rubbing against it, rolling around on the floor, and otherwise going nuts. There are few things that can get felines quite as riled up as a whiff of catnip—not even the most delicious treats. But why does catnip, as opposed to any other plant, have such a profound effect on our feline friends?

Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is a member of the mint family. It contains a compound called nepetalactone, which is what causes the characteristic catnip reaction. Contrary to what you might expect, the reaction isn’t pheromone related—even though pheromones are the smelly chemicals we usually associate with a change in behavior. While pheromones bind to a set of specialized receptors in what’s known as a vomeronasal organ, located in the roof of a cat's mouth (which is why they sometimes open their mouths to detect pheromones), nepetalactone binds to olfactory receptors at the olfactory epithelium, or the tissue that lines the mucus membranes inside a cat’s nose and is linked to smell.

Scientists know the basics of the chemical structure of nepetalactone, but how it causes excitement in cats is less clear. “We don’t know the full mechanisms of how the binding of these compounds to the receptors in the nose ultimately changes their behavior,” as Bruce Kornreich, associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, tells Mental Floss. Sadly, sticking a bunch of cats in an MRI machine with catnip and analyzing their brain activity isn’t really feasible, either from a practical or a financial standpoint, so it’s hard to determine which parts of a cat’s brain are reacting to the chemical as they frolic and play.

Though it may look like they’re getting high, catnip doesn’t appear to be harmful or addictive to cats. The euphoric period only lasts for a short time before cats become temporarily immune to its charms, meaning that it’s hard for them to overdo it.

“Cats do seem to limit themselves," Michael Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss. "Their stimulation lasts for about 10 minutes, then it sort of goes away.” While you may not want to turn your house into a greenhouse for catnip and let your feline friend run loose, it’s a useful way to keep indoor cats—whose environment isn’t always the most thrilling—stimulated and happy. (If you need proof of just how much cats love this herb, we suggest checking out Cats on Catnip, a new book of photography from professional cat photographer Andrew Martilla featuring dozens of images of cats playing around with catnip.)

That said, not all cats respond to catnip. According to Topper, an estimated 70 percent of cats react to catnip, and it appears to have a genetic basis. Topper compares it to the genetic variation that causes some individuals to smell asparagus pee while others don’t. Even if a cat will eventually love the smell of catnip, it doesn’t come out of the womb yearning for a sniff. Young kittens don’t show any behavioral response to it, and may not develop one until several months after birth [PDF].

But some researchers contend that more cats may respond to catnip than we actually realize. In one 2017 study, a group of researchers in Mexico examined how cats might subtly respond to catnip in ways that aren’t always as obvious as rolling around on the floor with their tongue hanging out. It found that 80 percent of cats responded to catnip in a passive way, showing decreased motor activity and sitting in the “sphinx” position, an indicator of a relaxed state.

There are also other plants that have similar effects on cats, some of which may appeal to a wider variety of felines than regular old catnip. In a 2017 study in the journal BMC Veterinary Research, researchers tested feline responses to not just catnip, but several other plants containing compounds similar in structure to nepetalactone, like valerian root, Tatarian honeysuckle, and silver vine. They found that 94 percent of cats responded to at least one of the plants, if not more than one. The majority of the cats that didn’t respond to catnip itself did respond to silver vine, suggesting that plant might be a potential alternative for cats that seem immune to catnip’s charms.

Despite the name, domestic cats aren’t the only species that love catnip. Many other feline species enjoy it, too, including lions and jaguars, though tigers are largely indifferent to it. The scent of the plant also attracts butterflies. (However, no matter what you’ve heard, humans can’t get high off it. When made into a tea, though, it reportedly has mild sedative effects.)

The reason Nepeta cataria releases nepetalactone doesn’t necessarily have to do with giving your cat a buzz. The fact that it gives cats that little charge of euphoria may be purely coincidental. The chemical is an insect repellant that the plant emits as a defense mechanism against pests like aphids. According to the American Chemical Society, nepetalactone attracts wasps and other insect predators that eat aphids, calling in protective reinforcements when the plant is in aphid-related distress. That it brings all the cats to the yard is just a side effect.

Because of this, catnip may have even more uses in the future beyond sending cats into a delighted frenzy. Rutgers University has spent more than a decade breeding a more potent version of catnip, called CR9, which produces more nepetalactone. It’s not just a matter of selling better cat toys; since catnip releases the compound to ward off insects, it’s also a great mosquito repellant, one that scientists hope can one day be adapted for human use. In that case, you might be as excited about catnip as your cat is.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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