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highlander cat breed


A naturally short tail and distinctive ears are some of the unique features found in the friendly Highlander cat.

Elisa Jordan  |  Jan 1st 1970

With their distinctive good looks and charming personalities, the relatively rare breed called the Highlander is attracting the attention of cat lovers. Highlanders are most known for their curled ears and naturally short tails, but their bright personalities also charm almost anyone. These cats are friendly, energetic and involved in the household activities and goings-on.

Breeder Sarah W. Rhodes of Virginia says it’s not uncommon for Highlanders to greet their humans at the door with toys when they come home or to playfully bat their people with a paw as though to say, “Tag! You’re it!”

“They will be your best friend,” Sarah says. “They will watch you and learn your behavior. They will try to help you do projects. They can be trained to leash walk. These are very intelligent cats. You can look in their eyes and see the brain firing. To quote one of my families, ‘They are magical, amazing.’”

Sue Sweetman, who breeds Highlanders with her husband, Joe, in Arkansas, agrees that these cats ingratiate themselves into their families with ease. “The Highlander is a very laid-back cat,” she says. “They are very easy to train to play fetch, walk on leashes and even sit. They have a doglike personality. Most Highlanders are very social, love to be the house clown, some even love water (they will join you in the bath if they get the chance) and, of course, love to be the center of attention. They are also a very kid-friendly breed. If you can’t find your Highlander, the first place to look is with the children. As for other pets — dogs, reptiles and birds, they have been known to get along with them very well.”

Sarah tells prospective cat parents to expect an active — and interactive — kitty. “I have lots of catwalks and levels for mine to run on. And lots of toys,” she says. “Lots of balls for Meowmy to throw and play fetch and catch with. But just like any other cat, they do love to sleep, in the middle of the bed, of course, and get chin rubs and scratches.”

Highlander history

Originally called the Highland Lynx, the Highlander breed was created in 1993 by breeder Joe Childers.

“Joe had taken the Desert Lynx and bred it to the Jungle Curl and voila! We now have the Highland Lynx,” Sue says. “The description of the Highland Lynx was curled ears, natural short tail, and some were polydactyl. The goal to the breeding was to have that wild look with a domestic, fun-loving personality.”

Although still known as Highland Lynx in the Rare and Exotic FelineRegistry, the name changed in The International Cat Association (TICA) so that “lynx” wouldn’t imply wild blood.

“In late 2004, Highlander became the name to identify our cats as a breed of their own,” Sue says. “The Highlander breeders have worked diligently to educate the public; in order to bring about an awareness of how truly unique these cats are. But mostly to earn respectability for this breed. When we brought our beautiful cats to TICA they were known as Highland Lynx, but we could not use the word “lynx” due to “lynx” meaning wild cat, or description in markings. So, the name Highlander was accepted at that time for the name of our new breed.”

TICA accepted the Highlander as a Preliminary New Breed in 2008.

Hey, good lookin’

The most distinguishing physical features of these cats are their curled ears and naturally occurring short tails. Some Highlander cats are born with regular-length tails, and they make excellent pets — because they have the same great personalities — but they cannot participate in cat shows.

“The naturally short tail ranges in length from 1 inch to hock length,” Sarah says. “It is thick and articulated, and sometimes has kinks and curls in it. It also has a fat pad at the end. The Highlander’s tail is an incredibly expressive element of the breed and will wag like a dog from sheer joy, and signal its happiness and playfulness.”

highlander cat breed

The Highlander is known for his curled ears and naturally short tail, but his intelligence and playful nature are what wins fans over.

The top third of their distinctive ears is loosely curled. Those ears, Sarah says, “are set as much on the top of the head as on the side and stand tall and open with good width at the base.”

Currently, Highlanders are available in multiple colors and patterns, including solids, tabbies, minks, torties, torbies, points and smokes. “I had a litter of five with five different colors and patterns,” Sarah says. “They cannot, however, have white spotting, white feet or medallions.”

Sue adds, “The things Highlanders should not have are rosette spotting, curly fur or tuxedo markings,” she says. “Your Highlander should not have white socks either, as this would be a sure sign of a mix.”

Whatever an individual Highlander looks like, the ultimate result is the same — a wild-looking exterior with a friendly, playful interior. Breeders have worked hard to achieve a perfect balance!

highlander kitten

The ears are among the unique physical features of the Highlander breed.

A distinctive look

The Highlander has a long, sloping forehead and medium to large eyes shaped like a slightly flattened oval set on a bias that looks at you with great intensity. The nose is wide with large nose leather. Together, the nose, muzzle, and chin provide a boxy look to the muzzle. The chin itself is deep and strong. These features make the head appear longer than it is wide. The ears are unique: the top third has a loose curl. They are set as much on the top of the head as on the side and stand tall and open with good width at the base. — Sarah W. Rhodes