Often, the creation of a new cat breed hinges on a natural genetic mutation that occurs unexpectedly in an otherwise ordinary cat. Such was the case with the Scottish Fold. Members of the breed today can all trace their heritage back to Susie, a white cat with unusual folded ears who earned her keep as a mouser in a barn in Scotland’s Tayside region. Susie might have lived her life in obscurity had she not been noticed in 1961 by a shepherd named William Ross who had an interest in cats. When Susie had kittens with a local tom, Ross acquired one of them, a female he named Snooks. In the natural way of things, Snooks had kittens, and one, a male was bred to a British Shorthair. Thus began the development of what were first known as “lop-eared cats,” later as Scottish Folds, a nod to their country of origin and their defining characteristic.
Other breeders became involved and it was determined that the gene mutation for the fold was dominant, meaning that if one parent passed on a gene for straight ears and the other a gene for folded ears, the resulting kitten would have folded ears. A gene for long hair was another gift Susie passed on to her descendants. The longhaired variety is known as a Highland Fold in some associations.
Scottish Folds were first imported into the United States in 1971. By the mid-1970s, they had been recognized by most cat associations in North America. They can be outcrossed to American Shorthairs and British Shorthairs. Ironically, they are not recognized as a breed in their country of origin over concerns that the folded ear might lead to ear infections or deafness and because of a related cartilage problem.