20 Rare Cat Breeds You’ve (Probably) Never Heard of
Whether you're looking to purchase or adopt a rare cat breed, or you just like looking at unique, interesting felines, the 20 rare cat breeds below are sure to tickle your fancy.
For a cat breed to classify as rare, it must have an unusual combination of colors or patterns, be really difficult to find or only recently recognized as an official breed. This may imply that rare cat breeds are contending with small gene pools, therefore needing to import new bloodlines from other countries to avoid inbreeding.
Since newer breeds don’t have health histories, genetic risks have yet to be determined, and we still have a lot to learn, which will take time. In the meantime, sit back and get the 4-1-1 on 20 rare cat breeds you’ve probably never heard of.
Country of Origin: Greece
What is the rarest breed of cat? I hope you’ll weigh in at the end of this article, but archeologists have found evidence that the first domesticated cat lived on the Island of Cypress in Greece, 10,000 years ago!
The Aegean Cat could quite possibly have evolved from this breed of feline. Although they can be found everywhere in Greece these days, the Aegean Cat is pretty much unknown to people everywhere else in the world.
Very intelligent, these cats are great friends with the fisherman of their native Cycladic Islands. Aegean Cats can hold their own in the fishing department thanks to their large rounded paws.
Great family pets, they play nicely with human children. However, as mentioned, you might want to keep a lid on your fish tank with one of these pussy cats in the house!
Country of Origin: England
The Burmilla is what you might call an “oops” breed in that she “happened” when someone left a door open, allowing a Burmese cat and a Chinchilla Persian to hook up! Their precious offspring created this new and rare type of cat.
With hybrids such as the Burmilla, however, it takes five generations to create what is considered a cat that “breeds true.” This means you need to go that far down the family tree to get to a cat that is far enough removed from both its Burmese and Persian roots to be a combination of the two, so a true Burmilla.
Due to the time this takes, and since the Burmilla has only been around since the 80s, this breed is one of the rarest domestic cat breeds around. With her heavily lined eyes, nose and lips, she looks made up for the ball, and her mischievousness personality is a nice contrast to her easy-going nature.
Together, they blend into a playful, affectionate family cat who may enjoy the outdoors just as much as the indoors. So, on occasion, harness her up on a leash, or place a cat tree in an enclosed CATio, and let your Burmilla spend time frolicking with you!
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Countries of Origin: Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia & India
If rare wild cat breeds are your fancy, look no further than the Caracal. However, he is by no means a family pet! Although adorable when young, Caracals channel their wild child as adults. They communicate by hissing, wreck everything in their path when playing, and have been known to bite the hand that feeds them.
Weighing up to 35 lbs. and sporting a solid un-marked coat (like the cougar or lion), the Caracal has long ear tufts, causing some to confuse him with the lynx. Caracals were taught by humans to hunt small prey, and can leap 9 feet in the air catching a bird on the fly!
They have become quite rare in North Africa and Asia as many are hunted by larger predators (i.e., lions, hyenas, and leopards), and others killed as a nuisance. However, in South Africa and Namibia, their numbers are increasing, possibly due to the extermination of jackals that prey upon them.
Country of Origin: France
Legend has it that Chartreux are descended from felines brought to France by Carthusian monks. Others disagree saying the breed’s ancestors were feral mountain cats brought to France by Crusaders returning from what is now Syria.
Still, the first recorded mention of the Chartreux was not until the 18th century, and their appearance on American shores wasn’t until much, much later in 1971.
Considered the National Cat of France, the Chartreux is a rare house cat with only a few dozen breeders in all of North America. Characterized by a silver-grey or “blue” double coat and brilliant orange or copper eyes, Chartreux cats are most famous for their perpetual smiles!
Large and muscular (aka cobby), these cats are exceptional hunters and have lightning-quick reflexes, making them fun to watch. They can be taught to fetch, and are very quiet companions, some even mute, but communicate with their people nonetheless.
5. Colorpoint Shorthair
Countries of Origin: England & The U.S.
Both the Americans and the Brits got the idea, back in the 1940s-1950s, to see what the Siamese would look like with more color on her points. They cross-bred a Seal Pointed Siamese, Red Tabby, and Abyssinian.
The ever-loyal Colorpoint Shorthair was the result, and it turned into an affectionate cat that is extremely sensitive to the moods of her human. These cats purr words of encouragement when you’re feeling down and are happy to sit at your side, but quiet is not their forte.
They are chatterboxes, always seeking out someone who will listen, following you around the house vocalizing 100 different sounds! This unique cat breed is playful, always seeking out a wad of paper, a toy, or whatever can be found lying around to show off their playful side for their favorite human.
6. Cornish & Devon Rex
Country of Origin: England
The Cornish Rex, or “Greyhound of the Cat World,” first appeared in 1950 in a litter of barn cats in Cornwall, as the result of a genetic mutation. As he grew, he looked like a miniature lamb with his tight-knit curly coat, large bat ears, whippy tail, and naturally arched back.
A few years later and 55 kilometers to the North, a similar but different Rex was discovered in Devon, and named the Devon Rex. Both breeds bear the “Rex” part of their names from the short, wavy rabbit-like fur. What sets these two rare cats apart is that the Cornish has no guard hairs (protective top coat) at all! The Devon’s sparse guard hairs give her coat a more open looking curl.
Fun fact: If these two breeds mate, their offspring will have a straight coat!
Personality-wise, both breeds love to interact with family and are mischievous, but there is no mistaking the two. The Cornish has a long face with a Roman nose, while the Devon has a broad triangular face with very wide-set ears and a definite “stop” between the forehead and muzzle.
7. Egyptian Mau
Country of Origin: Egypt
No list of rare cat breeds would be complete without this kitty cat. Quite possibly the granddaddy of all cats, the Egyptian Mau, “mau” meaning “cat” in Egyptian, was worshipped as both a god and a treasure by the Ancients.
They are the fastest of all domestic cats due to longer hind legs creating a Cheetah-like stride and a loose flap of skin that allows them to move with great agility and grace.
The rare Egyptian Mau is the only naturally spotted breed of domestic feline, and those spots appear only on the tips of the fur. The dark eyeliner encircling their gooseberry green eyes will catch your attention, while their personality will touch your heart.
Maus are known to give kisses, sit on your shoulder, and be loveable companions to the one or two humans they bond closely with.
8. Japanese Bobtail
Country of Origin: Japan
A gift from the emperor of China to the emperor of Japan, Japanese Bobtails have been on the island nation for more than one thousand years. These rare cats protected not only the grain supply from rodents, but also the highly prized silkworms, so they were highly worshipped themselves, and are considered a symbol of good fortune in their native country.
The Japanese Bobtail’s nub tail occurred naturally, but then became a desired trait, which perpetuated selective breeding. All the bones exist; they are just smaller. This breed has a soft, chirpy, playful voice that matches its playful personality.
Country of Origin: Thailand
Like the Bobtail brings luck to the land of Japan, the Korat is considered lucky in her native Thailand. These rare cats lived in monasteries in 14th century Siam and later were reserved for government officials and dignitaries of great honor.
Just seeing a Korat is considered lucky since they are so rare. Many feel the gene pool is purposely kept small to ensure the Korat remains one of the rarest domestic cat breeds and a symbol of prestige.
The Korat is known as the cat with five hearts! Three can be found on her head: one looking straight at her face, one looking downward at her head, and the third forming her nose. Heart # 4 is best seen when the Korat sits and you view her chest. Most importantly, heart #5 is inside this cuddly house cat, the loving heart she shares with her people, playing gently even with the younger ones.
10. Kurilian Bobtail
Country of Origin: Kuril Islands, Russia
The ultimate survival cat hails from the Kural Islands, an archipelago between Japan and Siberia, and is known as the Kurilian Bobtail. These cats hunt in packs, and have been known to bring down a 12 lbs. Salmon!
Their short tails are not a defect, but like a fingerprint, a unique trait that occurs naturally. Relatively unknown until a few decades ago, Kurilian Bobtails have become quite popular in Russia, but are still considered amongst the rarest cats in the world.
Unlike other cat breeds that produce 3-4 litters annually, Kurilians only have one litter per year, keeping their numbers low. It’s interesting to note though that male Kurilians share equal duties with the moms raising their young! Kurilians are intelligent, independent, and a very sweet-natured rare breed.
11. La Perm
Country of Origin: U.S.A
The La Perm is another accidental cat, but unintended creations are some of the most beautiful in nature. A coat-less barn cat, she was born in a cherry orchard in Oregon. She later grew a curly coat, got stuck in a pick-up truck engine, was taken to the vet to be treated for her injuries, then healed and came back to have several curly, gentle tempered litters.
Like in the Devon and Cornish, the “rex” gene is responsible for the soft curly coat. La Perms can have tight ringlets or cork-screw waves and come in many colors, but most are quite healthy, deriving from the domestic shorthair cat.
La Perms are rare house cats but make great family cats, friendly and affectionate with a mix of active outdoorsy-ness and stay-at-home lap cat!
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
When you take the gene pool of several rare and exotic cat breeds and mix them, you get not only another rare and exotic breed; you also get a PAWsitively adorable forever kitten, the Minskin!
That’s what happened when a breeder in Boston, Massachusetts, did just this thing. Compact in size, this little love bug will steal your heart. A mix between a Sphynx and a Munchkin, this accounts for her mostly hairless coat and diminutive stature.
A touch of Devon Rex and Burmese results in a low shedding pointed cat that presents in three coat lengths: hairless, full-coated or fur point. Although her legs are short, the hind ones are longer than the front ones, and her tail is longer than her entire body!
The Minskin is an excellent family cat, adoring people, dogs, and other cats alike. Not ready to win a foot (excuse me, paw) race on her short little legs, but always willing to please. She would appreciate a weekly bath to get rid of the oils that her hairless body can’t absorb.
13. Ojos Azules
Countries of Origin: the U.S.A. and Australia
Seeing that this breed is so new, it makes sense to include her on this list of 20 rare cat breeds you’ve probably never heard of. Meaning “blue eyes” in Spanish, the Ojos Azules breed of cat gets her name from her most attractive feature.
It was first seen in 1984 when a tortoiseshell female, known by the New Mexico locals as “Cornflower,” gave birth to other stunning blue-eyed kittens. This proved that the trait was dominant, yet not linked to any particular color or coat pattern.
Other similarly be-speckled cats have been discovered in Australia, even though none have been imported there. This led breeders to think this mutation might be spontaneous. This unique cat breed with exotic eyes and a social, playful, dynamic personality became officially recognized in 1991.
14. Napoleon or Minuet
Country of Origin: U.S. A.
Basset Hound Breeder, Joe Smith, is responsible for the adorable feline that is known as both the Napoleon and the Minuet breed of rare cat. He had the foresight to realize that extreme cuteness would come from taking the vertically challenged Munchkin cat and crossing her with the gorgeous Persian back in 1996.
The Persian’s roundish face and eyes were retained, but not the flat-face nose. Respiratory issues were averted, and instead, an easy-going, playful cat that will melt your heart was conceived.
Fun fact: Naming this rare domestic cat breed after Napoleon Bonaparte is somewhat ironic since he had ailurophobia (aka fear of cats)!
Country of Origin: Russia
In the early 1990s, a Donskoy cat was crossed with an Oriental Shorthair to create the Peterbald, which became all the rage in St. Petersburg. Long, slender, graceful bodies that are totally hairless or sport coats of velvet, Peterbalds are affectionate, greeting company and happily coexisting with other cats and even canines.
They are a vocal cat that wants to be with you, requires bathing, and has both an out of this world appearance and metabolism. Most cats run a 101°F temperature while a Peterbald comes in at 105°, meaning she heals from scratches and wounds more quickly.
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Country of Origin: U.S.A.
The Ragamuffin is a new breed, only having been on the scene since 2003, making her a rare house cat. Descended from Ragdolls, and very similar to them, Ragamuffins take time to mature, remaining in their kitten-hood until four years old. They are born completely white and develop their medium-long silky colored coat as they age.
Just like Ragdolls, Ragamuffins love to cuddle and will go limp in your arms. They are sweet-tempered, affectionate, and make great family cats. You need to keep an eye on their food bowls though as they can easily tip the scales at 20 lbs.!
Country of origin: U.S.A.
What do you get when you cross a Bengal and an Oriental Shorthair? A long-legged, boldly spotted exotic cat that can jump 7 feet high! The Serengeti came about in the mid-1990s, and is gaining popularity, but is still very rare.
This is an outgoing breed with a fun personality resembling wild African cats that move with grace. Highly active, you’ll need to keep these agile pussy cats busy if you bring a Serengeti cat into your family or your entire house will become a jungle gym!
Country of Origin: Kenya
Although the name is just fun to say, as you read on, you will discover there is an excellent reason why the Sokoke is on this list of 20 rare cat breeds. A natural cat descended from the African wildcat, her history remains a mystery.
These cats are vocal, friendly, and so fast that many say they can be in two places at the same time! Sokoke cats jump very high, love the water, and are telepathic with their humans. They seem to know what you are thinking and they develop a real bond with their family.
Native to the Rainforest, Sokokes don’t have a dense undercoat, so grooming a Sokoke is simple. A weekly brush with a grooming glove about does it, but that also means Sokokes don’t tolerate cold climates.
With the Rainforests diminishing, sadly, so are the Sokoke. Less than 100 (probably closer to 50) of these cats exist in the world today, so these rare cats are considered an endangered domestic cat breed.
Country of Origin: Thailand
Depicted in Siamese poetry books back in the 14th century, the American-born Tonks (as they are endearingly referred to) can trace their heritage to a walnut-colored cat named Wong Mau who arrived in San Francisco back in 1930.
A combination of Burmese, so expect an outgoing and mischievous personality, mixed with the lean Siamese, has resulted in the luxurious and rare Tonkinese cat.
These cats talk in paragraphs and will tell stories to whoever listens, so if you are into a vocal cat, a Tonk is PURRfect for you. These rare house cats love to climb and scratch, so finding a luxury cat tree for your Tonk could make her one happy kitty.
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20. Turkish Van
Country of Origin: Turkey
An ancient natural breed from the rugged Lake Van region of Eastern Turkey, Turkish Van cats are claimed to have been the ratters on Noah’s Ark. And, if these all-white cats with color just on the ears and tail also have only one little mark on the back of their neck, that is considered a good sign as it is thought to be the “thumbprint of God.”
Turkish Vans are rare cats in the United States as they only started arriving here in 1982. Before that date, the Turkish Government would not allow kittens to be taken from their country.
Turkish Vans are said to have a “swimmer’s body,” and love the water! They do need to be brushed frequently as their coat tangles easily. Vans are quite independent in nature, not real cuddlers, so are better with adults than children.
Whether the cat in your life has ordinary colors or patterns, is new on the scene or just difficult to find, you are a rarity yourself. People who share their lives with a rare wild or domestic cat breed are in the minority.
Sometimes, the gene pools of rare cats are intentionally kept small to ensure these unique cat breeds exist in limited numbers, making them national treasures. Other times, nature plays a role in allowing certain breeds to reproduce only once annually. Furthermore, other circumstances account for diminishing populations placing breeds on endangered domestic cat breed lists.
Whatever limits their numbers, you can be sure that if they are amongst these 20 rare cat breeds, they are certainly worth taking a look at, as they are special indeed.
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DENISE FLECK is an award-winning author, animal care instructor and radio show host. She was named one of Pet Age Magazine’s “Women of Influence” for 2018, a “Most Inspiring Story” in 2017 by Voyage Atlanta Magazine and has been nominated for 6 Dog Writers Awards to be announced in early 2019.Read more »