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The Cornish Rex cat

The Cornish Rex cat

 

Kallibunker

Can you imagine what Mrs. Ennismore thought when she walked into the barn that morning? There amongst her newest litter of roly-poly kittens, nursing at the milk bar of the feral calico she kept around to keep the mice at bay, was a gangly little lamb.

 

Or was it?

 

Upon closer inspection, the farmer’s wife would have seen little Kallibunker for what he really was: an odd little kitten.

 

cornwall, england

Luckily for Kallibunker and for the world of Cornish Rex lovers everywhere, this barn in Bodmin Moor, in rural Cornwall, England, was no ordinary barn, and Mrs. Ennismore was no ordinary farmer’s wife. She was a former breeder of Astrex rabbits[1], a kind of bunny that is velvety soft and has curly hair.

 

In other words, this first little Cornish Rex kitten was born into human family that knew all about genetics, recessive traits, and mutations, and about how special this scrawny kitten’s fur was.

 

The rest of Cornish Rex history

 

Kallibunker had four siblings, and they were ordinary barn cats like their mother, Serena: thickset and a little stocky. Kallibunker, on the other hand, was long and lithe.

 

But his most outstanding feature was his fur. It was unusually fine for a barn cat, and curly.

 

Mrs. Ennismore knew she was looking at something extraordinary and reached out to British geneticist, A.C. Jude, for advice. He recommended that Kallibunker be back-bred to his mother.

 

cornish rex

Jude realized that Kallibunker’s unique curly hair was probably a recessive trait, meaning that both parents need to pass on the gene for it to show up in their babies. Kallibunker’s mother had to be carrying the gene. And the only way to get more kittens with curly hair out of Kallibunker was to breed him with a female known to be carrying the gene.

 

Jude was right. There were two curly-haired kittens in that second litter, including a little male named Poldhu. Poldhu’s daughter, Lamorna Cove, was brought to America, where she was bred with a Siamese cat, giving today’s Cornish Rexes their long, whippy tails and giant ears.

 

Later, Cornish Rexes were bred to Russian Blues, American Shorthairs, British Shorthairs, and Havana Browns for genetic diversity.

 

The crazy thing is that this recessive gene saw the light of day at all. Serena, and her mysterious paramour, whoever he was, had to both be carrying the mutant hair gene. It’s possible that generations of cats before Kallibunker carried the gene, but none had ever mated with fellow carrier, or they never produced a kitten who happened to inherit the gene from both parents.

 

Talk about the stars aligning!

 

That was in the 1950s. The rest is Cornish Rex history.

 

 

How did the Cornish Rex get its name?

 

“Cornish” is a word that refers to anything from Cornwall, England, including this unusual breed of cat.

 

“Rex” comes from Astrex, a breed of curly-coated rabbits.

 

What does a Cornish Rex look like?

 

cornish rex

Let’s talk a little bit more about the extraordinary coat of the Cornish Rex. The coat is a marvel of undulating waves, like the marcel hair style from the 1920s. The hair is short and lies very close to the cat’s body. It has been compared to velvet, Persian lamb, and even silk. The Cat Fanciers Association (CFA) says, “Nothing else feels exactly like a Cornish Rex coat.”[2]

 

It’s not just the hair that’s crimped, however. Even the whiskers crinkle, too!

 

The coat comes in every color and pattern: solids, white, black, chocolate, orange, and even the diluted colors of blue, lilac, and cream. Tabbies are allowed, as are tuxedos, tortoiseshells, and the color-pointed pattern of the Siamese.

 

Beyond the coat, however, the cat is a sight to behold! “The Cornish Rex cat is all about curves”[3] He’s tall with a naturally arched back and well-defined waist. His body is elongated and lithe. He’s fine boned and delicate looking, but surprisingly hard and muscular. His long legs finish in small rounded feet. His tail is long and slender, covered in dense, often wavy hair.

 

cornish rex

A Cornish Rex’s head is otherworldly: huge, luminous eyes and over-sized ears on an egg-shaped skull. Cornish Rexes have prominent nose bridges, large cheekbones, well-defined whisker pads, and strong chins.

 

The Cornish Rex is a medium-sized cat. Females are generally 5-7 pounds; the males are slightly larger at 7-9 pounds.

 

What is the personality of the Cornish Rex?

 

 

This cat has it all: exotic looks and a dramatic personality to go with it.

 

The CFA describes the perfect Cornish Rex owner:

 

“They will not mind a cat that licks the drops off their feet after coming out of the shower, or helps eat their last peppers and anchovies off a pizza, or one that sleeps across their face and complains if their eyes have not opened by six in the morning.”[4]

 

In other words, this is no ordinary cat.

 

Playful and kittenish throughout their long lives, Cornish Rex cats are extremely curious, adventurous, intelligent, and adaptable.

 

cornish rex

They’re very social, seeking out the company of people for a game of fetch that will often insist you play with them. They’ll do anything for attention and they “love a good joke.” A Cornish Rex is not above stealing food for a lark.[5] They can be mischievous and naughty when ignored.[6]

 

They can sometimes be a little too social.  A Cornish Rex can develop “intense expressions of love [that] sometimes border on emotional dependence.”[7]

 

The Cornish Rex is friendly to other pets and children, and are known to develop “partner-in-crime” relationships with both. They’ll race your other pets around the house.

 

 

These cats are incredibly acrobatic: adept climbers, jumpers, and sprinters, whom you will discover peering down at you from atop your cupboards or the highest shelves in your home. The Cornish Rex Club of Canada calls this their “little monkey act.”[8]

 

I love this description of how a Cornish Rex makes her own fun:

 

“They love to play, but in their exuberance, they may break things made of glass or crockery. If they do then as far as they are concerned, the broken pieces just increase the amount of toys to play with. They may suddenly have a burst of energy and race through the house, run up and down the stairs, dash from the scratching post back up the stairway again, running from room to room. Then, just as suddenly, as if it never happened, become love and kisses as they come to a halt. It is a joy to behold.[9]

 

 

The gene that makes the Cornish Rex a Cornish Rex

 

So, the 1950s geneticist, A.C. Jude, whom Mrs. Ennismore contacted for help with the little kitten she found in the barn, was right.

 

In 2013, researchers at the Lyons Feline Genetics Research Laboratory at UC Davis identified the mutation that makes the Cornish Rex who she is.[10]

 

It’s a recessive gene that emerged from a spontaneous mutation. Recessive means that both parents must carry the gene for it to be passed onto any offspring.

 

 

Is the Cornish Rex related to the Devon Rex?

 

Cornish rex

Cornish Rex and Devon Rex cats look as though they could be related, but they are not.

 

While both breeds of cat have curly coats, they are caused by a different genetic mutation.

 

Notably, the Devon Rex has all three kinds of hair: guard hair, which is the coarse top layer of the coat that helps keep a cat dry; awn hair, the intermediate layer in the coat that helps with insulation, and the down layer, which is the soft undercoat that prevents heat loss.[11] The Cornish Rex only has a down layer.

 

There are other “rex” breeds of cat including the LaPerm, Selkirk Rex, Ural Rex, German Rex, Tennessee Rex, and Skookum.

 

Interestingly, if you breed a Devon Rex with a Cornish Rex they produce kittens with straight hair.[12]

 

Is the Cornish Rex hypoallergenic?

 

cornish rex

Having short hair does not make a cat hypoallergenic. People who are allergic to cats tend to be allergic to a protein called Fel d 1 produced in the skin, saliva, and anal glands. To learn more about cat allergies and what makes a cat “less allergenic” read this post, “Is there such a thing as a hypoallergenic cat?

 

Cornish Rex cats have skin, saliva, and anal glands and thus produce Fel d 1 protein, just like other cats.

 

That being said, there are reports from some allergy sufferers that Cornish Rex cats cause a lesser allergic reaction than some other cats. There is no science that backs this contention up.

 

Still, if wishes could come true…

 

Grooming your Cornish Rex

 

Your Cornish Rex sheds very little, mats not at all, and thus requires no brushing. In fact, when it comes to brushing your Cornish Rex, less is more. The hair of this cat is delicate and brushing or combing can actually damage it.[13]

 

You will only have to brush the teeth of your Cornish Rex, and periodically wipe his ears with a cotton ball moistened with a gentle cleanser to keep wax from accumulating.

 

How healthy is the Cornish Rex?

 

cornish rex

Although the Cornish Rex looks delicate, this is a surprisingly healthy breed.

 

You will need to keep this cat indoors to protect him from sunburn[14] as the thin coat offers little protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

 

This breed is prone to congenital hypotrichosis, also known as hereditary baldness. It’s not known if this tendency is linked to the recessive gene that causes this cat’s unusual hair.[15] The Cornish Rex’s coat can become progressively thinner, and an affected cat may eventually develop bald patches over large parts of his body.

 

This cat may also be prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, the most common form of heart disease in cats. The disease causes a thickening of the heart muscle. While no breeder can guarantee that their cats will not have HCM, be sure that any breeder you are considering tests potential parent cats for the disease.

 

The only other disease to which the Cornish Rex seems to be predisposed is patellar luxation, in which a kneecap may slide out of place. This problem, if severe enough, can be corrected with surgery.[16]

 

Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-ready pin for your boards!

the Cornish Rex - Pinterest-ready pin

 

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FOOTNOTES

 

[1] “Cornish Rex.” Petfinder, www.petfinder.com/cat-breeds/cornish-rex/.

 

[2] “About the Cornish Rex.” The Cat Fanciers Association Inc, cfa.org/cornish-rex/.

 

[3] “The Breed Standard.” Club-Crcc.ca, Club Du Rex De Cornouailles Du Canada, club-crcc.ca/cats?lang=en#standardfr.

 

[4] McGee, Cheryl, and Trish Blees. “Articles Written on Cornish REX CATS.” ANGELWAVES CORNISH REX, www.crexcats.com/articles-written-on-cornish-rex-cats.html.

 

[5] “Cornish Rex Cat BREED INFORMATION.” Vetstreet, www.vetstreet.com/cats/cornish-rex.

 

[6] Editorial, PetMD. “Cornish Rex.” PetMD, PetMD, 1 July 2016, www.petmd.com/cat/breeds/c_ct_cornish_rex.

 

[7] “The Breed, The Standard, The Resources.” CRCC - The Cornish Rex Club of Canada, club-crcc.ca/cats?lang=en#racefr.

 

[8] ibid.

 

[9] McGee, Cheryl, and Trish Blees. “Articles Written on Cornish REX CATS.” ANGELWAVES CORNISH REX, www.crexcats.com/articles-written-on-cornish-rex-cats.html.

 

[10] “The Breed, The Standard, The Resources.”

 

[11] Jones, Oliver. “The Human's Guide to Cat Hair (TYPES, LENGTHS & More).” Hepper, 20 Aug. 2021, www.hepper.com/guide-cat-hair/.

 

[12] “What's the Difference between a DEVON REX vs CORNISH REX?” DevonRexCat.com – Your Guide to Devon Rexs, devonrexcat.com/devon-rex-vs-cornish-rex/.

 

[13] “The Cornish Rex.” Cedar Grove Veterinary Services. https://www.cgvet.com/sites/site-4463/documents/breed%20of%20the%20month/the%20cornish%20rex.pdf

 

[14] “Cornish Rex Cat BREED INFORMATION.” Vetstreet.

 

[15] “The Cornish Rex.” Cedar Grove Veterinary Services. 

 

[16] Hunter, Tammy. “Luxating Patella in Cats.” vca_corporate, vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/luxating-patella-in-cats.

 

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