The Devon Rex cat
First, forget everything you ever thought you knew about what cats are supposed to look like.
OK, now, we’re ready to talk about the Devon Rex.
The Devon Rex is a charmingly weird-looking cat that appears to have arrived on this planet by alien spacecraft. The oversized eyes, skinny neck, and monstrous ears jutting from the sides of the head are peculiar, to say the least.
The irony is that the last thing you’ll probably notice about a Devon Rex is his curly hair, which is the reason for this breed’s existence.
Looks aside, you’ll never forget meeting your first Devon Rex. This is a cat who is positively obsessed with people: she wants to be eating what you’re eating, seeing what you’re seeing, doing what you’re doing.
Believe me, the look of this cat is going to grow on you.
The history of the Devon Rex cat
Curly haired cats have been showing up on and off all through the history of cats, as I explain below. What’s amazing is that any of them have survived to become a breed, the way the Devon Rex has.
The Devon Rex had the advantage of arriving about 10 years after Kallibunker, the founder of the Cornish Rex breed, was born. By then, everyone knew the value of curly fur on a cat. And even though these two breeds are completely different, their stories are linked.
Did a longhaired Devon Rex come first?
For years, there was a colony of gray-blue cats living in Buckfast Abbey, in Devon, England. They were called Buckfast Blue cats, and were known for having wooly, wavy coats. They were a common sight around town, and were considered a local curiosity.
Looking back now, it’s possible that the Buckfast Blue was a longhaired version of the Devon Rex, but we’ll never know. Like most genetic mutations, especially one that doesn’t confer special advantages to the owner of the mutation, this cat was lost to random breeding.
Kirlee, the founder of the Devon Rex breed, is born
Beryl Cox lived in Buckfastleigh, Devon, near an old tin mine in the late 1950s. A colony of cats with curly coats also lived around the old mine, and it’s possible that these cats were somehow related to the Buckfast Blues who had lived in the neighborhood years earlier.
Was Kirlee a Cornish Rex?
Cornwall, where the Cornish Rex comes from, and Devon, England are practically neighbors. They’re less than 100 miles apart. It was initially assumed that Kirlee was also a Cornish Rex.
In fact, after Kirlee was born, Cox read a newspaper article about the birth of a Cornish Rex kitten, the triumphant result of years of breeding efforts with Kallibunker. Cox, who assumed she had a Cornish Rex kitten on her hands, too, sent a note about him to the breeders in the article.
They were thrilled! Kirlee was just what they needed to expand their breeding program. Or so they thought.
The genetics behind the Devon Rex cat
Breeders already understood that the gene that gives the Cornish Rex curly hair is recessive. That means that in order for a Cornish Rex to be born with curly hair, both of her parents have to carry a gene for curly hair.
When a Cornish Rex is bred with a cat that has straight hair and no curly genes at all, all of the kittens will have straight hair. If a Cornish Rex is bred with another Cornish Rex, all of the kittens will be curly.
When Kirlee was mated with curly haired Cornish girls, breeders expected a litter full of curls. But all the kittens had straight hair.
A bunch of different curly genes
We now know that Cornish Rex cats and Devon Rex cats come by their curly locks through different genes. The Devon Rex actually has a different variation of the gene that makes a Sphynx cat hairless. This gene is known as KRT71.
The gene that gives curly fur to Cornish Rex, LaPerm, and American Wirehair cats is at a completely different location: LPAR6.
And the Ural Rex gets his curlicues from the lipase H, or LIPH gene.
How is the Devon Rex different from a Cornish Rex?
Aside from genetics, there are some significant differences between these two cat breeds.
The coat is different. Most cats have three (or more) types of hair: guard hair, awn hair, and down hair. I explain all about the different hair types in this post, “Why does my cat shed so much?”
The Devon Rex has all three hair types, although the coarsest layer, the guard hair, is very sparse and short. The Cornish Rex has only the softest layer, the down hair.
Different hair types give the coats a different look: a Devon Rex’s coat is more dense and has a more relaxed curl. The Cornish Rex has a very short “marcel” wave that hugs the body.
A Devon Rex has a thicker build, with no arch. He has a broad chest, with forearms that begin on the outside of the shoulder, giving him the posture of a bulldog.
The face is different. A Cornish Rex has a straight Roman nose, prominent cheekbones, and ears at the top of his egg-shaped head.
A Devon Rex has a shorter, more triangular face, and a sloping nose, with ears positioned at the side of her head.
What does “Rex” mean?
“Rex” comes from Astrex, a breed of curly coated rabbits. Mrs. Ennismore, the farmer’s wife who discovered newborn Kallibunker in her barn, was also a breeder of this velvety, curly haired bunny.
Rex has just come to mean "curly haired."
A short history of curly haired cats
Cats are not supposed to have curly hair.
By “not supposed to” I mean that almost every time the genetic accident of curly hair happens in the cat world, it seems to disappear on its own. The only reason that there are curly-haired breeds today is because of us.
Many of us humans think curly hair on a cat is amazing, and cat fanciers have gone to enormous lengths to preserve the mutation when they can.
Curly cats have shown up around the world
There have been curly haired cats showing up everywhere since people have taken any kind of notice of cats.
Sometimes these delightful accidents of nature show up in form of a colony of kinky haired kitties who remain just a local curiosity, until the mutation dies out on its own.
Other times, there are heroic efforts on the part of people to perpetuate curly haired-ness, but, for one reason or another, it just hasn’t worked out.
Some known and noted curly cats
Thanks to cat researcher, Sarah Hartwell, for her list of curly cat occurrences (which I am abbreviating here):
In 1876, a story in the Hampshire Telegraph, in England, referred to a cat with a shaggy coat that “resembled the hair of a poodle dog.”
In 1892, a cat imported from Tibet with “half-curled hair like an Airedale Terrier” was shown at the Crystal Palace in London.
In the 1930s, a Prussian Rex was discovered. There were other curly siblings in his litter, but they were all castrated, and the remaining curly boy never produced any curly kittens.
In the 1940s, a curly haired cat was found in the Ural mountains in Russia. There are Ural Rexes today, but this cat breed was almost lost to communism. Cat fancy was considered a bourgeois pursuit.
In 1944 a curly haired cat was found in Ohio. But this was during World War II, and minds were not on cat fancy. Nine years later, a few more curlies showed up in the same area, but they all died.
There were Italian Rexes in 1950, German Rexes in the 1940s or 1950s, a California Rex, and an Oregon Rex in 1959. There was an Irish Rex, a Dutch Rex, a Pennsylvania or Maryland Rex, a Connecticut Rex, a Victoria Rex from London, and a Czech Curly Cat through the 1960s and 1970s.
The Selkirk Rex, a beefy cat breed with a thick ruffled coat, resulted from a cat discovered in Wyoming in 1987.
Since, there has been a Missouri Rex, a Texas Rex, a Dakota Rex, and an Iowa Rex. The Prairie Rex came from a colony of hearty, curly haired farm cats discovered in Saskatoon, Canada.
The Brooklyn Wooleys are mostly born bald, but eventually grow curly fur. There’s a curly coated Manx strain, called the Tasman Manx. And in Indianapolis (the Hoosier Rex), a curly mom and kittens were relinquished to a shelter, which was, unfortunately, required to neuter them.
In 2004, the Tennessee Rex was discovered with corkscrew curls, sporting a rare satin or glitter gene, which makes the fur look like it was sprinkled with gold dust.
What does a Devon Rex look like?
A Devon Rex is an adorable being, pure and simple. Everything about this cat’s elfin face is appealing, from the giant eyes, to the enormous ears that ride low on the sides of this cat’s wide, triangular head.
A Devon Rex’s nose turns up slightly, and the whiskers are short and so curly, it often looks like there are no whiskers at all.
The Devon Rex is very short haired, and barely sheds. What little coat they have is wavy. All coat colors and patterns are accepted in this breed.
What is a Devon Rex’s personality?
You are going to love this cat.
The Devon Rex is a real people cat. The Cat Fancier’s Association says of the Devon,
“Devons are an outgoing breed, and will run to meet you at the door at the end of a long day to tell you in no uncertain terms how much you were missed. They love sleeping under the covers with you, and many will also brave the waters of a shower just to be near their person.”
They’re energetic, mischievous, and playful throughout their lives. They prefer high places and will always find the highest spot in a room, or an odd nook in a closet.
They need exercise and attention, and can be taught the same tricks as dogs: jump, heel, tag. Note that some Devons like to playfully nip.
A Devon Rex enjoys well-mannered children who know how to behave around cats, other cats, and cat-friendly dogs, too.
But the Devon Rex really isn’t the cat for everybody. They don’t do well if left alone too long. They need to be with their people, and kept busy to be happy.
How do you care for a Devon Rex?
A Devon Rex requires the same care as any cat with one exception: you shouldn't brush this cat’s fur.
It’s far too fragile for brushing. Rub gently with a cloth if your Devon Rex needs sprucing up.
Is the Devon Rex hypoallergenic?
No. No cat is truly hypoallergenic.
People who are allergic to cats are allergic to a protein in their saliva, skin, and anal glands. Any cat who has saliva, skin, and glands will produce some of this protein.
Anecdotally, there are some allergy sufferers who say they feel less of an allergic response to a Devon Rex cat than to other cats, but there is no science to explain or confirm these claims.
Is the Devon Rex a healthy cat?
You can expect your Devon Rex to live approximately nine to 13 years.
This breed does suffer from some hereditary health problems including:
Devon Rex myopathy. This is a muscle weakness that affects the head and neck. The disease first appears in kittens when they are between three and 23 weeks of age. Sometimes the condition stabilizes, but most of the time it gets worse. Cats ultimately die from an obstruction in their larynx from food.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. HCM is the most common form of heart disease in cats. Read all about HCM in this post.
Patellar luxation. This is an orthopedic condition in which the knee cap pops out of its regular location. It can cause lameness or an unusual gait and may require surgery to repair.
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
 “Elfin Magic ... the Devon Rex.”.
 “Devon Rex Cat Breed - Facts and Personality Traits: Hill’s Pet.”
 “Polycystic Kidney Disease in Cats: VCA Animal Hospitals.” Vca, vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/kidney-disease-polycystic-kidney-disease-in-cats. Accessed 6 July 2023.