The Cornish Rex is often referred to as the Greyhound of the cat world, because of its exceptionally sleek appearance and galloping gait. This breed is unique in many ways, the most noticeable of which is its distinctive curly coat that has been described as "falling in washboard waves." Most feline breeds have three different types or layers of hair: the outer fur or "guard" hairs; a middle layer of bristly "awn" hairs; and the soft, silky hairs that make up the undercoat. The Cornish Rex has no outer guard hairs. Instead, its coat is made almost entirely of the short, downy, wavy hairs that normally are part of a cat's undercoat. As a result, the Cornish Rex has one of the softest coats of any companion cat breed.
Its fur, which grows more slowly than that of other felines, has been likened to cut velvet, rabbit fur and silk. Because of its unusual coat characteristics, the Cornish Rex is prone to becoming chilled and is best suited to indoor living in warm and dry climates.
In appearance, the Cornish Rex resembles the cats depicted in ancient Egyptian sculptures. It is an elegant, slender, muscular cat with strikingly large ears, prominent oval eyes, long legs, petite paws and an athletic body. Its head is fairly small and egg-shaped, with high cheekbones, hollow cheeks and a strong chin. Its arched back, tucked-up waist and barrel chest have been compared to the structure of the Whippet dog. The Cornish Rex's long tail is unusually flexible and tends to curl at the tip when the cat is resting.
The coat of the Cornish Rex is most prominently curly over the hips and back. It should have no bare or thin patches. Its eyebrows and whiskers typically are long and crinkled, although in some individuals eyebrows and whiskers are short or even absent. The ears and tail of the Cornish Rex should be completely covered with wavy fur. It comes in a number of colors, including white, cream, blue and white, tortoiseshell, calico, cinnamon silver, chocolate pointed smoke, blue smoke, blue-cream smoke and black smoke. A pointed variety is a fairly recent addition to this breed that has not yet received widespread recognition. Some Cornish Rexes develop a mild, almost cheesy smell that is peculiar to the breed. This odor comes from scent glands in their paws.
The Cornish Rex is the result of a genetic mutation that originated from a litter of kittens born in the 1950s on a farm in Cornwall in southwestern England. One of the kittens from that litter, a cream-colored male called Kallibunker, had an extremely unusual, soft curly coat unlike that of his littermates or parents. He was the first reported Cornish Rex. Kallibunker's owner bred him back to his mother, and two of the three kittens in that litter had were curly-coated like their father. The male from that litter, named Poldhu, sired a stunning curly female called Lamorna Cove. She was brought to America in the late 1950s and was mated with a Siamese. That cross gave the Cornish Rex breed its exotic oriental type, including its whippy tail, long wedge-shaped face and startlingly large, wide-set ears.
Because of close in-breeding early in the development of the breed, weakness and ill-health became problematic, especially in Cornish Rex kittens. Pioneer breeders used other short-haired cats, including British Shorthairs, Oriental lilac, Havana and Burmese, to promote health, stamina and hybrid vigor. For some period of time, this led to a chunkier, more cobby type of cat. Today, the stocky style is not preferred and is considered to be a breed fault. The Cornish Rex is popular world-wide and has a substantial loyal following among cat fanciers. The Cornish Rex was officially recognized by the British purebred cat registry in 1967 and by the American Cat Fanciers Association in 1979.
The spontaneous genetic mutation responsible for the Rex's unusual coat has occurred elsewhere, most notably in Germany, Oregon and Ohio. However, the German and North American Rex mutations were never consistently used as part of a rigorous program to develop them as distinct breeds.
The Cornish Rex is prone to familial hypotrichosis and a form of dermatitis caused by Malassezia, which is a yeast microorganism. They may have an increased risk of developing a hereditary blood-clotting abnormality called vitamin K-dependent coagulopathy, although this is not common. Patellar luxation and umbilical hernias have also been reported in this breed. Some queens molt ("blow their coats") during the breeding season and/or during pregnancy. The Cornish Rex can be prone to obesity, which of course is unhealthy and also spoils their classic tubular shape. Males of the blue-cream smoke color variation are uncommon and almost always are sterile. Intact males of this breed tend to develop a greasy coat condition called "stud tail."
The Cornish Rex is a highly intelligent, affectionate and extroverted breed, notwithstanding its somewhat aloof and sophisticated appearance. It is curious, inventive, playful and mischievous by nature, making it an endearing household companion and a wonderful pet. Most Cornish Rex like to play fetch and chase with other pets and with people. They are unusually acrobatic and enjoy leaping onto and off of high places, seemingly simply for the sheer joy of it. The Cornish Rex is an adventurous animal that readily adapts to new situations and environments. It will explore wherever - and whenever - it can. It often will be seen jumping into or onto refrigerators, examining washing machines or climbing into open clothes driers. Some owners consider these antics to be deliberately provocative on the part of their cats, but in a completely fun and happy way. The Cornish Rex is outgoing and people-oriented. It seeks out human companionship and the fellowship of other household animals. Most representatives of this breed make very suitable pets for children or adults who are timid around other animals.
The Cornish Rex is an unusually athletic, agile cat. Despite its slender, fine-boned and somewhat dainty appearance, this is an active animal with an extremely strong, muscular physique. Its well-developed hips and long legs enable it to make extremely fast starts and stops, quick turns and high leaps. The Cornish Rex may enjoy a good nap on a pillow, but it definitely is not a couch-potato or simply an ornamental animal.
The short, downy coat of the Cornish Rex predisposes it to becoming uncomfortable outdoors in cold or wet weather. As a result, these cats tend to seek out warmth by resting on the top of computer monitors, near lamps and light bulbs, high up on counters or shelves and in other toasty areas. They typically shed less than most cats but are not considered to be especially "hypoallergenic." The Rex is an easy-keeper and is very easy to groom simply by stroking its coat with a bare hand, or with an occasional cloth. While the Cornish Rex is still fairly uncommonly seen in the United States, it is one of the few feline breeds that take readily to walking on-leash. This makes it readily noticed when it is out and about. The Cornish Rex has a particular knack for picking up toys and other small objects with its front feet and tossing them into the air, after which it chases after them with wild abandon and obvious glee.
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