When we talk about cats, we often refer to them as short-haired or long-haired, but you might be surprised to learn that there are cat breeds with curly hair and even no hair at all. One of these rarer cat breeds is the Cornish Rex, which has a very distinctive coat formation.
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The coat of Cornish Rex is reminiscent of a mole - and it is the outstanding feature of the cat breed. In the 1950s, this interesting fur structure emerged from a random mutation in the genes of a farm cat Cornwall, England, and has been further developed since then. The curly hairs of the Cornish Rex were caused by a different random mutation than the one which causes the curls in the cat breed Devon Rex. The term "Rex" describes this extraordinary fur structure, but it is mainly used in rabbit breeding.
The reason for the wavy structure of the coat? It consists only of undercoat, which makes the Cornish Rex extremely soft, similar to rabbit fur or silk. Even their moustache hair is curly! However, the extremely fine coat consistency also has its drawbacks: because the coat is so fine, the Cornish Rex is extremely sensitive to the cold, which means that it needs to be kept indoors and provided with lots of warm resting places.
The Cornish Rex breed guidelines allow all coat colours, including:
Single colour: Breed standards state that the animals may have a single-colour or monochrome coat and each colour may be combined with white. Black, Chocolate, Orange and the respective dilutes Blue, Lilac and Cream are popular.
Tabby: The Cornish Rex may be tabby, according to the race standard. Various tabby markings include classic tabby, tiger-stripe, “mackerel”, spotted, and "ticked". In the ticked variation every single hair is banded several times.
Bi-colour: Each coat colour of the Cornish Rex may be combined with white.
Tri-colour: Tri-colour animals, also known as "tortie", are always female because of their genetic background.
Cornish Rex cats are of medium, slim build, weighing up to 4kg (5kg for males). They look small but muscular, with slim legs similar to oriental cat breeds. Their tails and heads are also long and slim. In striking contrast, their ears are over-sized and have a broad base. Their oval eyes hint at the inquisitiveness and intelligence of the breed.
What are the Personality Traits of a Cornish Rex?
- Spirited and Agile
- Very loyal
At its heart, the Cornish Rex has the character of its farm cat ancestors, being both spirited and agile. They can give the impression of being quite naïve and immature, even in old age, and they simply love to jump, climb and even retrieve objects for you. Owners sometimes refer to them as a "dog in a cat’s body". These intelligent animals explore everything with immense curiosity, and they especially like to play with their people, although they are also very cuddly creatures. Cornish Rex cats are very attached to their humans and are reluctant to be left alone.
A Cornish Rex knows exactly what it wants, and will do anything to get it, even if that means standing up for itself against its human or cat companions. To avoid conflict, it is a good idea to set a well-thought-out training programme in motion, for example by using clicker or target training. Intelligent animals like the Cornish Rex love to use their brains and if you make the training into a game, they are more than happy to join in. Training is all the more important since the Cornish Rex is an indoor cat: to keep these clever animals from getting bored or getting into mischief, their owners need to keep them occupied and amused.
Cornish Rex cats may look exotic, compared to many known cat breeds, however, their origin is quite modest: the first cat with curly hair was born in the 50s on a farm in Cornwall. "Kallibunker," a cream-colored cat with crinkled fur, was not just different in skin texture, but also in build: his feathery, graceful features, with the narrow head, big ears and long tail, caused quite a stir in the English cat breeding community. These properties were most likely caused by a spontaneous genetic mutation. In order to maintain these genes and establish a new cat breed, Kallibunker was backcrossed with his mother. The curly kittens resulting from this mating were crossed with Burmese cats, Siamese cats and British Short Hairs. The gene that causes the outstandingly soft hair is inherited recessively, which means that it is inherited invisibly. Carriers of the genetic mutation do not necessarily have the soft fur of the Cornish Rex, but they can pass the gene on to their offspring. If both parents are carriers of the gene and the kittens each receive one of the recessive genes from each parent, the mutation also continues in the appearance of the kitten, the so-called phenotype.
The cat breed Devon Rex has a similar appearance to the Cornish Rex. In contrast to the cats from Cornwall, the curly fur of Devon Rex is based on another mutation. The Devon Rex has undercoat and shorter fur, resulting in a wavy, soft fur texture. This peculiarity is caused by a mutation in the gene "LPAR6". This leads to a disturbance of the protein structure of the hair and an altered coat structure.
How to Care for a Cornish Rex
Contrary to popular belief, the short, soft coat does not make the Cornish Rex hypoallergenic, or suitable for cat hair allergy sufferers. A so-called "cat hair energy" actually has nothing to do with the amount of hair that a cat owns or loses, but it is an allergy to the saliva composition of the cat.
Cornish Rex cats lose their fur just like other cats, and their saliva has the allergy-triggering glycoprotein Fel d 1 like most cat breeds. The absence of the fur's upper coat does not make the Cornish Rex any easier to tolerate than other cat breeds.
You should care for a Cornish Rex in exactly the same way as you would for any other cat. Their soft fur does not need a lot of intensive grooming, but it makes the animals sensitive to cold and drafts, which means that they are not really suited to going outdoors. The intelligent, spirited cats need to be occupied and diverted, and this is especially the case if they have no access to the outdoors at all: you should offer your Cornish Rex a variety of things to climb and hide in and toys to keep him amused. These clever cats love a challenge, so you need to give them plenty of things to occupy their minds, to keep them out of trouble.
Like other cat breeds, Cornish Rex cats benefit from a proper, nutritious diet. As carnivores, cats depend on a lot of healthy protein and carbohydrates should only be consumed in moderation. The ideal food for the any cat is structured in the same way as small prey animals like the mouse. Scientific studies show that cats actually prefer foods that have nutrients in a similar ratio to small prey: 26 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat and 8 grams of carbohydrate. Using foods with a similar composition is the best way to give your cat a species-appropriate diet, so you should try to source cat food with a fairly high protein content. Cats are known to take most of their moisture requirements through their food, so you should not be too concerned if your cat does not appear to be drinking much, however you should ensure that the foods that you serve up have a good moisture content. Cats generally prefer wet cat food over dry food.
Aside from giving your Cornish Rex a nutritious diet, you should also make sure to take him to the vet for a check-up at least once per year. Your vet will provide all necessary immunisations and boosters, as well as giving your cat a thorough health check and answering any questions that you may have.
The Cornish Rex is one of the less well-known cat breeds. The reason for this is that the characteristic curly coat is inherited recessively, which makes breeding harder. However there are still a good number of Cornish Rex breeders in the UK and the rest of Europe.
Breeding is hard work: professional breeders should be members of one of the many cat breed associations and their animals should all have registration papers that you can view. However that is not the only difference between a good breeder and a kitten ‘farmer’, who you may spot online offering "pure-breed cats at a reasonable price". A responsible breeder ensures that the animals he breeds conform to the breed standard and always puts the animals first. This includes feeding them a proper diet, providing good veterinary care and ensuring that their mating programme is carefully planned, taking any genetic peculiarities and risks into account. A responsible breeder pairs his or her animals thoughtfully. All animals will be wormed and vaccinated and given regular vet check-ups. A good breeder monitors a mother cat throughout pregnancy and childbirth and then caters for the resulting kittens around the clock. This means feeding them the best possible diet and maintaining good health care. This can include basic immunisations against common infectious diseases and, if necessary, deworming. Kittens should not leave their mother before the age of 12 weeks, because every good breeder knows that kittens learn all the important skills for being a cat from their parents and siblings in the first three months. Kittens that are allowed to spend the first months with their cat family grown into well-socialized, mentally and physically healthy animals.
More often than not, these essentials are sacrificed by kitten farmers in favour of making a fast profit at the expense of the animals’ health.
So, when you buy your Cornish Rex, trust a professional, responsible breeder. Pure-breed cats have a high price tag: A Cornish Rex often costs up to £700. If that is out of your price range, try taking a look at the animals available for adoption at your local animal shelter. Many breed cats end up in the care of pet charities, so you may find your dream cat there too.