The Cornish Rex has a distinctive slender, athletic build, curved contours, arched back, and long, lean body. Don’t let the willowy form fool you, however—the Cornish Rex is no weakling. Under that ultra-short, wavy hair is strong bone and muscle, as well as teeth and claws for those foolish enough to vex the self-assured Rex.
The Cornish Rex is small to medium with fine, delicate boning. Adult males weigh 6 to 9 pounds and adult females weigh 5 to 7 pounds. The torso is long and slender but not tubular like the Siamese, and the chest is deep but not broad. The general outline is comprised of graceful arches and curves. The back is naturally arched and clearly apparent when the cat is standing. The C. Rex stands high on its legs. The trunk follows the upward curve of the backbone, forming a tuck-up at the smallish waistline. The legs are very long and slender, ending in dainty, slightly oval paws. The hips and thighs are muscular and feel heavy in proportion to the rest of the body, giving this breed the ability to leap very high. In the cat Olympics, the Cornish Rex would surely break records in the high jump. The tail is long and slender, tapering toward the end, and is extremely flexible.
The head is comparatively small and egg-shaped, with the length about one-third greater than the width. The breed has high, prominent cheekbones and a strong, well-developed chin. The neck is long and slender. There is a definite whisker break, and the muzzle narrows slightly to a rounded end. The medium to large, oval-shaped eyes slant slightly and are placed a full eye-width apart. Eye color should be clear, intense and appropriate to the coat color. The nose is Roman and is one-third the length of the head. The ears are very large and full from the base, erect and alert, and are set high on the head.
The coat is short, extremely soft, silky and relatively dense, with a tight, uniform wave lying close to the body and extending from the top of the head across the back, sides and hips, continuing to the tip of the tail. The size and depth of the wave may vary. The hair on the underside of the chin and on the chest and abdomen is short and noticeably wavy. Even the whiskers are curly. The coat comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns, including the pointed pattern. In CFA, no outcrosses are allowed, but TICA allows outcrossing with the American Shorthair, British Shorthair and European Shorthair.
This breed lacks the long, stiff guard hairs that usually make up the top layer of a cat’s coat. The coat is entirely composed of unusually short awn and down hairs, also called the undercoat; that’s why it’s so short, soft and silky. The Cornish Rex’s curious coat is governed by a recessive gene called rex gene I, while the coat of the Devon Rex is governed by a recessive gene called rex gene II.
The first Cornish Rex was born July 1950 in Cornwall, a county in southwestern England. Located in one of the warmest and rainiest parts of England, Cornwall is home to what’s left of Tintagel Castle, allegedly the site of King Arthur’s Camelot. Serena, an ordinary tortoiseshell and white barn cat, gave birth to five kittens on a farm in the Bodmin Moor area of Cornwall. This now famous litter contained four ordinary kittens and one extraordinary cream-colored, curly-coated male. Nina Ennismore, Serena’s owner, named the kitten Kallibunker. He was very different from his littermates: His hair was short and curly, and instead of possessing the stocky body of his littermates and his mother, Kallibunker’s body was long and lithe. He had large ears, a slender tail and an egg-shaped head. This cat was destined to become the father of the Cornish Rex breed.
Ennismore recognized that Kallibunker’s fur was similar to the wavy fur of the Astrex rabbit, since Ennismore had previously raised and exhibited rex rabbits. However, it was not until she talked to British geneticist A.C. Jude that she began a breeding program to develop Kallibunker’s unique qualities into a recognized breed. The name Cornish Rex was decided upon because of the breed’s origin in Cornwall and its resemblance to the Astrex rabbit.
On Jude’s advice, Ennismore bred Kallibunker to his mother, Serena. This mating produced a litter containing one straight-coated kitten and two curly-coated kittens. One of these curly-coated kittens, a blue-cream male named Poldhu, went on to sire kittens. Kallibunker was test-mated to Burmese, Siamese, and British domestic shorthairs, and the coat mutation was determined to be recessive.
For a trait governed by a recessive gene to manifest itself in the physical appearance of a kitten, the kitten must inherit two copies of the gene-one from each parent. If the kitten inherits only one copy, the kitten will always have straight hair, because straight hair is dominant over rex hair. However, a straight-coated cat with one copy of the recessive rex gene can produce Rex offspring if bred to another cat with at least one copy of the rex gene. So two ordinary looking cats could produce extraordinary Rex kittens, if it’s so written in their genes.
Because of financial problems, in 1956 Ennismore stopped breeding and euthanized a number of her cats, including Kallibunker and Serena. By then, other British breeders, including Brian Sterling-Webb, had become interested in the Cornish Rex and continued the breeding program. However, because of bad luck and mishaps (for example, Poldhu was castrated in a botched procedure to take a tissue sample), only one fertile Cornish Rex male, Sham Pain Charlie, remained in England by 1960. Only by breeding Sham Pain Charlie to other breeds and domestic shorthairs did the Cornish Rex survive in its native land.
However, in 1957 two Cornish Rex were brought to America by Frances Blancheri of California. One, a red tabby male named Pendennis Castle, never sired kittens. The other, a blue female named Lamorna Cove, who arrived pregnant by Poldhu before his unfortunate encounter with the scalpel, produced a Rex litter that included two curly-coated kittens: a blue and white female named Diamond Lil, and a blue and white male named Marmaduke. These cats became the foundation stock for virtually every Cornish Rex line in the United States.
Since the gene pool was so small and no additional Rex cats were available from England, the Cornish Rex was an endangered species. American breeders bred Diamond Lil and Marmaduke and their offspring to Siamese, American Shorthairs, Burmese and Havana Browns. Although this changed the body and head type temporarily, it widened the gene pool and provided the wide selection of colors and patterns available today.
Later, a curly-coated cat showed up in a California animal shelter and was acquired by breeders Bob and Dell Smith. Where she came from no one knows, but the odd-eyed calico named Mystery Lady brought needed new blood to the breed, once test matings determined she possessed the Cornish Rex gene. Slowly but surely, the breed flourished and attained the diversity and popularity it now enjoys.
The myth that Cornish Rex are hypoallergenic is simply that: a myth. The Cornish Rex’s short hair is great for keeping your carpets and furniture from acquiring a fur coat, but it’s not much help for those allergic to cats. That’s because it’s not cat hair that causes the allergic reaction in humans, it’s an allergenic protein called Fel d1 that is present in the cat’s saliva and is secreted from the sebaceous glands. This protein is spread onto the fur during grooming. Cornish Rex groom their fur and produce just as much of this protein as any other breed.
Some breeders say those with mild allergies may tolerate a Cornish Rex by bathing the cat weekly, keeping him out of the bedroom and wiping the cat down with distilled water and a sponge daily to remove the offending saliva. But before you plunk down a chunk of change for a Cornish Rex, be sure to spend some quality time in their company to see how you react.
The Cornish Rex is usually a healthy breed. The only significant problem noted by breeders is that blood types A and B exist in the bloodlines, which is only a problem if you plan to breed your Rex. Type B is extremely rare in the domestic cat population; less than one percent of domestic cats in the U.S. have type B blood. However, some purebred bloodlines have higher percentages of type B blood because of line-breeding, and Cornish Rex have 33 percent type B, according to a study by the University of Pennsylvania.
Queens with type B blood, when bred to toms with type A blood, can produce both type B and type A kittens. The kittens with type A blood from such matings are born apparently healthy but then fade rapidly and die 24 to 72 hours after birth. This is sometimes called “fading kitten syndrome,” and is due to the antibodies that type B cats produce against type A blood. The antibodies are passed to the kittens, possibly in the colostrum (the first milk the mother cat produces), where they attack and destroy the kitten’s red blood cells. Fortunately, Dr. Leslie Lyons at the University of California, Davis has recently found the gene and mutation associated with the B blood group. A DNA test has been developed, and cats can be tested at an early age.
Did you know?
The mutation that gives the Cornish Rex its wavy coat also influences the breed’s body and head type. In litters that contain kittens with different coat types, the Rex kittens do not look the same as their straight-coated littermates.
Your first close encounter with these bat-eared, big-eyed, wavy-coated, slender-as-a-whip cats often leaves you gaping in wonder. Is this a small invader from the planet Rex? Relax, it’s only the irrepressible Cornish Rex, extraordinary in appearance but entirely catlike in character. Fans of the breed say the unique otherworldly look is only part of the attraction; it’s the personality of this alien breed that abducts your heart. Energetic, intelligent and people-oriented, the Cornish Rex is one of the most active and interactive breeds. They never grow up and are usually as active at 15 years as they were at 15 weeks. The Cornish Rex is as high-spirited and lively as the Abyssinian and the Bengal, which is saying a lot.
Many Cornish Rex enjoy a good game of fetch, and will bring back catnip toys and balls for you to toss again and again and again. Interactive toys are best; kitty teasers with feathers or sparkly streamers are always a hit. But really, everything is a toy to a Cornish Rex. Put away anything you don’t want batted around the floor or knocked off its shelf. Cat-proofing your home to the top of the highest bookcase is essential when sharing your life with the rambunctious Rex.
Not only are they active, but they are also nimble climbers, leapers and sprinters, and no cupboard is safe from this agile breed. They are very curious (you might say nosy), and have wonderfully dexterous paws for prying open drawers and twisting doorknobs. Highly intelligent, they use their considerable powers of observation to figure out ways into forbidden areas. Fanciers also note that the Cornish Rex has a definite sense of humor, as long as the joke’s on you. After all, the Cornish is a cat and healthy self-esteem is part of the package.
If you prefer your cats aloof, the Cornish Rex isn’t the breed for you. These are busy, active cats who love to interact with their preferred people. Cornish crave attention and affection from their human companions. They’ll be right there to help (or hinder) you with all your daily tasks, from editing computer documents to making the beds. (You’ll know your Cornish Rex is helping you make the bed by the undulating cat-sized lump under the covers.)
When not given their requisite amount of love and attention, Cornish Rex will make sure you know their feelings on the subject. They are generally quiet, but they will tell you about it when all is not right. Their voices are as individual as they are, and they can make a variety of distinctive sounds, from gravelly meows to high-pitched purrs.
Cornish Rex are particularly affectionate around dinnertime. Dinner is never dull with a mischievous Cornish stealing food from right under your nose and then looking at you with big, innocent eyes as if to say, “Who, me?” Their high activity level makes them very hungry and they need a large amount of food to properly nourish their antics. With some, you’ll have to make an effort to keep them from becoming pear-shaped in their later years, but others can free-feed and still keep their slender figures.