The Rex Breeds
In the United States, the Rex breeds include the Cornish Rex, the Devon Rex and the Selkirk Rex. The Sphynx, though not technically a Rex cat, was outcrossed to the Devon Rex – in this country, at least – at the beginning of its development. Though the Sphynx is covered with a short downy fuzz instead of a curly coat, it displays the Rex temperament and many of its physical characteristics.
As the name “rex” suggests, the most unique characteristic of the Rex breeds is the coat. A Rex coat has little if any guard hair – that is, the hard outer coat that protects the soft, downy undercoat of most cats. Instead, the cats are covered with a silky coat that almost begs to be stroked. Often call the poodles of the cat world, the cats are virtually nonshedding, and many people with allergies to cats have found harmony with a Rex. If you choose to bring a Rex cat into your life, be prepared for lots of personality and a wonderful, people-loving temperament. Your Rex will demand, and usually get, your undivided attention. They enjoy people, other cats and frequently form special relationships with dogs.
the Rex breeds, including the Sphynx, is the result of a spontaneous gene
mutation. Such mutations occur in other species as well, producing rex rabbits,
hamsters and even mice. No doubt other feline rex mutations have occurred and
With each of the Rex breeds that exist today, a farsighted individual recognized the significance of the mutation and worked to preserve its integrity and to provide a foundation for the breeds as we know them today.
The Cornish Rex is the oldest of the Rex breeds, having its beginnings in Cornwall, England, in 1950. It is a small, refined creature with a pencil-thin tail and fine-boned legs on a trim, muscular body with a tucked-up waist and abdomen. The ears are large and stand high on the head. The nose is long and tapered, and the eyes are oval-shaped and medium to large in size. I once heard a Cornish breeder explain the shape of the head as “an egg with a string tied around the small end.”
The Cornish coat ties close to the body, and its tight little waves – called marcelling – are clear and defined. Good examples of the breed should be well covered with wavy fur over the entire body, especially as adults.
When a curly kitten was born in Devonshire, England, in 1960, people believed it was another expression of the Cornish Rex gene. After this new curly-coated cat reached breeding age, he was bred to a Cornish. Much to the surprise of the breeders, all the kittens had normal coats, making it clear the cat had a different gene type than the Cornish. This cat was later officially recognized as the first Devon Rex.
While the Devon Rex is considered a medium-sized cat and is larger than the Cornish, by most standards it is a small cat. My adult females tend to weigh around five to six pounds, and my males run about seven to eight.
Unlike the close-lying coat of the Cornish Rex with its clearly defined waves, the Devon’s coat fits like a loose robe. Instead of waves, the coat whirls in every direction. The curls form tightly into neat rows when the coat is patted especially with a damp hand. The coat should be dense with bare patches permitted only on the forehead, belly and in front of the ears – most frequently on kittens as they develop their adult coats.
The ears should be large and set low on the head, with the base of the ear being wider than the modified wedge formed by the head. The forehead curves back to a flat skull, and a short muzzle is enhanced by a strong, well-developed chin. Though slender, Devon Rex have hard, muscular bodies with broad chests and sturdy legs that taper to small, oval paws. A long, fine tail completes the look.
In the mid-1980’s I was given two curly, medium longhaired cats that were part of a litter of domestic cats born in southwestern Missouri. They’d each had litters and, when bred to their relatives, produced curly kittens like themselves. I was curious to see whether this was a new wave on an old theme or if it was indeed a new gene. I bred each cat to a Devon, and both breedings produced only normal-coated kittens. Convinced this was something different from the Devon gene, I arranged to send the two Missouri cats and their offspring to a geneticist who bred cats. She was aware of a rex gene unlike the Cornish and Devon that had been reported in the United States. After several test breedings, she determined that my Missouri rex was genetically like this new rex, which had been named the Selkirk Rex.
The Selkirk Rex is the most recent Rex to be granted breed status in CFA. It is an all-American Rex, having its origins in this country. Its unique coat, which can be long or short, is quite different from that of the Cornish or the Devon. The curly coat includes recognizable guard hairs, giving it more body than the coats of the other Rex breeds. The breed is often referred to as the cat in sheep’s clothing, and they are like furry lambs with sweet, loving personalities.
While the Selkirk is not necessarily larger than the Devon, it is more compact and heavier boned. The body is sturdy, muscular and less angled than other Rex breeds. The head is round and full with a noticeable stop at the nose when viewed from the side. The eyes are large, round and expressive.
The Sphynx is more a close cousin to the Rex than a Rex breed itself. The “hairless” cat appeared in Canada in the 1960s, but genetic health complications did not allow it to continue as a breed. The 1980s marked a renewed interest in the hairless cat in the United States, and breeders here worked with European Sphynx and domestic Devon Rex lines to produce the Sphynx as we know it in the United States today.
Nothing compares to the look of astonishment on a person’s face when he or she first sees a Sphynx. The first words usually uttered are, “They’re all wrinkled!” In fact, they are. But the Sphynx is no different from any other cat in that regard – without their coats, all cats would look like the Sphynx.
In addition to the downy fuzz that covers its body, the Sphynx standard allows a small amount of hair on the bridge of the nose, the back of the ears, the outside of the feet and the tip of the tail. Sphynx ears are large and set neither high nor low on the head, and the eyes are lemon-shaped. There is a slight to moderate stop at the bridge of the nose. The cheekbones are prominent with a distinct break at the whisker pads. With a broad chest and well-developed hindquarters, this muscular breed is surprisingly heavy for its size. It sports extra-long toes and thick paw pads.
While a furrowed brow gives the cat a serious look, Sphynx are lighthearted and carefree, with a reputation for remaining active and playful throughtout their lives.
The Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, Selkirk Rex and Sphynx come in all imaginable colors, reflecting their varied backgrounds. They share unique whiskers that are wavy and stick out in all directions. The whiskers also tend to break, casting doubt on any navigational theories surrounding their function. In my experience, Rex cats are agile and athletic, preferring heights – especially shoulders.
First and foremost, the Rex breeds are cats and should be treated as such. While Rex cats tend to feel warm to the touch because they do not have the hair of normal cats to insulate them, their body temperature is the same as any cat’s. I’ve never dressed my Devons to keep them warm, but they do insist on being under the covers at night.
Grooming a Rex is not exceptional either. I groom my cats before a show, but generally not at other times. Sphynx and Rex kittens that have not developed a full coat do require bathing to remove excess body oils that are not being absorbed by a coat. As with any cat, you should ensure your Rex or Sphynx is kept warm and away from drafts after a bath.
The Rex breeds add variety and spice to the world of purebred cats, giving those with more exotic tastes another pet option. If you want a companion who will become part of the family, whose appearance is unique, whose personality is more doglike than catlike and whose minimal shedding makes upkeep simple, consider one of the Rex breeds. And while you’re at it, consider another. Two Rex are really no more trouble than one. After all, you have two shoulders, two hands, and two legs that make your lap – and you’ll have twice the fun.
Adopted from – “Poodles that Purr” by Dr.Shally Carlson. Cats USA 1996 Annual. A Fancy Publication.
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