Vital Stats:Life Span: 11 to 15 years
Cornwall is a sort of magical corner of Great Britain. It was the birthplace of King Arthur, and it was the birthplace of one of the most unusual and interesting cat breeds in existence: the curly-coated Cornish Rex. A curly-coated kitten was born in 1950 to a shorthaired tortoiseshell and white pet cat named Serena, who belonged to Nina Ennismore and Winifred Macalister. The other four kittens in the litter had short hair, so Kallibunker, as he was named, stood out for his odd coat, the result of a spontaneous natural mutation. As is so often the case, the father of the litter was unidentified, although he was suspected to be Ginger, a shorthaired red tabby who was Serena’s litter brother.
After obtaining advice on how to establish the new trait, Ennismore attempted to produce more of the kittens, breeding them to each other and outcrossing to shorthaired cats. She was somewhat successful, breeding among others a cat named Poldhu and his daughter LaMorna Cove, both of whom contributed to the later development of the breed, which came to be called the Cornish Rex, after its birthplace and its coat type, similar in texture to that of rex rabbits.
LaMorna Cove had been exported to the United States, and her kittens—from a breeding with Poldhu before she made her journey across the pond—helped to establish the breed in the United States. Because of the lack of breeding stock, the cats in the U. S. were outcrossed to Siamese. A son of Poldhu, Sham Pain Chas, fathered a litter in Great Britain in 1960, keeping the breed alive in its homeland. Also contributing to its survival was the birth of two curly-coated kittens in East Germany, who were determined to have a similar mutation that was compatible with that of the Cornish Rex.
The American Cat Fanciers Association and the Canadian Cat Association recognized the Cornish Rex in 1963, followed by the Cat Fanciers Association in 1964. The breed is now recognized by all cat registries.
The Cornish Rex typically weighs 6 to 10 pounds.
The Cornish Rex appears suave and refined, but then this charming and highly intelligent cat’s sense of humor and love of attention take over and he strolls onto center stage, ready to play the piano, perform tricks, or amaze onlookers with his ability to vault to the highest point in the room. His long toes enable him to manipulate objects deftly and to open doors and cabinets with ease. Be sure you put away securely anything you don’t want him to have (and don’t let him see you doing it).
This is a confident cat who loves people and will follow them around, waiting for any opportunity to sit in a lap or give a kiss. He enjoys being handled, making it easy to take him to the veterinarian or train him for therapy work.
If it weren’t insulting, it might be fair to describe the Cornish Rex as “doglike.” That includes his willingness to retrieve toys that are thrown. He has the speed of a sighthound but does not share the sighthound’s laidback temperament. The Cornish Rex is highly active, always on the move. His speed and sleek exterior are reminiscent of a finely tuned racecar, complete with quick starts and cornering ability. Although he is affectionate and gentle, he is not the choice for someone who wants a quiet, ornamental cat. His voice ranges from sweet to strident, and although he is not as talkative as his ancestor the Siamese, he will indeed carry on a conversation if he feels the need to express his opinion.
The Cornish Rex maintains his kittenlike attitude well into old age. He never loses the desire to interact with people and is best suited to a home where he will receive the love and constant companionship he craves.
Both pedigreed cats and mixed-breed cats have varying incidences of health problems that may be genetic in nature. Cornish Rex are generally healthy, but the following diseases have been seen in the breed:
- Congenital hypotrichosis, otherwise known as hereditary baldness, a condition that is probably the result of an inherited recessive gene. The Cornish Rex naturally has a very fine coat, but those with less hair than normal for the breed are considered to be hypotricotic.
- Umbilical hernia, which occurs when a defect in the abdominal wall—near the umbilicus, hence the name—allows part of the intestine or other abdominal organs to protrude through the abdominal wall. The last known report of umbilical hernias in the breed was from 1997. Umbilical hernias can also have non-genetic causes.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a form of heart disease that is inherited in some cat breeds such as the Maine Coon. Heritability has not been proven in the Cornish Rex.
Grooming the Cornish Rex is typically as easy as brushing your hand over his coat. Some Cornish Rex cats have a longer or woollier coat, however, and may need some help from a soft bristle brush or fine-tooth comb to keep their coat looking neat. Groom gently so you don’t break the delicate hairs. The best thing about a Cornish Rex coat is that the hairs are so fine that they aren’t very noticeable on clothing and furniture.
Baths are rarely necessary unless the cat is white or has a lot of white on the coat. Those cats can start to look dingy if they are not regularly bathed.
Brush the teeth to prevent periodontal disease. Daily dental hygiene is best, but weekly brushing is better than nothing. Wipe the corners of the eyes daily with a soft, damp cloth to remove any discharge. Use a separate area of the cloth for each eye so you don’t run the risk of spreading any infection. Check the ears weekly. If they look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball or soft damp cloth moistened with a 50-50 mixture of cider vinegar and warm water. Avoid using cotton swabs, which can damage the interior of the ear.
Keep the litter box spotlessly clean. Like all cats, Cornish Rex are very particular about bathroom hygiene.
The Cornish Rex feels warm to the touch, but he is always seeking warmth. If you are cold, he probably is too. Buy him a nice sweater or two to help him retain heat.
It’s a good idea to keep a Cornish Rex as an indoor-only cat to protect him from diseases spread by other cats, attacks by dogs or coyotes, and the other dangers that face cats who go outdoors, such as being hit by a car. Cornish Rex who go outdoors also run the risk of being stolen by someone who would like to have such an unusual cat without paying for it. If possible, build your Cornish Rex a large outdoor enclosure where he can jump and climb safely. If your Cornish REx has an outdoor enclosure that allows for sunbathing, be sure to apply cat-safe sunscreen to his body to prevent sunburn.
Coat Color And Grooming
With his crushed velvet coat, racy, slender body, and curly whiskers, the Cornish Rex is a dandy of a cat. In addition to his soft, wavy fur and curvy body, he is distinguished by a small, egg-shaped head, about one-third longer than it is wide. His facial features include a rounded forehead, the high cheekbones of a supermodel, a Roman nose with a high, prominent bridge, and oval eyes that slant slightly upward. Sitting high on the head are large ears that look as if they could pull in satellite signals.
The distinctive body, a gift from the Cornish Rex’s Siamese ancestors, is made up graceful arches and curves. It consists of a long, slender torso, a deep chest, a naturally arched back, and a belly that curves gently upward to form a small waistline. Muscular hips, thighs and rear end propel the Cornish Rex’s great leaps. Supporting him when he lands are long, slender legs and dainty, slightly oval paws. A long, flexible tail tapers toward the end. His curvy, slender body might make the medium-size Cornish Rex seem delicate, but he is surprisingly heavy when picked up. He typically weighs 6 to 10 pounds.
The Cornish Rex curls are present at birth. Some kittens go through a stage during which the coat is flat and suedelike, but as they mature the coat becomes wavy again. At adulthood, usually between 18 months and three years, the coat is short, soft and silky, with no harsh guard hairs. The fur lies close to the body in tight waves, like the marcelled hairdo of a 1940s film star. It should not be sparse or bare in places.
The coat comes in a profusion of colors and patterns. Solid colors are white, black, blue, red, cream, chocolate and lavender. They also come in various tabby colors and patterns, tortoiseshell, calico, bi-color and pointed patterns, to name just a few. Depending on the coat color, the eyes may be gold, green or hazel.
Children And Other Pets
The active and social Cornish Rex is a perfect choice for families with children and cat-friendly dogs. He will play fetch as well as any retriever, learns tricks easily and loves the attention he receives from children who treat him politely and with respect. Introduce pets slowly and in controlled circumstances to ensure that they learn to get along together.