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Choosing a Cornish Rex

By: J. Anne Helgren

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When you first encounter the Cornish rex, you might think you're looking at something that beamed down from the Mother Ship. The breed's willowy contours, curly coat, satellite dish ears and large soulful eyes give it an unsettling otherworldly appearance. Once you get to know the breed, however, you'll realize these cats are pure feline. Like small, furry aliens from the planet Rex, Cornish rex abduct your heart and keep you laughing at their playful antics.

History and Origin

The first Cornish rex was discovered on July 21, 1950, on a farm in Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, England, when Serena, a tortoiseshell and white domestic, gave birth to five kittens. Four were ordinary, but the fifth was unique. Kallibunker, as the kitten was named, was an orange and white male with short, curly fur. Unlike the other kittens that were stocky little domestics, Kallibunker had a long, lithe body, large ears, a slender tail, and a wedge-shaped head.

Nina Ennismore, the cat's owner, consulted a British geneticist and on his advice started a breeding program with her mutant mouser. She selected the name Cornish rex because the breed originated in Cornwall and because of the resemblance to the curly-coated Astrex rabbit.

Two Cornish rex were imported to America in 1957. One died shortly after arrival, but the other, pregnant by one of Kallibunker's sons, survived and became the foundation for the breed in North America. Since the gene pool was small, breeders initially crossed the Cornish with other breeds such as American shorthairs, Siamese, and Havana browns. This provided genetic diversity and added a vast array of colors and patterns.

Appearance

Sometimes compared to the whippet dog because of his lean, racy build, the Cornish rex is built for speed. From torso to tail, the Cornish is long and lean, and the back is naturally arched. The head is small and egg-shaped, the ears large, alert and set high on the head. The eyes are large, oval, and slanting slightly upward. A long Roman nose enhances the head length. Don't let the slim build fool you, though; the Cornish is no weakling. Under that ultra-short hair are strong muscles and bones.

The breed's most celebrated trait, however, is its very short rexed fur. An ordinary cat's coat is made of three hair types: guard, awn, and down. The Cornish coat, however, completely lacks guard hairs – the long, stiff, outer hairs that act as a barrier against the elements. Very short awn and down hairs cover the entire body in tight, uniform curls. Even the whiskers are short and curly. The fur lies close to the body and is extremely soft, silky, and dense. It feels like warm velvet to the touch. Produced by spontaneous natural mutation, the Cornish's coat is not unique – it has appeared in other animal species such as rabbits, mice, horses and other cat breeds as well.

Common colors and patterns include bicolor, solid white, blue, and black, black smoke, and red tabby, although virtually every color and pattern is accepted including the colorpoint (Siamese) pattern. However, since the breed is comparatively rare, not all colors are available.

Personality

Cornish rex have great personalities to match their special packaging. They have only two speeds – warp drive and out cold. They are perfect for people who like energetic, inquisitive, agile felines. Everything is a game to the Cornish and many will bring back toys for you to toss again and again. You'll tire of the game long before your Cornish does. They are adept at climbing, leaping and sprinting and have marvelously nimble paws. No shelf, drawer or cupboard is safe from the curious Cornish.

Cornish rex are intelligent, people-oriented extroverts. They crave the attention of their preferred people and can be hard to ignore when they're in a sociable mood, which is most of the time. Keen observers, they quickly learn your routine and insist on helping with every task. Since their thin coats don't offer much protection from the elements, Cornish are heat-seeking missiles aimed straight at your lap. With their warm suede feel, they make perfect winter lap warmers.

Grooming

You might expect the ultra-shorthaired Cornish to need no grooming. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Some rex require regular bathing because of the buildup of sebaceous secretions. All cats produce these normal oily secretions, but Cornish rex don't have as much hair to absorb them as ordinary cats. Allowed to collect, these oily secretions can make the coat look greasy and can even cause skin problems. The need for bathing depends a lot upon the individual cat, however. Some need weekly bathing, while others need a bath every few months. Either way, it's important to train your Cornish to tolerate bathing early, starting at 16 weeks or so. Since the Cornish's short, thin coat dries quickly, bathing is not the ordeal it is for ordinary cats.

Cost

Pet and breeder quality Cornish rex kittens sell for $350 to $700, depending upon the breeder, location, bloodline, gender, pattern and color. Some breeders sell only pet and show quality, reasoning that if a cat isn't good enough to show, it shouldn't be bred, either. Show quality kittens run $1,000 and up, sometimes far up for kittens with excellent show prospects. Since the breed is relatively rare but still popular, breeders maintain waiting lists, and you'll probably have to wait several months or more to get a Cornish kitten. If you are looking for pet quality, you'll have an easier time acquiring a Cornish rex if you're flexible about color and gender.

Association Acceptance

  • American Association of Cat Enthusiasts (AACE)
  • American Cat Association (ACA)
  • American Cat Fancier's Association (ACFA)
  • Canadian Cat Association (CCA)
  • Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA)
  • Cat Fanciers' Federation (CFF)
  • The International Cat Association (TICA)
  • United Feline Organization (UFO)

    Special Notes

    Cornish and other rex breeds are sometimes rumored to be hypoallergenic and therefore more easily tolerated by people allergic to cats. Unfortunately, this is not true. The short hair is great for keeping fur off the furniture but it's little help for those with allergies. Cat hair itself doesn't cause allergic reactions. The real culprit is an allergenic protein called Fel d1 that's secreted via saliva and sebaceous glands, which is spread onto the fur during grooming. Cornish rex produce just as much of this protein.

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