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Choosing a Devon Rex

By: J. Anne Helgren

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Devon rex cats have been compared to pixies and aliens from space because of their huge bat-like ears, large window-to-the-soul eyes, and ethereal, otherworldly body style. Not only are they unusual in appearance, these wavy-haired wonders have personalities that can't be beat. Affectionately called poodle cats for their short, curly coats, Devons are playful and animated, and love nothing more than spending time entertaining their favorite humans.

History & Origin

It is thought that the gene responsible for the Devon's curly coat resulted from a spontaneous mutation in the domestic cat gene pool, but exactly when and where this occurred is unknown. The father of the Devon breed as we know it was a feral, curly-coated tom that lived around an abandoned tin mine near Buckfastleigh, Devon, England. He mated with a straight-coated calico female who in 1960 produced a litter of kittens in the garden of cat lover Beryl Cox. One of these kittens, a brownish-black male that Cox named Kirlee, had his father's short, curly coat.

At first, Kirlee was thought to be a member of the Cornish rex breed, which had been discovered in Cornwall, England, 10 years before, and so was sent to Cornish breeder Brian Sterling-Webb. However, after Kirlee mated with nine separate Cornish queens and produced only straight-coated offspring, breeders concluded that the two breeds were unrelated. The name Devon rex was adopted for the breed's place of origin, and a breeding program was established. Test matings determined that the gene responsible for the curly coat was recessive. Breeders think that Kirlee's parents must have been related, since a recessive gene must be inherited from both parents to manifest in offspring. To keep the breed healthy and expand the gene pool, Devon rex cats were crossed with Burmese and British and American shorthairs.

The first Devon was imported to the United States in 1968. In 1972, ACFA granted the Devon championship status, and TICA followed in 1979. The CFA awarded championship in 1983. Today, all associations except TCA recognize the breed. While never quite as popular as the Cornish rex, the Devon has made great strides and has a steadily growing fan club. Since the gene pool is still small, American and British shorthairs will be used in Devon breeding programs until May 1, 2003, to keep the breed healthy.

Appearance

The Devon's body is slender and medium long with fine boning, and is carried high on long slim legs. But don't let that fool you – under that curly coat are strong, hard muscles. The hind legs are somewhat longer than the front.

The Devon's head shape is unique as well; the head is a modified wedge shape with a flat skull, a short, well-developed muzzle, pronounced cheekbones, and prominent whisker pads with a whisker break. The ears are strikingly large, wide at the base, rounded at the tips, and set low on the head rather than upright. The oval eyes are large and wide set and slope toward outer edges of ears.

The Devon's wavy coat, of course, is the most celebrated feature. The coat is short on the back, sides, upper legs and tail, and very short on the head, ears, neck, paws, chest and abdomen. The soft, fine, wavy hair is eminently petable, and you don't come away with a handful of hair afterwards.

Unlike the Cornish rex coat that lacks guard hairs, the Devon's coat has all three hair types: guard, awn and down. However, the guard hairs are fragile and stunted, and the whiskers are often missing altogether. The hairs break easily and therefore this breed can develop bald patches that remain until the next hair growth cycle, typically spring and fall.

All colors and patterns are accepted including the colorpoint (Siamese) pattern. However, since the breed is comparatively rare, not all colors are available. Common colors and patterns include bicolor, black smoke, tortoiseshell, tabbies in silver, red, and brown, solid black, solid blue, and solid white with gold, blue, or odd eyes (one of each color).

Personality

Devons may look like pixies but they are completely catlike in character. They love nothing better than to cuddle with you all night and wake you in the morning with forehead kisses and purrs of affection. And since Devons shed little, you can snuggle back without coming away covered with cat hair.

Devons are loyal, devoted, playful, fearless and intelligent, just to name a few of the qualities that make them good choices for the cat-obsessed. Devons are shoulder-perchers, lap-sitters, tail-waggers, and retrievers of tossed cat toys. They have a well-developed sense of curiosity, too. Never far from your side, Devons involve themselves in every activity, whether it's preparing dinner, surfing the Internet, or lounging in front of the TV. Reserved? Independent? Aloof? No one here by that description.

Grooming

Devons have sparse, extremely short hair, so need little brushing. However, some Devons need regular bathing because of the buildup of sebaceous secretions. All cats produce these oily secretions, but Devons don't have as much hair to absorb these oils. Allowed to collect, the oils can make the coat look greasy and can even contribute to skin problems. Too, their large ears seem to accumulate more dirt and oils than is usual, so careful cleaning with a cotton swab each week is recommended.

The need for bathing varies from cat to cat, however. Some need a weekly bath while others need bathing only rarely. Either way, it's important to train your Devon early to tolerate bathing.

Since the Devon gene pool is small, inbreeding is a concern. Cardiomyopathy and a muscular dystrophy-like disease called hereditary myopathy has been found in a few bloodlines. Be sure to buy from a breeder who offers a written health guarantee.

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)
  • Traditional Cat Association, Inc. (TCA)
  • United Feline Organization (UFO)

    Special Notes

    Rumor has it that Devon rex cats are hypoallergenic and can be tolerated by those allergic to cats. Unfortunately, rumor is mistaken; no breed of cat is hypoallergenic. Devons do shed less than cats with ordinary coats, which is great for keeping your favorite furniture free of hair. However, it's not hair that causes the allergic reaction in most people, but an allergenic enzyme called Fel d1 that's secreted via saliva and sebaceous glands. Devons produce as much of this enzyme as any cat and during grooming they spread it onto their fur. However, since Devons shed less of their allergen-covered hair and can be regularly bathed to remove the enzyme, some people can tolerate them. If you're allergic, plan to spend some time with a Devon before agreeing to buy.

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