Cornish Rex

With their unique, eye-catching appearance, Cornish rex cats are perfect for people with avant garde tastes. Learn all about this regal cat breed.
By Chad Taylor
August 24, 2020
Cornish Rex
Coat Length
Pattern
Other Traits
Temperament
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Cornish Rex

height
  • 8 to 12 inches
weight
  • 6 to 10 pounds
life span
  • 11 to 15 years
good with
  • families
  • cats
temperament
  • sociable
  • bold
intelligence
  • high
shedding amount
  • infrequent
playfulness
  • high
activity level
  • hyper
vocalness
  • frequent
coat length
  • short
colors
  • white
  • black / ebony
  • red / orange
  • blue / gray
  • cream / beige / tan
  • chocolate / brown / sable
patterns
  • bi-color
  • tabby
  • color point
other traits
  • easy to groom
  • friendly toward humans
  • friendly toward other pets
  • friendly toward strangers
  • strong loyalty tendencies
  • tolerates being picked up

Have you ever described your sense of style as quirky? Then the Cornish rex might just be the perfect breed for you!

With their long, slender, delicate-looking bodies, large eyes and huge ears, the Cornish rex is a cat sure to spark conversation. But their most noteworthy calling card is their coat. The Cornish rex lacks the long hair of an outer coat, leaving them with just a curly, soft down undercoat.

Appearance

Cornish rex bodies are extremely slender, giving these cats the appearance of being fragile. This is all a ruse, since everything under the skin is hard muscle and bone, making them surprisingly sturdy cats who often weigh considerably more than they would appear.

Their bodies are topped by a smallish, egg-shaped head which carries high cheekbones, large, round eyes, a long nose and giant ears situated at the top of the skull. They have been compared to whippets or greyhounds because of their athletic build and fast movements. The breed also has a tendency to arch their back as they walk, in a similar fashion to those dog breeds as well.

The main hallmark of the Cornish rex is their coat. Indeed, it’s the characteristic that makes the breed. Where most breeds have three different types of hair—the long, outer guard hairs, a middle layer of awn hair, and the undercoat of down—Cornish rex cats only have the third, giving them a soft, wavy appearance.

Looking a bit like cut velvet or lambswool, the down coat of the Cornish rex is incredibly soft and has been described by owners as feeling completely unlike anything else.

Temperament

The Cornish rex is an incredibly curious, bright, high-energy breed. According to the Cat Fanciers' Association, the majority of the instances when a Cornish rex doesn’t work out with an owner occur because the owner was not fully prepared for how active these cats can be.

True explorers, the Cornish rex will find her way up into places you previously thought to be inaccessible. Cat-proofing your home is going to be a necessity to keep the rex out of places you don’t want her to go—like the food cupboard.

As one might expect from a cat with a seemingly tireless motor and a strong, athletic body, the Cornish rex can be a voracious eater. Many owners will keep food constantly stocked and allow the rex to free feed, as the breed is active enough to burn off calories almost as fast as they take them in, and there are no common issues with weight gain.

One of the drawbacks to their soft, short coats, is that the breed does not do well in colder settings (although did you really need a reason to buy more cat sweaters?). For this reason, when they DO settle down, they’re always going to try and find the warmest place in the room to sit, be it your laptop, your shoulders, or the nearest vent grate. People who like their living quarters to be on the cooler side, or those who live in colder climates, may want to look elsewhere. On the flip side of that coin, because their coats don’t have the layers that other cats do, the Cornish rex doesn’t have a lot of protection from direct sunlight, which can lead to sunburn if exposure is prolonged. These little guys are definitely indoor cats.

Cornish rex is a breed that is extremely social that does well with other animals and is a bit of a velcro cat that will stick herself by your side as you move around the home. Although, she also can play independently, meaning that she can do well on her own for extended periods if she’s made used to it at an early age.

Living Needs

She’s going to need places to explore. Levels are great, because she’s a natural born climber and jumper. She is also a cat that has a tendency to “rediscover” toys over the years, so getting her a variety of toys from the outset can theoretically keep her entertained for years.

As mentioned above, you will want to perform some kind of cat-proofing on cabinets or doors you don’t want her to open because she will get into things you never imagined possible. Cold air is her enemy, and she’s going to need warm places to perch and sleep because that downy fur isn’t doing her any favors in terms of heat retention.

Finally, you might read that the Cornish rex is hypoallergenic. This is not technically so. The Cornish rex may shed less than some other breeds, thanks to her short, curly coat, but people with cat allergies aren’t reacting to the cat hair itself. Most cat allergies are actually from a glyco-protein known as Fel d 1, produced in the sebaceous glands of the skin, as well as in saliva and urine. As cats clean themselves, their saliva dries on their fur and flakes off as they move, causing the dander that most people react to. For this reason, while a Cornish rex may create a lower reaction in people with cat allergies, the potential for reaction will still be there, since they still groom themselves.

Care

These cats require extremely little in the way of regular care. Their short, curly coats are about as low-maintenance as you can get, while still having hair. Using a rubber brush once a week or so can help remove any dead hair, but care should be taken not to brush too hard or too vigorously. That can lead to skin damage or hair loss.

Health

Cornish rex cats are rock solid. An extremely long-lived cat (15 years is the norm, but 20 years is a not uncommon mark), the breed has virtually no hereditary or genetic health problems. The only issue that the breed is prone to is hair loss which, while non-life threatening, can be severe enough to render some cats almost completely hairless.

While being free of any breed-specific health concerns, Cornish rex cats are prone to many of the same general maladies that can befall virtually every cat breed.

“The most common thing we see in cats as far as disease is kidney disease. That’s really just across the board in cats,” says Michelle Beck, DVM, CCRT, CVA, of the Backlund Animal Clinic in Omaha, Neb. “Kidney disease and heart disease are things that vets know to check all cats for, just as a matter of course.

“Cats by the age of 10, almost 70% of them have arthritis somewhere in their body,” Beck continues. “Cats are very good at hiding their pain.”

That ability to mask pain—especially in breeds that aren’t well-known for having specific health issues—can cause a lot of cat owners to forego things like routine vet visits or preventative care.

“It’s not that we don’t have great care available for cats,” Beck says. “It’s just that we don’t see a lot of cats. If they’re an indoor cat, they’re not exposed to a lot of disease.”

History

Be they dogs or cats, for most breeds it can be difficult to pin down a breed origin. While in most cases a country of origin and perhaps a century are about as close as you can get, the Cornish rex has an actual birthday: July 21, 1950.

That was the day that Serena, a tortoise shell cat on a farm in Cornwall, England, gave birth to a litter of kittens that included one male kitten who was cream-colored and covered in tight, soft curls. As he grew, that kitten (eventually named Kallibunker) became even more dramatically different from his littermates with a slender body, long, thin legs, huge bat ears, and a whippy tail.

Farm owner Nina Ennismore took Kallibunker to the vet for an examination and neutering but was discouraged against the latter by her vet, who identified Kallibunker as a wholly unique genetic mutation, according to the CFA. Instead, Ennismore took him home, bred him back to his mother and two more of the little mutants were born in Serena’s following litter. The Cornish rex was off and running.

In 1957, two Cornish rexes were imported to the US and breeding began here in earnest. It was a good thing because Ennismore was having financial problems that resulted in her destroying a number of her own cats, including Kallibunker and Serena. She left herself with two breeding males, which was reduced to one in 1958 when one of her males was taken to the vet and accidentally castrated. Every Cornish rex alive today can trace their lineage directly back to either Nina Ennismore’s lone surviving UK male, or one of those original two US males.

In 1960, Beryl Cox of Devonshire, England, found a stray cat with a small, round face and short, curly coat, the CFA says. Originally thought to be another Cornish rex, attempts were made to breed that cat (named Kirlee) with other Cornish rex cats, but the litters produced straight-haired kittens. Kirlee was found to possess a similar but distinct gene mutation, which became the foundation for the Devon rex breed. While the two look very similar, and were, in fact, shown together for a number of years, they are genetically distinct and cross breeding them is discouraged.

Fun Facts

  • The curl in the Cornish rex’s fur isn’t limited to their coats. The breed’s whiskers and eyelashes are curly as well!
  • The oils in the Cornish rex’s skin has a unique scent. Not unpleasant, owners often describe the cats as smelling “cheesy."
  • They’re sometimes called “marcel cats,” because the wave in their fur resembles the “marcel wave” hairstyle that was popular with flappers in the 1920s.
  • The “rex” in Cornish rex is latin for “king.”