Getting to Know the Cornish Rex

By Cheryl McGee and Trish Blees
from The Cat Fanciers' Association Complete Cat Book

If you were to enter a room with a dozen Cornish Rex, it would probably take several hours to disengage yourself from them. If you never had the pleasure of meeting the breed before it could throw you into a state of panic or euphoria. It is easy to get hooked on such cats. Discussions with potential owners about the breed often begin with, "You know, they leap from high places such as door casings, refrigerators, antique pieces too tall to dust, and much more, with a single bound."

Some prospective owners of the breed are looking for a cat of convenience that does not shed. (Shedding is not really a valid reason to reject a kitten.) However, there are those whose main consideration is that the cat becomes a part of the family. They will not mind a cat that licks the drops off their feet after coming out of the shower, or helps eat their last peppers and anchovies off a pizza, or one that sleeps across their face and complains if their eyes have not opened by six in the morning. For people like that, this is their kind of cat, one who will be a true member of the family, and, by the way, one that adores dogs.

Words inadequately express the first sight of a Cornish Rex, which is a breed meant for those who appreciate living art. They move, stretch, and arch their bodies in a living medium that becomes art wrapped around a beating heart.

At first glance, a novice cat person might find a Cornish Rex a bit unfamiliar-looking as compared to cats that are more typical. Take your time because their graceful manner and constant expressions of affection will soon work their charms on you. Their structure or body type is that of a cat built for speed and endurance and not for lap sitting. These cats are made of an unusual combination of wavy down-like hair with a touch of Velcro because they are always stuck to you wherever you go. They come in every imaginable color including colorpoints, lavender, chocolate and all the basic colors plus white.

Color has never been more than a personal preference for Cornish breeders as it only carries five points out of the total 100 when a Cornish Rex is judged. What makes them sparkle is their wonderful attitude of standing tall on their powerful legs and announcing to all that they are the king of cats.

Do not let the Rex part of the breed name fool you. They are small to medium sized cats with the males being proportionately larger. The word Rex is a shortening of the genetic term, astrex, meaning the absence of guard hairs, which are the coarse top coat hairs that provide insulation. The result is that these cats can get chilly very easily. The coat is crimped. As they mature, it becomes incredibly soft and velvety to the touch, and marcel waved, from the top of their heads to the sides of their legs and to the tip of their long and slender tail. They even have crinkling whiskers. The little bit of shedding or molting they do, usually goes unnoticed with regular hand stroking.

A Cornish Rex with a good body type can leave you breathless. Their bodies resemble Greyhounds, with a naturally arched back, large thigh muscles which gives them the opportunity to launch themselves at a moments notice. Their heads are smallish and egg shaped with a "skully" appearance. They possess huge, luminous eyes. No cat has ears like the Cornish Rex and the bigger the better, as long as they are set high on the head.

Their Personality

Cornish Rex

These are thinking cats with great appetites so do not allow food to lie around on open counters if you consider it valuable. Whether you have set out a steak to thaw or a fresh loaf of bread, a head of lettuce, carrots or even cantaloupe, they will become targets for these feline omnivores. Nothing is safe from their appetite and intelligence, so you better put your valuable food away or get it under glass.

They love to play but in their exuberance, they may break things made of glass or crockery. If they do then as far as they are concerned, the broken pieces just increase the amount of toys to play with. They may suddenly have a burst of energy and race through the house, run up and down the stairs, dash from the scratching post back up the stairway again, running from room to room. Then, just as suddenly, as if it never happened, become love and kisses as they come to a halt. It is a joy to behold.

Whether they are vocal or not is a matter of what you will allow. For some, only a human is permitted to talk loudly. Although their activity level is high, it is not any more than that of an Abyssinian or Siamese. The Cornish Rex is well known as the cat in a clown suit. Its antics attest to that.

Grooming and Maintenance

The Cornish are often referred to as Wash and Wear cats. They are among the easiest cats to groom and maintain. They do not require much grooming. However, the earlier you start bathing them the better because they can be stubborn.

To keep a cat in top show condition you must bathe it a few days prior to being shown in competition. This will allow enough time for its natural oils to return to the coat and maintain its close lying appearance. Otherwise, you will have a fluffy coated cat without much wave in its fur. When bathing your cat use a high quality shampoo formulated for cats, pay close attention to the toes and ears and underbelly, and be sure to rinse the coat thoroughly. Do not use a cream rinse for this breed. It is essential that you towel dry the cat and not use a blow dryer. The ears on the Cornish also are an area that must be cleaned often. They tend to develop a wax build up that accumulates faster than on most breeds, but it is a problem that a Q-Tip can cure.

The Cornish Rex has a very healthy appetite. If your Cornish is overweight, she may not be getting enough exercise. Cut back on how much you feed the cat. A Cornish will eat as much as you put in the bowl.

The Cornish Rex is a long-living breed. Many continue into their twenties with the average in the range of twelve to eighteen years.

Breed History

The golden moment began in Cornwall, England some 53 years ago when a barn cat gave birth to a litter of five kittens that included an odd curly-coated kitten. As the kitten matured its huge bat-like ears, long slender tail and body became fascinating to its owner. When the curls in its coat became more pronounced the cat was named Kallibunker. Genetically, the cat was understood to be a natural mutation. Its owner decided to strengthen the line by mating the cat back to its mother. A new litter was born, with two curly-coated kittens and they were referred to as "Rex." This name came about from the owner's previous experience with breeding curly coated "Rex" rabbits.

A new gene for this cat breed was discovered in 1960; the word "Cornish" was then added. The Cornish Rex type is due to a recessive gene, meaning that two Cornish have to be bred together to have curly coated kittens. When Kallibunker was bred to Siamese, Burmese, and British Shorthair cats, they would only have normal-coated kittens. However, these normal coated kittens carried the recessive gene, so that when they were bred back to a Cornish Rex or to each other, curly kittens were likely to be born. These breedings increased the gene pool and shaped the Cornish into the breed that exists today.

A group of very dedicated American breeders were responsible for bringing this breed to the United States. The Cornish Rex was accepted for registration by CFA in 1962 and quickly advanced to championship status in May1964.

Today the Cornish Rex is one of the most popular breeds exhibited in cat shows; they are natural show cats and love the attention. Most are born travelers and have a great sense of adventure whether they go by car, boat or plane. The first sentence in the standard says it all. "The Cornish Rex stands high on his legs." So if a highly intelligent, loving, unusual and unique cat is what you want, then the Cornish Rex might well be the breed for you.

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