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This extrovert breed of British origin is a medium sized bundle of mischief of 'foreign' type, and can have any recognised coat colour or pattern. Cornish Rex make wonderful pets, very entertaining and with loyal, almost dog-like tendencies as they follow their owners about. Despite their fine coats which hardly shed at all, Cornish Rex are still not considered suitable for people with allergies to cats, as the allergic reaction is to a glycol-protein found in the skin, saliva and urine rather than in the hair itself. Using the term 'Rex' to describe a coat that does not conform to the norm is said to have originated when the Belgian King Albert I (1875-1934) entered some unusual curly-coated rabbits in a show, and rather than offend him, the judges wrote 'Rex' (the Latin word for King) next to their names to explain the results!
The Cornish Rex can be traced back to the birth of one special kitten in Cornwall, and makes a fascinating story. A Mrs Nina Ennismore living on Bodmin Moor had a tortie and white domestic shorthaired (non-pedigree) cat called Serena, who gave birth to a litter of five kittens in 1950, one of which had a curly coat, with whiskers that looked like coiled watch springs, whereas the other four kittens had normal short coats as expected. She realised she had something rather special and this kitten stayed and was named Kallibunker, becoming the first ever Cornish Rex. There was uncertainty as to who the father was, and certainly no other curly coated cats had been sighted in the area, but it is thought to have been Serena's red-tabby litter brother. It has since been discovered that the gene for Cornish Rex is inherited recessively, with the likelihood increasing when two closely-related cats are bred together, although there is also a theory that the mutation for Cornish Rex may have been caused by radiation from the local tin mines. Mrs Ennismore decided to try and establish a new Rex breed as a result of the appearance of Kallibunker but because the gene pool was so restricted, the programme had limited success as the inbreeding caused many health-related problems. However, before she gave up on this, she exported a blue female Rex (already pregnant to her sire) who was used to establish this new breed in the USA. In the meantime, a son of Kallibunker (by now the only fertile Cornish Rex male) was used to start a new breeding programme by a small group of UK breeders in 1959, and by using domestic shorthair females, the Cornish Rex was finally established in 1960 by mating the resulting variant offspring to each other. The breed finally achieved full recognition in Britain in 1965.
The Cornish Rex is instantly recognisable by its cheeky expression resulting from the curly coat and whiskers, and huge ears (often described as resembling mussel shells!) set high on a medium wedge head with high cheekbones. They have particularly long legs, which make them almost look as if they are standing on tiptoe, a long almost string-like tail, and a coat (which can be any recognised colour or pattern, including bicoloured and pointed) without any guard hairs, that feels like crushed velvet to the touch. The coat can take as long as three years to mature fully. Another distinguishing feature of this breed is their long toes, enabling them to use their paws like hands, which they often do to very good effect when they want something! Eyes are medium-size and oval-shaped, and can be any recognised colour, usually linked the coat colour and pattern.
Cornish Rex cats are extremely intelligent, never missing what's going on, and make very affectionate companions. They are always on the move, only stopping to sleep when they are totally worn out by their antics (which can take a very long time!) or when their human companions are out. They are full of fun right into mature adulthood, and seem almost airborne at times, loving to jump round the furniture and other parts of their domestic obstacle course. They are very demanding and strong-willed, and need almost constant entertaining, but are also happy to play with other pets and are good playmates for slightly older children. They have a very tolerant nature and it's rare to come across an irritable Cornish Rex.
The Cornish Rex is not known to have any breed-specific health problems and many live to a very good age in the mid-teens. As with all other breeds, they need annual vaccination boosters against the common feline ailments of flu and enteritis, as well as against Feline Leukaemia if they go outdoors. Teeth should be checked regularly, especially as the cat gets older, as the Cornish Rex is more prone to dental disease than some other breeds. It can also be prone to kidney problems in later maturity.
This breed will eat most good quality proprietary brands of cat food, but will also enjoy treats of cooked chicken, ham and grated cheese, but not too many extra treats! Because of their active lifestyle, Cornish Rex cats are inclined to enjoy their food and often have voracious appetites. It is generally reckoned that they need about 70- 90 calories of food to every Kg of bodyweight per day, and care should be taken that they do not become overweight. Cows' milk may give them a stomach upset, and a bowl of water should always be available. The coat is easy to care for, and may be enhanced by brushing with a very soft-bristle brush, which the Cornish Rex will probably treat as a game, and firm stroking will help to emphasise the waves of the coat. The Cornish Rex is more prone to the build-up of earwax than many other breeds, and this should be checked regularly and gently cleaned with a damp cloth if necessary. With such a sparse covering of fur, the coat may become a little greasy, but this can always be helped by giving the cat a bran bath, heating the bran gently in the oven first.