Curly haired Rex cats have cropped up throughout history. Some, like the curly coated Persian and the Rexed Maine Coon (Maine Wave) have died out, but some have become established breeds. There are now several of these available in the UK. But many people would be hard-pressed to distinguish between the different Rex breeds, and indeed often think that they must be related. However, they are all completely separate breeds, have arisen independently, and in all of them the Rex gene for the curly coat is different. So let us take a look at each of them in turn, and note how they may be distinguished from each other.
This was the first cat with curly hair to turned into a successful breed. A kitten with the mutation for curly hair appeared in Cornwall in the 1950s. He was bred back to his mother, producing three kittens, two of which had the same curled coat. The mutation was found to be recessive, ie two copies of the Rex gene were needed to produce the curly coat.
The coat of the Cornish Rex lacks guard hairs, and as a result is very soft. The breed's looks are distinctly foreign, with a wedge-shaped head and mussel-shell ears. The body is slender, of medium length, and hard and muscular. It is carried high on long legs.
The Devon Rex mutation was first seen in a stray cat in Devon in the 1950s, and in 1960 a feral cat gave birth to a litter which included a curly coated kitten. This kitten was bred to a Cornish Rex, but the resulting kittens were all straight coated. However, when one of these was bred back to the original cat, a curly coated kitten was produced. Tests showed the gene to be another simple recessive, but clearly a different gene from that for the Cornish Rex.
In fact, apart from also having curly hair, the Devon Rex looks nothing like the Cornish Rex. Unlike the Cornish Rex, the Devon's coat has guard, awn, and down hairs. Although the guard hairs are sparse and short, they give the Devon coat a looser, more open-looking curl than the Cornish Rex. Some people have been heard to say jokingly that you can tell the two breeds apart because they obviously go to different hairdressers to get their hair permed!
However, it is the shape of the heads which really distinguishes the cats. While the Cornish Rex has a fairly normal looking foreign look, the Devon's looks are unique. The cats have a wide face tapering to a pointed chin, so that the face is a definite triangle. This is topped by enormous ears, giving the cats a definitely elfin appearance, which many people find very endearing. The breed has a broad chest, widely spaced front legs, and a muscular body. When you see the two of them together, a Devon Rex cannot be confused with a Cornish Rex.
Despite the quirky name, this breed is not the result of any human hairdressing, but another mutation, this time one that turned up in free-breeding rural American cats. The first LaPerm appeared on a farm in Oregon in 1982. the kitten was bred to local tom cats, and eventually it was established that this was another new gene, but this one was found to be dominant.
The LaPerm is another long, slender cat with an Oriental look. However, you are unlikely to confuse it with the Cornish Rex, for its coat is much less tightly curled. It comes in both short haired and long haired versions, and the curl varies from waves to ringlets. Since the gene is dominant, straight coated 'variants' are also produced.
This was another breed which turned up in the USA, where in 1987 a kitten with thick curled hair turned up in a litter born in Montana. This turned out to be another separate gene, also dominant like the LaPerm gene. Therefore straight coated 'variants' are produced, and this breed also has both long haired and short haired versions.
You are very unlikely to mix up the Selkirk Rex with any of the other Rex breeds. Unlike all the other Rex cats, which tend to be long and slender, the Selkirk Rex is a cobby cat, similar to the British Shorthair. It has a sturdy build, but its legs are longer than the British type. The coat is thick and soft, with all three types of hair, and is in a random arrangement of loose curls. The cat has a slightly unkempt appearance, particularly obvious in the long haired Selkirks, and some people describe it affectionately as 'the cat which is having a bad hair day'!
The Rex breeds differ in temperament as much as they do in looks, if not more so. The Cornish Rex is a high energy breed, similar to most Oriental cats in personality. It is playful, adventurous, and always on the move. It is also very people orientated, and these cats have earned the name 'Velcro cats', for their tendency to be found attached to their owners at every opportunity. The elfin looking Devon Rex is also energetic, but is known particularly for being a mischief maker, an imp in personality as well as looks. The LaPerm is known for being inquisitive, intelligent, and active, but is also very gregarious and people oriented. The Selkirk Rex really stands out in terms of personality as well as looks. These are easy-going, laidback cats, never in a hurry, and content to just be near their owners.
So there you have it. Of necessity, this is just a brief summary of the characteristics of each type of Rex cat and how to tell the difference between them. But hopefully you will be able to distinguish them now, if you see them at cat shows or elsewhere. And maybe you now have an idea which of these could be the breed for you.