There are several Rex cat breeds available. They are all different, but all have distinctive curly coats, which makes them look very unlike all other cats. Many people have seen them, particularly if they go to cat shows, but often they do not really know much about them. So here are some facts about Rex cats...
Curly fur in cats is described as 'rexed'. So a Rex cat is simply one which has curly or wavy hair, not a particular breed, though the breed name may well include the term 'Rex'. The issue becomes a little more complicated by the fact that some Rex breeds also have straight haired examples, known as 'variants'. Confused? Read on...
Curly coats have cropped up in various cat breeds from time to time throughout history. Indeed, Charles Darwin apparently recorded several in his writings. The curly coat is almost invariably caused by a genetic mutation. In the wild the curly haired cats usually died out over time because curly fur is a significant disadvantage to a self-supporting or wild cat, as it tends to pick up debris and often breaks quite easily. It is only in recent years that these curly coated cats have been bred in order to establish a breed.
In the UK there are four well known Rex breeds: the Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, LaPerm, and Selkirk Rex. These are all accepted by the GCCF for show purposes, and examples of them are quite easy to find. However, they are not the only Rex breeds available. There is also a breed called the American Wirehair, which is known in the USA where it originated, and it is accepted for championship purposes. But this breed is quite rare outside its country of origin. There is also a German Rex, an Oregon Rex, and a Snookum (which is a cross between a Munchkin and a LaPerm). There may even be a few others, but they are certainly not generally known or widely accepted.
The above are by no means the only Rex cat breeds which have ever existed. Curly coat mutations seem to have occurred quite often in established cat breeds, but they are usually not welcomed and are allowed to die out. There was a curly coated Persian, which was named the Bohemian Rex, but it was never widely accepted. The rexed Maine Coon was called the Maine Wave for a while, but that too has now died out. It is also possible to find references to a Prussian Rex, an Ohio Rex, a California Rex, a Dutch Rex, a Urals Rex, and a number of others. So Rex mutations are not that uncommon; they are just rarely developed as breeds.
Each Rex mutation seems to be unique, so the Rex breeds are not related to each other. When the Devon Rex mutation appeared in Devon quite soon after the development of the Cornish Rex in Cornwall, it was naturally assumed that the two were related. But this proved definitely to not be the case.
So all Rex breeds are different, and are not genetically related. The only thing they have in common is that they all have curly fur. However, the length and type of curl is different in each breed – Devon Rex cats have sparse, very curly hair, while Selkirk Rex cats have luxurious ringlets, for example. So we are talking about very different breeds here.
Although Rex mutations had appeared many times before, the Cornish Rex was the first rexed breed to be developed, in Bodmin in Cornwall in the 1950s. Although far from an instant success, the breed has always had its followers, and there is even a slightly different version which developed in the USA.
When the Devon Rex came along, it was naturally assumed to be related to the Cornish Rex. However, this was proved to not be the case, and mating cats of each breed together produces straight haired kittens, since both Rex genes are simple recessives, ie you need two examples of the gene to get the curly coat.
The first LaPerm appeared in Oregon in the 1980s, and has since become quite well established. Along with the American Wirehair and the Selkirk Rex, the gene for this rexed coat is dominant. This means that all three breeds produce straightcoated 'variants' from time to time. So it is possible to get a straighthaired Rex cat if you wish, even though this might sound like a contradiction!
The most recent of the well established Rex breeds is the Selkirk Rex, which came along in the 1980s. The breed was developed from a mutation which first occurred in Montana, and is the only Rex breed with a cobby body similar to that of the British Shorthair, all other Rex breeds tending to have a rather slim Oriental body shape.
If you decide that you would like a Rex cat, there is plenty of choice. The four breeds available easily in this country all have their own societies, and there is also a Rex Cat Club dealing with all of them. They are all somewhat different in personality, and also differ in the way they need to be cared for. So your first step should be to decide which Rex breed you would like, and then find out about it. And hopefully you will soon be able to come home with a new curly-coated friend.