Many mammals carry genes for curly hair, including horses, dogs, and rabbits. Cats come in a wide range of colors, sizes, and coat types, but only four curly haired cat breeds are internationally recognized. Curly coats on cats are called rexed coats, and gene mutations resulting in this fur type are rex mutations. Random genetic mutations sometimes lead to curly-haired kittens among freely bred cat populations, such as barn colonies or strays.
Cornish rexes originated in 1950 with one cream-colored, curly-haired kitten from a litter of barn cats in Cornwall, England. His owners named him Kallibunker and set out to breed more kitties like him. Another unique curly-haired stray kitten was found in Devonshire, England in the 1950s. His owners named him Kirlee and bred him with Cornish rexes. Kirlee's gene mutation was different, though, and resulted in a new breed: Devon rexes.
Two curly-haired breeds have American origins. A curly-haired kitten was born on an Oregon farm in 1982. The delighted farmer established the LaPerm breed after learning that curly-haired cats were rare. A fluffy, curly-haired kitten was discovered in a Persian litter at a Montana animal rescue in 1987. Miss DePesto was eventually bred with a Persian to create the Silkirk rex.
The Cornish rex is recognizable by its slender body shape, large ears, and long, skinny tail. They're active, social cats that retain a kitten-like personality throughout their lives. These cats enjoy a lot of attention and may become depressed and develop troublesome behaviors if they're lonely or isolated. Cornish rex cats have soft fur with tiny ripples all over their bodies. Shedding is minimal because their fur is actually very short and fine.
The Devon rex has a loyal, active, and extremely affectionate nature. They sleep and eat with their owners and love to play games and learn tricks. These curious cats enjoy perching on shoulders or laps while their humans are occupied. Devon rexes are sometimes called pixie cats due to their uniquely shaped heads, oversized ears, and inquisitive, playful behavior. Their soft fur grows in orderly curls or erratic ringlets of various sizes. This is an excellent breed for families with children.
The Selkirk rex has a calm, relaxed, affectionate nature that reflects their Persian ancestory. The Persian influence is also recognizable in their large, sturdy bodies, round eyes, and distinctly shaped muzzle. Selkirk rexes are sometimes called the "cat in sheep's clothing" because their loosely curled coats are extremely soft, full, and fluffy.
LaPerm cats are very playful, curious, and smart. They frequently learn to open doors with simple mechanisms and enjoy using their paws to swipe food, treats, and anything else that catches their interest. These affectionate cats become very attached to their human families and often try to "help" with tasks or tap people on the shoulder to request attention. The LaPerm is a small breed, with adults weighing between 5 and 8 pounds. Their thick fur coats are soft and silky with loose, bouncy curls.
Purebred animals are notorious for certain health issues. Rex breeds are susceptible to muscle weakness, blood clotting abnormalities, and cardiomyopathy or thickening heart muscle. Rex mutations for curly hair also make abnormal hair follicles, skin diseases, and poor hair growth more common. Hair follicle issues are associated with dental problems.
LaPerm gene mutations are dominant, while other rex mutations are recessive or codominant. The farmer that discovered the first LaPerm let the original cat breed with mixed breed farm cats, including Maine coon and Siamese mixes. Over half of the initial litters had LaPerm traits despite diverse genetic backgrounds. LaPerm cats can have long or short hair and carry most color variants found in domestic cats. They're much less susceptible to genetic health problems and tend to be healthier overall than many purebreds.
Grooming is important for curly-haired cats. Cornish and Devon rexes have fine fur that leaves their skin susceptible to sunburn, irritation, allergies, and dryness. Brush your rex cat as often as five times per week to remove flaky skin, dirt, dust, and loose fur. LaPerms and Selkirk rexes have thicker fur. Make sure to brush the neck, belly, and areas underneath the legs. Soft-bristle brushes are best for short hair, while pin brushes remove tangles from thick, long coats.
Regular grooming gives you lots of opportunities to check your cat for fleas, ticks, other parasites, and skin irritation or rashes. Inspect your cat's ears to look for dark wax or dirt that may indicate mites, infection, or an upper respiratory illness. As with any pet, you should take your rex cat for regular checkups and vaccinations. Make a vet appointment if you notice any signs of illness.
Get your paws on the latest animal news and information