What to Know About a Devon Rex

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on July 14, 2022
6 min read

The Latin word "Rex" means "king," but the word also describes rabbits and cats with a certain type of curly coat. With the Devon Rex breed of cats, both definitions may apply. Devon Rexes can rule a household. Their owners often treat them like kings, won over by their unique appearance and their loyal, loving, and sociable personalities.

There are four breeds of Rex cats. The Devon Rex is the second oldest, but it's still a new breed, originating in the English county of Devon in 1960. Besides their wavy coat, the large ears and unusual head shape of the Devon Rex also stand out. 

Devon Rexes are named for their coats, but you'll probably notice their ears first. Devons have very large ears with wide bases that sit low on the head. Add in large eyes, and Devons might remind you of aliens or extraterrestrials you've seen on TV. 

Devons have thin necks topped by wedge-shaped heads. Unlike some cat breeds that have flat faces, Devons have strong facial features with short but well-defined muzzles, cheekbones, and chins. The whiskers and eyebrows are fragile and break easily, so they are usually short.

Most cats, including Devons, have three kinds of hair. Guard hair is the longest and coarsest. Awn hair is shorter and softer. Down is the softest and thickest. In Devons, the guard hair is short and "rexed," which means curly or crinkly. These three kinds of hair create a coat that is visually interesting and nice to pet. 

The Devon Rex is medium in size with a lean, muscular body and longish legs. Their coats and eyes can be any color. 

The lifespan of the Devon Rex is 14 to 17 years, sometimes more.

The official standard for the Devon Rex describes the breed as alert and active. Owners describe the Devon Rex personality as:

  • Playful
  • Lively
  • Intelligent
  • Curious
  • Sociable 

Because cats often appear aloof, some people compare the friendly Devons to dogs. Devons even wag their tails when they are happy!

The Devon Rex needs a lot of attention, but not necessarily a lot of care. 

Grooming. Rex cats rarely require grooming. Stroke them with your hands or wipe them with a chamois to spread the oils throughout their coats. An occasional wipe with a damp cloth or a pet wipe will keep them fresh. Check their ears often, and clean them when they get dirty or if wax builds up. 

Feeding. Devons have a reputation for being foodies. They will eat their own food and yours, too. Some Devons like to snack on dry food all day. Others will overeat if food is always available. Most vets advise feeding adult cats twice a day. High-quality food is important. Your vet is a good source for advice about cat food

Water. Cats need fresh water. Clean and refill their water bowl often. Some may prefer a cat water fountain. Cat experts say that they may drink more if you separate their food dish and water dish. Cats have a keen sense of smell, and food smells may interfere with their drinking urge. 

Exercise. Devons are curious and will pursue exercise independently. Toys can keep them occupied for quite a long time. If you don't supply toys, they may climb the drapes or use your treasured items as playthings.

Protection against fleas and ticks. Fleas and ticks can be a problem, even for indoor cats. If you spot fleas or ticks, take your cat for treatment. Do the same if you notice:

  • Your cat scratches a lot.
  • Your cat's skin is red, irritated, scabby, or flaky.
  • Your cat is grooming more than usual.

Ask your vet whether you should treat your cat to prevent flea and tick problems. Some products, such as flea collars, are no longer considered safe for cats. Instead, your vet may recommend an oral medication. 

Protection against worms. Your vet can design a program to protect your cat against internal parasites. All cats should be on year-round medication to prevent heartworms. Cats that live outdoors or in warm climates are especially at risk. 

Tooth and nail care. Brush your Devon's teeth to prevent dental problems. Ask your vet to recommend a good toothpaste. A tall scratching post will keep your cat's nails in good condition.

Temperature sensitivity. Because their fur is so short, Devons are not well-insulated against the cold. They need a warm bed. Many enjoy getting under the covers of their owners' beds. 

Indoor living. Most cat care experts recommend cats stay indoors. Cats that are allowed outdoors may:

  • Contract diseases
  • Pick up fleas, ticks, and other parasites
  • Be struck by a car
  • Suffer attacks from dogs, wild animals, or other cats
  • Be exposed to poisons and toxins
  • Get stuck in trees
  • Encounter humans who are cruel to them
  • Kill birds and small animals

To be sure your cat is happy indoors, provide a scratching post, interactive toys, and places where they can perch and climb. 

Litter boxes. Indoor cats require litter boxes. Most prefer roomy boxes and unscented litter. All cats appreciate clean litter.

Vet visits. Cats should see a veterinarian at least once a year. Twice a year is better. This wellness visit should include a physical examination, blood tests, urinalysis, stool sample, and heartworm test. Ask your vet about screening for FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) and feline leukemia virus. 

All cats should receive core vaccinations for:

  • Feline panleukopenia (FPL)
  • Feline herpes virus type 1 (FHV-1)
  • Feline caliciviral disease 
  • Rabies 

These vaccines can be given together in an FVRCP vaccination. Depending upon your cat's risk, your vet may recommend non-core vaccines, including the one for feline leukemia. 

Although it is a healthy breed, watch for these Devon Rex health issues. 

Devon Rex myopathy. Devons can inherit a type of myopathy or muscle disorder. The disease usually occurs in the first 6 months of life and stabilizes around 9 months of age. Some cats have a more severe course of disease than others. The worst problems come from the cat's inability to support its head and neck. This can cause death by choking. Breeders can prevent this disorder by genetically screening their breeding stock.

Fading kitten syndrome. Devon rexes are at risk for a form of fading kitten syndrome. This form may occur when a female cat with type B blood mates with a tom with type A. The female cat will develop type A antibodies and pass them to her kittens through nursing. The antibodies will attack the red blood cells of any type A kittens. If owners spot this problem in time, they can hand-feed the kittens. Soon, the kittens' tummies will mature, and they will no longer be at risk. 

Hypertrophic Cardiac Myopathy (HCM). Some breeds, including the Devon Rex, are at risk for the genetic form of HCM. This thickening of the heart muscle may cause no problems, but it can also lead to congestive heart failure and death. There's currently no way to screen Devons for the genetic problem. Vets can use periodic echocardiograms to check for HCM. If diagnosed, the condition can be treated with medication.

Devon Rex owners warn that this breed is not for everyone. Devons:

  • Need their humans for companionship
  • Like to sit up high, climb on the drapes, and hide in tight spots
  • Will steal your food
  • Will misbehave when bored
  • May meow loudly, although their chirps, trills, and purrs may charm you 

The fun-loving temperament of the Devon Rex is a selling point, though. Devons also:

  • Shed very little and may not trigger cat allergies, although they are not hypoallergenic
  • Are good with children. 
  • Usually get along with other pets 
  • Can be trained to do tricks

In 1960, Beryl Cox of Devon was caring for a feral cat. When the cat had a litter in her garden, Cox saw that one kitten was a beautiful male with a curly coat. Cox adopted the kitten, naming him Kirlee. She believed the father to be a feral curly-coated tom living nearby in an abandoned mine.

Cox learned a curly-coated cat had been born ten years earlier in Cornwall. For ten years, a group had been trying to establish a breed of curly-coated cats from that cat, Kallibunker. Cox offered Kirlee to the breeders, who accepted. When Kirlee's offspring had straight hair, the breeders decided Kirlee did not have the same genetic makeup as Kallibunker.

Later, Kirlee was bred with one of his own offspring and produced a curly-coated cat. The breeders recognized that they had two gene pools of cats with Rexed coats. They dubbed Kallibunker's line Cornish Rex. Kirlee's offspring became Devon Rex. At first, cat breed associations lumped the two breeds together as Rex cats. The Rex breeders knew their differences well, though, and continued to keep their bloodlines separate. Slowly, the official organizations recognized the two breeds.