What to Know About Rex Cats

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on November 25, 2022
5 min read

There are several cat breeds with the term "rex" in the name. This refers to their coats, which are crimped or curly, unlike most other cat breeds, which have straight fur. The texture of this hair is often described as wiry. Due to their unique coats, these cats sometimes have special needs to keep their fur and skin looking beautiful and healthy.

There are several types of rex cats, including:

Each of these cats has a curly or crimped coat due to a genetic mutation. While some people do try to create cat breeds, many of these rex breeds are a result of random mutations that occurred naturally and were then selected to strengthen the traits of the breed. Because they only share the trait of a curly coat, the different rex breeds look and act quite differently. Each rex breed also has a smaller gene pool than some other cat breeds, so they may have genetic health issues to watch out for.

In general, cats with curly hair can require extra care such as bathing and gentle brushing to reduce oil buildup. Without these treatments, the cats may develop yeast infections or other irritations. Some rex cat breeds have thinner hair. These cats might require sunscreen on their ears if they go outside or like to sit directly in the sun.

Cornish rex cats are petite and fragile looking with an oval head, large round eyes, and big ears high up on the head. Their coats appear more wavy than curly because the hair is so short. The Cornish rex has very soft fur that feels like petting a rabbit.

Cornish rex cats are more hypoallergenic than some other cat breeds but are not fully hypoallergenic because they do still shed their fur. 

Personality-wise, Cornish rexes are very friendly and playful. They love to be around people, and some say that they have a kitten-like energy for their entire lives. 

Cornish rexes first originated in Cornwall, England, which is also where their name comes from, in 1950. A strange-looking curly-haired cream-colored cat appeared in a litter of barn cats. They named him Kallibunker. He was bred with his mother to create more curly-haired kittens. Those kittens were bred with Burmese, Siamese, and British domestic shorthair cats to broaden the genetic base of the breed. This breeding process also revealed that the curly-haired gene in Cornish rexes is recessive, which informs the breeding process for the breed.

Cornish rex cats can have a genetic tendency for polycystic kidney disease and progressive retinal atrophy.

Their colorings and patterns can vary, including such patterns as calico and tortoiseshell.

Selkirk rex cats are large and round, with a big round face and sturdy build. They can have a long coat or a short coat. Their hair is visibly coarse and curly, with a more apparent curl on long-haired Selkirk cats.

You do not need to brush your Selkirk cat as often as a regular short- or long-haired cat. But you should bathe it from time to time with a shampoo, as long as you fully rinse it off to leave the coat clean.

Selkirk rex cats may have a genetic tendency for polycystic kidney disease.

This breed originated recently from a cat that was found in a shelter in Montana. That cat was bred with a black Persian cat, starting the breed. In Selkirk rex cats, the genetic mutation that causes the curly hair is dominant, so curly-haired cats can be born in the same litter as straight-haired cats.

Selkirks come in a large range of colors and patterns including pointed and smoke.

Some people think Devon rex cats look like they come from a fantasy land. They have huge ears compared to their heads, an elf-like look with big eyes, and a curly-haired coat that is quite variable. The coat can range from fully curly to short and velvety.

Due to the limited gene pool, there is a disease specific to the breed called Devon rex myopathy. This disease causes muscle weakness, and they may develop trouble eating and even holding their heads up. They are also prone to polycystic kidney disease and joint issues.

The breed started in Devonshire, England, in the 1950s. A woman found a stray kitten with an elf-like appearance and curly hair and named him Kirlee. 

The Devon rex comes in a large range of colorings and patterns including solid, tabby, and shaded.

This unusual cat breed only appeared in 1982, so it is pretty new as far as cat breeds go. Each LaPerm rex cat has a slightly different coat. Their curls can be tight corkscrews or looser waves. There are also both longhair and shorthair types.

Some LaPerm rex cats are born without hair, and some are born with curls straight from the start. This is a loving cat breed that typically wants to follow you around and be involved in whatever you're doing. 

The first LaPerm rex cat was found in a litter of barn cats in 1982. The cat was completely bald for the first eight weeks, so the owner had no idea what was in store. After the curls came in, the cat was given the name Curly. However, the owner had no knowledge of genetics or cat breeding and so did nothing about her strange discovery. Over the next decade, bald and curly kittens kept appearing in new litters on the farm. After a while, the owner realized how special this was and entered her cats into a cat show after finally creating the name of the breed.

LaPerm rex cats come in every coat pattern and color.

These cat breeds are desirable and sometimes expensive. For that reason, cat experts recommend keeping your rex cat as an indoor cat to keep it safe and healthy. They also recommend neutering or spaying your cat at the appropriate age, unless you plan to use it for breeding. Provide your cat with a stimulating environment and plenty of toys with scratching surfaces to keep it active and healthy.