Monday, February 18, 2013

Cat Breeds: Cornish Rex

Massive change such as a world war often triggers genetic change. This is how the Cornish Rex first developed. On July 21st, 1950, a litter of five kittens was born in Cornwall, England. One of these five kittens was a curly coated, cream male. This kitten was named Kallibunker by his owner, Nina Ennismore. Ennismore assumed that the coat was the result of a spontaneous mutation, the same kind that had been seen in horses, rats, and mice.

Under the advice of geneticist A.C. Jude and cat fancier Brian Stirling-Webb, Ennismore bred Kallibunker back to his mother (a tortie-and-white shorthair named Serena). This breeding produced two males and a female in the later summer of 1952. Both males had the curly coat of their father. One of these died before reaching seven months of age. The other was named Poldhu and is considered the father of the Cornish Rex cat breed, which was named because of its place of origin.

The problem with the foundation stock, including both Kallibunker and Poldhu, was one of a limited gene pool. There just weren`t that many Cornish Rex cats. So Ennismore had to inbreed her cats quite a bit. Knowing this would eventually compromise their health, she began to outcross to ordinary shorthaired cats. Though she might have introduced the gene into any number of breeds, she chosen to stick with shorthairs, mostly because a longhaired Cornish Rex would suffer from constantly matted hair.

After having achieved a cat population of more than forty cats, Ennismore discovered she could not sell enough of her unique cats to stay financially afloat. She chose to put many of her cats to sleep, the aging Kallibunker and Serena among them. She might have still had Poldhu, but two veterinarians performed a testicular biopsy in an attempt to determine if Poldhu was simply a blue-tabby-and-white stud or something more rare, siring blue cream and white. Females of this latter sort were common, but males were rare. Even more rare was a male of this sort who was fertile. Most were born sterile.

Though the vets promised Ennismore that Poldhu`s fertility would not be damaged, he never sired another litter after the biopsy. To make matters worse, the sample extracted from Poldhu was lost somewhere in the laboratory, rendering the entire procedure worthless.

This might have spelled the end of the Cornish Rex if not for Brian Stirling-Webb. In 1962, he learned that a male Rex kitten had been born in Devon. The woman who owned this kitten (named Kirlee) offered him to Stirling-Webb, hoping this would inject new blood into the failing Cornish Rex breed. Stirling-Webb bred Kirlee to the Cornish Rexes, but this resulted in kittens with straight hair. It became obvious that the Kirlee did not share the same mutation as the Cornish Rex cats. Luckily further test matings proved that the German Rex cats, developed independently in Germany, were compatible with the Cornish Rex. This allowed the Cornish Rex to continue in England.

Across the ocean, the Cornish Rex was also beginning to thrive. Before giving up her cats in the 1950s, Ennismore had sent several to American breeders. Most of these breeders were actually Siamese breeders, so they used their Siamese cats to enhance the Cornish Rex. This introduced a triangular head shape, fine bones, large ears, and a look reminiscent of the Greyhound dog. In a sense, they created the look of the Cornish Rex we are now familiar with.

The unique look of this breed was popular with cat fanciers and enthusiasts around the world. slowly gained acceptance around the world as a distinct and separate breed from the Devon Rex, beginning with the Canadian Cat Association and the American Cat Fancier`s Association in 1963. The Cat Fancier`s Association, however, continued to see the two breeds as one, registering both as Cornish Rex, until 1979.

The Appearance of the Cornish Rex Cat

The physical appearance of the Cornish Rex is unique and a little disconcerting the first time you see one. They`re tall and slender, a little like the Siamese, and have a dainty appearance. Even so, they are strong and well muscled. The power in their legs allows them to leap to astonishing heights. The body itself flows from head to tail.

The ears are rather large and placed on top of the head. The eyes are oval and have a slight upward slant. This, combined with the triangular head, gives the cat an exotic appearance. The body temperature of the Cornish Rex is also higher than would be considered normal for most cats.

But the thing that defines the Cornish Rex is the coat. The coat is short and curly, with even the whiskers and eyebrows having significant curl. There are no guard hairs at all on this breed of cat, so the Cornish Rex is usually soft to the touch. Because of the lack of guard hairs, the coat doesn`t require much in the way of grooming. The coat may be of any color and pattern.

The Personality of the Cornish Rex Cat

If your looking for a cat that is unreserved, friendly, and intelligent, the Cornish Rex might be for you. These unique cats have an almost fanatical need to be the center of attention. Sometimes called the Velcro cat for its need to near people, the Cornish Rex isn`t as independent as some other breeds. They don`t like to be left alone, so this isn`t a good pet for people who are gone twelve hours a day.

The Cornish Rex is full of energy and loves to play games. This is a cat that will love being taught to fetch and will even roughhouse with children to some extent. As long as they can have positive attention, this cat breed will do almost anything and are the entertainers of the cat world. They tend to be excellent with children and adapt well to most situations.

For all that it loves to communicate, the Cornish Rex isn`t a vocal breed. Instead, this cat will get his message across with body language and friendly antics. They use their tail, ears, and paws to tell their story, so watch your feline friend closely if you choose one of these cats.

Known Health Issues of the Cornish Rex

The Cornish Rex has very few genetic health issues, none of them serious. This is a hardy breed that generally enjoys good health. It should be noted, however, that they do have very short hair and have no guard hairs. This means they`re not suitable for colder climates and generally benefit from a cat sweater. You should also clean the ears and between the toes as these areas tend to get greasy.

Is the Cornish Rex Hypoallergenic?

This question comes up a lot, mostly because there are some dog breeds (Poodles among them) with curly hair that does not shed. These dogs are generally considered hypoallergenic as their coat minimizes the risk of allergic reaction. But a cat is not a dog, even though the thought in the 1950s was that the Cornish Rex would turn out to be hypoallergenic.

The problem is root of allergies. In dogs, it's usually the dander. So if the hair doesn't fall out, there's no dander on the couch to cause a reaction. With cats, however, the reaction is typically to the protein Fel D1 (which dogs don't have). This protein is present in the skin, dander, saliva, and urine of cats, including the Cornish Rex. To state it simply, coat type has no impact on allergies, so the Cornish Rex is not hypoallergenic.

The Cornish Rex may not be considered hypoallergenic, but it's still a wonderful and loving companion. These sweet natured felines make excellent pets for many families around the world.

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