Cornish Rex: Cat Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Calico Cornish Rex cat sitting on bed

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Strikingly unusual and surprisingly elegant, the Cornish Rex cat is a curly-coated cat breed with a reputation for being an active, sociable member of the family. These cats are the result of a natural mutation in the 1950’s in Cornwall, England, but today are a popular cat breed in the United States.

At first glance, you’ll likely notice the large, wide-set ears and egg-shaped face of this breed before taking in the unusually arched back, narrow waist, and long limbs that make this cat the “greyhound” of the feline family. Adding to the almost whimsical look of the Cornish Rex is its trademark curly fur, arranged in tight rows along its svelte body. Unforgettable in appearance, these unique cats are a delightful companion that proves to be easy-going in today's fast-paced households.

Breed Overview

Length: 6 to 10 pounds

Weight: 18 inches long

Coat: Short with rows of tight, fine curls

Coat Color: Wide range of colors including solid, Shaded, Smoke, and Tabby varieties.

Eye Color: Blue, green, blue-green, or gold

Life Expectancy: 10 to 16 years

Bi-color Cornish Rex
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White Cornish Rex with green eyes looking at camera
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Side profile of tabby Cornish Rex cat
Tara Gregg / Getty Images

Characteristics of the Cornish Rex

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Vocalize Moderate
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Cornish Rex

Hailing from England in the 1950’s, this cat breed takes its name from the Cornwall region. The earliest ancestor to the Cornish Rex appeared when a genetic mutation caused a kitten to be born with an unusually curly coat and unique long-limbed body structure that quickly caught attention. The cat’s mother was a British Shorthair, while the identity of the father was never discovered.

The kitten’s owner, Nina Ennismore, consulted with a geneticist and decided to breed the kitten—who became known as Kallibunker—back to his mother once he matured. The result was a litter of three kittens; two carried the recessive gene responsible for the curly coat. These early forerunners of the Cornish Rex were bred to Siamese, Burmese, and British Shorthair cats to widen the genetic pool and develop the breed further.

In 1957, while the breed was still very much in development, a pair of Cornish Rex cats were imported to the United States. This proved to be fortunate, since Kallibunker and his offspring nearly disappeared from England in the late 1950’s. Additional crossbreeding in the United States with American Shorthair, Havana Brown, and other cats helped to preserve the breed that today has become popular for its sociable personality and adorable antics. In 1964, the Cornish Rex received official breed recognition from the Cat Fancier’s Association.

Cornish Rex Care

The curly coat is one of the most obvious features of the Cornish Rex, and it fortunately requires relatively little care. Like all cats, the Cornish Rex is an avid self-groomer. However, this breed completely lacks guard hairs—meaning that the coat can sometimes become oily, especially around the chin and paws. If this is the case for your Cornish Rex, you may need to bathe your cat on a regular basis to keep him from feeling greasy to the touch. You can brush the soft, fine fur, but be careful to do so gently to avoid damaging the tight curls.

Without the protection of guard hairs or the insulation of a soft, downy undercoat, the Cornish Rex often feels warm to the touch but is sensitive to either hot or cold temperature extremes. For the happiest, healthiest cat, keep him indoors with adequate heating or air conditioning.

Despite its slender frame and elegant appearance, the Cornish Rex is an athletic feline with an affectionate personality. Like all cats, this breed requires daily attention, regular feeding, and plenty of owner interaction. However, its intelligent and sociable nature mean that a Cornish Rex will need mental stimulation and at lease some pet-parent bonding time every day. They can be vocal communicators, in part because of their Siamese heritage. These cats are especially adaptable, and do well with a variety of environments—which has even led to their use in therapy work.

The breed is known for getting along well with children and other pets, as long as they’re treated with respect. While some breeds, like the Devon Rex, are especially keen on having other animal companions, the Cornish Rex is agreeable but mostly indifferent—as long as it receives enough one-on-one time with human family members.

Cornish Rex cats have been taught to do tricks, including to wave, shake, sit, and more. Many even love to play fetch, and have been known to use their paws to pick up items. They are particularly responsive to positive reinforcement training techniques and will gladly take a treat for a job well done!

If you decide to add this friendly feline into your home, you’ll be rewarded with a pet that is both amusing and elegant. Just be prepared to have a serious cuddle buddy, since Cornish Rex cats will actively seek the attention and affection of their owners.

Common Health Problems

Thanks to its diverse heritage, this ‘purebred’ cat isn’t particularly susceptible to some of the diseases and disorders found in other cat breeds. The Cornish Rex benefits from crossbreeding between a number of different cats, including Siamese, Burmese, British Shorthair, American Shorthair, and Havana Brown breeds. As a result, these cats aren’t prone to any specific health problems and often live a long, healthy life. Many Cornish Rex cats are reported to live in their late teens, with some even surpassing the age of 20.

Of course, their delicate fur means they’re more at risk for sunburn. So be sure to keep them out of the sun’s rays and use a cat-friendly sunscreen if necessary.

Diet and Nutrition

An active cat like the Cornish Rex typically has an appetite to match. But don’t let these frisky felines fool you into thinking they need their food bowl replenished on demand. These cats are not dainty eaters, and if not monitored, they can easily become overweight.

Whether or not you free feed your cat may depend on your lifestyle and your cat’s appetite. If you have an “always hungry” Cornish Rex on your hands, be sure to establish a good eating routine for your cat and stick to it.

While these cats will benefit from a high-quality cat food, they also often appreciate fruits and veggies in moderation and with veterinary approval. You can offer these as treats or tasty additions to their regular mealtimes.

More Cat Breeds and Further Research

Is the Cornish Rex the right cat for you? Learn more about this unique breed from across the pond. You will find that quality breeders, Cornish Rex rescue groups, and breed interest clubs are often happy to share insights, tips, and funny stories about these comedic creatures.

Also consider checking out these other related cat breeds, which helped to develop the Cornish Rex breed as we know it today: