Devon Rex

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial on Jan. 20, 2009

An eye-catching breed that is still in its infancy, the Devon Rex will make its home in your arms and in your heart. Just independent enough to be an ideal cat for working families, the Devon will shower its people with love and attention when they are around, and stay out of trouble when they are not. And, because it sheds very little, it does not shower the home in hair. For those looking for a unique, warm, and loving companion, the Devon Rex is a perfect fit.

Physical Characteristics

The Devon Rex is without a doubt, one of the most eye-catching and unique cat breeds in the feline fancy. Often described as alien or pixie-ish because of its large eyes and ears, the Devon has a way of capturing, and keeping the attention of all who enter into its aura. Overall, Devons give off a roguish air, with over-sized, cup deep ears, high cheek bones, fox-like eyes, and a short muzzle, set atop a slender neck and body. But, it is the hair of the Devon Rex that gives it its most unique feature. Often called the poodle of the cat world, both because of its appearance and its personality, its hair grows in silky curls and rippling waves -- an effect called rexing -- over its light weight frame.

This breed has three hair types: guard, awn, and down. But the guard coat is lighter than with other breeds. The awn and down coats are dense, soft, and close to the body, but the guard hairs, which form the outer coat, are wiry, short, sparse, and prone to breakage; there is some risk of temporary bald patches because of this fragility, with the hair typically growing back to normal lengths during seasonal periods of hair growth. This is one of the very few defects the Devon caries as a result of engineered breeding. The whisker pads are somewhat full, further accentuating the prominent cheekbones and narrow chin, but the whiskers themselves are like the guard hairs, wiry and short and prone to breakage. If this should happen with your Rex, you can rest assured that the whiskers do grow back, but they still will not grow to the length that can be seen in other cats. This only affects the outer appearance of the Devon, and should not be a concern.

All colors and patterns are acceptable, including calico, and color pointing, such as that found in the Siamese breed. Eye color is also open, with the desire being on the color of the eye being compatible with the color of the hair. It is not uncommon to find a combination of colors, especially for white haired Devons. Odd-eyed cats, as they are so called, will typically have one blue eye and one amber or brown.

The Devon is medium sized, compact, muscular, and slender, with long legs that bow slightly in the front, giving this cat a vague boxer dog style of walk. The feet are generally small, but the toes are larger than normal. Some owners even report that their Devons can use their paws to pick up objects.

One of the few detriments to breeding the Devon Rex is the occurrence of mismatched blood types in queens and their offspring. A kitten born with a different, incompatible blood type from its mother will not be protected from the antibodies in the mother's milk, resulting in the death of the kitten. Breeders must be sure to have their cat's blood tested before breeding, to make sure that the mate's blood is compatible, although the problem can be worked with after the fact. Kittens can be temporarily hand fed until their intestines close and they can then drink from their mother, and the bonding can still take place in the early days, as long as the mother's nipples are covered and the kittens do not have access to the antibody rich colostrum. If you are planning to breed Devons, consult with an expert breeder and a knowledgeable veterinarian for more information.

In regards to the hair, the Devon is often recommended as a low allergy breed, but it should be kept in mind that it is not the hair of an animal that brings about allergic reactions, but rather the shedding skin, called dander, that causes problems for susceptible persons. The Devon does have less of a risk of causing allergic reactions, because it does not shed as much hair, but this will only be effective for people with light allergies anyway.

Personality and Temperament

The Devon Rex is a true companion pet. Its personality is naturally outgoing and people centered, so much so that you may find yourself spending more time with your Devon than you imagined. Although they have a triple layer coat, they still have the need for added warmth, due to the coat being light and close to the skin. You will find your cat contentedly purring atop your warm electronics and appliances, on your lap, under your chin and on your shoulders, and in the middle of the night, its little engine is still running as it snuggles under the covers with you. The Devon is a real purr-a-matic, seemingly never running low on energy, or affection. Be prepared for a lot of petting, cuddling and caressing.

The Devon is often described as being dog-like, and in some ways this is true. It is not a talkative cat, but it will greet you at the door and follow you around as you do the housework, or hang out in the bathroom while you bathe. Waggish and full of mischief, they are good at keeping themselves, and everyone else entertained, whether it is clowning and playing games for attention, climbing the curtains (you will want to use sturdy weight curtains with this breed around), or hanging around the dining table, begging for scraps.

The Devon has a quiet voice, and does well enough around the house on its own. It is not known for tearing around the house, or getting into trouble when no one is looking. It is generally regarded as an ideal pet for working families. It finds a way to keep itself busy while waiting for its people to return, and happily finds its way back into their arms when they do arrive.

History and Background

As breed lines go, the Devon Rex is still in the toddler phase. The story of the breed began in 1950 in Cornwall, UK, where a rex coated kitten was found amongst the litter of a tortoiseshell queen and a wild tom. After a check with her veterinarian, Nina Ennismore bred the male cat back to its mother to produce more rexed kittens. The kitten was christened Kallibunker, and after some experimentation with breeding for more of his type with other breeds, was found to be carrying a simple recessive gene for rexed hair, so that the characteristic only showed up in second generations, and only when offspring were bred back to the curly haired carrier of the gene.

Ten years later and 60 miles up the road in Devon, a cat fancier named Beryl Cox chanced upon a curly haired kitten when a feral tortoiseshell in her keep gave birth to a litter of kittens. The father was assumed to be a curly locked wild tom that had been seen living in a tin mine nearby, but he was never found. Ms. Cox kept the curled kitten, named it Kirlee, and domesticated it, and the story may have ended there, had she not chanced upon a news article about a curly coated kitten that had been born in Cornwall. It was the last rexed kitten left in the UK, and the Cornwall breeders were anxious to find a way to produce more of its kind.

Ms. Cox shared her story with the breeders in Cornwall, and agreed to sell her beloved Kirlee to them, for the good of growing the breed. Again, the story may have ended there, when the breeders found that the two curly haired cats did not produce more of their kind when mated -- only straight haired kittens resulted. Had they given up there, they may not have discovered that the two cats did not share the same curly haired genotype, and we would not have the Devon Rex today. But, one of the breeders bred one of the straight haired offspring back to her father, Kirlee, and half of the litter was born with rexed hair. This finding resulted in the first, the Cornwall cat, being dubbed the Gene 1 Rex, and the other, from Devon, the Gene 2 Rex.

The two separate, albeit similar, breeds were shown under the same classification from 1967 until 1984, where after much wrangling within the cat fancy, the Devon was given its own affiliation as the Devon Rex.

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