The Devon Rex is a small to medium breed which arose from a spontaneous mutation in 1959. Devons are known for their unusual curly coat and pixie-like appearance.
The first Devon Rex was a black-brown stray tomcat living in a deserted tin mine near Buckfastleigh in Devon in the late 1950s. This cat had an unusually short and wavy coat and attempts were made to catch this unusual looking male, but he evaded capture.
In 1960 the elusive tom mated with a stray tortie and white female who had been befriended by Miss Beryl Cox who lived close to the abandoned mine. In September she delivered four kittens in a field at the bottom of Miss Cox’s garden. One of the kittens, a male, had the same black-brown curly coat as the wild tom. Miss Cox named the male kitten Kirlee and planned to keep him as a pet.
In 1960, Miss Cox read a newspaper article that included a photo of a curly-coated Cornish Rex (discovered ten years previously). The article was for an up and coming cat show and included was a photo of a curly-coated kitten by the name Du-Bu Lambtex. It went on to say that she was the only curly coated cat in Britain. Miss Cox wrote to the breeder of the kitten, Agnes Watts explaining that she too had a curly-coated cat. It was presumed that Kirlee carried the same gene as that of the Cornish Rex.
Mr Brian Sterling-Webb who had been working on a breeding programme with the “Rex” cat purchased Kirlee from Miss Cox for £25, feeling that Kirlee could be used as an outcross. Much to their surprise when mated with several straight coated rex females, all the offspring had straight coats. Repeated attempts to mate Kirlee continued to produce straight-haired offspring, and it was concluded that Kirlee’s genotype was different from that of the Cornish Rex. The two recessive genes were named: Gene 1 (Cornish Rex) and Gene 2 (Devon Rex).
Work began to establish both the Cornish Rex and the Devon Rex as unique breeds. Kirlee went to live with a member of the Cornish Rex group by the name of Mrs P. Hughes who mated Kirlee to one of his straight-coated Cornish daughters by the name of Broughton Purley Queen. The resulting litter comprised of three kittens, two were straight coated, and one blue-cream female (Broughton Golden Rain) was curly-coated like her father – and so the Devon Rex breed began.
Interestingly, Broughton Purley Queen was later mated to a gene 1 rex (Cornish), and produced a litter of four kittens, two with straight coats and two with curly coats and was the first known hybrid who carried both the Devon and the Cornish rex genes.
All Devon Rexes can trace their ancestry back to Kirlee who was sadly killed in a road accident in 1970.
Arrival in the United States
Marion White and her daughter brought the first Devon Rex cats, Annelida Aubretia and Wigmel Black Witch to the United States in 1968. The following year Shirley Lambert, of Bob’N Shir Cattery imported two pointed Devons, Hesperian Orchid and Wigmel Telaman. The Whites and Lamberts imported several more Devons, and more breeders came on board to establish a breeding programme. In 1983 the Devon Rex gained Championship status with the Cat Fanciers Association.
Body: The Devon is a small to medium-sized cat, with males weighing 4-5 kg (8.8 – 11 lbs), and females 3.5-4 kg (7.8 – 8.8 lbs). The body is hard and muscular, broad in the chest and medium fine in boning. Legs are long, sturdy and carried high, the hind legs are longer than the front. The chest is deep and the legs are long and slender, hind legs are longer than the forelegs.
Head: The head is a modified wedge, with a distinct convex curve from the outer earlobes, cheekbones and whisker pads. In profile, the nose has marked stop, the forehead curves back to a flat skull. The muzzle is short and well developed with a strong, well-developed chin. In profile, the chin should line up vertically with the nose. The oval eyes are large and wide-set, sloping towards the outer edges of the ears. Any eye colour is accepted. Ears set low on the sides, wide at the base so that the outer base extends beyond the line of the wedge.
Coat: The coat is short, soft and curly and contains all three types of hair guard, awn and down. Whiskers and eyebrows are short and crinkled.
The Devon Rex is an intelligent, curious, mischievous and active breed of cat who retains its kitten-like behaviour throughout its life. They like to be a part of everything in the house.
Devons thrive on human companionship and love to be close to their owners, sitting on your lap, snuggling up with you in bed and even riding on your head or shoulders. Children and other pets are not a problem for Devon Rexes, which makes them the ideal family pet.
The somewhat mischievous personality traits of the Devon Rex has earned the breed the nickname “monkey in cat’s clothing“.
The Devon Rex occurs in all coat colours and patterns which includes solid, bi-colour, tri-colour, mink, pointed (known as Si-Rex) and smoke.
Choosing a Devon Rex
If possible, look for a breeder who raises their kittens underfoot, that is, inside the house, so they are used to lots of human interaction and the hustle and bustle that goes with most households.
Most breeders won’t let kittens go to their new home until they are at least ten weeks, many Devon Rex breeders hold onto the kittens longer as they are quite a petite breed and many veterinarians won’t desex a kitten until it is at least 2 kg.
The majority of breeders prefer to desex kittens before they go to their new homes to prevent backyard breeding. If you do want a kitten to breed with, you should state this when you make contact with the breeder.
Devon Rexes can produce more ear wax than other breeds which may require cleaning.
Dental care is important for all cats which can be achieved with a cat toothbrush and toothpaste and/or by feeding your Devon raw chicken necks or chunks of beef.
Your Devon Rex should receive three core vaccines as a kitten followed by a booster shot at 12 months. Updated vaccination guidelines recommend tri-annual vaccinations for low-risk cats, but speak to your veterinarian as they may recommend a different vaccination schedule.
All kittens are playful and that extends well into adulthood with the Devon Rex. This is a breed with an extremely curious nature and a love of heights. Kitten-proof your home before your Devon Rex comes home. Put all medications and poisons in a safe cabinet the cat can’t access, ensure blinds cords are tied up to prevent strangulation, keep toilet seats down, external doors closed, and remove anything which could potentially be a choking hazard or cause linear foreign body ingestion (string, cords, tinsel etc). Set up a safe area with a bed, food and water bowls and a litter for the kitten when you cannot supervise.
The Devon Rex is an overall healthy breed but has a higher incidence of several health problems, although breeders are working hard to eliminate these health problems with outcrossing and genetic testing.
- Devon Rex myopathy (spasticity)
- Hypokalemic polymyopathy
- Vitamin K-dependent coagulopathy
- Hip dysplasia
- Patellar luxation
- Urticaria pigmentosa
Cats have three blood types A, B and AB (rare). A is the most common blood type in domestic cats, however, over 30% of Devon Rex cats type B. This is important to know in case the cat ever needs a blood transfusion.
Blood typing is of significant importance when breeding Devon Rex cats. If newborn kittens with type A or AB blood nurse from a mother who is type B, naturally occurring antibodies in the queen’s colostrum (first milk) lead to the destruction of the kitten’s red blood cells. This condition, known as neonatal isoerythrolysis has a high mortality rate. Blood type all breeding cats and if the queen is type B, do not allow the kittens to nurse for the first 24 hours. After 16-24 hours the kitten’s intestinal mucosa loses its permeability and antibodies are not absorbed, which makes it safe for the kitten to return to its mother.
Devon Rexes are suitable for
Devons are suited to active households who want an interactive cat who is a part of the family. Due to their people-loving nature, Devons are suited to homes where there is somebody there most of the time and can become lonely or destructive if left alone for long periods.
The Devon Rex gets along well with other family pets, their energetic and kitten-like personality makes them incredible around children.
Are Devon Rexes hypoallergenic?
In truth, a rex cat is no different from any other cat and produces allergen like all other cats. They are not hypoallergenic by any means, as claimed by some.
Then why do some people seem to have no allergic reaction to rex cats? There is no simple answer to this question at this time, and more research is required to get the answers needed. One possible hypothesis is that as rex cats have less hair to shed, they simply deposit less allergen-laced hair around the home. But, whatever the reasons some allergic people seem to tolerate them.
From personal studies and observations by Margaret Lawrence in the UK, she found that around 10% of people allergic to cats tolerate rex cats. Please, before you race out and look for a rex cat, remember you should always test your allergies by visiting home or catteries that only own rex cats, and test continuously over several weeks or months. As you don’t want the poor little kitten to be re-homed if you find out you are allergic to him or her. Don’t let your new cat become another statistic at a shelter.
Frequently asked questions
Why do Devon Rexes have curly coats? The Devon Rex has feline congenital hypotrichosis (also known as familial hypotrichosis) which causes short/sparse hair guard hairs.
The coat of normal cats has three hair types;
- Guard hairs – Long, straight and uniform in diameter until the tip, the guard hairs are the coarsest type of hair
- Awn hairs – Intermediate and thinner hairs which are shorter and thinner than the guard hairs
- Down hairs – The soft, and wavy hairs which make up the undercoat
KRT71 (keratin 71) is a gene that is responsible for hair keritinisation within the hair follicle. KRT71re causes follicular dysplasia due to an alteration of keritinisation.
Unlike other cat breeds which have been developed from spontaneous mutations, the gene responsible for the Devon Rex coat is cosmetic only and has no impact on the overall health of the breed. However, the Devon Rex does have a higher incidence of certain genetic diseases which have been listed above.
Are Devon Rex cats affectionate? Devon Rexes are extremely affectionate, but as always the early weeks of life, as well as genetics, shape the overall nature of all cats. Kittens who are raised by an attentive mother and experience a lot of positive human interaction in the crucial early weeks typically develop into well-rounded cats. The Devon is a breed that loves to be close to its human family.
Do Devon Rex cats shed? Devon Rex cats do shed, although due to the lack of guard hairs, they shed less than other cats.
Do Devon Rexes need baths? Devon Rex cats don’t need a bath, unless their coat is contaminated with a substance (oil, dirt etc). Some pet owners choose to bathe their cats, but in most cases, it isn’t necessary. Cats do benefit from a weekly groom to remove loose hairs.
Are Devon Rex cats noisy? The Devon Rex is not an overly noisy or talkative cat.
Are Devon Rex cats good cats? The Devon Rex is a fantastic choice of pet, their confident, friendly and affectionate personality makes them a favourite.
Are Devon Rex cats indoor cats? All cats should be indoors, especially the Devon Rex. Their unique and trusting nature means they have no fear of people and other animals.
How long do Devon Rexes live? The average lifespan of a Devon Rex is 10-15 years.
What is the difference between the Cornish Rex and the Devon Rex? The coat of the Cornish Rex is made up of awn and down hairs but has no guard hair, this makes the Cornish Rex coat soft to the touch. The wave-like pattern of the Cornish Rex is known as a Marcel Wave, which was a stylish waved hairstyle popular in the 1920s and ’30s, named after Francois Marcel, a French hairdresser who invented the process.
In addition to the awn and down hairs, the Devon also has sparse guard hairs, which are short and rexed compared to normal-coated cats. Devon Rex coats are looser with a more open curl compared to the waved coat of the Cornish Rex.
The coats aren’t the only difference. Devons are small to medium-sized and muscular but not stocky. They have a broad elf-like face, with large ears set low on the side of the head, wide-set oval eyes, prominent cheekbones and a short muzzle. In profile, the nose has a prominent stop.
The Cornish has a long and lean body, an ‘egg-shaped’ head which is approximately 1/3rd longer than it is wide. Eyes are medium to large, oval and slant slightly upward, the nose is Roman, cheekbones are wide and prominent. Ears are large and full from the base, erect and alert and set high on the head.