devon rex cat

Devon Rex Breed Guide: Care, Diet & Personality

The name ‘Devon Rex’ sounds a lot like ‘Cornish Rex’. So is the Devon Rex a similar cat? What does it look like, is it friendly, and should you get one?

What are Devon Rex cats like? They are affectionate, active and playful cats best known for their short and curly coat. It has a short coat because it has a genetic mutation that got rid of its ‘guard hairs’, the rougher and longer hairs in its coat, leaving only the soft and fluffy undercoat. It’s similar to the Cornish Rex, but isn’t related. They are ‘shoulder cats’ in that they love to spend time around their owners and ‘helping’ them with household tasks. Like many breeds, the Devon Rex can experience severe health issues related to its lack of genetic diversity, such as heart problems, kneecap dislocation and muscular atrophy. You should therefore consider carefully whether getting one is a good decision for you or not.

The guide below first looks at the origin of the breed, plus a few key questions like how long they live and how big they get. It will also cover their personalities: how playful they are, how affectionate they are and whether they’re good with children and other pets. We’ll finish by looking at how likely they are to get sick from breed-specific health complaints, and whether it’s right to buy one or not.

Devon Rex Cat Breed Guide

The Devon Rex is the less well-known cousin of the Cornish Rex. The two breeds are quite similar, so if you’re already familiar with the Cornish Rex, then you’ll know a lot about the Devon Rex too. Here’s a brief ‘Rating of Characteristics’ table taken from the excellent Barron’s Encyclopedia of Cat Breeds:

Activity level8/10
Playfulness8/10
Need for attention7/10
Affection towards its owners9/10
Vocality3/10
Docility5/10
Intelligence8/10
Independence3/10
Healthiness & hardiness5/10
Need for grooming1/10
Compatibility with children5/10
Compatibility with other pets5/10

So, the Devon Rex is best known for how affectionate it is towards people, how active it is around the house, and how playful it can be. Let’s find out a little more about its history and some of these key characteristics.

Where Are Devon Rex Cats From?

devon rex cat
A great example of the Devon’s big ears and curly, short fur.

The Devon Rex breed is from a part of England called Devon, which is right next to Cornwall, if you know where that is! Devon is in the deep south-west of the country, a region known for its farming communities, thick accents, and historically at least, its own language. The first ever Devon Rex was the kitten of a stray cat taken in by a local named Beryl Cox. Beryl lived in a small town named Buckfastleigh, and being a cat lover, would take in the occasional stray. One day she found a curly-haired tom near an abandoned tin mine—Cornwall and Devon were known from Roman times for their tin mines—and took him in, too.

Under her care this curly-haired tom had kittens, one of which had the most unique curly, short hair Beryl had ever seen. Suitably named ‘Kirlee’, this was the first ever Devon Rex. The word ‘Rex’ in this context comes from a rabbit breed, believe it or not: Rex rabbits have soft, short plush coats not unlike the Devon Rex and Cornish Rex, so these breeds were named after them. Kirlee was born in 1959.

It was thought for a while that Devon Rexes might be Cornish Rexes in disguise. It certainly wouldn’t be the first or the last time Devon and Cornwall argued over something. However, clever genetic testing eventually proved that the two breeds are not related despite being so similar and arising in the same small corner of the world. In this case, the genetic testing wasn’t done in a lab, but rather in a Cornish Rex breeder’s back yard—the first Devon Rex cats were bred with Cornish Rexes and produced nothing but normal cats with straight hair.

What’s interesting is that the Devon Rex gene is recessive. We’ll get more into the genetic side of cat breeding later, but for now, all you need to know is that a recessive gene has to be passed on from both parents, not just one. This means either that the same genetic mutation happened independently in both Kirlee’s mother and father… Or that they were related and nobody knew at the time!

The history of the Devon Rex as a registered breed began not long afterwards. The first Devon Rex was brought to the U.S. just a few years later in 1968. The ACFA (the American Cat Fanciers’ Association) was the first to accept the Devon Rex in competition in 1972, and the CFA (Cat Fanciers’ Association, and a separate body from the AFCA) followed suit in 1979.

Are Devon Rex Cats Common?

The Devon Rex is not a common cat breed. Far more common is its Cornish cousin, the Cornish Rex. This popularity disparity is explained in that the Cornish Rex was first bred around a decade before the Devon Rex, which gave it time to corner the ‘pug-lookalike cat with short, curly fur’ market. But it’s not unheard of, and it’s seen commonly at shows throughout the U.S.

What Does a Devon Rex Cat Look Like?

There are several key features of a Devon Rex. The most obvious is its short, curly coat, which is what it was initially bred for. Its coat varies from wavy to tight curls, often being curlier in some places than others. While its coat is different in terms of texture, the Devon Rex can be any color you find in cats, from white through ginger, red, deep brown, blue-silver and black. It can also have any pattern to its coat, including calico, tortoiseshell and pointed.

Something else that sets it apart is the softness of its coat. The reason why it has such a short, soft and wavy coat is that it lacks guard hairs. Guard hairs are those in the outer layer of the coat. They are longer and coarser than the rest of the coat, and have long, straight shafts so that they poke out from the softer fur beneath. The reason these hairs are rougher is that they are the outer layer of the coat, so they protect the softer and warmer fur beneath from abrasian and moisture, hence the name ‘guard hair’.

The Devon’s lack of guard hairs means that its fur is very smooth and soft, and that it hardly sheds. While the Cornish Rex is bred to not produce guard hairs at all, the Devon’s does; they’re just very fragile so break before they get too long. It’s for this reason that Devons have stunted whiskers or no whiskers at all. It’s also common for a Devon to have bald areas like on its belly or other places it can lick. This is normal.

Besides its coat, the Devon has a distinctive face. Its face is wedge shaped, with a wider top than bottom. You could compare it equally well to a ‘little green man’ alien, or to an elf! Completing the picture are its two big ears, far bigger than those in other breeds, which are set low on the head, are far apart, and are very wide at the base. In general appearance Devons look roughly like regular cats, albeit with long and slim legs.

How Long Do Devon Rex Cats Live? [Lifespan]

The Devon Rex doesn’t have the longest lifespan of all cat breeds—just an average one. Yours is likely to live for between nine and fifteen years, which is the same as most cats. While the Devon Rex does experience certain health issues, these aren’t unique to the breed, and aren’t common enough to significantly affect the average lifespan of the breed as a whole.

How Big Do Devon Rex Cats Get?

Devon Rex cats aren’t very big. While they partly look smaller than other cats because of their short coats, they have a small to medium build. They weigh 5 to 10lbs on average. They’re quite tall for their size because of their long, slim legs, and are 15-18 inches long.

That being said, Devons love food, so can easily gain a few extra pounds from snacking too much. You can at least tell easily, because the breed’s short coat hugs its body, giving fat no place to hide!

Are Devon Rex Cats Hypoallergenic?

One of the biggest plus points with regard to the Devon Rex is that it’s better for people with allergies than other cats are. To understand why, we first have to understand what triggers cat allergies in people.

Allergies are caused by allergens. An allergen is something that enters the body that the body overreacts to. Take a peanut allergy for example: when a person with a peanut allergy eats a peanut, the body believes it’s under attack, and lots of different things happen: tissue swells up, the heart beats faster or slower than normal, it becomes difficult to breathe, and the nose runs. These are all symptoms of the body thinking it has to defend itself.

The same applies to a cat allergy. You aren’t allergic to a cat’s hair or dander, but to specific organic compounds, the most common being Fel d1. Fel d1 is a kind of protein that cats produce in their saliva and sebaceous glands, and it is the root cause of most cat allergies. There are other proteins (Fel d2-8) that you can be allergic to as well. When the cat grooms itself, Fel d1 gets onto its fur and skin. When it sheds, the allergen spreads with the hair and skin left behind.

Some cat breeds are good for people with allergies because they produce less Fel d1 than others, like Russian Blues and Bengals. The Devon Rex does not produce less Fel d1 than average. It is therefore not hypoallergenic. Rather, the reason why Devons are good for people with allergies is that they don’t shed much. They therefore don’t spread as much Fel d1 around your house. If you are interested in the Devon Rex on the basis of it being ‘hypoallergenic’, spend some time around them so that you can see how they affect you.

How Much Does a Devon Rex Cat Cost?

Because they’re rare, the price of Devons can vary. You can expect to pay somewhere between $1200 and $1800 for yours. It is also possible to find your Devon Rex through a shelter or through online adoption services, although because they’re a specific breed and they’re uncommon on top of that, don’t expect to find too many.

As for ongoing costs, the Devon Rex isn’t much different to your average cats. All cats should have regular checkups at the vet, and should be taken outside of these any time it displays symptoms of ill health. While the Devon Rex is not the most robust of cats, it also isn’t routinely sickly. There are health issues that affect it, but no more than affect other breeds. This means that the ongoing costs are roughly equal to those you find with other breeds.

Do Devon Rex Cats Need to Go To The Vet a Lot?

Your Devon Rex should head to the vet roughly as often as any other cat. Most vets recommend checkups either once a year or twice a year. But they don’t get injured or sick more often than the average cat.

That being said, there are health issues that affect these cats disproportionately compared to other breeds. These are detailed in greater depth below, but for now, just know that they mostly affect Devons in their old age. That’s when most cats go to the vet more frequently anyway. As such, no: your Devon Rex isn’t particularly likely to need frequent vet care.

Are Devon Rex Cats Easy to Take Care Of?

The Devon Rex is a pleasure to live with. Not only are they highly affectionate, but they’re easy to take care of, with perhaps the least grooming needs of any cat breed alongside the Cornish Rex. This is because of their short coats.

What Kind of Temperament Do Devon Rex Cats Have?

devon rex
Devons are happy, friendly and ‘helpful’!

To boil down the Devon Rex’s temperament into just a few words, you could call it loyal and people-centric. It is more playful than aloof, and enjoys getting human attention. If you want a cat that will be largely independent and leave you alone, the Devon Rex is not that cat!

Besides that, Devons are intelligent but require motivation. So for example, they can quickly learn how to fetch and walk on a leash. But unless you provide an incentive for them to do so (like a treat) then they might not bother.

Are Devon Rex Cats Good with People?

The Devon Rex loves people. The DRBC (Devon Rex Breed Club) describe them better than anyone else:

People really are the main focus of this breed. Visitors unfamiliar with Devons are amazed at the greeting committee which converges on the entryway for every arrival and surrounds the visitor to escort him to his seat–and of course to share it. The Devon owner, on the other hand, will readily recognize the following nightly scene: the owner settled on the sofa, a neuter relaxed and purring in her arms in baby position, one paw on her neck, while a female perches on the back of the sofa and runs her carefully trimmed claws dreamily through the person’s hair. Meanwhile, a kitten drags his kill–an old electric blanket–off a chair and across the room to drop it at his owner’s feet.

The people-fixation begins very early in life. Even three-week-old kittens will toddle across the box and lift their faces in anticipation of a kindly touch when they sense the familiar approach of the person in their lives. Trouser-climbing is one of the earliest learned skills.

From the time they can follow you around, Devons will try to be close, to “help” with every task, from reading to bathing, and to converse with you about it in a quiet but incredibly varied commentary. Their very favorite activity is, of course, meal preparation, with clean-up of the dishes a close second. But when activities are over, cuddle time is always welcome.

Because Devons are so social, they are eager to please. And because they are intelligent, they learn a number of English words—the command “down!” is probably the first acquisition—and obey, at least temporarily!

All that being said, remember that how much cats like people depends on how they’re raised. A cat that has positive experiences with people when it’s a kitten will trust them; a cat that has negative experiences or no experiences with people won’t. That’s why feral cats can never learn to trust people, because there is a crucial window of development early in the kitten’s life when it learns whether it can trust other cats, people, and certain household noises like vacuum cleaners. It’s therefore vitally important if you buy a Devon Rex that you get one from a reputable breeder; you can also assess how people-friendly a shelter cat is by spending some time with it.

Devons are also good with children. Their playful natures and loyalty towards their families mean that they can put up with a lot. Remember, though, that whether a pet is ‘good with kids’ depends more on the kids than on the pet. If your child can’t be respectful towards cats, then cats won’t like it, no matter what breed they are.

Are Devon Rex Cats Good with Other Pets?

The Devon Rex is a reasonable choice for families that already have other pets. While it isn’t known for being the friendliest of all cat breeds towards other cats, it has a generally happy nature and enjoys playing. Your average Devon Rex is therefore compatible at worst with other pets in its household.

Do Devon Rex Cats Need Lots of Grooming?

The Devon Rex doesn’t require a lot of grooming because it produces next-to-no guard hairs. It therefore sheds far less than other cats. This means you don’t have to brush your Devon Rex if you don’t want to, or if it doesn’t like the feeling of being brushed.

Bathing this breed is easy. Because they don’t have guard hairs, it’s easy to apply shampoo to their coats. It’s just as easy to rinse it out and dry the cat afterwards, as their downy fur dries quickly. Bathe yours regularly if you are allergic to cats, as this gets rid of much of the Fel d1 you might react to.

Even if you don’t want to bathe or brush your Devon Rex, it will stay clean, happy and healthy. That’s why cat breed guides give them such a high ‘ease of grooming’ rating. The only exception is if it catches fleas, in which case a little brushing wouldn’t go amiss alongside other flea treatments.

Do Devon Rex Cats Need a Special Diet?

Your Devon Rex will not require a specialist diet. None of the health issues that affect it are related to diet; they’re genetic, meaning that your cat will develop them if it has those genes regardless of its weight. Obesity can make certain issues worse, though.

As such, you can feed your Devon Rex a normal complete cat food. You could also consider feeding it a specialist diet for kittens or for older cats, depending on its age. Kitten food has more fat and protein than the average cat food, which helps it reach its full size quicker. Foods for older cats contain additives that are good for the joints. But there’s no such thing as a cat food that’s any better for Devon Rexes in particular.

Health Issues That Affect The Devon Rex

Devon Rex cats can experience several health issues related to their genetics. While these can theoretically affect all cats, they affect cat breeds more than domestic short-hair cats because purebred lines have less genetic diversity. The Devon Rex is the perfect example, as it’s almost certain that the first Devon Rex kitten was the result of inbreeding. While great effort and expense can be taken to introduce more genetic diversity into purebred cats, this remains a problem.

Eithe way, let’s take a look at the health issues your cat might face.

Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) in Devon Rex Cats

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a genetic condition in which the walls of the heart become thicker. It can become so bad that it stops the heart from pumping blood properly.

This condition is progressive, meaning that it gets worse over time. There is no ‘cure’ and no way to stop it from progressing. It appears in middle age and in old age.

The cause of HCM is a genetic mutation. This genetic mutation can be found in any cat, but for the reasons described above, is most common in purebred lines. Special genetic testing services can check whether your cat is susceptible to HCM or not. Be wary of any breeder that says their Devon Rex kittens don’t have this mutation unless they have had them or their parents genetically tested.

Patellar Luxation in Devon Rex Cats

Patellar luxation is where the kneecap moves out of place, either upwards, downwards, left or right. This occurs when the quadriceps muscles aren’t properly formed, which can occur because of a genetic mutation.

The effects of patellar luxation vary. There are four grades (one, two, three and four) used to diagnose how bad the problem is. In the worst cases, patellar luxation can cause lameness in the affected limb, although this does not happen in the majority of cases. If left untreated, joint lesions can develop which leads to arthritis. The issue can be fixed with surgery in instances of Grade II or higher patellar luxation.

Again, this problem can be seen in any cat. But it’s most common in the Devon Rex and Abyssinian breeds.

Hereditary Myopathy/Muscular Dystrophy in Devon Rex Cats

Devon Rex cats experience an issue known as hereditary myopathy. ‘Hereditary’ means that the condition is passed on through genes, and ‘myopathy’ means a disease that affects the muscles and makes them weaker. Muscular dystrophy is a specific kind of hereditary myopathy. The UFAW (Universities Federation for Animal Welfare) state the following about this condition:

Hereditary myopathy in Devon rex cats is characterised by generalised muscle weakness caused by a defect in the mechanism by which signals from nerves are transmitted to the muscles. Affected cats may be unable to walk and exercise normally due to muscle weakness. They tire easily and may experience muscle tremors and collapse. These clinical signs may occur more commonly during stress or excitement, or during periods of concurrent illness. Signs of muscle weakness start to occur from three to 23 weeks of age, and usually progress slowly in severity until approximately 9 months of age where the condition stabilises. However, some cats may experience problems swallowing and are at risk of sudden death through choking

Hereditary myopathy is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait. To reduce the prevalence of this inherited disorder in the Devon rex breed, screening using DNA tests is recommended for all cats that may be bred from.

They do also say, though, that ‘reports of inherited myopathy in cats are rare in the scientific literature … It has been most commonly described in Devon rex cats, although there are no specific data reported on the prevalence of the condition in cats.’ In other words, while it is a serious condition, it’s not one that’s very common.

Devon Rex Blood Types

This admittedly is not an issue that’s relevant unless you plan on breeding your Devon Rex. These cats have two different blood types, A and B. Type A is by far the more common. Either way, when a female with type B blood is bred with a male that has type A blood, kittens with both blood types are produced. Those with type B blood will fare well, but those with type A blood will experience fading kitten syndrome.

There are several causes of fading kitten syndrome. But in this case, it is caused by an issue known as ‘neonatal isoerythrolysis’, or NI. This occurs when the mother and its kitten have different blood types. When the kitten drinks its mothers colostrum (a particularly rich milk produced immediately after birth), antibodies in the milk target and destroy the kitten’s red blood cells. This quickly kills the cat. Again, this is irrelevant unless you are planning on breeding your Devon Rex. You can either ask the breeder what blood type they have, or pay for testing that will identify whether your cat has type A or B blood.

Should You Get a Devon Rex Cat?

A Devon Rex would make an excellent companion for anybody who loves cats. However, we firmly believe that you should adopt a cat for a shelter instead of buy one from a breeder. The ASPCA state that somewhere around 860,000 cats are put to sleep in shelters each year in the United States alone. At the same time, 1.6 million cats are adopted each year, and 85 million U.S. households have one or more cats. There’s therefore more than enough room for the many cats still looking for homes.

If you have your heart set on a Devon Rex in particular, adopting instead of buying doesn’t rule out getting one. Cats of all kinds can be found in shelters, although admittedly, purebred cats are always the first to be adopted. Instead, consider adopting from one of the sources available online:

  • RescueShelter.com. This is a service provided by the Rescue Me! network. You can search for cats of particular breeds that need to be adopted.
  • AdoptAPet.com. AdoptAPet.com is North America’s largest non-profit pet adoption website. Again, you can search for cats of certain breeds if you have your heart set on one in particular.

There may also be a breed-specific rescue near you. Search on your preferred search engine for ‘Devon Rex rescue near me’ to find out if there is one.

If you do plan on buying a Devon from a breeder, pick one that knows what they’re doing. It’s common for people to sell kittens that are happy accidents rather than the result of a proper breeding program. Kittens bought from people who don’t know what they’re doing may be taken from their mothers before they’re weaned, may not have had their shots, may have parasites like worms or fleas, or may develop behavioral problems because of poor treatment. Check whether the breeder is registered with any local or national breeding associations such as the ACFA in the U.S. or the GCCF in the U.K., whether they’re well-known in the breeding community, and whether how they raise their cats is suitable or not.