Cornish Rex

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Your Cornish Rex

Caring for Your Feline Companion

Cornish Rexes: What a Unique Breed!

Your cat is special! She senses your moods, is curious about your day, and has purred her way into your heart. Chances are that you chose her because you like Cornish Rexes (sometimes called “C-rexes”) and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle, like:

  • May remain playful as a kitten throughout her life
  • Playful and energetic
  • Good with children and other pets
  • Requires minimal grooming
  • Highly intelligent and able to learn tricks

However, no cat is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:

  • Very talkative, has an opinion about everything
  • An indoor cat that doesn’t do well in the heat
  • Can become chilled in cold weather
  • People-oriented and should not be left alone for long periods of time

Is it all worth it? Of course! She’s full of personality, and you love her for it! She is intelligent, playful, and sociable; making her an energetic and fun companion.

The first Cornish Rex was discovered in Cornwall, England in 1950, distinguishing itself from its barn cat littermates with its slender body, large ears, and curly coat. The greyhound of the cat world, C-rexes look fragile but are actually quite sturdy and athletic. They keep their playful, kitten-like traits well into adulthood, and enjoy close contact with humans. Rexes are well suited to indoor living, and don’t tolerate temperature extremes very well due to their short coat. Cornish Rexes are active and lively participants in their families.

Your Cornish Rex’s Health

We know that because you care so much about your cat, you want to take great care of her. That is why we have summarized the health concerns we will be discussing with you over the life of your Rex. By knowing about the health concerns common among Cornish Rexes, we can help you tailor an individual preventive health plan and hopefully prevent some predictable risks in your pet.

Many diseases and health conditions are genetic, meaning they are related to your pet’s breed. The conditions we will describe here have a significant rate of incidence or a strong impact upon this breed particularly, according to a general consensus among feline genetic researchers and veterinary practitioners. This does not mean your cat will have these problems, only that she may be more at risk than other cats. We will describe the most common issues seen in Cornish Rexes to give you an idea of what may come up in her future. Of course, we can’t cover every possibility here, so always check with us if you notice any unusual signs or symptoms.

This guide contains general health information important to all felines as well as information on genetic predispositions for Cornish Rexes. The information here can help you and your pet’s healthcare team plan for your pet’s unique medical needs together. At the end of the booklet, we have also included a description of what you can do at home to keep your C-rex looking and feeling her best. We hope this information will help you know what to watch for, and we will all feel better knowing that we’re taking the best possible care of your friend.

General Health Information for your Cornish Rex

Weight Management

Obesity is a major disease that contributes to a surprisingly large number of illnesses and deaths in cats.
This revelation is more well-known and well-understood today than in the last few decades, but too many owners are still ignoring the dangers of extra weight on their pets. Excess weight is one of the most influential factors in the development of arthritis, diabetes, and other life-threatening diseases. Everyone knows—many firsthand from personal experience—how even shedding just a few pounds can result in improved mobility and increased overall motivation to be active. And the same is true for your pet.

Research suggests that carrying excess weight may shorten a pet’s life by as much as two years, and can cause the onset of arthritis two years sooner. Diabetes, an inherited disease, has a much higher chance of developing in overweight pets, and may never become a problem for a healthy-weight cat. The more obese a cat becomes, the more likely it will become diabetic. Hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver, is another potentially fatal disease in overweight pets; hepatic lipidosis can develop in as few as 48 hours when an overweight cat stops eating for any reason.

So how can we help our pets stay trim? Understanding your cat’s dietary habits is key. The average cat prefers to eat about 10-15 times a day, just a few nibbles at a time. This method, free-feeding, works well for most cats, but boredom may increase the number of trips your cat makes to the food bowl. By keeping your cat playfully active and engaged, you’ll help your pet stay healthy and have some fun at the same time! A string tied to a stick with something crinkly or fuzzy on the other end of the string, and a little imagination—you and your cat will both be entertained. Food puzzles, like kibbles put in a paper bag or under an overturned basket or box, may help to motivate cats with more food-based interests to romp and tumble.

For really tough cases of overeating, you will have to take a firm stance, and regulate your cat’s food intake. Instead of filling your cat’s bowl to the top, follow the feeding guide on the food package and be sure to feed a high-quality adult cat diet as recommended by your vet. Replace your cat’s habits of eating when bored with extra playtime and affection. Cats typically adjust their desires for personal interaction by the amount of affection offered to them, so in other words, ignoring your cat means your cat will ignore you. By the same token, loving on and playing with your cat a lot will cause your cat to desire that time with you. A more active cat means a healthier, happier pet—and owner!

Inflammation of the gum tissue surrounding the molar teeth. Daily tooth brushing will help prevent dental disease.

Inflammation of the gum tissue surrounding the molar teeth. Daily tooth brushing will help prevent dental disease.

Dental Disease

Dental disease is one of the most common chronic problems in pets who don’t have their teeth brushed regularly. Unfortunately, most cats don’t take very good care of their own teeth, and this probably includes your Rex. Without extra help and care from you, your cat is likely to develop potentially serious dental problems. Dental disease starts with food residue, which hardens into tartar that builds up on the visible parts of the teeth, and eventually leads to infection of the gums and tooth roots. Protecting your cat against dental disease from the start by removing food residue regularly may help prevent or delay the need for advanced treatment of dental disease. This treatment can be stressful for your cat and expensive for you, so preventive care is beneficial all around. In severe cases of chronic dental infection, your pet may even lose teeth or sustain damage to internal organs. And, if nothing else, your cat will be a more pleasant companion not knocking everyone over with stinky cat breath! We’ll show you how to keep your cat’s pearly whites clean at home, and help you schedule regular routine dental exams.

Vaccine-Preventable Infections

Like all cats, Cornish Rexes are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections such as panleukopenia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis, and rabies, which are preventable through vaccination. The risk of your cat contracting these diseases is high, so the corresponding vaccines are called “core” vaccines, which are highly recommended for all cats. In addition, vaccines are available to offer protection from other dangerous diseases like feline leukemia virus (FeLV). In making vaccination recommendations for your cat, we will consider the prevalence of these diseases in our area, your cat’s age, and any other risk factors specific to her lifestyle.

There is no treatment for heartworm infection in cats. Prevention is the best therapy for this potentially fatal disease.

There is no treatment for heartworm infection in cats. Prevention is the best therapy for this potentially fatal disease.

Parasites

All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your C-rex’s body, inside and out. Everything from fleas and ticks to ear mites can infest her skin and ears. Hookworms, roundworms, heartworms, and whipworms can get into her system in a number of ways: drinking unclean water, walking on contaminated soil, or being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some of these parasites can be transmitted to you or a family member and are a serious concern for everyone. For your feline friend, these parasites can cause pain, discomfort, and even death, so it’s important that we test for them on a regular basis. Many types of parasites can be detected with a fecal exam, so it’s a good idea to bring a fresh stool sample (in a stink-proof container, please) with your pet for her twice-a-year wellness exams. We’ll also recommend preventive medication as necessary to keep her healthy.

Spay or Neuter

One of the best things you can do for your Rex is to have her spayed (neutered for males). In females, this procedure includes surgically removing the ovaries and usually the uterus; in males, the testicles are surgically removed. Spaying or neutering your pet decreases the likelihood of certain types of cancers and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming pregnant or fathering unwanted litters. Both sexes usually become less territorial and less likely to roam, and neutering particularly decreases the occurrence of urine spraying and marking behaviors in males. Performing this surgery also gives us a chance, while your pet is under anesthesia, to identify and address some of the diseases your cat is likely to develop. For example, if your pet needs hip X-rays to check for dysplasia or a thorough dental exam to look for stomatitis, these procedures can be conveniently performed at the same time as the spay or neuter to minimize the stress on your cat. Routine blood testing prior to surgery also helps us to identify and take precautions against common problems that increase anesthetic or surgical risk. It sounds like a lot to keep in mind, but don’t worry – we’ll discuss all the specific problems we will look for with you when the time arrives.

Genetic Predispositions for Cornish Rexes

An illustration of a feline heart with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Notice how the thick heart muscle becomes too stiff to pump blood effectively.

An illustration of a feline heart with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Notice how the thick heart muscle becomes too stiff to pump blood effectively.

Heart Disease

Cardiomyopathy is the medical term for heart muscle disease, either a primary inherited condition or secondary to other diseases that damage the heart. The most common form, called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, is a thickening of the heart muscle often caused by an overactive thyroid gland. Another example is dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, which can be caused by a dietary deficiency of the amino acid taurine. While DCM was a big problem in the past, all major cat food producers now add taurine to cat food, so DCM is rarely seen in cats with high-quality diets today.

Catching signs of cardiomyopathy early is important, but a cat’s normal tendency to hide illness can make symptoms difficult to spot. The first thing a pet parent usually notices is rapid breathing, lethargy, and a poor appetite. These symptoms may appear to come on suddenly, often between a few hours to a few days, but in most cases, the cat has actually been suffering quietly for weeks to months and is now in serious trouble.
For a few breeds of cats, genetic testing is available for a specific gene abnormality that causes HCM. Most cats with cardiomyopathy have a heart murmur that can be detected during a wellness physical exam, but a specific diagnosis requires more advanced medical imaging. Finding this problem early, when treatment is most effective, is another important reason to have your pet evaluated twice a year for life.

Arterial Thromboembolism

Cats with heart disease may develop blood clots in their arteries known as FATE (feline aortic thromboembolisms). Blood clots most commonly become lodged just past the aorta, the large blood vessel that supplies blood from the heart to the body, blocking normal blood flow to the hind legs. When this happens, one or both hind legs may become paralyzed, cold, or painful. FATE is a life-threatening disease, and requires quick action and prolonged medical care. Cats who survive thromboembolisms, however, usually regain full function of their limbs. If your cat is diagnosed with heart disease, we may prescribe medications to help lower the risk of blood clots. If your cat suddenly can’t walk or is dragging one or both back legs and crying, don’t wait! Your pet needs immediate emergency care.

Blood Type

Although we hate to think of the worst happening to our pets, when disaster strikes, it’s best to be prepared. One of the most effective life-saving treatments available in emergency medicine today is the use of blood transfusions. If your cat is ever critically ill or injured and in need of a blood transfusion, the quicker the procedure is started, the better the pet’s chance of survival.

Just like people, individual cats have different blood types. Most domestic cats have type A blood, but purebred cats, like your Cornish Rex often have a different blood type, usually type B or very rarely, type AB. Determining your cat’s blood type is essential before starting a transfusion, so knowing your cat’s type ahead of time can save crucial minutes. Blood typing is recommended for all cats, but is especially important for purebreds. This test can be done as part of a routine wellness blood testing, and the results can be added to your pet’s microchip record as well for fast action even if you aren’t there.

Neonatal Isoerythrolysis (NI)/Hemolytic Icterus

Neonatal isoerythrolysis, or NI, is a rare immune-mediated disease that is caused when a newborn kitten with type A blood suckles colostrum (first milk) from a mother with type B blood or vice-versa. The mother’s immunity against type A blood is contained in her colostrum, so when the kitten nurses, the antigen is absorbed into the kitten’s bloodstream through ingestion. The resulting immune reaction develops antibodies that attack and destroy the kitten’s own red blood cells. Consequently, affected kittens usually die within a few days of birth. NI can occur in many cat breeds, but is more often seen in breeds with a higher likelihood of having type B blood like your Cornish Rex. If you plan to breed your cat, you will need to learn more about this problem beforehand from your veterinarian.

Vitamin K-Dependent Coagulopathy

Vitamin K-dependent coagulopathy is an inherited disorder that causes a lack in the production of certain coagulation factors that help blood to clot. Affected cats lack an enzyme that helps absorb vitamin K into the body, and vitamin K is required by the liver to produce some coagulants. Because of this severe reduction in clotting factors, affected cats have a tendency to bleed for prolonged periods of time even after only minor trauma or simple procedures such as blood collection. Because Cornish Rexes are more at risk for this condition than other breeds, be sure to watch for symptoms such as bruising, lethargy, weakness, pale gums, or blood in the urine. If minor injury causes bleeding to occur in the chest cavity, the cat may also have trouble breathing. In severe cases of vitamin K-dependent coagulopathy, blood transfusions may be required to keep the cat from experiencing critical anemia. Once diagnosed, however, treatment of this disorder is relatively easy by providing affected cats with vitamin K supplements. Because the disorder is genetic, affected cats should not be used for breeding.

Abdominal x-ray of a cat with a fluid filled abdomen caused by an FIP infection.

Abdominal x-ray of a cat with a fluid filled abdomen caused by an FIP infection.

FIP Susceptibility

Feline Infectious Peritonitis, or FIP, is a fatal disease caused by a type of coronavirus. All cats may carry this virus in a dormant state, but if the virus undergoes a combination of specific mutations, it can act on a susceptible cat’s immune system, causing the cat to develop FIP. Cornish Rexes seem to be more at risk for developing FIP than other breeds. FIP causes damage to the blood vessels (vasculitis) and fluid build-up inside the abdomen or chest. Blood testing is available for detecting coronaviruses in cats, but these tests don’t differentiate well between non-harmful coronaviruses and the actual FIP disease. Screening cats for this disease before breeding or selling them is therefore difficult and unreliable. FIP is always a risk for any kitten, but more so when purchasing a purebred cat from a breeder; once FIP has developed in a cattery population, it is tough to get rid of it. Be very careful to ask about any history of FIP infection in a kitten or cat’s family or cattery history before purchasing your pet. Unfortunately, there is currently no effective treatment for FIP, and it is a fatal disease.

Deafness

Cats of any breed that are completely white, especially if they have blue eyes, are at high risk for congenital deafness, and are likely to be born with reduced or absent hearing. Heritable or genetic deafness has also been noted in some C-rex bloodlines, so if you suspect your cat’s hearing is not as keen as it should be, schedule an appointment with us right away. The problem could be caused by a treatable issue like ear polyps or an ear infection, but if your pet’s ears are healthy and he’s still ignoring you, a more thorough hearing workup might be in order, including brainwave analysis, if indicated. There is no treatment for genetic nerve deafness, but most deaf cats get along fine in an indoor environment. For deaf or hearing-deficient cats, going outside can be very dangerous, as cats rely largely on hearing to detect sneaking predators and other perils like oncoming cars, so an indoor life is the best way to keep your hard-of-hearing pet safe.

Illustration of patellar luxation. Notice how the knee cap has moved out of the groove it normally resides in.

Illustration of patellar luxation. Notice how the knee cap has moved out of the groove it normally resides in.

Patellar Luxation

The stifle, or knee joint, is a remarkable structure that allows a cat to perform amazing feats of agility like crouching, jumping, and pouncing. One of the main components of the stifle is the patella, or kneecap, and the medical term luxation means “being out of place”. Thus, a luxating patella is a kneecap that slips off to the side of the leg because of an improperly developed stifle. A cat with a luxating patella may not show signs of pain or abnormality until the condition is well advanced; signs of this condition appear gradually and can progress to lameness as the cat grows older. Early detection of a luxating patella is key to effective therapy, so getting your cat an x-ray at the time of her spay or his neuter, around three to six months of age, is a good way to check. If the problem is mild and involves only one leg, your pet may not require much treatment beyond typical arthritis medication. When symptoms are more severe, surgery may be needed to realign the kneecap and prevent it from popping out of place. Although the tendency for patellar luxation seems to be inherited, developmental problems in joints have complex inheritance patterns, and genetic tests have not yet been developed for this condition. Patellar luxation occurs in many breeds, but C-rexes are at higher risk for the condition.

Urticaria Pigmentosa

There is a long list of diseases that can make your cat itch and break out in little red bumps. Allergies to food or to pollen, parasites like fleas or mites, fungal or bacterial infections, and even certain types of autoimmune diseases can all cause these general symptoms. But for your Cornish Rex, add urticaria pigmentosa to the list. The exact pathology of this itchy skin disease has not yet been fully discovered, but it appears to be passed on genetically, and is fairly common in some family bloodlines. With so many possibilities as the cause for apparently identical skin irritations, diagnostic testing is essential in order to narrow down treatment options. We don’t need to waste a lot of time and money trying out various therapies to see if they work while the cat continues to suffer, because diagnostics can help us pinpoint the issue. If you see your cat excessively scratching, we will discuss a comprehensive approach to get at the root cause of your cat’s itch and provide effective treatment and relief for your pet.

Hypotrichosis

Hypotrichosis is caused by a recessive genetic defect found in several cat breeds, including Cornish Rexes. This disease causes thinning of the hair or balding, which tends to develop in patterns or patches on the torso and head. A kitten can be born with symmetrical hair loss, or thinning of hair may ensue shortly after birth. In time, affected areas may develop additional pigmentation or thickened skin. Skin biopsy samples will indicate if your cat has a lower-than-normal number of hair follicles, sebaceous glands, or sweat glands. Hypotrichosis is not painful, but special care is required to protect your cat’s skin. No effective treatment is currently known for this condition. Because it is genetically linked, affected cats and their close relatives should not be bred.

Dystocia

Dystocia is a term that means difficulty giving birth. In some breeds, nearly all litters must be delivered by Cesarean-section surgery as normal birth is not possible due to the breed’s specific physical characteristics. While breeding any cat requires a serious commitment to learning about and preparing for that breed’s preventable problems, professional breeders warn that proper Cornish Rex breeding can be costly and carries a higher risk of death for both the mother and kittens than in other breeds.

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Taking Care of Your Cornish Rex at Home

Much of what you can do at home to keep your cat happy and healthy is common sense, just like it is for people. Watch her diet, make sure she gets plenty of exercise, regularly brush her teeth and coat, and call us or a pet emergency hospital when something seems unusual (see “What to Watch For” below). Be sure to adhere to the schedule of examinations and vaccinations that we recommend for your pet. During your cat’s exams, we’ll perform her necessary “check-ups” and test for diseases and conditions that are common in Rexes. Another very important step in caring for your pet is signing her up for pet health insurance. There will certainly be medical tests and procedures she will need throughout her life and pet health insurance will help you cover those costs.

Routine Care, Diet, and Exercise

Build your pet’s routine care into your schedule to help your C-rex live longer, stay healthier, and be happier during her lifetime. We cannot overemphasize the importance of a proper diet and exercise routine for your pet.

  • Supervise your pet as you would a young child. Keep doors closed, pick up after yourself, and block off rooms as necessary. This will help keep her out of trouble, off of inappropriate surfaces for jumping, and away from objects she shouldn’t put in her mouth.
  • Their short coats require little maintenance. Frequent rubdowns with a soft cloth or your hands, with only an occasional bath.
  • Cornish Rexes have generally good teeth, and you can keep them perfect by brushing them at least twice a week!
  • Check her ears weekly for wax, debris, or signs of infection and clean when necessary. Don’t worry—we’ll show you how!
  • Her short coat makes her sensitive to temperature. She should be kept indoors at all times.
  • Cats are meticulously clean and demand a clean litter box. Be sure to provide at least one box for each cat and scoop waste daily.
  • It is important that your cat drinks adequate amounts of water. If she won’t drink water from her bowl try adding ice cubes or a flowing fountain.
  • Feed a high-quality feline diet appropriate for her age.
  • Exercise your cat regularly by engaging her with high-activity toys.

What to Watch For

An abnormal symptom in your pet could be just a minor or temporary issue, but it could also be the sign of serious illness or disease. Knowing when to seek veterinary help, and how urgently, is essential to taking care of your cat. Many diseases can cause cats to have a characteristic combination of symptoms, which together can be a clear signal that your Cornish Rex needs help.

Office calls

Give us a call for an appointment if you notice any of these types of symptoms:

  • Change in appetite or water consumption
  • Tartar build-up, bad breath, red gums, or broken teeth
  • Itchy skin (scratching, chewing, or licking), hair loss, or areas of shortened fur
  • Lethargy, mental dullness, or excessive sleeping
  • Fearfulness, aggression, or other behavioral changes
  • Lack of response to noises
  • Limping, reluctance to jump when playing
  • Progressive hair loss in kittens

Emergencies

Seek medical care immediately if you notice any of these signs:

  • Scratching or shaking the head, tender ears, or ear discharge
  • Cloudiness, redness, itching, or any other abnormality involving the eyes
  • Inability or straining to urinate; discolored urine
  • Weakness or exercise intolerance; rapid, labored, or open-mouth breathing; sudden-onset of weakness
  • Abnormal bleeding or bruising

Partners in Health Care

DNA testing is a rapidly advancing field with new tests constantly emerging to help in the early diagnosis of inherited disease even before your cat shows symptoms. For the most up-to-date information on DNA and other screening tests available for your pal, visit www.Genesis4Pets.com.

Your Rex counts on you to take good care of her, and we look forward to working with you to ensure that she lives a long and healthy life. Our goal is to provide you both with the best health care possible: health care that’s based on your pet’s breed, lifestyle, and age. Please contact us when you have questions or concerns.

References:

  • Bell JS, Cavanagh KE, Tilley LP, Smith FW. Veterinary medical guide to dog and cat breeds. Jackson, Wyoming. Teton New Media; 2012.
  • Gough A, Thomas A. Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats. 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.
  • Feline Advisory Bureau. Inherited disorders in cats – confirmed and suspected [Internet]. [cited 2013 May 29]. Available from: http://www.fabcats.org/breeders/inherited_disorders/cornish_rex.php
  • Addie DD. Genetic and Hereditary Conditions of Pedigree (Purebred) and Domestic Cats [Internet]. [cited 2013 May 29]. Available from: http://www.dr-addie.com/breeds.htm#C

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