Devon 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 Devon Rexes (sometimes called “Pixie Cats”) and you expected her to have certain traits that would fit your lifestyle, like:
- May remain playful as a kitten throughout her life
- Good with children and other pets
- Loves jumping and being in high places
- Requires minimal grooming
- People-oriented and eager to please
- Highly intelligent and able to learn tricks
However, no cat is perfect! You may have also noticed these characteristics:
- Can become chilled in cold weather
- May want to constantly be involved in your activities
- Ears require frequent cleaning
- Prone to separation anxiety
- Can interfere with homework
Is it all worth it? Of course! She’s full of personality, and you love her for it! She is intelligent, playful, and sociable; her quirky nature makes her a fun playmate.
The first Devon Rex was found in Devonshire, England in the late 1950s and is known for its short, wavy coat. Their curly coat gene is different from the Cornish and Selkirk Rex, distinguishing them from other Rex breeds. Their low set ears, large eyes, short nose, and elfish, wedge-shaped face have earned them the Pixie Cat nickname. Devons are intelligent, playful, and people-oriented; giving them qualities more associated with dogs than cats. They keep their kittenish nature well into adulthood, love climbing, warm places, and are known to play fetch. Their social nature requires a lot of attention and Devons may not fare well when left alone for long periods of time.
Your Devon 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 Devon. By knowing about the health concerns common among Devon 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 Devon 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 Devon 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 Pixie Cat 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 Devon Rex
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!
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 Devon. 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.
Like all cats, Devon 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.
All kinds of worms and bugs can invade your Pixie Cat’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 Devon 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 Devon Rexes
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.
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.
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 Devon 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.
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 Devon 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 Devon Rex. If you plan to breed your cat, you will need to learn more about this problem beforehand from your veterinarian.
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 Pixie Cats are at higher risk for the condition.
Most commonly seen in dogs, hip dysplasia may also occur in cats, especially in Devon Rexes. Dysplasia is an inheritable condition that causes malformation of the hip joints and subsequent arthritis. Usually a cat shows very few clinical symptoms as an adolescent, but begins slowing down and acting like an older cat prematurely within the first few years. Severely affected cats, however, may show lameness by six months of age. Pelvic X-rays are needed to detect early hip dysplasia; cats should be anesthetized or sedated for this procedure, in part because the radiograph machine is a frightful and stressing situation for cats, but also because X-rays of the pelvis should be taken while the cat is perfectly still. Anesthesia allows for proper positioning of the cat to produce a clear, diagnostic radiograph, without the pain and fear most cats experience with X-rays, especially if they already have sore hips. Hip dysplasia is best treated when detected early, so initial X-rays of the hips are recommended at the time of your kitten’s spay or neuter, usually around three to six months of age. X-rays can also be conveniently scheduled at the time of your cat’s annual dental cleaning in order to minimize the number of anesthetic events your cat undergoes. If necessary, hip dysplasia can be alleviated by surgical restructuring of the pelvis to help relieve pain and allow greater mobility for your affected cat. Because the disease is genetic, if you are purchasing a purebred kitten, be sure to ask your breeder whether the parents’ hips have been X-rayed.
An amyloid is a type of protein compound that can cause disease by abnormally collecting inside of tissues and organs. It is the same protein that builds up in the brains of human Alzheimer’s patients. In cats, amyloids are more likely to accumulate in the abdominal organs, especially the kidneys, liver, and pancreas. This buildup of protein clogs the organ and causes organ failure. Signs of organ failure may appear on blood or urine tests, but a tissue biopsy is the only way to specifically diagnose amyloidosis as the cause of the failure. There is no effective treatment for amyloidosis as a disease, but we can use diet and medication to support the function of affected organs.
Hypotrichosis is caused by a recessive genetic defect found in several cat breeds, including Devon 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.
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 Devon 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.
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 Pixie Cat 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.
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 Devon Rex breeding can be costly and carries a higher risk of death for both the mother and kittens than in other breeds.
Taking Care of Your Devon 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 Devons. 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 Pixie Cat 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. Cloth or hand rubbing as needed with the occasional bath.
- Devon Rexes have generally good teeth, and you can keep them perfect by brushing them at least twice a week!
- Ears can get greasy, requiring regular weekly cleaning.
- 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 Devon Rex needs help.
- 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
- Limping, reluctance to jump when playing
- Lameness, abnormal hind limb gait, “bunny hopping”
- Progressive hair loss in kittens
- Lack of response to noises
- 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 Devon 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.
- 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/devon_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#drex