What to Know About a Selkirk Rex


In this Article

  • Selkirk Rex Characteristics
  • Caring for a Selkirk Rex
  • Health Problems to Watch for With a Selkirk Rex
  • Special Considerations for a Selkirk Rex
  • History of the Selkirk Rex

Selkirk Rexes resemble stuffed animals and have also been called cats in sheep’s clothing. They have a cuddly personality to go with their curly coats. They may look like they are having a bad hair day, but giving a Selkirk a hug will improve your day.

The Cat Fanciers’ Association recognizes four breeds whose coats are curly: i.e., “Rexed.” The Selkirk Rex is the largest and probably the calmest. 

All the Rex breeds are active cats that love people and need attention from their owners. 

Selkirk Rex Characteristics

Cats have three types of hair in their coats. The guard hairs are the longest. Awn hairs are shorter, and the shortest and softest hairs make up the down. In Selkirk Rexes, all three coats have a gentle curl, making the coat extra plush. Selkirks can come in any color, and any eye color is acceptable, too.

Selkirks can be shorthaired or longhaired. The difference between the two is not striking. Neither variety has truly short hair. The shorthaired variety can have hair up to 2 inches long. The difference between the two types is most noticeable in the tail and the ruff around the neck. Longhaired Selkirks have fluffy tails and ruffs that frame the face. Shorthaired Selkirks have shorter coats that are very dense and plush.

Selkirk Rexes and straight-haired kittens can be born in the same litter. Sometimes it’s hard to judge a newborn kitten’s coat, but the whiskers tell the real story. A kitten destined to have a curly coat will have curly whiskers from birth. They will stay curly for the cat’s whole life, although sometimes the whiskers may be brittle and break off. 

Selkirk Rexes have round heads, full cheeks, round eyes, and medium-sized ears, adding up to a sweet look. They are medium-to-large in size, with heavy bones and lots of muscle. Most Selkirks have a life span of 10 to 15 years. 

Selkirks may look like stuffed toys, but they aren’t content to sit on a shelf. They are very active and playful. 

Caring for a Selkirk Rex

The Selkirk’s curly coat requires some grooming. Otherwise, the breed is easy to care for.

Grooming. Selkirks can develop mats in their coats. Prevent matting by combing them once or twice a week. Combing will also remove dead hair. Don’t overgroom, as you may straighten the coat. 

Oil may not spread down crinkly hair as readily as it does down smooth hair. Rex cats may accumulate oil on their skin, causing skin problems. Their skin may feel greasy or become irritated. Most cats seldom need baths, but Selkirks may need occasional baths to keep the hair from becoming too oily. Blotting dry will preserve their tousled appearance. Check your cat’s ears regularly for dirt and excess wax. Your vet can show you how to clean them. A continued buildup of ear wax can mean an ear infection. 

Feeding. Selkirk Rexes have no particular nutritional needs. Use food that is designed for cats and that is appropriate for your cat’s life stage. Kittens, pregnant females, and nursing mothers have special needs. Cat food labels sometimes suggest an appropriate amount for your pet’s size. If your cat loses or gains weight, adjust the amount or talk to your veterinarian.

Water. Cats that don’t drink enough can become dehydrated. Provide fresh water for your cat, and clean the water bowl often. Some cats prefer running water and may enjoy a cat water fountain. Keep both the food bowl and the water source away from the litter box.

Exercise. Selkirk Rexes are playful and will exercise themselves if you provide toys. 

Protection against fleas and ticks. Even indoor cats can get fleas and ticks. Your vet can treat flea and tick problems and also advise you on how to prevent problems in the future. 

Protection against worms. Your pet needs protection from internal parasites, including heartworms. Cats that live outdoors or in warm climates are especially at risk. They should take year-round medication to prevent heartworms and intestinal parasites. 

Tooth care. Cats need their teeth cleaned regularly. Bacteria growing in the mouth can travel to other parts of the body. Brush your cat’s teeth with a toothpaste recommended by your veterinarian. Daily brushing is best. Your vet can give your cat’s teeth a professional cleaning when needed. 

Nail care. Trimming your cat’s nails will prevent them from growing into the footpad. A scratching post can also help keep your cat’s claws in good condition. 

Temperature sensitivity. Most Rex breeds are sensitive to cold. Because Selkirks have denser coats than other Rex breeds, they aren’t as likely to get cold. 

Indoor living. Most cat care experts agree cats are safer indoors. Outdoor cats may:

  • Contract diseases
  • Be struck by vehicles
  • Suffer attacks from dogs, coyotes, and other animals
  • Be exposed to poisons and toxins
  • Pick up fleas, ticks, and other parasites
  • Encounter humans who may be cruel

Also, the number of birds killed by outdoor cats reaches many millions. Your cat is especially likely to prey on birds if you have feeders or bird baths. 

Stimulate your indoor cat by providing toys, perches, and hiding places. Your cat may be happier if there is another cat in the home. You can also choose to let your cat go outdoors, but only in a confined area or under supervision. Outdoor cats get beneficial exercise and stimulation.

Litter boxes. Indoor cats need litter boxes. Cats will instinctively use them as long as you keep them clean. Most cats prefer plain, open boxes and unscented litter. Some cat care experts suggest that you have one litter box per cat plus one.

Vet visits. Cats should see a veterinarian once or twice a year. Wellness visits usually include a physical examination, blood tests, urine and stool samples, and heartworm screening. Ask your vet about screening your cat for FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV).

All cats should receive core vaccinations for:

  • Feline panleukopenia (FPL)
  • Feline herpes virus type 1 (FHV-1), also called feline viral rhinotracheitis
  • Feline calicivirus disease 
  • Rabies 

Depending upon your cat’s risk, your vet may recommend non-core vaccines. 

Health Problems to Watch for With a Selkirk Rex

The developer of the Selkirk Rex used other breeds, including Persian and British shorthairs. Selkirk Rexes may inherit health problems from those ancestors.

Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). Persians are at risk of PKD, and some Selkirks may have inherited that risk. Affected kittens are born with tiny cysts in their kidneys. The cysts grow and lead to kidney failure, usually when the cat is about 7 years old. Cats can be tested for genetic PKD with a cheek swab. They can also have an ultrasound. 

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). Selkirk Rexes may have inherited a risk for genetic HCM from the British Shorthairs in their history. HCM thickens the heart muscle and can lead to congestive heart failure and death. In some cats, the disease is mild, and the cats can lead normal lives.

Special Considerations for a Selkirk Rex

Selkirk Rexes are easy cats to own. Still, no breed is right for everyone. 

Most owners describe this breed as mellow. They are true lap cats and are happy to sleep with you, too. Quiet around the house, they are good with children and usually get along with dogs. They have moderate intelligence levels and respond to training. 

The coat of the Selkirk Rex is hard to resist. Visitors to your home will want to touch it. Luckily, most Selkirks are patient and tolerate being touched, even by strangers. 

Although they have unique coats, Selkirks shed like most other cats. Be prepared to clean up a certain amount of cat hair.

Selkirks are not hypoallergenic, as most people who are allergic to cats react to their saliva, urine, and dander.

History of the Selkirk Rex

The story of the Selkirk Rex began in 1987 when a Montana animal shelter picked up a curly-coated kitten. One of the shelter employees knew that a local woman was interested in cat genetics. That woman, Jeri Newman, took the cat, naming her Miss DePesto.

Newman wondered whether Miss DePesto could be related to a Cornish Rex or a Devon Rex, two curly British breeds. It seemed unlikely that any of those breeds had made their way to Montana, though, so Newman suspected that Miss DePesto’s curly coat came from a spontaneous genetic mutation. Starting a breeding program was the only way to know. Newman bred Miss DePesto to one of her Persian cats, a black male.

The resulting litter had three kittens with straight coats and three with curly. That suggested that the gene for the curly coat was a simple dominant, which means the trait would appear in half the offspring, exactly as it did.

Newman bred one of those kittens, Oscar, several times, mating him to breeds that had other qualities that she wanted. Eventually, she bred the son back to his mother. Soon, she had 15 curly kittens. They formed the foundation of the breed.

Newman named the breed after her stepfather. It is the first breed of cat to be named after a person.

Show Sources

Photo Credits:

1. Lucy Lambriex / Getty Images


American Humane: “Indoor Cats vs. Outdoor Cats.”

Association of American Feed Control Officials: “Selecting the Right Pet Food.”

The Cat Fanciers’ Association: “About the Selkirk Rex,” “Selkirk Rex Breed Standard.”

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: “Choosing and Caring for Your New Cat.”

Governing Council of the Cat Fancy: “Selkirk Rex.”

The International Cat Association: “Selkirk Rex at a Glance.”

International Cat Care: “Selkirk Rex.”

The Rex Cat Association: “Health,” “Owning a Rex: a Guide for Prospective Owners,” “Selkirk Rex.”

The Selkirk Rex Cat Club: “Selkirk Rex breed history.”

VCA Animal Hospitals: “Preventive Health Care Guidelines for Cats,” “Selkirk Rex.”

VetSpecialists: “Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in Cats (HCM).”

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