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Tennessee Rex Cat: Breed Info, Pictures, Care Guide & Facts

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock

Tennesse Rex Cat Graphic

Height: Around 9.5 inches
Weight: 8–15 pounds
Lifespan: 12–18 years
Colors: Any
Suitable for: Families (if you’re willing to wait on a kitten!)
Temperament: Varies

The Tennessee Rex is a newer breed of cat that came about after a mutation in 2004. After discovering a pregnant stray, Franklin Whittenburg discovered that two of the kittens from the cat’s litter were unique. These kittens had curly coats and a sheen that almost looked like satin.

Franklin had never bred cats or any other animal. However, he contacted various cat authorities and some rat breeders in his area. In the end, it was discovered that the kittens carried a recessive gene that led to the “satin effect” and curly hair.

After that, the kittens were utilized to start a new cat breed. Because the mutation was discovered in Tennessee, the breed was named the Tennessee Rex.

However, because this breed is newer, they are pretty rare. It is challenging to breed for a recessive trait when so few individuals have that trait. Therefore, there are very few cats available. Currently, the breed isn’t even recognized by many organizations, as there simply aren’t enough individuals.

The breed’s ground zero is still in Tennessee and finding them outside of this area is challenging. Often, kittens need to be imported to other areas for those with enough interest. However, many programs are not currently offering kittens for adoption, as they are all being used to establish the breed.

Tennessee Rex Kittens


This breed is still being established (which takes quite a long time). The focus is on producing cats that reliably have the coat sheen and the Rex’s hair. Therefore, the breed personality and temperament are not well-established at this point. Cats can vary a lot.

3 Little-Known Facts About the Tennessee Rex

1. You can’t actually adopt a kitten

Currently, the breed is still being established. All standard kittens with the sheen or curls are being used for the breeding program, which is currently run by a cattery in Tennessee. Therefore, you cannot adopt a kitten as a companion animal. The cattery is still several years away from offering kittens to families.

2. The breed spontaneously developed

Unlike other breeds carefully bred for certain traits, this breed resulted from two absolutely rare mutations that coincided. One of these mutations led to curly hair and is referred to as the “rex” gene. The other is a sheen gene that makes the cats’ fur appear shiny.

3. The breed is extremely new

The first two Tennessee rex kittens were discovered in 2004. It takes a very long time for a breed to develop enough to be available for families and regularly produce kittens with the same traits. Therefore, these cats are extremely rare and not typically available for the average family.

Temperament & Intelligence of the Tennessee Rex

The Tennessee Rex is currently a very new breed. Much of their development is focused on producing kittens with the rex and shiny hair genes. Therefore, not much attention is being put on their temperament and intelligence.

For this reason, kittens can vary a lot. Until the coat is established, temperament and intelligence likely aren’t going to be focused on and standardized.

However, these cats did originally come from your average stray cat. Therefore, these cats act like your stereotypical cat in most cases. They can be intelligent, but they don’t always take well to training. Because these cats aren’t as food-driven as dogs, it requires a bit more effort to train them. However, short and regular sessions are a must.

These cats bond firmly with their humans. However, they are not as people-oriented as some other breeds. Therefore, they can also deal with being alone for periods of time. Therefore, they aren’t prone to separation anxiety or similar problems.

Like all cats, the Tennessee rex requires regular socialization at an early age. Otherwise, they can become fearful when introduced to new people or situations. They should be taken out of the home and socialized in the outside world regularly. Children and other animals should be introduced to them when they are kittens. The more experience your cat gets in the real world, the more adapted it will be as an adult.

Because these kittens don’t have a very established personality, you should expect some variance.

Are These Cats Good for Families? 👪

Currently, all standard kittens are being utilized for the breeding program. Therefore, you cannot currently adopt one to be a simple companion pet. Instead, the kittens are only being given to breeders and those participating in the outcrossing program.

However, once these kittens are available, they may make good family cats. They’re currently being developed for companionship purposes. Furthermore, because their breeding is primarily confined to a few breeders, you don’t have to worry about untruthful breeders selling less-than-stellar kittens (though you do have to be careful of fakes).

With that said, it is essential to pay attention to the temperament and intelligence of the cat, as well as its appearance. You don’t want to just focus on what the cat looks like to the extent that temperament is ignored. After all, at the end of the day, temperament matters far more than appearance.

Therefore, we highly recommend asking about the parents’ temperament. While temperament does depend on the environment the kitten is raised to some extent, genetics do play a role. If both parents are aggressive, the odds of their kittens being aggressive is also higher. Plus, you want to purchase a kitten that has already been socialized to some extent in the early weeks, as well as raised within a home.

Does This Breed Get Along with Other Pets?

There is no reason to think the Tennessee Rex won’t get along with other pets. In all likelihood, this cat will get along with pets just as well as all other cats. Therefore, when socialized early, you shouldn’t have an issue introducing this breed to other cats and dogs.

However, early socialization is key. It doesn’t matter how friendly a cat is genetically predisposed to be. If they are not introduced to cats or dogs growing up, they likely will be fearful and aggressive as adults. Therefore, we recommend introducing your kitten to various companion animals when younger to prevent issues later.

With that said, as a feline, this breed does have hunting instincts. They aren’t necessarily as strong as other breeds’ instincts. However, they are present. These instincts cannot be trained out and will always be present. Therefore, these cats won’t do well with small animals. Mice, rats, hamsters, birds, and other small pets will not suit these cats.

If you have these small pets, keep them in a different room. Even if your cat seems uninterested initially, they can suddenly go into hunting mode. Therefore, you should never leave them together. Preferably, the cat should not be allowed around the small animal, as this may cause stress.

Things to Know When Owning a Tennessee Rex

Food & Diet Requirements 🐡

The Tennessee Rex has no unusual dietary needs compared to other felines. High-quality food should suit these cats well. However, do keep an eye on their health and adapt their dietary needs to fit any health concerns that appear. After all, we don’t know much about this breed’s health yet, so we don’t know about any potential dietary needs to keep in mind.

Cats are obligate carnivores. Therefore, they need quite a bit of protein. Cats cannot synthesize the many amino acids that they need. They must consume them from meat. Therefore, their diet must contain meat—and enough of it to meet their amino acid needs. Choose food with a named protein as the first ingredient, at the very least.

Healthy fats are also suitable for the Tennessee Rex. Omega fatty acids from fish and other sources can help keep their beautiful coats healthy. You may want to add an omega fatty acid supplement to their diet for extra sheen. However, you can also find many commercial diets with omega fatty acids already add.

As always, be sure not to give your cat too much food. Overweight cats are more prone to health issues than other cats. Therefore, to keep your cat healthy, you must also help them keep the extra weight off.

Our cats deserve the best when it comes to their food and water dishes. These essential items must be well designed with the specific needs of our felines as top priority. Our Hepper NomNom Cat Bowl is a modern, whisker-friendly option that serves as an all-in-one pet dish. The removable stainless steel bowls are shallow for optimum comfort and slide securely into a PP plastic tray with a wide lip tailored to catch any overflow. This bowl is entirely dishwasher-friendly, too, which helps with tidying up (and will keep your cat happy)! 

tabby cat eating hepper nom nom white floor

Exercise 🐈

Like all cats, the Tennessee Rex will need exercise. However, there is no reason to believe they will need more or less exercise than other cats. As this breed becomes more and more set in stone, this may change, though. These cats seem to have the same exercise needs as all other cats.

We recommend providing your cat with toys and climbing structures to help them fulfill their exercise needs. However, some cats may need some extra encouragement. As you’d imagine, we highly recommend that overweight cats be given extra exercise opportunities to help them lose weight. Often, playing with your cat is enough to encourage some extra movement.

However, interactive toys can be useful when you aren’t around. Many toys move by themselves, encouraging your cat to move and play.

Training 🧶

Tennessee Rex cats aren’t known for being particularly intelligent or unintelligent. Therefore, they have an average trainability when compared to other cats. They can be trained to perform basic commands, such as sitting and walking on a leash. However, training sessions need to be short and sweet. These cats do not have a long attention span.

While these cats are often food-driven, they aren’t necessarily as food-driven as other cats (or dogs, for that matter). Therefore, you may want to try encouraging them to train with attention or toys. Some cats are far more toy-driven than food-driven.

At the very least, we recommend training your Tennessee Rex to ride happily in a crate and walk on a leash. While these two actions aren’t really “commands,” they can be important for your cat’s overall well-being.

Start training early and keep going—even when it seems you aren’t making much progress. Not only does training help your cat learn needed behaviors, but it can also help keep their mind healthy and stimulated.

Grooming ✂️

These cats need minimum grooming. Their coat tends to break easily due to its curly nature. Therefore, brushing isn’t recommended. Brushing will break the delicate furs, so it is only recommended if your cat seems to be matted.

However, you may want to wipe your cat’s fur with a damp cloth weekly. Their fur can get oily if it isn’t cleaned regularly. While most cats do handle this by themselves, others do not. Therefore, you’ll need to keep an eye on your cat’s fur and step in if necessary.

Health and Conditions 🏥

There isn’t much known about this breed’s health, as there are very few individuals. Therefore, it is difficult to tell what is simply an individual health issue and what pertains to an issue in the breed. As the breed becomes developed and more popular, we will likely have a better idea of their overall health situation.

Until then, we don’t know what health problems may affect this breed.

In the meantime, we recommend asking breeders about the genetic conditions that they test for. Ask about the health of the parents, as well as other cats in the breeding program.

Male vs. Female

No obvious differences between males and females have appeared in this breed. While the breed is being developed, differences may appear. However, cats typically do not have significant differences between genders. Sometimes, the size does vary and that may be the case in this breed. However, this is doubtful given that the base genetics come from stray felines—which typically don’t have this difference.

You may want to keep an eye out for differences in gender that affect all cats. For instance, male cats are more likely to mark and may be more prone to “roaming.” However, this isn’t always innate in all male cats. As you might imagine, some cats are more likely to mark than others. Some males may never mark.

At the same time, females can get pregnant and will go into heat. If you spay a female, these changes won’t occur. However, if you do not, you will have to deal with these hormonal changes.

Final Thoughts

The Tennessee Rex is a very new breed. This breed has two rare mutations that cause the fur to be curly and have a satin-like sheen. Sometimes, this sheen appears due to oils on the cat’s skin. However, this sheen cannot be washed off. Therefore, much of the uniqueness regarding this breed is due to its appearance and unique fur.

This breed is extremely new, and currently, kittens are not for sale. There are very few catteries that produce these kittens, and all of them are going into breeding programs. The breeders have yet to produce kittens that regularly have both trait mutations. It will be some time before this breed is established enough for families to adopt.

We recommend staying on the lookout for news about this breed. The main cattery may begin producing kittens for families in the next few years. Until then, you can adopt retired breeders—older cats that were once in the breeding program. Non-standard kittens (those that look normal without recessive traits) may also be for sale.

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