By Dr. Becker
You may not be able to imagine your dog or cat without his soft, furry coat, but for some people, a hairless pet is far more alluring. With their unusual and striking appearances, hairless pets attract a lot of attention, but it's their personalities that make a lasting mark on their owners' hearts.
Hairlessness in dogs and cats is actually a genetic defect that was purposefully propagated at some point in history.
Today, while some people choose hairless pets simply because they like their appearance, they're most often chosen over their furry counterparts because they do not shed and are assumed to be hypoallergenic (which isn't necessarily the case — more on this later).
Skin Problems Are More Likely in Hairless Pets
There are some special considerations if you share your life with a hairless dog or cat, especially when it comes to caring for their skin.
Hairless cats may need to be wiped down or even bathed regularly, because they don't have fur to absorb all the oil on their skin. Hairless dogs need regular baths too — typically once a week or every other week.
If you don't bathe them often enough, they may develop acne, but if you bathe them too often or with the wrong shampoo (best to use an organic, coconut-oil-based shampoo with no harsh chemicals) their skin may become dry and irritated. Coconut oil makes a good post-bath moisturizer.
Skin infections can be common in hairless pets, including yeast overgrowth in cats. You'll also need to protect your dog from the elements even more so than a fur-covered pet.
They are prone to sunburn (consider the use of an animal-friendly natural sunscreen when your pet will be outdoors for longer periods) and are also vulnerable to both hot and cold temperatures, as fur helps regulate the skin's surface temperature.
Hairless dogs living in cold climates should wear a coat when they go outdoors and may also enjoy wearing a soft sweater when they're inside.
Are Hairless Dogs and Cats a Good Choice for People With Allergies?
Aside from the fact that they don't shed (or shed only slightly in those with tufts of hair), the other common reason why people choose hairless dogs and cats is because they're believed to be hypoallergenic.
However, there are no 100 percent hypoallergenic cats or dogs. This is because the major cat and dog allergens (Can f 1 [dog allergen] and Fel d 1 [cat allergen]) are found not only in hair but also in saliva and dander and on the skin.
For instance, all cats produce the Fel d 1 protein, and it's not related to the amount of dander or shedding. The Fel d 1 protein is quite small, so when it's attached to a piece of airborne cat skin, it can linger in the air for hours.
Some of the best cats for people with allergies therefore have nothing to do with how much fur they have but with how much Fel d 1 protein they produce. The Balinese, which has a long shaggy coat, is actually one of the most "hypoallergenic" cat breeds because they produce less Fel d 1 protein than other breeds.
That being said, with no fur to trap allergens from their saliva, hairless cats and dogs may not cause an allergic reaction as easily as other breeds. Keep in mind, however, that even without fur the Fel d 1 (or Can f 1) protein will still be present.
5 Hairless Cat and Dog Breeds
There are several types of hairless dogs and cats. Each breed is as unique as its appearance implies.
1. Chinese Crested (Dog)
Chinese Crested dogs may be hairless or coated (known as powderpuffs). The hairless type has a mohawk-like strip of fur on his head and long fur on his ears, face, tail, feet and lower legs. Chinese cresteds are intelligent, agile and affectionate dogs who love to be with their owners.
Chinese crested may be at increased risk of inherited eye diseases, including progressive retinal atrophy and primary lens luxation, which may cause vision loss. They are also prone to developing blackheads and other acne and may suffer from dental abnormalities.
2. Sphynx (Cat)
The Sphynx is a cross between hairless cats and rex cats. They're known for their large ears and wrinkly skin, which requires regular bathing or wipe downs because it's rich in oils. Some Sphynx cats have fine "peach fuzz" like fur while others may feel like suede.
These cats tend to crave attention and like to show off for their owners. They're affectionate and often engage in silly antics. Aside from the potential for clogged pores in their skin, Sphynx cats are not prone to any serious health problems.
3. Peruvian Inca Orchid (Dog)
This exotic-sounding dog is a cousin to the Chinese crested. He's a sighthound who is born without fur except for a small patch atop his head as well as on his toes and tip of his tail.
Peruvian Inca Orchids tend to be loyal and affectionate dogs with a playful nature and good manners. They are not prone to any specific medical problems.
4. Peterbald (Cat)
Peterbalds, which originated in St. Petersburg, Russia, come in four coat types ranging from hairless with slightly sticky skin (known as ultrabald) to "brush coat," which describes a variety of hair that may be fine, long, wiry or a combination.
Peterbalds are affectionate, intelligent and extroverted cats that may vocalize loudly. The genetic mutation that causes hairlessness may be a cause of feline ectodermal dysplasia, which is associated with dental abnormalities.
Xoloitzcuintlis, or "show-lows" for short, are a primitive breed that originated in Mexico, apparently without much help from humans. Known for being loyal, alert and calm, they're also good watchdogs that are wary of strangers. They tend to be a healthy breed, but may occasionally suffer from kneecap dislocation (luxating patellas).
If you're interested in adding a hairless dog or cat to your family, seek out a pet in need first. Many rescue organizations catering to hairless breeds can be found throughout the U.S. and beyond.