By Dr. Becker
For many, petting their dog's soft fur is one of the joys of pet ownership. For owners of hairless dogs, petting may feel more like running your hand over "a piece of warm bologna," as The New York Times recently put it.1 It's a feeling hairless dog owners relish, along with other traits of these unusual and striking breeds.
They have a small but devoted following, and three such breeds — the American hairless terrier, the xoloitzcuintli (xolo) and the Chinese Crested — are now eligible to compete in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Although they may seem like relative new fixtures to the dog-show scene, hairless dogs have been around since ancient times.
Darwin reportedly wrote about "naked Turkish dogs with defective teeth," for instance. However, as noted in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, many hairless dog breeds have gone extinct and only a handful are recognized today.2
Only About Six Hairless Breeds Are Recognized, but Other Rare Hairless Breeds Exist
Hairlessness in dogs is the result of a gene mutation. In the case of American hairless terriers, for instance, one hairless pup emerged in a litter of rat terriers in the early 1970s. The breeder took a liking to the unique trait and continued the line.3
The breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 2016 and is the only hairless breed in which the hairless trait is recessive.
The dogs are actually born with a fuzzy coat, but it falls out in the first few months of life (some American hairless terriers actually have short fur, which is known as the coated variety).
As part of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B study, researchers actually identified a new gene and mutation — SGK3 — which causes hairlessness in American hairless terriers.4
They describe modern domestic dog breeds as a "self-contained study in genetics," because subtle changes in a small number of genes lead to striking differences in body size, fur and other physical traits. As far as hairless breeds go, the researchers explained:5
"The best recognized in North America are the American Hairless Terrier (AHT), Chinese Crested dog and the Mexican Hairless Dog, now known as the Xoloitzcuintli, all of which are recognized by the AKC, as is the Peruvian Inca Orchid, which is derived from the Peruvian Hairless Dog.
Prized by the early explorers and carried on ships to contain the rat population, hairless dogs came in many sizes. In the US, the smallest variety of the Xolo was called the Mexican Hairless Dog up until the 1960s.
… Other hairless breeds include the Argentine Pila dog, the Ecuadorian Hairless dog, Abyssinian Sand Terriers, the African hairless and the Hairless Khala also from Argentina. Many of these breeds are very rare and the latter are not recognized by any breed registry."
Chinese Crested, Xolos and Peruvian Hairless Breeds Share the Same Genetic Mutation
Unlike American hairless terriers, with their recessive hairless gene, Chinese Cresteds, Xolos and Peruvian hairless breeds share the same dominant gene mutation, which may give clues to the dogs' origins and possible relation, with the researchers noting it could be due to early trade between Asia and the new world or prehistoric migration from Asia across the Bering Strait.6
The ancient Aztecs in Mexico considered Xolos to be sacred guides for souls in the afterlife, while Peruvian hairless dogs lived during the Incan Empire.
It's though that Chinese Cresteds may have come from African hairless dogs, according to the report. However, although these breeds were "derived from or crossed with each other prior to breed establishment," each has very different traits today:
These dogs are hairless except for long silky tufts of hair on their head, tails and lower legs and paws.
Known for being lively, alert, playful and affectionate, there's also a "powderpuff" variety, which is covered in hair.7 Health issues, particularly defects in teeth, nails and sweat glands, are common in Chinese Crested.
Xolos tend to be loyal and calm dogs, who are wary of strangers and thus can make good watchdogs.8 Some people describe these dogs as almost cat-like in their lofty attitudes. As the Times reported:9
"'They have an aura about them,' said Jennifer Young-Johnson of Hesperia, California, who planned to take two to the [Westminster] show. 'They don't have a purpose like going and getting the paper or something. They think they're gods. It's like, you're not worthy.'"
As with the other hairless breeds, a "coated" variety of Xolo exists, which has a coat of short hair.
Peruvian Inca Orchid
Lively, alert and affectionate, Peruvian Inca orchids were derived from the Peruvian hairless dog and are strong, fast dogs.
They are not suited to be outdoor dogs, however. Peruvian Inca orchids originated in the Andes area where the Incan name Quechua meant "dog without vestments" (aka naked). It is said to have been given the name by Spanish conquistadors who found them living in Incan homes among orchids.
How to Care for a Hairless Dog's Skin
While hairless dogs don't need to have their fur trimmed or groomed, their skin requires special care. Skin infections can be common, and their skin may become dry or easily irritated. It's important to choose all natural, safe and toxin-free shampoos for their unique skin.
Consider using coconut oil as a moisturizer as needed, and also be aware that hairless dogs are vulnerable to sunburn. As such, the use of an animal-friendly natural sunscreen may be necessary when your pet will be outdoors for longer periods. Because fur helps to regulate temperature in pets, your hairless dog will also be sensitive to hot and cold climates. Be sure your dog has a place to cool off out of the sun in the warmer months as well as a coat or sweater when going outdoors in the winter.
If you're considering a hairless dog (or cat) because you have allergies, keep in mind that there are no 100-percent hypoallergenic breeds (the allergen is found not only in hair but also in saliva and dander and on the skin). However, the absence of hair may make an allergic reaction less likely, which is why some people with allergies are able to live alongside hairless breeds. Each of these breeds have rescue organizations you can work with to find a perfect pal.