The Exotic Hairless Cat That Can Act More Canine Than Feline

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

sphynx cat

Story at-a-glance -

  • If you’re thinking of bringing home a hairless cat like the Sphynx, it’s important to know what to expect, since this is a different breed, indeed
  • Personality-wise, the Sphynx is an extroverted feline who demands almost as much attention as the average dog
  • Believe it or not, this kitty’s hairlessness translates to more — not less — upkeep and maintenance
  • The Sphynx can be a fascinating, entertaining, and all-around wonderful companion for families willing to do what it takes to meet this kitty’s level of maintenance

Stating the obvious, most kitty companions are furry in the extreme. In fact, they're so furry that their hair can't be contained on their little bodies and winds up all over the house. I think this is probably why hairless cats like the Sphynx are so fascinating. Some people seem to love their looks, while others are freaked out by their "nakedness."

For the record, although many Sphynx look virtually naked and many people believe they are, these kitties are actually covered in a coat of fuzzy down that is very soft to the touch.

A One-of-a-Kind Look Thanks to a Natural Genetic Mutation

Believe it or not, the first Sphynx cat was the result of a natural genetic mutation.1 The name and appearance of the Sphynx give the impression this is an ancient, exotic breed, but that's not the case. The Sphynx originated in Canada in 1966, when a strange little hairless male kitten named Prune was born. Prune's offspring were also hairless, and a new cat breed was born.

The name Sphynx was chosen as a reflection of the breed's sleek lines and resemblance to the iconic Egyptian statues. This breed has an unmistakable look, with a wedge-shaped head, enormous eyes and ears, and a well-muscled neck. Sphynx also have muscular bodies, with a barrel chest and a full, round abdomen. The tail looks a bit like a whip, tapered at the tip, and some have a fluff of fur on the end. Sphynx can have the same markings as other breeds (e.g., points, spots, tabby, etc.).

Sphynx have thicker paw pads than other cats, which makes them look at times like they're walking on little cushions. They also have incredibly agile toes. They use them like fingers to pick up things of interest to them! If you're considering adding a Sphynx to your family, it's important to realize that a lack of hair doesn't mean these cats are low maintenance. In fact, they tend to be a much more demanding breed than their full-coated kitty counterparts.

Personality-Wise, the Sphynx Tends to Be More Canine Than Feline

Cats are well-established as independent, often aloof pets, so if that's what you're looking for in a new feline friend, don't get a Sphynx! Unlike their more introverted fur-covered cousins, these cats are social to the point that they don't do well when left alone for long stretches.

The Sphynx only looks intense and feisty, when in fact, these kitties are not only outgoing and friendly (often more like dogs), they also crave attention from their humans and love to snuggle. Your Sphynx will want to be close to you at all times, partly because she loves the attention, and partly because she's always looking for warmth.

You can also expect her to follow you around the house, curious about everything you're doing and wanting to lend a paw. You can also count on her to greet guests to your home and entertain them with head butts and a bit of flirting. Sphynx cats can also be quite vocal, as in, yours may yell at you non-stop until you deliver whatever it is she's wanting at any given time.

These kitties are also little bundles of energy and incredibly agile, much like monkeys. They can easily balance atop doors, bookshelves, and human shoulders. And because she loves attention, your Sphynx will often do whatever it takes to be entertaining and bit of a show-off. This kitty is highly intelligent, curious, and mischievous, so she can be a handful at times!

No Hair Means Extra Care

It seems counterintuitive, but your hairless Sphynx will actually require more upkeep than a cat with a full coat. An excellent place to start is by feeding a nutritionally optimal, species-appropriate fresh food diet, which will provide the foundation for your kitty's healthy skin and overall vitality.

Sphynx have a very high metabolism and eat more than other cats. They have a potbelly, which is a normal and healthy characteristic for the breed. However, this shouldn't be a reason to overfeed your Sphynx, so if you're not sure how many calories he or she should be eating daily, check with your veterinarian (who hopefully has some experience with the breed).

The higher quality the diet you feed your Sphynx (especially focusing on optimizing omega-3 fatty acid intake) the less oil his skin will produce. Sphynx skin is naturally oily, and poor-quality food can cause oils to build up more quickly, leading to skin problems, over-production of ear wax, and infections.

Also, because there's no hair to absorb the oil, Sphynx cats tend to leave behind little stains on surfaces they lie on, which is why you should give some thought to how best to protect your couch and chair cushions, bed sheets, and wherever else your cat likes to hang out.

To control oil buildup on his skin, your Sphynx needs a bath every week or two with a gentle, organic, non-toxic cat shampoo. If he objects to being immersed in water, try the two-washcloth approach. Use one wet cloth with a little shampoo on it to bathe him and use the other to rinse him off. Be sure the washcloths are toasty warm, but not hot. When he's clean, be sure to dry him off quickly with a soft, warm towel to prevent his skin from getting dry and chapped.

Sphynx cats tend to get ear infections, so it's very important to keep your kitty's ears clean (free of excess wax) and dry. You'll also need to closely monitor the area between his toes where grime accumulates, cleaning his paws as often as necessary to prevent infection.

These kitties can also develop sunburn and skin damage from too much sun exposure, and since they have trouble conserving body heat, they need help staying warm in cold climates and during the winter. In fact, your Sphynx may seem like a small heat-seeking missile, constantly in search of a warm target. If he isn't cuddled up with you, expect to find him snoozing under a blanket, in the sunshine, or some other spot that gives off heat.

Cat sweaters made from natural, organic, soft fabrics can keep your cat warm without irritating his skin. It's also important to provide him with a non-toxic cat bed to curl up in. Keep in mind that thanks to his oily skin, you'll need to wash his clothing and bedding frequently.

Potential Health Problems to Be Aware Of

The Sphynx is a generally healthy cat, but like all purebreds, they are prone to certain health conditions, including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and a neurological disease called hereditary myopathy, which affects muscle function. It's a good idea to have your kitty screened regularly for heart issues, which tend to develop with age.

Sphynx can also develop periodontal disease, so it's important to train kitty early to accept regular tooth brushing and schedule frequent dental screenings with your veterinarian.

One More Thing: The Sphynx is Not a "Hypoallergenic" Breed

Cat allergies in humans are triggered not by fur or even dander, but by a protein found in a cat's saliva and oil glands. This is why some people with pet allergies are actually more sensitive to Sphynx cats than other breeds. If this unique breed piques your interest, contact one of the many purebred cat rescues found worldwide, and check out the Rescue Me! Facebook page.

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