In 1966 a domestic cat gave birth to a hairless kitten in Toronto, Canada. It was discovered to be a natural mutation and the Sphynx cat, as we know it today, came into existence. This cat and a few other naturally hairless cats have been found worldwide.
These have magically been produced by Mother Nature and are the foundation for this unusual breed. Cat breeders in Europe and North America have bred the Sphynx to normal coated cats and then back to hairless for more than thirty years.
The purpose of these selective breedings was to create a genetically sound cat with a large gene pool and hybrid vigor. This is a very robust breed with few health or genetic problems.
The Sphynx is not always totally hairless; there can be a fine down on the body, which makes the cat feel like a warm peach. Some light hair is often present on the nose, tail and toes. The texture of the Sphynx skin has been likened to suede, a hot water bottle, or a heated chamois.
They can be registered in a wide variety of cat colors. The color is seen in the pigment of the skin and the few hairs that they do have. One of the questions most asked is “Don’t they get cold?” Well, of course, if it is too cold for you it will be too cold for a hairless cat too. However, these cats are smart enough to find a warm human, dog or cat to curl up with or they will get under your bed covers.
This is a substantial cat, medium sized and strong, with adult males being larger than adult females. Sphynx have sturdy boning and good muscle development and should have a bit of a belly as if they just finished dinner. They have an open-eyed, intelligent face and a friendly expression.
The Sphynx are extremely inquisitive and love to be the center of attention. They perform silly antics for your entertainment and are sometimes downright clumsy…on purpose it seems. They make great show cats because of this “look at me” attitude and they are easy for judges to handle.
They prefer human attention but enjoy the company of dogs and other cats. They have an abundance of energy and mischief and are always with you, on you or showing off for you. “Love Mooch” is the perfect term for these amazing cats.
Because of the lack of hair that would normally absorb body oils, the Sphynx needs to be bathed periodically. This is not a difficult task with a cat that has been accustomed to a bath from kittenhood and it takes no time at all to dry a Sphynx.
Some people who suffer from cat allergies can tolerate living with Sphynx cats. However, depending on the type and severity of the individual’s allergic reactions, there are still people who cannot live with this breed.
The Sphynx was accepted for registration, and competition, in the Miscellaneous Class by The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) in February 1998. Sphynx lovers feel this is one of the most rare and unusual breeds in the cat fancy today…Sphynx are pure enchantment.
The Sphynx (aka Canadian Hairless) is a rare breed of cat with extremely little fur, or at most a short fuzz over its body, and no whiskers (vibrissae). Their skin is the color their fur would be, and all the usual cat marking patterns (solid, point, van, tabby, tortie, etc) may be found in Sphynx too. They are sometimes mistaken for Chihuahuas because of their extremely unusual and, some say, un-catlike appearance. They are very affectionate and extroverted and like to cuddle with their humans, other humans, and each other.
Delicate as they may appear, Sphynx tend to be well-muscled and robustly healthy, with a few obvious weaknesses. It is essential to keep a sphynx cat warm and free from drafts, especially during kittenhood, as they have no more protection from cold than a naked human would.
Sphynxes are also prone to sunburn and sunstroke because they lack the normal protection of fur. They tend to get dirty and greasy, since their skin produces the same oils as a fully-furred cat, but the oil is not spread over fur as usual. As pets they are notably more social than “normal” cats, and happier to be handled, but also require more maintenance including weekly bathing and ear-cleaning. Their natural bathing habits tend to be ineffective on skin, so the owner must compensate a bit.
Sphynx cats are not hypoallergenic, in fact they can be even worse for severely allergic people than furred cats. But because they don’t deposit hair on furniture or clothing, they tend to be easier to clean up after, and therefore often less troublesome to mildly allergic owners. Some notice symptoms but handle it by bathing and cleaning them slightly more often than one would otherwise.
The Sphynx breed is known for a sturdy, heavy body, a wedge-shaped head, and an alert, friendly temperament. Although hairless cats have been reported throughout history (hairless cats seem to appear naturally about every 15 years or so), and breeders in Canada have been working on the Sphynx breed since the early 1960’s, the current American and European Sphynx breed is descended from two lines of natural mutations:
- Dermis and Epidermis (1975) from the Pearsons of Wadena, MN, USA and
- Bambi, Punkie, and Paloma (1978) found in Toronto, ON, Canada and raised by Shirley Smith.
Other hairless breeds might have different body shapes or temperaments than those described above. There are, for example, new hairless breeds, including the Don Sphynx and the Peterbald from Russia, which arose from their own spontaneous mutations. The standard for the Sphynx differs between TICA and FIFE.
Sphynx hairlessness is produced by an allele of the same gene that produces the Devon Rex, which has only one of the usual two fur coats. The Sphynx allele is incompletely dominant over the Devon allele; both are recessive to the wild type.
Sphynx were at one time crossbred with Devon Rex in an attempt to strengthen this gene, but unfortunately this led to serious dental or nervous-system problems and is now forbidden in most breed standards associations. The only allowable outcross breeds in the CFA are now the American Shorthair and Domestic Shorthair. Other associations have different rules. In Europe mainly Devon Rex has been used for outcrosses.