Published on July 14, 2011
The Sphynx seems like a contradiction: a hairless cat? But people who come to know him soon fall under the spell of this bald but beautiful feline. His warmth, humor and exotic appearance all combine to make him a favorite with cat lovers. It’s one thing for a cat to have folded ears or a curly coat, but whoever heard of a hairless cat? It’s unnatural!
It’s not, really. The down-covered Sphynx is the product of a spontaneous natural mutation, a not-uncommon occurrence in the world of cats. The first known hairless cat made his appearance at least a century ago and certainly there may have been others throughout history. The cat we now know as the Sphynx began to be developed in the 1970s through crosses of hairless cats with Rex cats.
Instead of fur, the Sphynx wears a suede-like coat that makes him warm and soft to the touch. It’s impossible not to want to cuddle up with him, especially in cold weather. He is a medium-size cat with a wrinkled face and body and satellite-dish ears. He weighs six to 12 pounds, with females being smaller, and comes in almost any color or pattern, including solid, pointed, tabby and tortoiseshell.
The Sphynx’s uses his toes like fingers to investigate anything that catches his interest. His wrinkled face, big ears and lemon-shaped eyes give him the expression of a wise and kind alien, and his rounded belly makes him look as if he has recently eaten a large meal.
Don’t choose the Sphynx solely for his alien looks. You’ll be getting a lot more: a character who is curious, smart and funny. He loves to be with or on his people, perhaps in an attempt to stay warm. It’s not unusual for him to sleep under the bedcovers, and he is always seeking out sunny spots in which to lie or other places or objects that give off heat. The Sphynx is a clown who will do anything for attention, so be prepared to applaud his antics.
You may hear that the Sphynx is hypoallergenic because of his lack of fur, but that is not correct. Allergies are not caused by a particular coat type but by dander, the dead skin cells that are shed by all cats (and people, for that matter). There is no scientific evidence that any breed or cross breed is more or less allergenic than any other cat. Some people with allergies react less severely to particular cats, but no reputable breeder will guarantee that her cats are hypoallergenic.
The Sphynx is well suited to any home with people who will love him and give him the attention and grooming he needs. Keep him indoors to protect him from cars, diseases spread by other cats and attacks from other animals.
Other Quick Facts
- The Sphynx’s skin is covered with a fine down, much like that of a peach.
- The Sphynx has large ears that can be two or three inches high.
- The friendly Sphynx is easy to handle and enjoys meeting new people. He can be an excellent show cat and therapy cat as well as family companion.
- The Sphynx is sturdy, medium-boned, athletic and muscular.
- Because the Sphynx does not have fur to absorb body oil, he must be bathed frequently.
The History of Sphynx
The progenitor of the Sphynx appeared in Toronto, Canada, in 1966, born to a domestic cat with a regular coat. The hairlessness is the result of a natural mutation and wasn’t the first example of hairlessness in cats. A pair of hairless cats had been known of in Mexico at the turn of the last century, but they were not related to the modern Sphynx.
The Canadian cat and other hairless cats found throughout the world were bred to cats with normal coats and then back to hairless cats to create a large gene pool. Devon Rex and American Shorthair cats are among the breeds that played a role in the development of the Sphynx.
Sphynx Personality and Temperament
People who love them say that living with a Sphynx is substantially different from having a “regular” cat. The Sphynx is snuggly and affectionate, always wanting to be close to you. Partly that’s because he’s seeking warmth, but he is an unusually friendly cat who loves attention and touch.
The Sphynx adores having company, so if you work during the day, it’s a good idea to have two so they can play and sleep together while you’re gone. If you have more than one, you may find that they travel in pairs or “packs” for moral support, especially if they are in a new situation. You’ll know they are comfortable in a home when they start venturing off on their own.
Expect the Sphynx to follow you wherever you go. He’s always eager to “help” with whatever you’re doing. He will also be the household greeter, welcoming guests, giving head butts, even jumping on an available shoulder. If cats can be said to flirt, the Sphynx certainly does so. He’ll do anything for attention, so you will always be kept laughing by his silly antics. He is fearless, mischievous and clever.
The best thing about a Sphynx? There’s no “rubbing him the wrong way.”
What You Need to Know About Sphynx Health
All cats have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Any breeder who claims that her breed has no health or genetic problems is either lying or is not knowledgeable about the breed. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on kittens, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her kittens are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons.
The Sphynx is generally healthy, but he may develop certain conditions, including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and a neurological disease called hereditary myopathy. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common form of heart disease in cats and causes thickening (hypertrophy) of the heart muscle. An echocardiogram can confirm whether a cat has HCM. Avoid breeders who claim to have HCM-free lines. No one can guarantee that their cats will never develop HCM.
Hereditary myopathy affects muscle function. It eventually causes death when the cat is no longer able to swallow. Fortunately, the condition is rare and breeders are working hard to eradicate it from the breed.
The Sphynx can also be prone to some skin conditions, such as urticaria pigmentosa and cutaneous mastocytosis, as well as to periodontal disease. Teach him to let you brush his teeth with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new kitten into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Even though the Sphynx has a Buddha belly, he shouldn’t be overweight. Keeping a Sphynx at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to protect his overall health. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier cat for life.
The Basics of Sphynx Grooming
If you want a Sphynx because you think you won’t have to spend any time grooming him, you should probably reconsider. His body becomes oily and must be bathed anywhere from weekly to monthly to prevent clogged pores, not to mention oily spots on your furniture or clothing. Your Sphynx kitten will already have had some baths by the time you get him, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he will like being bathed. Make it a happy time, though, and he will probably come to love the attention.
Like any cat, the Sphynx also needs regular nail trimming, eye and ear cleaning, and dental care. Their claws can develop a waxy buildup that needs to be cleaned off regularly. It’s also necessary to wipe their eyes free of mucus that can build up. The ears, too, can have a waxy buildup that requires regular cleaning with cotton and a gentle ear cleaning solution recommended by your veterinarian. Brush the teeth with a pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Choosing a Sphynx Breeder
You want your Sphynx to be happy and healthy so you can enjoy your time with him, so do your homework before you bring him home. For more information on the history, personality and looks of the Sphynx, or to find breeders, visit the websites of the Cat Fanciers Association, Cats Center Stage, the Fanciers Breeder Referral List, The International Cat Association and American Cat Fanciers Association.
A reputable breeder will abide by a code of ethics that prohibits sales to pet stores and wholesalers and outlines the breeder’s responsibilities to their cats and to buyers. Choose a breeder who has performed the health certifications necessary to screen out genetic health problems to the extent that is possible, as well as one who raises kittens in the home. Kittens who are isolated can become fearful and skittish and may be difficult to socialize later in life.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include kittens always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any kitten, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your feline friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and unhealthy catteries can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick kitten, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy kittens. Put at least as much effort into researching your kitten as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Be patient. Depending on what you are looking for, you may have to wait six months or more for the right kitten to be available. Many breeders won’t release kittens to new homes until they are between 12 and 16 weeks of age.
Before you buy a kitten, consider whether an adult Sphynx might be a better choice for your lifestyle. Kittens are loads of fun, but they’re also a lot of work and can be destructive until they reach a somewhat more sedate adulthood. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health. If you are interested in acquiring an adult cat instead of a kitten, ask breeders about purchasing a retired show or breeding cat or if they know of an adult cat who needs a new home.
Adopting a Cat from Sphynx Rescue or a Shelter
A breeder is not your only option for acquiring a Sphynx. Adult Sphynx may be available from rescue groups. It’s unlikely that you will find a Sphynx in a shelter, but it doesn’t hurt to look. Sometimes pedigreed cats end up at the shelter after losing their home to an owner’s death, divorce or change in economic situation. Check the listings on Petfinder, Adopt-a-Pet.com the Fanciers Breeder Referral List, and ask breeders if they know of a Sphynx who is in need of a new home.
Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “pet lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the cat from both understand your rights and recourses.
Kitten or adult, take your Sphynx to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.