The Sphynx is an exotic looking medium size hairless cat and one that catches people’s attention as soon as they set eyes on them. They are quite unique with their wrinkled appearance and although they look delicate, they are in fact deceivingly heavy for their small size. Over the years, the Sphynx has found a large fan base the world over thanks to their extraordinary looks and the fact they boast such loving and loyal natures.
The Sphynx is one of the most unusual and rare of all domestic feline breeds. Its most distinguishing characteristic is that it appears to be entirely hairless. However, most Sphynx do have some degree of short, sparse downy fur that is most noticeable on the ears, muzzle, tail, feet and scrotum. When present, even this fur is barely perceptible to the human eye or to the human touch. The fine fur tends to be more visible on young kittens and then thins or disappears with age.
The markings and coloration are highly unique to each Sphynx cat, with color depending entirely upon the pigmentation of its skin. All of the usual domestic cat colors and coat patterns can be found in the Sphynx. The texture of the cat’s skin – which has been said to resemble the fuzz of a peach – feels like soft chamois leather or suede and usually is noticeably warm to the touch. Whiskers and eyebrows may or may not be present, and when present they may be either whole or broken. Kittens are more uniformly wrinkled than are adults, but mature Sphynx should retain some wrinkling, especially around their shoulders and neck.
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.
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 hairless Sphynx is an example of the cat breeds that come about accidentally. A genetic mutation brought about the birth of a hairless kitten to Elizabeth, a black and white domestic cat in Toronto, Canada. Elizabeth’s owner recognized that Prune, as the kitten was called, was unique and set about trying to reproduce him. He, along with other hairless kittens that were born in the mid- to late 1970s, was bred to furred cats, including the Devon Rex. The gene for hairlessness is recessive, so while some of the offspring were hairless, others had fur.
Originally known as Canadian Hairless Cats, according to The International Cat Association, breeders eventually settled on the moniker Sphynx for the unusual breed, a reference to the gigantic limestone sculpture in the Egyptian desert, worn smooth over the millennia through erosion by wind, sand and water. The Sphynx is recognized by the American Cat Fanciers Association, the Cat Fanciers Association and The International Cat Association, as well as other cat registries.
It’s a good thing that the Sphynx loves attention because he draws it wherever he goes. He is demanding of human attention and will do anything for a laugh. “Look at me!” is his catchphrase. That makes him easy to handle by veterinarians or anyone else, and it’s not unusual for a Sphynx to be a therapy cat since he is so fond of meeting people.
When he is not receiving the attentions of his adoring fans, the curious and energetic Sphynx is exploring his surroundings, climbing his cat tree or otherwise seeking high places, chasing a bug or just generally getting into mischief. He is extremely fond of teaser toys and puzzle toys that challenge his athleticism and brains.
This is a highly social cat. If you are gone during the day, the Sphynx will enjoy having a friend in the form of another Sphynx, another cat or even a dog. He likes the company and, equally important, he likes having someone to snuggle with so that he stays warm. He loves to be held, and you can expect him to sleep with you, most likely under the covers. Think of it as having a living hot water bottle.
Because of their relative hairlessness, Sphynx cats are especially vulnerable to climatic changes – particularly to the extremes of heat and cold. They should not be allowed outdoors unattended in cold weather, as they have limited means to conserve body heat. They also are predisposed to becoming sunburned, especially on their lighter areas. Sphynx are prone to developing skin allergies and related lumps and bumps. If their skin is not cared for properly, they can develop a greasy detritus, which must be sponged and scraped away.
Despite his bald body, a Sphynx requires at least as much grooming as cats with fur and maybe even more. Their skin must be kept moisturized with a gentle, scent-free lotion or oil, and they need weekly baths so as not to leave greasy spots on your furniture and clothing. Use a gentle baby shampoo or moisturizing shampoo and rinse thoroughly, especially between the folds of the wrinkles. If you begin bathing your Sphynx kitten while he is young, he will learn to accept and sometimes even enjoy baths. Baby wipes will help to keep him clean between baths.
Brush the teeth to prevent periodontal disease. Daily dental hygiene is best, but weekly brushing is better than nothing. Wipe the corners of the eyes daily with a soft, damp cloth to remove any discharge. Use a separate area of the cloth for each eye so you don’t run the risk of spreading any infection. Check the ears weekly. If they look dirty, wipe them out with a cotton ball or soft damp cloth moistened with a 50-50 mixture of cider vinegar and warm water. Avoid using cotton swabs, which can damage the interior of the ear.
Keep the litter box spotlessly clean. Like all cats, Sphynx are very particular about bathroom hygiene.
Although the Sphynx feels warm to the touch, he doesn’t have a fur coat to keep him warm. If you’re cold, he probably is too. Buy him a nice sweater or two to help him retain heat.
It’s a good idea to keep a Sphynx as an indoor-only cat to protect him from diseases spread by other cats, attacks by dogs or coyotes, and the other dangers that face cats who go outdoors, such as being hit by a car. Sphynx who go outdoors also run the risk of being stolen by someone who would like to have such an unusual cat without paying for it. If your Sphynx has an outdoor enclosure where he can sunbathe, be sure to apply cat-safe sunscreen to his skin to prevent sunburn.
The Sphynx has a characteristic stance, where it holds one of its front paws up and tucked back under its belly. They do not especially like being carried or petted vigorously, although they do love to lay on laps, earning them the nickname “the velcro lap cat”. Sphynx prefer to be on warm, soft surfaces rather than on the ground or floor. Common places to find these cats are on top of computer monitors, in sunny windows, on a television or tucked under a blanket. They are well known for sleeping with their owners under the covers, as they are perpetual heat-seeking. The natural curiosity of the Sphynx can lead it into potentially dangerous situations. They certainly should not be left unattended out of doors for any long period of time.
Sphynx are alert, agile, highly active cats. They are perfectly capable of entertaining themselves for hours on end. Some enjoy a good game of fetch or chase. Their lively antics are a constant source of entertainment for their owners, who refer to them as being “elf-like.”
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.
Children and Other Pets
Sphynx cats with their outgoing, affectionate personalities are a good choice for families with older children. However, care should be taken when very young children are around cats and any interaction should always be well supervised by an adult to make sure things stay nice and calm. With this said, younger children need to be taught how to behave around cats and when it’s time to leave them alone.
They also get on well with dogs especially if they have grown up together in the same household and being gregarious by nature, the Sphynx enjoys the company of other cats. However, care should be taken when introducing a Sphynx to dogs they don’t already know just in case the dog does not get on with their feline counterparts. Sphynx cats being social by nature have been known to get on with pet birds and small animals, but it’s always wiser to keep a close eye on any cat when they are around smaller pets particularly when they first meet each other, just to be on the safe side.
Is the Sphynx the Right Breed for you?
Low Maintenance: Occasional grooming is advised to keep its coat in good shape. Though we see cats regularly lick their coats to clean themselves, some regular grooming can be good; it removes hair, prevents matting, and stimulates circulation. Frequency should be twice a week.
Minimal Shedding: Very little to no shedding occurs for this cat breed. These type of cats typically produce little to no dander and are hypoallergenic.
Generally Healthy: It doesn’t have as many known illnesses and conditions as other cats. Best for owners who do not want to worry about long-term medical costs.
Frequent Vocalization: It is known to be vocal. Owners might be concerned for excessive and undesirable crying or meowing, especially at night.
Attention Seeking: This breed needs lots of attention. Owners who are home often or are able to participate in activities with this cat breed will be delighted. Time alone spent can be 0 to 4 hours per day.
Very Active: It likes to engage in activities. Try to spend 10-15 minutes actively involved with this breed several times a day. Daily exercise will help maintain its body weight and keep its muscles toned and strong.
Good With Others: It is usually good with everyone and can be very affectionate towards them.
Did You Know?
Sphynx may be hairless, but they are not hypoallergenic because they still produce dander, dead skin cells. There is no scientific evidence that any breed or cross breed is more or less allergenic than any other cat.