As the owner of a couple of awesome Sphynx cats, I get asked all the time, “Do you let them go outside?” It certainly is rare to come across one of these nudists hanging around a back alley or chasing mice in a field, because members of the breed should not be spending long periods of time outdoors.
I live in an apartment with a shaded balcony, so my naked ladies spend their summer days enjoying a few supervised hours of sunlight chez moi here in France. But even if I did live in a house with a yard, I wouldn’t let my Sphynx cats roam around outside without making sure I wasn’t putting them in any kind of danger.
And it goes without saying that Sphynx cats can enjoy warm, sunny weather like any other breed, but as soon as it’s too cool for you to be outside without any clothes on, it’s too cool for them, too.
Any breed of cat with a partial coat, light coat, or lack of coat — like the Sphynx — is particularly susceptible to sunburns and skin cancer, and therefore exposure to direct sunlight must be limited. Like humans, each Sphynx has its own unique sensitivity to the sun, with light-colored Sphynx cats burning more easily and quickly than darker ones.
In order to better protect furless felines from sun damage, they can be exposed to the sun for very short periods of time in order to build up a “tan,” though it is better to let them explore the outdoors when they are able to stay in a shaded area or during summer evenings when the sun has gone down. But keep in mind that a hairless cat, like a human, is at risk for sunburn even in the shade or on overcast days. Vigilance and limited exposure are key!
Dr. Johnny Gobble, a practising veterinarian and Sphynx owner in Sweetwater, TN, explains that the breed can develop pigmentation marks on the skin after repeated exposure to the sun, and that Sphynx cats should only be allowed outside under constant supervision.
For those wondering about sunscreen, Dr. Gobble says that there is no pet sunscreen available on the market right now that is entirely safe for cats, and that under no circumstances should human sunscreen be used on a Sphynx.
Brittney Gobble, Dr. Gobble’s wife, is a Sphynx breeder, pet photographer, and founder/editor-in-chief of the magazine, Owned By a Sphynx. From her years of experience caring for this hairless breed, she had some tips to share in order to make sure your Sphynx cat safely enjoys her time outside:
A play tent can make a great shaded place for Sphynx cats to hang out in while outside. Try putting some frozen marbles under their beds in a zippered pillowcase or bean bag case to keep them cool.
Sphynx cats tend to love water so try putting a few ice cubes in their water dish for them to play with. As for any animal, be sure to have clean, fresh water accessible at all times. Dehydration is a risk, especially for kittens.
To keep your cat from running away or wandering too far, keep her on a long lead with a comfortable harness or collar. You can also put a light shirt on your Sphynx before putting on the harness to make sure her skin isn’t irritated by the friction (and to help protect her from the sun!).
Make sure that your Sphynx does not walk across hot concrete or other surfaces that could burn her sensitive paws. And also be careful of what she may be able to brush up against. Any surface that heats up in the sun (car exteriors, outdoor furniture, metal tools, etc.) can burn a Sphynx’s skin upon contact. Similarly, a coated cat might be able to bump into a prickly plant or roll around in some pine needles without any problems, but a Sphynx could be left with nasty scratches on her skin, so also be sure to keep an eye on where your naked kitties are roaming around.
Of course, make sure that any pet who goes outside is properly identified with a microchip or tags on the collar, and that all vaccines are up-to-date.
But despite a Sphynx owner’s best intentions, a hairless cat can overheat outside. It’s extremely important to be able to recognize the symptoms in order to stop your Sphynx from developing heatstroke, which can be fatal.
Dr. Gobble explains that a cat who is too hot will open-mouth breathe, and this, in combination with heaving sides and shallow or labored breathing, indicates that a cat could be overheated and at high risk of heatstroke. He goes on to note that any reddening of the ears (easy to notice thanks to the Sphynx’s large, hairless ears), gums, and conjunctiva of the eye can also mean that a cat is overheating.
Liliya Tapponnier, a Sphynx breeder since 2002, lives in south-central France and currently shares her home with eight four-legged nudists. I adopted both my Sphynx cats from her as adults, and I was quite surprised when she told me that they had already done a little skinny dipping in her swimming pool!
Liliya says that some of her Sphynx cats really enjoy a short, supervised swim in the pool, but that it’s important to rinse them with clean water afterwards. Dr. Gobble agrees that a quick dip shouldn’t pose any serious health concerns, although the chemicals in the water can strip the natural oils from a Sphynx’s skin and leave it dry and irritated.
“A Sphynx’s skin will usually balance itself back out in time, but dry skin can provoke excessive oil production in an effort to create moisture, leaving you with an oily Sphynx friend,” he says. Dr. Gobble also notes that chemicals in pool water may further irritate any eye issues a Sphynx has. If in doubt, keep your cat out of the pool. And in my experience, splashing around in the bathtub is just as enjoyable as the swimming pool for my furless felines (whose webbing between their toes makes them great little swimmers).
The Sphynx is a great cat for those living in an apartment, as these avid snugglers are more than content to cozy up to a warm body on the couch and bask in the light from a window. If you do allow your hairless cat to spend some time outdoors — either in the yard or on the balcony — it’s important to make sure that exposure to sunlight is limited and that they are always supervised to prevent overheating and other potential dangers such as burns, bug bites, and scratches on their skin.
With that said, who’s up for a little nude sunbathing?
Do you have a Sphynx? Do you let her outside? Let us know in the comments.
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About Crystal Gibson: A child-sized Canadian expat in France who is fluent in French and sarcasm. Owned by a neurotic Doxie mix, a Garfield look-alike, and two needy Sphynx cats. An aspiring writer and pet photographer with a love of coffee and distaste for French administration, she can be found as @PinchMom over on Twitter.