The Sphynx Cat: The Naked Truth About This Hairless Breed

Does a Sphynx cat need grooming even though it's a hairless breed? And are Sphynx cats even truly hairless to begin with? Let's find out more.

The Sphynx cat is the result of a natural genetic mutation. Photography ©Casey Elise Photography.
The Sphynx cat is the result of a natural genetic mutation. Photography ©Casey Elise Photography.

Don’t be misled by the wrinkled expression. Though the Sphynx cat often looks as if he has a frowny face, the hairless cat is well-known for an affectionate nature, in particular for his love of snuggling. This is the cat you’ll find sleeping under the covers with you — hey, how else is he going to stay warm?

Although he’s a hairless breed, the Sphynx cat is not completely bald. The bridge of his nose is furred, and he may have short, fine hair on his paws, outer edges of the ears and tail. Depending on the individual cat, the remainder of the body may be completely hairless or covered in soft, peachy fuzz. He’s often described as feeling like warm suede.

Even if you’ve never met a Sphynx cat in person, you’ve seen him on the big and small screens. Besides Ted Nude-Gent, the Sphynx who played Mr. Bigglesworth in the Austin Powers franchise, Sphynx cats have appeared on the television shows Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Real Housewives of New Jersey (Housewife Dina Manzo’s Grandma Wrinkles) as well as in Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance video. People who live with them love them.

Living with a Sphynx cat

The Sphynx cat is not completely bald. Photography ©Casey Elise.
The Sphynx cat is not completely bald. Photography ©Casey Elise.

Sphynx love to snuggle with their people or with other cats or even dogs. They do best with a family who appreciates their outgoing nature and love of the spotlight, not to mention their desire to sleep in the bed under the covers.

A Sphynx cat needs help staying warm. This is one cat who won’t turn up his nose at wearing clothes. Don’t get a Sphynx cat if you keep the air conditioning turned up high unless you’re prepared to lay in a wardrobe of sweaters for him.

You might think this breed is hypoallergenic, but just because he’s hairless doesn’t mean he won’t produce allergens. Spend some time with several Sphynx to make sure you don’t react to or can at least tolerate being around them.

Sphynx need protection from the sun if they spend time out on a catio or other safe outdoor enclosure. Put them in a cute sunsuit and apply cat-safe sunscreen to exposed areas.

History of the Sphynx cat

The Sphynx is the result of a natural genetic mutation. A hairless kitten named Prune, born in a litter in Canada in 1966, produced another bald kitten when he was bred. Together, with some other hairless cats that appeared in other litters, as well as some hairless cats born in Minnesota, they helped to originate the concept of a hairless cat breed.

Over the next two decades, cat breeders with an interest in genetics worked to create a hairless cat, outcrossing to Devon Rex and American Shorthairs to increase the young breed’s genetic diversity. It was during this time that they acquired the name Sphynx, after Canadian Hairless didn’t take hold.

Last year, the Sphynx cat was the 8th most popular breed registered by the Cat Fanciers’ Association, out of 42.

What you should know about the breed

A Sphynx cat requires frequent grooming. Photography ©Preston Smith.
A Sphynx cat requires frequent grooming. Photography ©Preston Smith.

The Sphynx is a moderate-size cat, typically weighing 6 to 12 pounds. The breed’s oily skin requires bathing every one to three weeks, not only to unclog his pores but also to prevent him from leaving oily spots on furniture, walls and clothing. The cats also need frequent ear and claw cleaning to remove waxy buildup.

Sphynx are generally healthy, but they can develop hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a common type of heart disease in cats, as well as a neurologic condition called hereditary myopathy. A healthy Sphynx usually lives 9 to 15 years.

5 Fun facts about the Sphynx cat

  1. Even without fur, the Sphynx can come in all colors and patterns, including white, black, blue, red, lavender, tabby, tortoiseshell, calico, pointed and many more.
  2. Exposure to the sun intensifies a Sphynx’s color — like getting a tan — but of course that’s not good for his skin.
  3. Some Sphynx are born coated. They may be kept for breeding programs because they carry the hairless gene or may be sold as pets.
  4. Sphynx can have normal whiskers, broken whiskers or no whiskers at all.
  5. Beyond their hairlessness, Sphynx stand out for their large eyes — described as lemon-shaped — big ears, wrinkled face and body, and a whip-like tail that tapers at the tip.

Thumbnail: Photography ©Casey Elise Photography.

Kim Campbell Thornton has been writing about cats and dogs for 32 years. She is the award-winning author of more than two dozen books and hundreds of articles on pet care, health and behavior.

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