I got my two female Sphynx cats — also known as naked cats or hairless cats — within a year of each other from the same responsible and experienced breeder. Skinny Mini is a mischievous five-year-old calico tabby, and dainty three-year-old Fly has seal–tortie-sepia coloring. (Isn’t that an Instagram filter?) I had done my research on cat breeds and was not going into Sphynx cat ownership unprepared — or so I thought.
Since adopting my first Sphynx cats, I’ve come to realize that:
Sphynx cats allow us to appreciate fascinating feline morphology without all that fur getting in the way. I knew I liked the unique appearance of Sphynx cats before getting one, but I didn’t know I’d be so completely captivated by a Sphynx cats’ big bat ears, runway model cheekbones and delightful skin folds. I love how Fly’s legs look like she’s wearing sagging pantyhose, and how when Skinny Mini quivers her tail it sends a ripple of wrinkles up her back. I can’t get enough of stroking their soft, warm skin and kissing their adorable pot bellies. Sphynx cats often don’t have whiskers or eyelashes, which draws even more attention to their expressive, almond-shaped eyes and chubby whisker pads.
Unfortunately, I also realize now that a lot of people find this breed ugly and unappealing. I don’t know how many times I’ve shown someone a photo of my girls only to be met with a grimace and a comment along the lines of, “Ugh! They are so strange looking! Why would you want a cat like that?” I certainly find this type of remark insulting, and always hope that the same person doesn’t show me a picture of their kid just after.
I understand that Sphnyx cats are not everyone’s cup of tea, but as my mother used to tell me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” (Or, just lie to me and tell me my cats are super cute.)
Sphynx cats are known for being chatterboxes. They “talk” to their owners using a whole repertoire of chirps, squeaks and whines, and my girls are no exception. Skinny Mini is definitely the more communicative one. She’s got the vocal range of Mariah Carey and a diva personality to match. If you disturb her while she’s resting, she’ll let out a sound not unlike an annoyed teenager’s “Whaaat?” And, like a typical teenager, she’ll talk back to you if you tell her “no.”
And when Sphynx cats aren’t using their mouths to (constantly) express themselves, they are shoving food in there. Thanks to an enviable metabolism, these cats have hearty appetites. Keeping them healthy and well-fed means putting aside a certain budget for quality cat food, and since I have two, I feel like I’m always buying cat food — and bags of litter. Owning a pair of Sphynx cats has turned out to be more costly than I thought, but if it means cutting back on my own personal expenses to make sure my cats have what they need, I don’t hesitate.
I knew before getting my cats that hairless cats does not mean maintenance-free cats. Owners of Sphynx cats will tell you that these four-legged naked cats need a lot of care. I was lucky because I adopted my Sphynx cats as adults, and the breeder had already accustomed them to getting washed, having their ears cleaned and their nails trimmed; I simply had to keep up the good habits. I was warned that Sphynx cats can leave an oily residue on clothes and linen (and on their owners) if you don’t bathe them weekly, but it was still quite a surprise the first time I saw it for myself.
Just a few days after getting Skinny Mini, she started sleeping under the covers with me. It was October, and still very warm in the southeast of France, and her sweating coupled with a bit of anxiety at being in a new home meant that she was even grimier than what I now know is normal. I woke up one morning to find a greasy, Skinny Mini-sized mark on the white fitted sheet. “Look!” I said to my husband with a certain degree of intrigue and disgust. “The cat is literally coming off on the bed sheets!”
And just like people, some Sphynx cats are better at keeping themselves clean than others. Skinny Mini loves giving herself pedicures to clean out the gunk that gets trapped in her nails beds and between each toe. She’ll park herself in the middle of the living room, usually when we have company over, fan out her webbed feet, and go to town noisily licking and chewing every claw. Fly prefers that I roll her up in a blanket, burrito style, and wipe off each nail for her. She’s more awkward than Skinny Mini, and will often accidentally swipe her long tapered tail through her litter box … deposits. I won’t notice until she jumps up on my lap and leaves a smelly surprise on my clothes. And she may only be five pounds, but Fly’s flatulence will make your eyes water.
A word to the wise: Sphynx cats require regular grooming in order to keep them healthy and comfortable, so if you are thinking to yourself, “Who’s got time for all that?” then Sphynx cats are not for you.
Unlike my (fully clothed) ginger tabby, who is a typical feline mix of cuddly aloofness, Skinny Mini and Fly border on being creepy little stalkers. You want personal space? Alone time with your significant other? Impossible with Sphynx cats in the house. They are all up in your business all of the time. I’ll often be taking a shower, minding my own business, and turn around to find Fly perched on the edge of the tub, her large unblinking eyes boring into mine. “You wanted five minutes alone in the bathroom?” she seems to be asking. “I don’t think so.” (And yes, they can open doors!)
Don’t get me wrong — I love that they follow me around and solicit my attention constantly. I’m home alone a lot as my husband works long hours, and my cats give me something to focus on and take care of. They are always up for playing or warming my lap, and it’s impossible to feel lonely with them here. Sphynx cats don’t like being left alone for long periods of time, so it can be a good idea to have a pair of them if you’re not home much. And even though Skinny Mini is a lot less needy since I adopted Fly, she still loves to sleep tucked in the crook of my arm every single night.
I am completely in love (read: obsessed) with my Sphynx cats. My life is so much fuller because they are in it, and while I might not have known what to fully expect when I got my first Sphynx (and then a second), I’ve worked to become to the best Sphynx cat mom I can be. These cats have totally won me over with their exotic look, playful personalities, and affectionate dispositions.
Owning Sphynx cats (or any pet, for that matter) is not for those who don’t want a big commitment. I’m ready and willing, though, because if I’ve learned anything in the crazy ex-pat life of mine, it’s to go big or go home.
Tell us: Do you live with Sphynx cats? What are some of the surprising things you’ve learned about parenting hairless cats? Tell us in the comments!
Thumbnail: Photography by Seregraff / Shutterstock.
This piece was originally published in 2014.