Back in 1974 singer Ray Stevens recorded “The Streak” about well, streakers. For the under 50-crowd, streakers are people who pranked by shedding their clothes and running through crowds. They put it all out there for everyone to see. Stevens could have written his entertaining ditty about the Sphynx, a unique, hairless breed of cat who looks like the product of mating between a domestic cat and an extraterrestrial gray.
Almost a decade before Stevens wrote his song, a black and white cat in Toronto had the same idea. In 1966, Elizabeth, a Domestic Shorthair, gave birth to a bald kitten named Prune. While rare, the birth of kittens in the buff have been reported all over the world as early as 1830.
A breeding program began around Prune. To increase the depth of the gene pool, breeders of the bare-naked kitties outcrossed their domestic no-hairs with American Shorthairs, Domestic Shorthairs, and Devon Rex. And the rest, as they say, is history. In 2002, Sphynx were accepted by the Cat Fanciers Association for competition in the Championship class.
Alien or not, Sphynxes love everyone. They seem to prefer human attention but enjoy the company of other cats, dogs, little gray aliens, everyone. It’s a good thing they have so many friends. These kitties need help staying warm and will get cold easily without blankets or sweaters.
Being cold-natured, they enjoy a nice warm lap and burrowing under the covers. These little extroverts will also curl up with up with the dog if they get chilly. As innovative as they are, they’re not a great choice for homes with thermostats that hover at 68 degrees.
Instead of covering their hairlessness with a toupee, these kitties prefer sweaters. They are perfect for the woman (or guy) who’s obsessed with dressing up the cat. Unlike other cats, who look at you with dread as you approach wielding kitty apparel, the Sphynx likes playing dress up. Not that he enjoys being humiliated by wearing a sweater that reads, “I’m Mommy’s Itty Bitty Widdle Kitty,” but he loves a sweater that keeps him warm. Many Sphynx have wardrobes that would make supermodel Heidi Klum envious.
“Sphynx tend to be really, really sweet,” says cat vet extraordinaire Cynthia Rigoni, owner of All Cats Veterinary Clinic in Houston, certified CFA judging clerk, and servant to her own Sphynx. “Sweeter than the average bear, or rather, cat.”
They want to be with you, and they’re incorrigible showoffs. They’re active cats. On any given day a single Sphynx uses enough energy to power Slapout, Alabama, for a couple of hours. The breed has a reputation as clowns and monkeys. Acting silly and enjoying a good rambunctious game is their standard operating procedure. They love a good conversation, and will follow you around the house telling you about their day. Like a movie alien, they are fearless.
“They’re elves,” Dr. Rigoni says. “Elves aren’t supposed to be nice. They’re supposed to be mischievous. They love to be cuddled. They’re totally elfin, including the magic.“
What they look like
The perfect Sphynx looks the way no human wants to: wrinkled, potbellied and bald. But today bald is beautiful. Just look at the celebrities who willingly shave their heads.
Most Sphynx look hairless but are actually covered with a soft down or peach fuzz. Despite the “hairless” claim, some Sphynx do have body hair, mostly limited to the face, feet and scrotum. It’s usually so fine it appears invisible.
Their alien facial expression looks like something out of an old B movie. Their loose skin (and subsequent extra wrinkling effect) gives them that constantly wrinkled brow that projects a chronic “Did I forget to turn off the stove?” expression.
These guys are hard-bodied and muscular, naked but not delicate. Sans all of that inconvenient fur obscuring their sexy features, Sphynx are solid, medium-sized cats with broad, sometimes barrel chests. On the less sexy side, they have rat tails and their bellies look like they just finished a big meal.
Females usually weigh five to eight pounds. Males can tip the scale at up to 10 pounds. They have large ears, open at the bottom and round at the top, and large lemon-shaped eyes. In CFA, Sphynx appear in all colors and patterns naturally found in felines. Those markings, which would normally be seen in the fur, are printed directly on the Sphynx skin. CFA also accepts all feline eye colors, but the eyes “should be harmonious with coat/skin color.” This breed is recognized in cat associations around the world — CFA, TICA, ACFA, FIFe, CCA, AACE and CAA — but breed standards differ from associations to association.
Unlike furry felines, the naughty bits of intact boy Sphynxes are out there and in your face. So if you have an unaltered male Sphynx, be prepared to explain to the three-year-old neighbor kid what “those” are.
Dr. Rigoni says that the skin of the au naturel cats has a feel all its own. “It’s velvety soft, firm and smooth at the same time.” More conventional but less interesting descriptions include a suede hot water bottle, warm chamois or having a buttery feel.
Outside of the cat show community, the world’s most famous Sphynx is probably Ted Nude-Gent, the feline star of the Austin Powers movies. In 1997 Ted played Dr. Evil’s Persian cat, Mr. Bigglesworth, in the blockbuster Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Both Dr. Evil and Mr. Bigglesworth permanently lost their hair after being cryogenically frozen, thus Mr. B’s transformation from Persian to Sphynx.
Two years later a company of Sphynx kittens — Mel Gibskin, Skindiana Jones, and Paul Nudeman — portrayed Mini Mr. Bigglesworth in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.
Taking care of your Sphynx
You might think the lack of coat would make Sphynx low- or even no-maintenance — no more shedding or time-consuming brushing, right? Sort of. No more brushing, yes, but Sphynx actually require more work than some long-haired breeds.
In the hygiene department, they leave a lot to be desired. Dr. Rigoni says Sphynx need frequent baths. How frequent depends on the individual cat. Some can look forward to a regular Saturday night bath, while kitties who produce more oil may need twice-weekly ablutions.
Other cats have fur to absorb body secretions. Since Sphynx have nothing to soak up their normal oils, they collect on the skin, clogging pores, forming blackheads and leaving oily stains on the furniture and linens. If grease isn’t removed from the skin, it gets sticky. They also need to have their ears and nails cleaned. Their bedding should be laundered frequently.
On the plus side, Sphynx are easy to bathe. Dr. Rigoni says that all it takes is “lather, lather, rinse, then you can almost blow them dry using lung power.” Also, breeders train them from the time they’re small kittens to tolerate bathing.
Here’s to your health
Like most pedigreed breeds, Sphynx have a couple of chinks in their genetic armor. This breed has a predisposition to develop the potentially deadly disease hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Dr. Rigoni says the Sphynx are “fairly healthy if their hearts are good.“
There is no accurate way to tell if a kitten will have cardiomyopathy. Question the breeder about the history of the parents, grandparents and backwards generations. Be wary of kitten born out of cats with a history of HCM. Follow up your conversation with the breeder by placing a call to the breeder’s vet.
Like all cats, Sphynx love to lie in the windows and sunbathe. Without a coat to protect them, they are more at risk of developing skin cancer than cats with fur. Indoor sun worshipers should wear a cat-safe sunscreen. Check with your vet before using any human products on your kitty. Never apply sunscreen to a cat if it contains octyl salicylate.
Hypoallergenic cats — true or false?
Some believe that Sphynx are hypoallergenic cats because of their lack of fur. Not true. They still produce the allergy-causing protein, Fel d 1, found in cat dander, hair, saliva and pee. Cat lovers who suffer from milder allergies may be able to tolerate Sphynx because the kitties get frequent baths. Sphynx are magic, but they’re not a magic pill for people with severe allergies. They may not shed on the furniture, but they can make you reach for the tissues.
Bottom line, it takes time and effort to keep these kitties warm and clean. But ask any Sphynx owner and they will tell you resoundingly that it’s worth it. So buy a case of cat shampoo and go take some knitting lessons. If you live with a Sphynx, you’re going to need them.
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