Who’s That Cat? The Bald and Beautiful Sphynx


Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.

The Sphynx feels like suede beneath your hand. Wearing nothing more than a fine layer of down, he may well have been the inspiration for the saying “Bald is beautiful.”

This interesting cat stands out for more than his hairless and wrinkly body. He bears a distinct resemblance to an alien — a friendly one! — with his large, satellite-dish ears and multiple skin tones and patterns. Another characteristic of the breed is a potbelly, so don’t assume that one you’re seeing is overweight.

The breed originated in North America, although hairless cats have also made appearances in other countries.

Sphynx cat in profile by Shutterstock

Sphynx fan Minda Zetlin of Washington said living with a Sphynx is “substantially different” from having a “regular” cat. “Being bald, they’re always seeking warmth, so they’re incredibly snuggly and mushy,” she said. “They need a lot of company, even if you have more than one.”

Even better, she said, “there’s no rubbing them the wrong way.”

Living with a Sphynx

French owners have these cats down cold: The breed standard in that country describes them as part monkey, part dog, part child, and, of course, part cat. Suffice it to say the Sphynx is acrobatic, devoted, lively, and mischievous.

The Sphynx is also affectionate and lovable. He will follow you wherever you go, including the bathroom. Sphynx cats are sociable and will enjoy meeting your neighbors, relatives, and friends.

A young woman with a Sphynx cat by Shutterstock

The best home for a Sphynx is one with a person or family who will give him lots of love and attention and make sure he has a warm lap, cozy bedding, or a sweater to keep him from getting cold.

Things you should know

Despite his lack of fur, the Sphynx requires regular grooming. That includes a weekly or as-needed bath to remove oily secretions from his skin, which can not only cause skin problems but also stain your furniture.

Ears and claws must be cleaned regularly to remove waxy buildup. A lack of eyelashes means eye goop needs to be wiped away, too.

The Sphynx can be prone to gingivitis, so brush teeth frequently for fresh breath and good dental health. So, if you’re looking for a no-muss, no-fuss cat, the Sphynx might not be for you.

A Sphynx meows from inside a basket by Shutterstock

If your Sphynx has a safely enclosed “catio,” anoint him with pet-safe sunscreen before he goes outdoors. His skin isn’t protected by fur and can get burned by the sun.

The Sphynx is not necessarily hypoallergenic. Like any cat, he produces an allergenic protein called Fel d 1, which is distributed in his saliva and through his sebaceous glands. If you’re allergic to cats, and he licks you or you pet him, you could find yourself sniffling or sneezing from the contact, but some individuals find Sphynxes easier to be around than furry cats.

A healthy Sphynx can have a long lifespan, living 14 years or more. The Sphynx is generally healthy, but problems that may be seen in the breed include a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and a skin condition called cutaneous mastocytosis.

History lesson

If you think the Sphynx must be the result of some crazy breeding program, think again. The breed’s forebears were born to furry cats, their hairlessness the result of a natural mutation.

Hairless cats have been known for more than a century, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the Sphynx was developed from hairless kittens born in Minnesota and Canada.

A Canadian Sphynx sits on a bench by Shutterstock

Some of the early hairless kittens used to develop the breed were named Prune, Epidermis, Punkie, and Paloma.

In 2013, the Sphynx was the 8th most popular breed registered by the Cat Fanciers’ Association, out of 43.

Fun facts

The Sphynx comes in many different colors and patterns, which are seen in the pigment of his skin. In addition to solid colors like black, white, red, blue, and chocolate, Sphynxes can be found in the various tabby patterns, tortoiseshell, and pointed looks.

Sphynx kittens by Shutterstock

Breeds used to develop the Sphynx include the Devon Rex and American Shorthair.

The Sphynx was named for his resemblance to the giant sculpture that sits in the Egyptian desert Sphynx cats, in the roles of Mr. Bigglesworth and his smaller sidekick, stole the show in the Austin Powers movies. Mr. Bigglesworth was played by a Sphynx named Ted Nude-Gent while Mini Mr. Bigglesworth was played by three Sphynx kittens: Mel Gibskin, Paul Nudeman, and Skindiana Jones.

About the author: Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning freelance writer in Southern California. Her subjects include pet care, health and behavor, and wildlife and marine life conservation.

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