The first time you see a member of this hairless, wrinkled breed, your eyes may widen in surprise. Is that really a cat? While some might look askance at hairless cats, Sphynx fanciers loudly proclaim “bald is beautiful!”
History and Origin of Sphynx Cats
During the last hundred years or so, hairless kittens have spontaneously appeared in litters of otherwise ordinary domestic shorthairs. This natural, spontaneous mutation appears to be a fairly common one, since hairless cats have been found in Canada, France, Morocco, Mexico, Russia, Australia and the United States. Pictures of the “Mexican Hairless” even appeared in Frances Simpson’s 1903 classic Book of the Cat. However, many of these lines were never developed or died out from lack of support or from breeding difficulties.
The first formal breeding program took place in Canada in the 1960s, when a pair of domestic shorthairs produced a hairless kitten. In 1970 the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) granted provisional status to the “Canadian Hairless.” The next year, however, CFA withdrew recognition due to the health problems and breeding difficulties. At the time, it was believed that the gene associated with hairlessness was lethal. That line became extinct.
The Sphynx as we know it today began in 1975, when Minnesota farm owners Milt and Ethelyn Pearson discovered a hairless kitten had been born to their normal-coated farm cat, Jezabelle. This kitten, appropriately named Epidermis, was joined the next year by another hairless kitten named Dermis. Both were sold to Oregon breeder Kim Mueske, who used the kittens to develop the breed. Minnesota breeder Georgiana Gattenby also worked with kittens from the Pearson line, using rex cats to widen and strengthen the gene pool. These lines proved to be healthy. The name “Sphynx” was chosen, named after the Great Sphinx of Giza.
In 1978, Canadian breeder Shirley Smith rescued a hairless male kitten, Bambi, that she neutered and kept as a pet. Bambi’s mother, a domestic shorthair, subsequently produced two more hairless offspring. In 1983 Smith sent the two kittens to Dr. Hugo Hernandez in the Netherlands. Dr. Hernandez bred the two kittens, named Punkie and Paloma, to a Devon rex. The descendants of these cats, along with the descendants of the Pearson cats, became the foundation of today’s Sphynx. Breeders discovered that even though the hairless gene is recessive to short hair, the gene is incompletely dominant over the recessive gene governing the Devon rex coat. Crosses between the Sphynx and Devon rex helped widen the gene pool and increase numbers.
In February 1998, the Sphynx was accepted for CFA registration, a great stride for the breed. In 2000, 120 Sphynx were registered in CFA, according to CFA’s 2000 registration totals. This gives the Sphynx a ranking of 33rd out of the 40 breeds CFA accepts. Fanciers are currently working on gaining the Sphynx provisional status in CFA. Then it’s on to championship, which the Sphynx has already achieved in most other associations.
Appearance of a Sphynx
Once you get past the shock of seeing a naked cat, you’ll notice that this breed has other distinctive traits. Their ears, for one thing, look large enough to intercept satellite transmissions. Their paw pads are thick, giving them the illusion of walking on tiny air cushions. The large, lemon shaped eyes are expressive, slightly slanted, and set wide apart. The head is a modified wedge shape, with prominent cheekbones and whisker pads and a strong, well-developed chin. Medium-sized cats, Sphynx are broad-chested and hard-muscled.
The Sphynx isn’t really more wrinkled than other cats. All cats have loose, wrinkled skin; the cat’s skin is the thinnest of all the domestic animals, and also the most flexible. It’s just easier to see the wrinkles on a hairless cat.
Actually, Sphynx only appear hairless. The skin is covered with a fine vestigial covering of down that resembles the texture of chamois. Sphynx feel like warm suede to the touch. Despite the virtual lack of hair, Sphynx come in every possible color and pattern since color, like beauty, are more than fur deep. However, the exact color is sometimes difficult to determine on a hairless cat, so in the show ring no points are awarded or taken away for color or pattern.
Like the gene for long hair, the gene that governs the Sphynx’s lack of hair is recessive. In order for a cat to be hairless, she must inherit one copy of the Sphynx gene from each parent. If a cat has one copy of the hairless gene and one copy of the gene for short hair, the cat will have short hair but will carry the gene for hairlessness. When two such cats are bred, statistically one cat in four will be hairless. On the plus side, when two hairless cats mate they produce entirely hairless litters.
Spynx Cat’s Personality
According to the French breed standard, the Sphynx is part monkey, part dog, part child, and part cat. While this may bring a strange image to mind, the breed does seem to have personality traits of each. To say Sphynx are lively is an understatement; they perform monkey-like aerialist stunts from the top of doorways and book shelves. Devoted and loyal, they follow their humans around, wagging their tails doggy style and purring with affection. They demand your unconditional attention and are as mischievous and lovable as children. While the Sphynx may not be for everyone, their unique appearance and charming temperament has won them an active, enthusiastic following.
Grooming a Sphynx
You might think a hairless cat requires no grooming. Think again. Sphynx must be bathed regularly to remove excess oil from their skin. The sebaceous glands, located at the base of each hair follicle, secrete an oily substance called sebum. All cats produce these secretions, but Sphynx don’t have fur to absorb them. Allowed to collect, they can cause skin problems. Too, it’s no fun to snuggle with a sticky Sphynx. Because Sphynx have no ear hair, ear wax and dirt build up more quickly, so their ears must be cleaned regularly as well. Train your Sphynx to tolerate bathing when she’s young and this won’t be an ordeal. Unlike other cats, Sphynx only take a second to dry.
Reputable breeders can be found through The International Sphynx Breeders and Fanciers Association (www.sphynx.org), the Progressive Sphynx Alliance (www.psa-sphynx.com), and from the cat associations. Make sure the breeder provides registration papers and a written sales contract with a health guarantee.
The Sphynx is accepted for championship by:
The Sphynx is accepted in the non-championship miscellaneous class by:
One might expect the Sphynx to be a good pet for those allergic to cats, but this is not the case. Sphynx refrain from shedding on your couch but can still make you sneeze, because it’s not generally cat hair that causes allergic reactions but rather an allergenic protein called Fel d1 that’s secreted via the cat’s saliva and the sebaceous glands. Sphynx produce just as much Fel d1 as any cat, and while grooming spread the protein onto their skin. In fact, without hair to absorb the secretions, Sphynx can actually cause a more severe allergic reaction in some people. Other people can tolerate Sphynx, however, so if you’re allergic plan on spending a generous amount of time around a Sphynx before agreeing to buy.