The Sphynx is a rare breed of cat known for its lack of a coat.
The contemporary breed of Sphynx (known also as the Canadian Sphynx, distinct from the Russian Sphynx breeds – Peterbald, Don Sphynx) started in 1966, in Roncesvalles, Toronto when a hairless kitten named Prune was born. The kitten was mated with its mother (backcrossing), which produced one more naked kitten. Together with a few naked kittens found later it founded the first attempt to create a hairless breed. The first sphynx breeders faced a number of problems: The genetic pool was very limited; breeders had rather vague ideas about sphynx genetics, and many kittens died. There was also a problem with many of the females suffering convulsions. The last 2 descendants of Prune, a brother-sister pair, were sent to Holland in the 1970s, but the male was uninterested in mating and the female conceived only once, but lost the litter.
In 1978 and 1980, two further hairless female kittens were found in Toronto and were sent to Holland to be bred with Prune’s last surviving male descendent. One female conceived, but she also lost the litter. By then, the one remaining male had been neutered, never having been interested in mating with any of the females. As a result, no modern Sphynx cats are traceable to Prune. With no male Sphynxes, breeders instead used sparsely-furred Devon Rex studs. Two hairless female kittens born in 1975 and 1976, Epidermis and Dermis, two barn cats in Minnesota became an important part of the Sphynx breeding programme and further hairless cats were found in Texas, Arkansas and Minnesota. Modern Sphynx therefore trace their origins to the second Canadian bloodline and to the Minnesota cats.
In the early stages of the breed crosses with Devon Rex were used, but later this crossing was frowned upon because it caused health problems. Now the Canadian Sphynx is a breed with a sound genetic pool. Outcrossing is still permitted using guidelines set down in the “standards” from each Feline Association around the globe.
The Sphynx appears to be a hairless cat, but it is not truly hairless. The skin texture resembles that of chamois leather. It may be covered with vellus hair. Because the Sphynx cats have no pelt to keep them warm they huddle up against other animals and people. They even tend to cuddle up and sleep with their owners under the covers. Lack of coat makes the cat quite warm to the touch. Whiskers and eyebrows may be present, either whole or broken, or may be totally absent. The skin is the colour their fur would be, and all the usual cat marking patterns (solid, point, van, tabby, tortie, etc.) may be found on Sphynx skin.
Sphynxes generally have wedge-shaped heads and sturdy, heavy bodies. Standards call for a full round abdomen, also known as pot bellies.
Sphynxes are known for their extroverted behavior. They display a high level of energy, intelligence, curiosity, and affection for their owners.
While Sphynx cats lack a coat to shed or groom, they are not maintenance free. Body oils, which would normally be absorbed by the hair, tend to build up on the skin. As a result, regular cleaning (usually in the form of bathing) is necessary; one bath a week is usually sufficient. Care should be taken to limit the Sphynx cat’s exposure to outdoor sunlight at length, as they can develop sunburn and skin damage similar to that of humans. In general, Sphynx cats should never be allowed outdoors unattended, as they have limited means to conserve body heat when it is cold. In some cases, owners will dress their cats in pet-sized coats in the winter to help them conserve body heat. Their curious nature can take them into dangerous places or situations.
Although Sphynx cats are sometimes thought to be hypoallergenic due to their lack of coat, this is not always the case for cat-specific allergies. Allergies to cats are triggered by a protein called Fel d1, not cat hair itself. Fel d1 is a tiny and sticky protein primarily found in cat saliva and sebaceous glands. Those with cat allergies may react worse to direct contact with Sphynx cats than other breeds. However, conflicting reports of some people successfully tolerating Sphynx cats also exist. However, these positive reports may be cases of desensitizing, wherein the “hairless” cat gave the owner optimism to try to own a cat, eventually leading to the positive situation of their own adaptation.
Sphynx cats also appear to have more ear wax than most hairy domestic cats because they have little to no hair in their ears to catch and protect them from a build up of impurities in their ears, like dirt, skin oils (sebum), and ear wax which accumulates more frequently in the hairless sphynx breed. The Sphynx cats ears will need to be cleaned on a weekly basis, usually before bath time. The Sphynx breed also tends to accumulate oils and debris under their nails as well as the skin fold above the nail due to the lack of fur, so, like the ears, the nails and surrounding skin folds need to be cleaned properly as well. This is generally done at bath time along with a weekly nail clipping. The sphynx breed does require more grooming than a typical domestic cat with fur.
The Canadian Sphynx is recognized by cat fancy associations as being a healthy robust breed. Despite this, they do face challenges unique to their nature. The lack of hair can cause health issues with kittens in the first weeks of life due to susceptibility to respiratory infections. Reputable breeders will not let their kittens go to new homes without being at least 12 weeks of age to ensure the kitten is mature enough to cope in a new environment. Due to their lack of protective fur, skin cancer may be a problem if exposed to sunlight for long durations of time.
The breed does have instances of the genetic disorder hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Studies are being undertaken to understand the links in breeding and the disorder.
Sphynx cats have particularly sensitive digestive systems, especially if they are small cats. It is not uncommon for them to have severe diarrhea for weeks at a time after the use of medication, anesthesia, or even diets of anything less than 80% protein. Even moving to new homes can sometimes set off digestive issues.
Sphynx cats can catch common feline diseases and should be immunized in the same way as cats of other breeds.
Although hairless cats have been reported throughout history, breeders in Europe have been working on the Sphynx breed since the early 1960s. The current American and European Sphynx breed is descended from two lines of natural mutations:
- Dermis and Epidermis (1975) from the Pearsons of Wadena, Minnesota, USA.
- Bambi, Punkie, and Paloma (1978) found in Toronto, Canada, and raised by Shirley Smith.
Other hairless breeds might have body shapes or temperaments that differ from those described above. There are, for example, new hairless breeds, including the Don Sphynx and the Peterbald from Russia, which arose from their own spontaneous mutations. The standard for the Sphynx differs between cat associations such as TICA, FIFE and CFA.
In 2010, DNA analysis confirmed that Sphynx hairlessness was produced by an allele of the same gene that produces the Devon Rex (re), with the Sphynx allele being incompletely dominant over the Devon allele and both recessive to the wild type. However a different genetic symbol (hr) is given to the Sphynx gene and it is more likely that these are different genes interacting with each other. The only allowable outcross breeds in the CFA are now the American Shorthair and Domestic Shorthair. Other associations may vary and the Russian Blue is a permitted outcross in the GCCF. In Europe, mainly Devon Rex has been used for outcrosses.
In 1999 SGC Apophis Nordstrom of Classical Cats won the TICA International Alter of the Year. In 2006 SGC Classical Cats Valentino won the TICA International Cat of the year. In the Cat Fancier’s Association, GC, RW, NW Majikmoon Will Silver With Age was Cat of the Year for 2006. The following year, GC, RW, NW Enchantedlair NWA Cornflake Girl was Kitten of the Year. These awards are handed out for the highest scoring cats, across all breeds during the current show seasons.