Friday, May 4, 2012
I vividly remember the first time I ever came face to face with a Sphynx cat. My friend and I were making the rounds at a cat show, oohing and aahing at all the beautiful kitties with their luxurious, fluffy coats brushed to perfection. We turned a corner and there they were, these peculiar hairless creatures with giant ears, wrinkled bodies and an alien-like appearance. I must admit my first thought was something like “What the heck are those things?” I saw them again recently on Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell and had a similar reaction. I guess I’m just so used to seeing cats with fur that the Sphynx, by comparison, looks unnatural to me. However, the Sphynx reminds me of that old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” The Sphynx may look odd to people who are used to furry felines, but many other cat lovers call the Sphynx ‘pure enchantment’ and value the breed for its affectionate nature and lively demeanor. I decided to research this interesting rare breed to find out more about it.
Though the appearance of the breed is one of hairlessness (and some truly are) many actually have a light covering of soft, peach-like fuzz. Some Sphynx also have short, fine hair on their feet, tail or outer edges of the ears. The lack of fur makes the cat’s skin warm to the touch, described as feeling like a heated chamois or a suede-covered hot water bottle. The lack of fur also creates a feeling of resistance when petting the cat.
The breed’s lack of hair is governed by a recessive gene. It takes two copies of the gene for the hairless trait to express itself, so if both parents have only one copy, the number of hairless kittens in their litters will be approximately one in four.
The breed standard states that wrinkled skin is a desirable trait, particularly around the muzzle, between the ears, and around the shoulders. The Sphynx skin can be any color found in other felines, as well as any pattern (solid, point, van, tabby, etc.). Most Sphynx have no whiskers, but of those that do, the whiskers are short and sparse.
The Sphynx is a medium boned cat with a strong, muscular body, broad rounded chest and full round belly. The head is a modified wedge, slightly longer than it is wide, with big ears and prominent rounded cheekbones that define the lemon-shaped eyes. Their legs are sturdy and muscular, and their tail is long, slender and whip-like, tapering to a fine point.
The Sphynx are said to be friendly, sweet-tempered, devoted, mischievous, playful and active. Sphynx like to be the center of attention and have been known to ‘show off’ and do silly things seemingly for the amusement of their humans. They love to snuggle with people and other family pets, in part to keep warm but also because of their loving nature. Some Sphynx owners say their cat exhibits ‘dog like’ qualities such as following them around the house and greeting them at the door when they come home.
Grooming and Care
Although regular bathing is not usually necessary for most felines, it is important for the Sphynx. This is because a cat’s fur normally absorbs their body oils, so the hairless Sphynx needs regular bathing in order to remove the collection of oily secretions on their skin. How often they need a bath depends on the amount of oil an individual cat produces, but it’s typically about once a week. Thankfully, the breed becomes accustomed to the bathing routine at an early age and doesn’t seem to mind. Some actually seem to love it! (Oh, how I wish some of that would rub off on my cats).
Are Sphynx Good for People Allergic to Cats?
You might think that a hairless breed would be perfect for someone who is allergic to cats, but that’s not necessarily true. The Sphynx may not shed fur everywhere, but they can still cause problems for the allergic, because it’s not the hair itself that causes a reaction. All cats produce an allergenic protein that’s secreted via their saliva and sebaceous glands. The Sphynx doesn’t leave allergen-laced hair everywhere, so some people who suffer from cat allergies may be able to live with this breed; however, it really depends on the severity and type of an individual’s allergies.
The Sphynx is a delightful cat breed, but it’s not for everyone. Many just can’t get past the cat’s unusual appearance to discover their true inner beauty. Personally, I still prefer my cats to have fur, but I can certainly see why this breed has won the hearts of many.
Top photo: Sunny Ripert
Bottom photo: Tomi Tapio K.
Read more articles by Julia Williams