Sphynx Cat: Cat Breed Information, Characteristics and Facts
Many people love the Sphynx because of its very unique, exotic appearance. For those who are already proud parents of this “hairless” breed, it is the Sphynx’s warm and affectionate nature that matter a lot. It is a smart and funny feline and one that loves plenty of cuddle and snuggle time. This feline breed is perfect for anyone who can give the cat the kind of love and warmth that it deserves.
History of the Sphynx
One of the most common misconceptions about the Sphynx is that it is a feline bred in Egypt. Most people think that the breed is the feline representative of the Great Sphinx of Giza. What they seem to forget is that the Sphinx has the body of a lion; although it is still a cat. Nevertheless, the Great Sphinx has nothing to do with the Sphynx cat.
While the Sphynx breed has its origins in mid-20th century Canada, there are already “hairless” cats throughout history. Whether they are the result of spontaneous genetic mutation or the result of man’s crossbreeding fantasies, no one knows. What is known is that European cat fanciers have been trying to create a hairless feline breed in the 1960s.
In 1966, a black-and-white female domestic cat gave birth to a hairless kitten in Toronto. The owner named the kitten Prune. It was backcrossed with its mother to produce another “hairless” kitten. Riyadh Bawa purchased the two hairless kittens to start a program for breeding hairless kittens. Bawa worked with his mother, Yania, as well as Rita and Kees Tenhoves. The Bawas and Tenhoves were able to establish the hairless nature of the Sphynx as an autosomal recessive trait.
The Tenhoves were able to get the Cat Fanciers’ Association to give the Sphynx a provisional breed status. Unfortunately, because of issues in the breed’s fertility, the CFA revoked the provisional status in 1971. Some of the problems that the Bawas and Tenhoves faced were a very limited genetic pool, too high mortality rate among Sphynx kittens, and the high morbidity rates of female Sphynxes having convulsions.
In 1975, Milt and Ethelyn Pearson of Wadena, Minnesota were able to produce hairless kittens from a domestic shorthair. Kim Mueske of Oregon bought two of these hairless kittens and started a Sphynx breeding program of her own. At the same time, Georgina Gattenby also bought some of the Pearson kittens which she mated to her Cornish Rex cats in Brainerd, Minnesota.
By 2002, the Cat Fanciers’ Association accepted the Sphynx into its Championship category. As of 2018, the Sphynx is the CFA’s 8th most popular feline breed.
Quick Facts about the Sphynx
If we are to follow its history, the Sphynx is a new creation. This does not mean we have very limited knowledge about this breed. On the contrary, there is a wealth of knowledge that potential Sphynx owners have to know about this “hairless” breed.
- It is Not a Hairless Breed
Let us get this straight. The Sphynx is not a hairless breed. When you say “hairless”, it means an organism without any form of hair. However, this feline has a very thin layer of downy hair. It looks like the hair on a baby’s skin. They are so fine that it is quite easy to think that they are also hairless. The Sphynx’s peach fuzz is very warm and soft to the touch. It feels like running your hands on a chamois leather. While the breed is not “hairless” per se, it is whisker-free. If you’ve always thought of cats as having whiskers, the Sphynx will challenge your beliefs.
- It’s in the Genes
The Minnesota hairless cats did not originate from a hairless breed. Instead, the kittens came from a domestic shorthair cat. Today, geneticists have already figured out the specific gene that codes for the “hairless” trait in the Sphynx. The hairlessness of this breed is secondary to a mutation in the gene. This genetic material is the same allele for coding the Devon and Selkirk Rex’s short and curly coat.
In normal Selkirks and Devons, the gene instructs the body to produce keratin 71. This allows for the keratinization of the cat’s hair follicles, giving it structural strength. With the mutation of this gene, the cat is unable to guarantee follicular strength. Hence, its hairs can get dislodged very easily.
Breeders have to be very careful in choosing the breed of cat that they outcross their Sphynxes with. The CFA only allows the Domestic Shorthair and the American Shorthair in the breeding of Sphynxes. Other cat fanciers’ organizations have their own “standards”, however. For instance, European cat organizations recommend using the Devon Rex. The GCCF, meanwhile, allows outcrossing of Sphynxes with the Russian Blue.
- The Sphynx is Not a Hypoallergenic Cat
The Sphynx is not a hypoallergenic kitty. A more appropriate term will be “low-shedding”. This means that the Sphynx still sheds some of its dead skin cells that contain the Fel d 1 allergen. It is this allergen that can cause some folks to be allergic to pets.
There is one particular reason why the Sphynx is not a good candidate for folks with severe allergies. This cat does not have a dense fur that can act as a protective layer between you and its dead skin cells. In other words, there is no structure to trap the dead skin cells or dander before they reach you. When a cat rubs its body, scratches, or shakes its body, it can send its dander flying into the air.
Also, do take note that the Fel d 1 allergen is found on the cat’s sebaceous glands and saliva. While the Sphynx does not have a coat, it still has saliva and sebaceous glands that can secrete the allergen.
- Most Affectionate Feline Breed
There is one very interesting study revealing that the Sphynx is the world’s most affectionate breed of cat. There are a few theories as to why the breed displays such a temperament. One of them is that Sphynxes rely on their human owners for warmth. Without their fur to keep them cozy, the natural reaction will be to snuggle up with their littermates. But since there are no fellow Sphynxes in the house, they would rather cuddle up with their owners.
Another theory is that reputable breeders often employ selective breeding practices. It is possible that they choose only cats with unmatched friendliness to use in their breeding program. This promotes the birth of kittens that are more inclined to show friendliness, affection, and warmth.
The other theory is that breeders lengthen the socialization process of kittens with their respective mothers. This allows the kittens to learn acceptable and unacceptable behavior from their mothers.
- They are Very Vocal
One look at the Sphynx and you will immediately think that it is a quiet and stoic breed. On the contrary, this is a very vocal breed. You’d be surprised at the Sphynx’s amazing repertoire of vocalizations. We are not only talking about the ordinary “meows” here. The breed has the uncanny ability to vocalize as if responding to every word you say. It can chirp and produce other sounds that very few cat breeds can do.
- They have Higher Body Temperatures than Other Breeds
Sphynxes have a higher body temperature than other breeds of cats. In general, their body temperature is about 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than other feline breeds. It is one of those things that makes them snuggable and cuddable.
- Sphynxes Tend to Eat a Lot
Because the Sphynx cat has a higher body temperature, it needs more fuel to maintain homeostasis. It is often said that a Sphynx will need about two to 2.5 times the amount of food that other cats need. It is the only way they can keep up with their metabolic requirements, allowing them to thrive when they cannot find a willing arm to cuddle them.
- They Love to Hike
If there is one very peculiar thing about the Sphynx, it would be its remarkable desire to walk on a leash. They are like other breeds of cat that are easy to train. One of their favorite activities is accompanying you on your walks. What’s best about these pets is that they look at leash-walking in a positive manner. Try to imagine walking down the street with a Sphynx strutting beside you. Now that is a sight to behold.
Things You Should Know
Most people think that caring for a Sphynx is a walk in the park because of its “hairless” nature. Like all pets, Sphynxes still have basic needs that pet parents should be able to meet. This is crucial if one wants to have a happy and healthy Sphynx in the home.
One of the things that Sphynx owners have to watch out for in the breed is skin cancer. It is true that this breed loves to walk on a leash. Given its “hairless” characteristic, however, it is never a good idea to walk it outdoors when the sun is at its peak. The cat does not have a coat to protect its skin from harsh UV radiation. This can predispose it to skin cancer and other UV radiation-related skin problems.
Kittens are also more vulnerable to respiratory infections. It is for this reason that reputable Sphynx breeders never “dispose” or “rehome” kittens that are less than 14 weeks old. This helps ensure that the kittens’ respiratory system is mature enough to allow it to adjust to its new home.
In addition to these health problems, the Sphynx is still at risk of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is a condition that is quite common among cats, regardless of breed. Among Sphynxes, more than a third of them will develop heart disease. This can take the form of mitral valve dysplasia or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Other potential problems include cutaneous mastocytosis, urticaria pigmentosa, hereditary myopathy, and gum disease.
Sphynxes can live up to 15 years. Those with heart disease often reach only up until their 9th year. They do not enjoy a long life but most will lead happy lives.
Owing to the higher body temperature of the Sphynx compared to other cat breeds, it needs more food. In general, they will consume more than twice the amount that you give to a similarly-sized cat. For example, if a normal cat eats 500 calories per day, expect this breed to eat 1,000 to 1,250 calories per day. This is a very rough estimate of their calorie needs. Your veterinarian can help determine the exact number of calories that the Sphynx needs.
The Sphynx deserves a well-balanced and complete nutrition. It needs taurine, an essential amino acid that you can only find in animal-based proteins. This amino acid is crucial to the normal development and functioning of the Sphynx’s heart. Since this breed is not immune to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, it pays to make sure its heart is as healthy as can be.
Caring for a Sphynx is not that easy. It can walk outdoors on a leash but this should always be done at certain times of the day. This is important to help prevent UV exposure-related skin problems. It is also essential to supervise the cat whenever you are outdoors. It does not have the protection of a coat so it can get bruises, cuts, and other injuries. In cold weather, it is often wise to let them wear a coat if ever you are going outdoors.
Veterinary checkups are always important. One has to remember that the breed is not the healthiest in the world. Routine screening tests and wellness exams can help identify potential problems in the cat’s health. Preventative treatments for heartworm, intestinal parasites, and other parasites are also crucial.
The litter box also deserves thorough cleaning. This kitty does not have a very thick fur that can protect its skin against soiled litter. Scooping up the soiled litter everyday can help minimize skin irritations. Giving it a thorough clean every week is also important.
It is true that the Sphynx does not require “brushing” because there is no coat to brush. However, it requires a more meticulous kind of grooming. As mentioned, this cat has the tendency to accumulate oil, dirt, sweat, and particulates on its skin. This can make it very smelly and dirty. You do not have to worry about brushing but will need to think about bathing the Sphynx.
One of the lesser-known functions of an animal’s fur is the absorption of natural skin oils. Hair is able to absorb and distribute natural oils in a more efficient manner. At the same time, hair serves as a protective mechanism between the skin and the elements. It traps dirt and dust before they can find their way into the animal’s skin.
Because the Sphynx only has fine, downy hair, it is unable to absorb skin oils in an efficient manner. It also does not have the ability to trap dirt, dust, and debris. This leads to the accumulation of dirt on its skin. You will also notice its skin to be very oily and sweaty. It is for this reason that Sphynxes require frequent bathing, as frequent as once a week.
This breed also needs more frequent cleaning of its nails or claws. This has the tendency to develop a waxy buildup. Cleaning the claws precedes any attempt at trimming them. The eyes of the Sphynx also need regular cleaning. One has to care for its ears, too. And since this breed is predisposed to gum problems, daily brushing of its teeth is a must.
Sphynxes have an air of friendliness to them that makes them wonderful pets to have. This cat loves the attention it receives from its owners. And when there are guests in the house, it will greet them, too. The breed will give you a gentle nudge with its head and let out one of its softest meows. If it sees a chance, it will jump onto somebody else’s lap or shoulder.
Some say the cat loves to flirt. Maybe so. One has to recognize that this breed will stop at nothing to get you to pick it up. This means it will also act silly and make you laugh. You will adore its funny antics and make you want to pick it up and hold it close to your body.
Because of their fondness for their human companions, they are also vulnerable to separation anxiety. As such, it is never a good idea to leave the Sphynx alone for too long. One way that pet parents can address this is by getting another Sphynx. They love having a “partner” in many of their activities.
This breed is also intelligent and can get along well with other pets in the house, including dogs. Sphynxes also love to play with kids. In short, there is no rubbing the Sphynx the wrong way.
The Sphynx is an affectionate, smart, and a people-pleasing cat breed. It also has a look that is very unique. While the Sphynx can be one of the best cat breeds for anybody, it does require very special care because of its “hairless” nature.
- Sphynx – Vetstreet
- What You Need to Know Before Bringing Home a Sphynx Cat – PetMD