Sphynx cats are probably most well known for their physical characteristics: hairless, large ears, and often looking kind of wrinkly!
But there is a lot more to this cat than simply being without fur and they are quite popular pets in North America and gaining ground in Europe.
While some people think that the breed is a bit… uh, weird-looking, many other people love it for its uniqueness, as well a very playful personality and strong bonding with its humans. What else should you know about the Sphynx cat, particularly if you are thinking of buying one?
The History of the Sphynx Cat
When we think of the sphynx, we tend to think of Egypt, (in particular, the sphynx monument that is half lion and half-human). So, it would be natural to assume that the sphynx breed comes out of Egypt (or an area nearby) and it is hairless as a result of its original environment of somewhere hot and dry.
Well, none of that is actually true.
Ancient Aztecs bred the very original hairless cats hundreds of years ago, but the Sphynx cat we know about today originally came out of Canada (not somewhere you want to be furless by the way!) and was a complete accident, coming out of a genetic anomaly.
The accidental breed goes back to 1966, but it wasn’t actually recognized on the international stage until 2005. It was originally called the Canadian hairless and then made its way to America where it was bred into other cats (notably the Devon Rex which is another cat with odd hair) to get the hairless gene to create the sphynx cat. The whole process is hit and miss though since the gene for hairlessness is recessive – some kittens had fur, others did not.
Interestingly, some purebred registries refuse to recognize the breed. Why? They fear that the genetic abnormality that gives the cat no hair could also be harmful to its health and longevity in other ways.
Therefore, they don’t want to encourage the continued breeding of the sphynx for ethical reasons. However, this has not stopped this cat’s growing popularity – it even made its way to Hollywood as Mr. Bigglesworth, the cat in the Austin Powers series.
Common Characteristics of the Sphynx Cat
Sphynx cats often look very strange to people the first (and second) time they see one! It’s easy to imagine them as little aliens or to just have a double-take the first time you spot one. This is down to their heavy wrinkled skin, huge ears, and the fact that they have no fur!
Although called ‘hairless’, sphynx cats actually have a very fine layer of small hairs that gives them a suede feel, or feeling rather like a peach.
They can come in all different, er, colors, ranging from white to tortoiseshell with solid color patterns, calico, tipping, smoke or shaded. They can have any color of eyes and they are considered to be medium-sized cats, usually six to twelve pounds.
Sphynx cats are noteworthy for not only their almost nonexistent fur but also:
- Large ears
- Wrinkled skin
- Muscular and dense body
- Wide-set eyes and prominent cheekbones
- Very skinny tail, which is usually described as ‘whip like’
And are sphynx cats hypoallergenic because they have no fur? Sadly no, they are no more or less hypoallergenic than any other cat. This is because the allergens come from the cat of the skin, not the fur, and they produce the same amount of those proteins as most other cats, save for a handful of breeds.
Sphynx cats also require an additional level of care compared to other cats. Because they don’t have much fur, the grooming they do often leaves a sticky, crusty residue of oil, sweat, and spit on their skin. They also get dirty faster due to being close to the ground!
As a result, sphynx cats need to be bathed at least once a week with a good pet shampoo to kill bacteria. It’s important to make sure that the breeder you get your kitten from has acclimated the kittens to getting bathed or else you’ll have a fight on your hand. (Treats help though!)
Without these regular baths, sphynx cats can get really dirty, have bad skin, and even be more prone to skin infections. These cats also sometimes leave oily brown sweat stains behind because they don’t have any fur to catch it and they certainly cannot clean it. So, make sure to keep anything white or delicate out of their reach.
You also need to clean out those huge ears regularly to get rid of ear wax which, according to many owners, is a fairly disgusting job as it builds up fast and is a dark color. Plus, your cat may not be terribly impressed with you!
Physically speaking, these cats are quite a bit higher maintenance than many other breeds. They require regular bathing and ear cleaning, they need to be checked for any signs of wounds or infections, and you even want to make sure to clean between their toes to get rid of any crud that builds up.
Sphynx cats also need some helping to stay warm if you live in colder climates. This can come in the form of things like heaters, heated cat igloos, beds in sunbeams, and even fitted clothing! (Though not all cats like that option).
Be prepared to catch a sphynx under the blankets, hiding in your towels, and lurking near heaters because no fur means getting cold easily. They also tend to love sleeping with their humans at night, so make room!
Basically, as one owner puts it, they are like human babies: high needs, can’t take care of themselves, and a bit gross.
Temperament of the Sphynx Cat
Ok, so why on earth would anyone get a sphynx cat knowing all of that (aside from enjoying the shock factor)?
Sphynx cats are probably one of the most loving and friendly cats. They are practically dogs in how much attention they love to get! They love laps, love to cuddle right under your blankets, and will greet you at the door at the end of the day.
They love kids and other animals (they even enjoy being around dogs) and they are easy-going and gentle. They can even be trained to do things like basic tricks (fetch for example) and yes, to enjoy being bathed.
They respond particularly well to positive reinforcement training. Many of them are also something of household clowns – they enjoy being the entertaining center of attention and don’t tend to take themselves too seriously.
Downside? They love attention so much that if they are left alone for too long, they get depressed really quickly. It’s best to make sure that if the house will be empty for stretches of time during the day, make sure your sphynx has a buddy – either another sphynx, another cat altogether, or something else like a dog.
As always, it’s important to do careful introductions and make sure to get a buddy that can keep up with the sphynx.
Sphynx cats are also fairly athletic. They enjoy climbing (getting them cat towers and perches is a good idea), chasing toys, and generally running around. They can entertain themselves for quite a while, but some do even better with a playmate (or a cuddle buddy).
And although they are very active, their actual exercise needs are relatively low – this is not a breed that is particularly prone to obesity. But since they are so active, you won’t usually have to encourage them to exercise anyway.
Sphynx cats tend to be good family cats because they have a high tolerance for children and even enjoy playing with them. It’s always a good idea though to make sure your cat has somewhere to retreat once it’s done playing and to teach children how to act around animals.
Health Concerns with the Sphynx Cat
Some breed associations have concerns that the sphynx, due to the genetic abnormality that makes it bald, have serious genetic health conditions (or at least the chances of them) that are tied to that hairlessness, which is why some of them won’t recognize the breed.
It’s a fair concern – genetic problems are nothing to ignore and can cause serious problems for a breed of cat.
Sphynx cats though, so far anyway, haven’t shown any sign of genetic issues tied to their health beyond the hairless gene. However, they are prone to other health issues that you will want to keep an eye out for. In particular:
- These cats are very sensitive to sun exposure because they have no fur. They can get sunburned quickly and easily, so their time in the sun should be carefully monitored and they really should be indoor cats.
- Being hairless, they also cannot handle cold temperatures
- Sphynx cats can have other skin issues as well, ranging from dry or flaky skin to infections from injuries. The most serious of these is Urticaria pigmentosa which causes crusty sores.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is a common heart disease that causes thickening of the muscle
- Gum disorders and disease (most cats can fall to this though)
- Hereditary myopathy, which is generalized muscle weakness. Good breeders will limit this as much as possible, so it’s important to buy your kitten through a breeder who knows what they are doing.
Sphynx cats will benefit from smaller meals spaced throughout the day because they tend to have sensitive stomachs and they can overeat if they are allowed to.
As you can see though, contrary to worries, these cats are not prone to any more diseases or disorders than any other breed, just different ones, and they require more skincare than cats with longer coats.
What Type of Owner is the Sphynx Cat Best Suited For?
The sphynx cat will be happiest with a family where at least one person is home all the time. They have no problem with kids, rarely have problems with other pets (assuming proper introductions are made), and love being around groups.
If you live in colder or really sunny climates, remember that you will have to make allowances for that and protect your cat from the cold or sun.
The best type of owner will also be able to set a routine for bathing, cleaning, and general upkeep of their cat, not to mention be available to give a lot of attention and mental stimulation.
Sphynx cats are not suited for owners who are away a lot, especially if the owner is a single person with no other pets. They can get depressed and lonely quite easily and that can cause other health issues, not to mention a cat who will probably act out in ways that are not desirable.
Final Thoughts on the Sphynx Cat
The sphynx cat may be a bit peculiar looking at first, but they are easy to fall in love with due to their affectionate and easy-going personality and their love of playing. It’s important to keep in mind that they do have very special and specific grooming requirements to make up for their lack of hair.
You should also make sure to go through a reputable breeder to cut down on the chances of the few genetic disorders they can have.
And finally, don’t be fooled by the hairlessness: these cats are no more hypoallergenic than any other cat because the allergens come from their skin, not fur. So these cats are not going to be particularly suitable for someone with allergies.
Sphynx cats love attention, love to play, and really love cuddling. They are fairly high maintenance due to their skincare needs, but they pay that back in spades with how much they love being around their families. If you think you can handle some ear wax and regular bathing, the sphynx cat is a loyal and friendly companion for life.
Do you have a sphynx cat? What did you find most surprising and fun about it?
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.