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A friend of mine was excited about her new kitten and invited me over to meet “Cleopatra”. She had informed me that it was a hairless cat, but I guess I didn’t give that much thought. Sure, I have seen hairless cats before… We have a few that stay with us at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts. I have not had the pleasure of interacting with them, though. I must say I was somewhat startled when I met Cleopatra. This little wrinkly creature looked like a cross between Yoda, and Dobby the House Elf… kind of, I’m sorry, but shall I say “creepy”? It was not love at first sight. I was tentative and would have preferred to ease into introductions, but my friend surprised me by immediately scooping Cleopatra up and plopping her in my arms.
Cleopatra felt odd to me. She was very warm, like a hot water bottle. She was soft, like a smooth leather, maybe like a warm peach. I admit, I felt sort-of uncomfortable! I mean, I just didn’t know what to do with her. Do you pet a cat with no hair? What’s there to pet? So I just kind of awkwardly held her for a few minutes and did my usual dog and cat baby-talk. She was constant movement…. never once still in my arms. She checked me out, said a few words (these cats are quite verbal) … I’m guessing, “Hello, my name is Cleopatra. Nice to meet you.” Quickly followed with “Gotta run now.” And then she was off!
I was intrigued…
What an extraordinary little animal! By the time I left my friend’s house that evening, I must say, I was in-love with Cleopatra. That feeling I had at first meeting her was quickly changing from “creepy” to “captivating”! I couldn’t wait to find out more about this unique cat breed.
Believe it or not, the modern-day Sphynx cats actually originated in Canada! The first hairless kitten, affectionately known as Prune, was born in Ontario in the 1960s because of a genetic mutation. The owners realized how unique Prune was and bred him in order to get more hairless cats. These kittens were originally called Canadian Hairless Cats.
In the mid-1970, two separate sets of hairless kittens were born, Punky and Paloma in Toronto and Dermis and Epidermis in Minnesota. It is believed that the American sphynx we love today originated from these two lineages. Over time, breeders started to refer to the kittens instead as Sphynx Cats because they looked similar to the famous limestone sculpture in the Egyptian desert.
Because of the renowned “Sphinx” statue in Egyptian culture, which has a different spelling, it’s a common misconception that the Sphynx cat originated in Egypt. While it is true that this breed of cat was named after the famous cat-like statue in Egypt, in actuality, the Sphynx cat has nothing to do with Egyptian history or the “Sphinx” myth.
I naturally assumed that a hairless cat would be easy maintenance, right? Not so! The sphynx is a very high-maintenance cat.
This breed doesn’t need to be brushed, of course, but they do require frequent bathing, generally once a week. Normally, a cat’s coat draws oils away from the skin and is rid away as they groom themselves. Since Sphynxes don’t have hair, grooming alone is not sufficient to rid their skin of oils. As a result, Sphynx Cats have oily skin, which easily picks up dirt.
They’ll get dirt in all their skin crevices – like around the neck, under the arms, and in all the little wrinkles on their bodies – not to mention what might stick to their oily little feet from the litter box… Eww.
If you have fallen in love with the breed, much like I did with sweet Cleopatra, here are a few tips for caring for your Sphynx Cat so you can be fully prepared to welcome your not-so-furry friend.
Cats are not generally big fans of water, and the sphynx is no different. When you own a sphynx, you need to start bathing her when she’s very young so that she will get used to it. Actually, your breeder should have started bathing her before you even came into the picture or else you may face the challenge breaking her of her aversion to water. Anyway, with all that bathing, you have to be careful not to strip the natural oils from her body. Bathing frequency will depend on your particular cat. Just like us, some produce oil more quickly than others. There are several products specifically for bathing a sphynx. Talk to your vet about the best shampoos for your cat. I have read that some people use “people” products like Baby shampoo or Dove sensitive skin wash. And most find it easier to use a washcloth since you’re cleaning skin and not fur (I know, weird, right?). And for quick clean-ups, many Sphynx owners use fragrance-free/ alcohol-free baby wipes! Like anything that pertains to our pets, though, I would be leery of using people products until you get a green light from your vet.
Guess what else? Because of their oily skin, they can get blackheads on their chin – just like an adolescent teen. To treat, scrub lightly with warm water and a mild antibacterial soap (ask your vet for a recommendation) then wipe with a cotton ball soaked in witch-hazel – but be sure to rinse it off with cool water. Licking witch hazel can make them sick. Your vet may recommend using benzoyl-peroxide pads, depending on the severity of her kitty-acne. The thing is, you can’t ignore the blackheads. If left untreated, your cat can get inflammation of the hair follicles which will require medical attention.
A Sphyyx’s ears need to be cleaned often too. You see, there is no hair in the ear to filter out dirt, so they can get pretty nasty. And because a sphynx is most predominantly an indoor cat, you need to trim their nails often. After their weekly bath, preferably. See? Pretty high maintenance, right? It’s like having a baby to keep clean!
Which reminds me…. Remember, these little rascals are naked. They have nothing to protect themselves from the elements, so they should not be spending a lot of time outdoors. A sphynx is quite sensitive to the sun and can develop skin cancers. Human sunscreens can make them very sick, so talk to your vet about a safe sunscreen if you plan on being outside with her for a prolonged period of time. Also, as there is no hair to insulate them, a hairless cat can easily overheat. Exposure to the sun should be very limited – and supervised. Oh, BTW, they make long-sleeved sun-protective clothes for a hairless cat. Great idea, actually.
It goes without saying that a sphynx cat gets cold easily too. They will need something to keep them warm when it’s cold outside or in the house. Even the summer air conditioner could be set too low for your feline friend. Clothes for these little creatures are a necessity. Etsy has an entire category of “Sphynx Cat Clothes”. Although some sphynx owners simply refuse to clothe them, we shouldn’t feel silly about it. A shirt or a sweater will keep them more comfortable. Also, keep plenty of fleecy blankets around the house for your cat to burrow into if they get cold. Have you seen those heated cat beds? Those would be perfect for a hairless cat, although Cleopatra prefers to sleep right against her mom’s neck! They’re such cuddlers! I wonder if they cuddle because they’re cold, or because they’re being affectionate? A little of both, probably. They’re known for being very affectionate. One more thing, because of their oily skin, their clothes and bedding need to be washed on a regular basis, just like our own.
Another fascinating fact about a sphynx is that they eat more than a regular cat. Due to their lack of fur, they keep themselves warm with their “off-the-chart” metabolism. Because of this, they have to eat more! It’s best to feed them several times a day to accommodate their racing metabolism. And unlike their hairy counterpart, they’re not known to be “finicky” eaters. Sphynx owners say they will eat almost anything! Buying the best quality food for them will keep them “purring” right into old age.
Often referred to as the friendliest of all breed of cats, they love their people. Sphynx are known to excitedly greet their owners at the front door when they come home – just like a dog would! They are social creatures and do not like to be alone. It is recommended that you get two sphynx cats if you have no other pets and you’re away from home a lot. That way they can keep each other company. If you have a dog, they will generally buddy-up with them too! They’re active and keep their people entertained with their silly antics. Sphynx are intelligent, curious and considered the most easily trained of all cats.
Did you ever see the Austin Powers movie series several years back? Remember Dr. Evil’s cat, Mr. Bigglesworth? Mr. Bigglesworth was played by a champion purebred Sphynx whose real name was SGC Belfry Ted Nude-Gent (lol!). Unfortunately, Ted Nude-Gent has passed on, but his “son”, Mel Gibskin appeared a few years later in “The Spy Who Shagged Me“. Ted Nude-Gent’s nephew’s”, Hairless Potter and Skindiana Jones (No, I’m not making these up!) are continuing their famous uncle’s acting career, having been featured in FX’s “American Horror Story” and 2007’s “I Know Who Killed Me”. Notice they seem to cast these hairless felines in predominantly “evil” and/or “horror” type movies… Maybe “creepy” wasn’t such a bad description after all… But I’d have one of these amazing cats in a heartbeat!
Most Sphynx Cats live to be between 8 and 14 years old. Some Sphynx breeds are prone to genetic health problems, which shortens the average lifespan over the lifespans of other cat breeds.
A Sphynx cat from a breeder can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $4,500. For purebred or champion lines, the price ranges from $4,500 to $10,000 or more.
Sphynx Cats are expensive largely because it takes more effort to breed. Hairlessness is a recessive gene in cats, so not all kittens in a litter will be hairless. Additionally, Sphynx Cats are still a relatively new breed, so the number of breeders is much less than other types of cats.
Sphynx Cats are hands down the friendliest breed of cats. Some even greet their owners at the front door like dogs do! Of course, hairlessness plays a part in how nice Sphynx Cats are. This breed needs to seek out warm spaces more often than other cat breeds to regulate their body temperature, so they’ll be much more willing to snuggle with people, even strangers.
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