Hairless cats have been described in many regions of the world, but the first successful breed was the Sphynx.
The earliest Sphynx was born in 1966, and the cat was named Prune. However, Prune’s line died out without
descendants. In 1967, hairless kittens, and their longhaired mother cat were rescued in Toronto. The kittens
were neutered; the mother, however, had other kittens. Two were exported to Europe, where one of the kittens
was bred to a Devon Rex. The cat had hairless offsprings which implied that this recessive gene was at the same
locus as the Devon gene. One, named E.T., was presented by Vicki and Peter Markstein at the Madison square
garden cat show in the 1980s. Although there are written accounts from the 1830's of a Paraguayan "scanthaired
cat", the first properly recorded hairless "breed" was the now extinct Mexican Hairless (also called the
New Mexican Hairless). In 1902, a couple from New Mexico received two hairless cats from local Pueblo Indians.
It was claimed that these were the last survivors of an ancient Aztec breed of cat. The Mexican Hairless cats were
litter-mates and noted to be 25% smaller than local shorthair cats.
The Sphynx appears to be a hairless cat, although it is not truly hairless. The skin should have the texture of
Chamois leather. It may be covered with very soft hair that is often
described as peach fuzz. Because the sphynx cats have no hair to keep
them warm they prefer to cuddle 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. Their skin is the color their fur would be, and all the usual cat
marking patterns (solid, point, van, tabby, tortie, etc) may be found in
Sphynxes generally have wedge-shaped heads and sturdy, heavy
bodies. Many cats of this breed develop 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 a sunburn, similar to that of human exposure. In
general, Sphynx cats should never be allowed outdoors unattended, as they have limited means to conserve
body heat in colder temperatures, and 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. Allergies to cats are triggered by dander, and not cat hair itself. 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.
Although hairless cats have been reported throughout history (hairless cats seem to appear naturally about every
15 years or so), 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, ON, Canada and raised by Shirley Smith.
Other hairless breeds might have different body shapes or temperaments than 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.
It has been theorized that Sphynx hairlessness might be 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. Sphynx were at one time crossbred with Devon Rex, but
unfortunately this led to the introduction of some genetic diseases and is now forbidden in most breed
standards associations. Hereditary spasticity and Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (a genetic heart defect) were
introduced by the Devon Rex breed