Once you get past the shock of seeing a naked cat, you’ll notice other distinct differences. The ears, for one thing, look large enough to intercept satellite signals. And most striking of all, the perfect cat should be as wrinkled as an animated raisin. The Sphynx isn’t more wrinkled than any other cat, though—you can just see the wrinkles. Adult show cats should retain as many wrinkles as possible, particularly on the head, although the wrinkling should not be so pronounced that it affects normal feline functions.
Sphynx only appear hairless. It’s more accurate to say they are furless, since their skin is covered with a fine down that resembles the texture of suede. The body feels warm and soft to the touch, with a skin texture akin to a soft peach. Short, fine hair is allowed on the feet, outer edges of the ears, the tail, and the scrotum. According to CFA’s breed standard, the bridge of the nose should be normally coated with hair. The coat and skin account for 30 of the possible 100 points in the breed standards of CCA, and CFA; other associations such as TICA and ACFA allot 25 points with an additional 5 points for the coat’s color.
Despite the minimalist coat, Sphynx come in all possible colors and patterns, including the pointed pattern, because color and pattern are more than fur deep. The only patterns not accepted are not possible because they rely on hair effects, such as smoke, shaded, ticking, or tipping of the hair shafts. Eye color depends upon color and pattern. Any evidence of plucking, shaving, clipping, or any other means of hair removal is cause for disqualification.
The hard, surprisingly heavy muscular body is medium length and medium boned with a broad, rounded chest and a full, round abdomen. The body feels warm and soft to the touch with a skin texture akin to a soft peach or a smooth nectarine. The legs are well-muscled and sturdy, with the back legs slightly longer than the front. The line of the back rises just behind the shoulder blades to accommodate the longer back legs when standing. Paws are oval with well-knuckled toes and thick paw pads, giving the cat the appearance of walking on cushions. The tail is whippy and tapers to a fine point. Adult males weigh 8 to 12 pounds; adult females weigh 6 to 9 pounds.
The head is a modified wedge, slightly longer than wide, with a distinctive whisker break and prominent whisker pads, giving the muzzle a squared appearance. The skull is slightly rounded with a flat plane in front of the ears. Prominent, rounded cheekbones define the eye and form a curve above the whisker break. For the most part the breed lacks whiskers; they are short and sparse if present at all. The nose is straight with a slight to moderate stop at the bridge of the nose. A strong, well-developed chin forms a perpendicular line with the upper lip.
The unusually large, upright ears are broad at the base. When viewed from the front, the outer ear base begins at the level of the eye; the ears are neither low set nor on top of the head. The eyes are large, set wide apart, and lemon-shaped, with wide-open centers while coming to definite points on each side. They are placed at a slight upward angle, aligning with the outer base of the ear. The distance between the eyes is a minimum of one eye width.
Allowable CFA outcrosses are Domestic Shorthair/Sphynx crosses, and American Shorthairs and Devon Rexes born on or after March 1, 2014. Sphynx born on or after December 31, 2018 may have only Sphynx parents. CCA allows outcrosses with American Shorthairs and Domestic Shorthairs with a cutoff date of December 31, 2015. TICA’s allowable outcrosses are American Shorthairs and Devon Rexes; no cutoff date has been set.
The Sphynx breed accepted today is not the first instance of hairlessness in domestic cats. This natural, spontaneous mutation has been seen in various places worldwide for the past 100 years, and probably much longer. Pictures of Mexican Hairless cats appeared in Frances Simpson’s 1903 Book of the Cat; Simpson noted the two cats were brother and sister given to Mr. F. J. Shinick of Albuquerque by Pueblo Indians who claimed the cats were the last of an Aztec breed known only in New Mexico. Shinick never bred the cats and they died without issue. Other hairless felines were noted in France, Morocco, Australia, Russia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and, in 1966, Ontario, Canada, where a pair of domestic shorthairs produced a litter that included a hairless kitten the owner named Prune. A breeding program based on this cat was begun, and in 1970 CFA granted provisional status to the Canadian Hairless. The next year, however, CFA withdrew recognition due to the breed’s health problems. That particular line became extinct, but Siamese breeder Shirley Smith found three other hairless cats in the late 1970s on the streets of Toronto, Canada. They were thought to be related to Prune, although no direct evidence exists. The one male was neutered and the two females, Punkie and Paloma, were sent to Dr. Hugo Hernandez in Holland. These lines were developed in Europe and Canada by outcrosses with Devon Rexes before making their way to North America.
In 1975, farm owners Milt and Ethelyn Pearson of Wadena, Minnesota, discovered a hairless kitten had been born to their shorthaired brown tabby, Jezabelle. This female kitten, appropriately named Epidermis, was joined the next year by another hairless kitten, a male named Dermis. Both were sold to Oregon breeder Kim Mueske. Mueske’s first efforts at breeding these cats to American Shorthairs produced only cats with ordinary coats. On the advice of Dr. Solveig Pflueger, TICA’s genetics expert, Mueske then bred Epidermis to one of her male offspring, and the resulting litter included three hairless kittens, indicating the gene for hairlessness is recessive and must be inherited from both parents to be expressed.
In 1978, Georgiana Gattenby in nearby Brainerd, Minnesota, acquired three additional hairless cats from the Pearsons and, with this foundation stock, developed her own lines by outcrossing with Rex cats. Ill health forced her to sell her cats in the mid-1980s, but her cats contributed to the bloodline of today’s Sphynx.
The breed was named after the Great Sphinx monument in Giza, Egypt. Many fanciers welcomed the Sphynx as a new and undeniably unique member of the cat fancy, but some fanciers were offended by the very idea of an unclothed cat and predicted dire health problems. However, objections were not as heated as one might expect, and association acceptance followed the breed’s creation quite rapidly for such an unusual breed. TICA accepted the breed for championship in 1986. In 1992, CCA granted the Sphynx championship status. In 1994, ACFA followed suit. In 1998, CFA recognized the new and improved healthy Sphynx lines for registration, and in 2002 accepted the breed for championship. Today, all North American cat associations accept the Sphynx for championship. The breed is also accepted in Europe and Australia by cat registries such as the GCCF, FIFe, and ACF.
While the Sphynx isn’t for everyone, its unique appearance and personality have won the breed an active, enthusiastic following. The Sphynx has made considerable strides since its inception, due to a growing group of dedicated fanciers who have worked hard to increase and perfect the Sphynx bloodlines. According to CFA’s 2014 registration totals, the Sphynx is the eighth most popular breed in North America.