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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 the 2013 CFA breed standard, the Sphynx should show some evidence of hair on the bridge of the nose and the ears. The coat and skin account for 30 of the possible 100 points in the breed standard of CCA, CFA, and TICA; other associations allot 25 points with an additional 5 points for 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; they 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 American Shorthairs and Domestic Shorthair/Domestic Sphynx outcross. Sphynx born on or after December 31, 2015, may have only Sphynx parents. CCA allows the American Shorthair with no set cutoff date, and Domestic Shorthair outcrosses with a cutoff date of December 31, 2015. TICA’s allowable outcrosses are the American Shorthair and Devon Rex; 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 2013 registration totals, the Sphynx is the eighth most popular breed in North America, down from sixth place in 2012.
Sphynx refrain from shedding all over your couch but can still make you sneeze; even furless felines can cause a reaction in people with allergies to cats. It’s not cat hair that causes the allergic reaction in humans, but rather an allergenic protein called Fel d1 secreted in the saliva and the sebaceous glands. This protein is spread onto the skin during grooming. Sphynx groom themselves just as much as any other breed, and produce as much of this protein. In fact, without all that hair to absorb the secretions, Sphynx can actually cause more severe allergic reactions in some people. It’s important to spend a good amount of time in the presence of a Sphynx before buying, even if your allergies are mild. Keep in mind that cats may not develop their full allotment of Fel d1 until they mature. Too, the amount of Fel d1 can vary from cat to cat, sometimes a great deal, so once you settle on the Sphynx of your dreams, be sure to spend a lot of time with him before agreeing to buy. If this isn’t possible, visit a local breeder of Sphynx to see how you react around the breed in general. The Sphynx is usually a healthy breed, however, a severe form of the heart disease feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is known to exist in some Sphynx bloodlines, likely inherited from American Shorthair or Devon Rex outcrosses. In affected cats, the disease can cause death in adult cats from two to five years of age, but research has found that the Sphynx may have a variation called early onset HCM that occurs at a much younger age. The signs can be so subtle that the first visible symptom is often sudden death. Negative traits can become more concentrated in pedigreed cats; researchers and breeders have been working hard to learn more so the disease can be eliminated or reduced through selective breeding. Breeder groups are raising money and collecting samples to help with the research.
Since HCM is the most common feline heart disease and is found in other breeds and in random-bred cats as well, a number of veterinary schools such as UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, California, the North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine, and organizations such as the Winn Feline Foundation are working to find ways to test, treat, and cure the disease. So far, genetic tests have been developed for the Ragdoll and the Maine Coon. However, since not every breed has the same mutation, a genetic test that works for one breed may not work for another. In 2007 the Winn Foundation funded a study to research familial HCM in the Sphynx, Maine Coon, Ragdoll, and Norwegian Forest Cat. For now, however, the only HCM test for the Sphynx and many other breeds is a yearly electrocardiogram.
In addition, according to the Center for Companion Animal Health at UC Davis, California, some lines of Devon Rex and Sphynx also possess an inherited disease that causes progressive muscle dysfunction. Called “spasticity” by some, this disorder is also known as hereditary myopathy or muscular dystrophy. Symptoms usually develop between four and seven weeks, though some kittens show no symptoms until 14 weeks; it’s wise not to buy a Sphynx younger than that age. Affected kittens hold their shoulder blades high and their neck arched downwards. The arched neck interferes with feeding and drinking. Diminished or slow movement, decreased or no movement, and muscular contractions of the esophagus may also develop. The symptoms worsen as the Sphynx ages. No known treatment exists, but there is a test for the condition that helps breeders eliminate the disease from their bloodlines.
This is not to say your Sphynx will develop all or any of these conditions and diseases. However, it’s wise to ask your potential breeder how carefully she screens her breeding stock. Talk to your breeder about these and any other health concerns you have, and ask if her cats have been tested for spasticity. Buy from a breeder who provides a written health guarantee.
Although they are virtually hairless, Sphynx do require grooming to remove oils from their skin. These sebaceous secretions are normal—Sphynx just don’t have fur to absorb the oils like most cats do. If not wiped down regularly, Sphynx start to feel sticky to the touch and can develop skin problems. Ear wax also builds up quickly and must be removed. Weekly baths are recommended. On the plus side, it takes only moments to chamois them dry.
The Sphynx is part monkey, part dog, part child, and part cat, according to the "Temperament" section of the original French breed standard. As strange an image as this brings to mind, fanciers say the breed does possess these dissimilar personality traits. Some might also add "part hog" for their healthy appetites, and "part bat" for their huge ears, furless skin, and the way they enjoy hanging upside-down from their cat trees. They also seem able to fly to the highest point in any room.
Devoted, loving, and loyal, they thrive on attention and follow their humans everywhere, wagging their tails in affection and purring with the delight of being near their favorite people. And despite their alien appearance, they are wholly cats with minds of their own. Missing your Sphynx? Check the tops of open doors. You may find your Sphynx grinning down at you. Hide and seek is a favorite game, as long as you’re always "it."
Because of their furless feet and long, gripping toes, Sphynx are very good at using their paws to pick up small items that catch their fancy. Extremely curious, they are known to go through purses and pull everything out to have a look-see.
Sphynx have strong personalities and don’t do well if left alone all day. If your Sphynx ain’t happy, say fanciers, ain’t nobody happy. A feline companion can go a long way in keeping the peace and preventing your Sphynx from becoming bored and lonely while you’re away.
It’s a common misconception that Sphynx cannot control their body temperature. They just don’t have a fur coat to help keep them warm. While they do get cold (if you feel cold, so will they), they are good at finding comfy places to warm up, like the laps of their favorite people or a pile of their warm feline buddies. They also sunburn more easily than furred cats. For those and many other excellent reasons (unique breeds like the Sphynx are known to be targeted by pet thieves), Sphynx cats should be considered indoor-only pets.
Coat Length(s):Short hair.
Grooming Requirement:Twice a week.
Usually Good With:Everyone.
Time Alone:0 to 4 hours per day.
Attention:Needs lots of attention.
Handling:Easy to handle.