Peterbalds are graceful cats who appear to be hairless, but in fact, most are covered with short, fine down. Like the Sphynx, it’s more accurate to say the ideal Peterbald is furless. The body feels warm and soft to the touch, and the texture of a hairless cat is soft and supple, like suede. The skin should not feel oily to the touch.
Peterbalds vary in their degree of hairlessness. Kittens in the same litter can have a variety of hair types, from ultra bald to a full, straight coat, depending upon the genetic makeup of the parents. It’s thought that polygenes can greatly influence the coat, or lack thereof, but not much is known for sure at this time. The Peterbald gene seems more of a "hair losing" gene rather than a “hairless” gene. Kittens can and do change coat types as they age; they can lose or gain coverage and can change coat types for up to two years.
In general, Peterbalds can have five distinct coat types: ultra bald, chamois, velour, brush, and straight. Ultra bald Peterbalds are hairless, with no whiskers or eyebrows, and will never grow any kind of coat. The skin is warm and sticky to the touch. Chamois Peterbalds are about 90 percent hairless; they have no visible hair and feel smooth to the touch, but not sticky; whiskers and eyebrows are kinked, curled, or broken. Velour Peterbalds are about 70 percent hairless with a coat of up to one millimeter in length. The coat has some resistance when stroked. As velour cats age, the coat may change to chamois. Brush coat Peterbalds have wiry hair up to five millimeters long ranging from barely wavy to almost curly with an irregular texture. The whiskers are curled or kinked. Straight coated Peterbalds do not have the Peterbald gene and have short, close-lying coats and straight whiskers. Cats with the brush coats can be shown for championship. To make this even more confusing, a Peterbald may have a combination of coat types. Cats with more than one type of coat generally will have longer, denser hair on the extremities.
The Peterbald is medium sized with visible wrinkles over most of its body if the coat is short enough to show them. Wrinkles are found on the head, at the base of the neck, the base of the tail, the top of the legs, and down both sides of the body to the underbelly. (All domestic cats are wrinkled, but their fur makes the wrinkles impossible to see.) The body is long, sturdy, and lean, with firm musculature and medium-fine boning. The legs are long. The feet are oval and medium in size, with long, agile, prominent toes. The tail is long, straight, and whippy. The neck is long and slender. The head is shaped like a long inverted triangle, with extra large, oversized, pointed ears that are broad at the base and set lower than the line of the wedge. The forehead has several vertical wrinkles. The chin is strong, with the tip of the nose in line with the tip of the chin. Whiskers and eyebrows, if they exist, are wavy and might be broken. The eyes are medium in size, almost almond in shape, and are neither protruding nor recessed.
Adult males usually weigh 8 to 10 pounds; adult females usually weigh 6 to 8 pounds. However, weight and size can vary according to the bloodline. Permissible outcrosses are Oriental Shorthair, Siamese, and Don Sphynx. All colors and patterns, including colorpoint, are allowed.
Also called the Petersburg Sphynx, the Peterbald has no connection to the Sphynx breed found in North America. The newest recognized hairless breed, the Peterbald was deliberately created by mating the Russian Don Sphynx breed (also known as the Donskoy and Don Hairless) with Siamese and Oriental Shorthairs, to produce a hairless breed with a Siamese head and body type.
Until the 1980s, the government of the former Soviet Union discouraged its people from owning household pets. Cats were generally working class random-bred domestics, earning their keep as mousetraps and rat catchers. However, citizens who could afford to keep and breed cats and dogs did so; owning a companion animal was considered a status symbol, although no clubs or registries then existed.
In 1987, government restrictions were lifted and Russian breeders and fanciers formed cat clubs and began keeping breeding records and registering their cats. The two largest associations, the Fauna Club in Moscow and the Kotofei Cat Club in Saint Petersburg, provided official pedigrees. In 1988, the first Russian cat show was held in Moscow, and since then shows have been held every year. With the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, cat lovers in both Russia and the United States had opportunities not available before, such as sharing information and exchanging pedigreed cats.
The Peterbald arose in this new atmosphere of feline freedom. In 1993 breeder Olga Mironova of Saint Petersburg mated a brown mackerel tabby Don Sphynx male named Afinguen Myth to a tortie Oriental Shorthair female named Radma Vom Jagerhof. The first litter was born in January 1994 and included hairless kittens, proving that the gene governing hairlessness in the Don Sphynx is dominant, unlike the recessive gene that governs the North American Sphynx’s lack of fur. It’s likely the gene was the result of a spontaneous mutation, because for at least the last 100 years hairless cats have been found all over the world, including France, Morocco, Australia, Canada, at least four different states in the United States, and Rostov-na-Donu, Russia, the original home of the Don Sphynx.
The new breed gained quick popularity in Saint Petersburg, and was named after its city of origin. To increase the limited gene pool, Peterbalds were crossed with additional bloodlines of Don Sphynx, Siamese, and Oriental Shorthairs. Because the Oriental Shorthair and Don Sphynx comes in so many colors and patterns, the Peterbald inherited many of them, including the recessive pointed pattern from the Siamese.
However, the ultimate goal was to breed Peterbalds who would always produce hairless offspring. To accomplish that goal, breeders prized cats who were homozygous for the dominant hairless gene—that is, cats that had inherited two copies of the gene, one from each parent. Such cats would produce only hairless offspring, even when bred to an outcross. And two homozygous cats bred together would produce only homozygous kittens. However, obtaining homozygous kittens is easier said than done since it’s difficult to identify homozygous Peterbalds.
The Kotofei Cat Club in Saint Petersburg is affiliated with the international division of ACFA, which helped open the door for Peterbalds to immigrate to North America. Today, the Peterbald is growing in popularity in and out of Russia. The Peterbald is recognized and accepted for championship by Russian cat clubs, and in 2006 achieved that goal in North America. In 1997, TICA accepted the breed for evaluation. In 2002 TICA accepted the Peterbald as a Preliminary New Breed and then promoted the breed to Advanced New Breed status. In February 2005 TICA’s board voted to advance the breed to championship. ACFA granted championship in May 2009. North American fanciers are working toward recognition in the other associations as well.