The Bald Truth – Some Fun Facts About Hairless Cats
Dr Caity Venniker
Kind of like pineapple on pizza, opinions on hairless cats do not seem to fall into much of a grey area. A neutral standpoint on these not so furry felines is rare, with one team seemingly oblivious to their charms, and the other full of admiration for their striking looks and regal features. No matter your particular view, they are a fascinating group of cats. Today we take a brief look at how they developed and how they are as pets.
The History of Hairless Cats
Hairlessness in cats stems from a genetic mutation and has been seen sporadically throughout the history of cats under natural circumstances. The first time the trait was selected for specifically to develop a hairless breed was in the 1960’s, with one hairless kitten aptly called Prune. Due to the very limited gene pool, some of the first cats bred suffered from various health problems. About a decade later, two hairless barn cats were born in Minnesota, and three hairless strays were born in Canada; and from these two litters came the main lines of descent of the modern Sphynx cat.
Meanwhile in Russia, a separate hairless cat breed developed in the 1980’s, known as the Donskoy or Don Sphynx, which was then outcrossed to create the Peterbald, amongst other breeds. Although the Sphynx and Don Sphynx look alike, the genetic mutation responsible for their hairlessness is, in fact, different.
Unexpected Truths about Hairless Cats
- Hairless cats are generally not completely bald; and have varying degrees of peach fuzz type hair. They have been affectionately referred to as "suede hot water bottles"!
- Contrary to popular belief, hairless cats are not considered hypoallergenic and so may not be the answer for people with cat allergies. They still produce significant amounts of the triggering allergen (Fel d 1) in their saliva and skin. However, they may hold an advantage over other, more furry felines because they shed less, so the amount of allergen found in the environment is reduced.
- Hairless cats tend to require more grooming than other cats, as they don’t have a coat to absorb oils and protect against dirt. They have to be bathed or wiped down regularly, and particular care must be taken with their ears, feet and skin folds. They also are prone to sunburn so should ideally only spend limited and supervised time outdoors.
Controversies and Considerations
- Whiskers are present in some hairless cats and not others. In 2015 a Berlin court ordered that Willi (a pedigree Sphynx champion) be castrated. Willi had no whiskers and it was decided that breeding with him would violate the 2013 Animal Protection Act(3).
- Hairless cats are sensitive to the cold and while some will happily wear various accessories of feline fashion to keep cosy, others may require extra warm beds or access to heated areas in cold environments. Because they expend more energy keeping warm, the hairless breeds benefit greatly from a highly nutritious diet (fortunately we know of one!)
- It is advisable to acquire a hairless cat through a reputable breeder, as some breeds are at risk for certain heart, dental and skin conditions. It is also recommended to only take a hairless kitten home at around 12 to 14 weeks of age or older, to give them a chance to build their immunity before undergoing a change of environment.
- Beware of scams where supposedly hairless kittens have actually just been shaved!
- Hairless cats are known for being friendly, intelligent and loyal companions. They are also more easily trained than many other breeds of cat. The most famous hairless cat is most likely Ted Nudegent, the Sphynx that played Mr Bigglesworth in Austin Powers. Apparently, Ted and Mike Myers formed a special bond on set(2) and filming was delayed on more than one occasion because Ted was having a nap on his Dr Evil’s lap(1)!
While hairless cats do require some special attention, they are known to be hugely rewarding pets and make highly interactive, loving and characterful members of the family.
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- Fandom Movies Community. Austin Powers: Mr Bigglesworth. Retrieved from: https://austinpowers.fandom.com/wiki/Mr._Bigglesworth
- Fawcett, K. (2015, October 15). 11 Not-so-fluffy facts about Sphynx cats. Mental Floss. Retrieved from: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/69740/11-not-so-fluffy-facts-about-sphynx-cats
- The Local. (2015, September 24). Breeding Sphynx cats is animal cruelty: Court. The Local: Germany’s News in English. Retrieved from: https://www.thelocal.de/20150924/willi-the-naked-cat-must-be-castrated-court-rules