Sphynx Cats Are Surprisingly Sweet and Cuddly

Sphynx cat and litter of kittens
This momma cat and her litter of kittens show the wide variety of colors and shades the Sphynx cat can be, despite being hairless. Vytenis Malisauskas, Carrigphotos/Getty Images

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In the world of cats, bald is not necessarily beautiful — unless the cat is a Sphynx. These hairless wonders of the feline biosphere are among the most recognizable cats on the planet. Some, including a Sphynx named Xherdan, may look like a mangled bag of brains (see Xherdan below). Others, however, are matinee idols, including Ted Nude-Gent, who played Mr. Bigglesworth in the Austin Powers movies.

While the Sphynx seem a bit creepy (some say they resemble naked mole rats), their appearance belies their cuddle-worthiness and their undying desire to be affectionate. Sphynx are not slimy to touch, as some suspect. In fact, they are about 4 degrees warmer than most other cats. And they're not truly hairless. They have a fine layer of downy fuzz, much like a suede sportscoat from the '70s or fresh peach fuzz.

While you might think this small amount of fuzz makes the cats hypoallergenic, it doesn't. The cats still shed dander, albeit not as much as most others cats.

Despite their alien appearance (think E.T. with a tail), the Sphynx is cuddly and lovable, more so than many standoffish tabbies. "The thing about these cats is that they have greater social needs than other cats," Maria Trimarchi, who lives in Oregon with two Sphynx, Oliver and Sweet Lime, says. "They are so people oriented. They love people so much. They want to help you, they want to be where you are."

History of the Sphynx

Although these cats are named for the ancient edifice in Egypt, the Sphynx has no connection to that mystical land. Although hairless cats have been around forever, the Sphynx is a relatively new breed of cat conjured in 1966 in Toronto, Canada, when a litter of kittens produced one hairless cat named Prune. Prune, it seems was the mother, er, father of all Sphynx.

He was a mutant, the recipient of a recessive gene that made his pate smooth. Prune's owners took their folically challenged cat and bred him with other hairless cats. It was a purrfect idea. When Prune's kittens were born, some were bald, while others had thick manes. Other cat lovers soon began breeding hairless cats for various traits. In no time, these creatures of the North Country became known as the Canadian Hairless Cat. A bit later on, breeders adopted the Sphynx name.

It wasn't until 2002 that the Cat Fanciers' Association welcomed the Sphynx into its ranks. Other cat associations soon followed.

Like the Faceless Men in "Game of Thrones," cats have many visages. The Angora, for example, is a fuzzy snowball whose face looks as if it was on the business end of Muhammad Ali's right hook, while the Ninja-like Siamese looks as if it could slice and dice your face quicker than Freddy Krueger on Elm Street. Yet, it is the Sphynx that is the real head turner. Although their bizarre look is what first attracts most people to them, their owners quickly learn that these cats have outsized personalities.

"I got my first one in 2006," Florida resident April Arguin says, "and although the attraction was their hairlessness — their unique look — their personality is the glue that keeps people stuck to them. They have an over-the-top need for socialization. These guys lay all over you. They're not afraid of new people and new situations. They're really needy."

Special Needs

Arguin, owner of LILNudists Cattery (isn't that such a great name?) admits the Sphynx might not be for everyone, especially those of us who'd rather let cats do their own thing. They can be pricey (LILNudists has adoption fees for its kittens ranging between $1,800 and $2,500 per kitten). And because they are hairless, oil from their bodies cannot be absorbed by fur. As a result, the oil can build up, hold on to dirt and dust, and irritate the cats' skin. That means they need a bath at least once a week. Trimarchi makes sure she cleans under her cats' armpits (yes, apparently cats have armpits!) with cotton balls, as well as their undercarriage and ears.

The Sphynx must also be kept warm. You would think that in Florida that wouldn't be a problem, but it is. Arguin has put together an ingenious cabinet that her cat, Stubbin, can easily access. On top of the cabinet is a hole with mesh wiring and a heat lamp that keeps Stubbin toasty warm when his bald little body gets a chill. In fact, the cabinet is so comfortable that Arguin's chihuahua climbs in to keep warm, too.

In colder climes, such as Oregon, sweaters work. "Each of them owns a little fleece that they wear if they get cold," Trimarchi says. Yet, she also has to make sure her cats are not lounging in a sunbeam for too long. "They can get sunburn," she says. Which brings us to another point, Sphynx cats should not go outside. If they do, keep an eye on them, and bring them in when the sun gets too hot.