Last updated: February 18, 2017
The Sphynx often reminds people of a little gremlin, with most people either loving or hating them. Despite their unusual looks, they are full of personality and love being around people. Due to this, the breed has many fans.
Despite the fact it is known for being hairless, this is not strictly true with the Sphynx. There is always a slight covering of hair on the bridge of the nose and on the ears. The rest of the skin always feels warm to the touch and is very soft. It may or may not have a fine covering of soft hair but this should not in any way remove the appearance of hairlessness. Wrinkles on the skin are common and are not considered a fault. The Sphynx normally lacks whiskers. Any whiskers that are present are short.
Sphynx are medium sized cats with a lean build. The head has a distinctive wedge with very large ears that give the Sphynx an appealing expression. The eyes are also large, with the breed standard stating that they should be lemon shaped. Any eye color is acceptable.
Sphynx cats are often touted as being hypoallergenic, although this isn’t actually true. People normally react to the allergens produced in cat saliva, which is then transferred to the cat’s coat when they groom themselves. Although they lack the fur, Sphynx cats still produce this saliva. The only benefit they have is that they do not shed vast quantities of hair which transmit the allergens all over the house. So although they are not strictly hypoallergenic, they are often easier for people with an allergy to live with.
The history of the Sphynx dates back to 1966 when a hairless male kitten appeared in a litter of domestic shorthairs, or ‘moggies’. He appeared because of a genetic mutation. When this occurred, hair growth was stopped.
This litter was owned by a lady called Mrs. Micalwaith who lived in Canada; she decided to keep this hairless male, naming him ‘Prune’. When he matured, he was mated back to his mother. This resulted in more hairless kittens being born. Some of these kittens were exported as far away as Europe.
After a while, the Sphynx arrived in Holland from Canada, a gentleman named Dr. Hugo Herenandez took up the breed. He established a well-known line that became the foundation of the breed as we know it today. In the early days, the Devon Rex was used as an out-cross to ensure that the breed had enough genetic diversity. Otherwise, if the same cats were repeatedly bred together, then they may have become far too inbred. Once the breed became established, this was no longer necessary.
Around 1985 in America, Walt and Carol Richards of Texas were asked by The International Cat Association (TICA) to breed one of their Devon Rex females to an imported European Sphynx cat. TICA’s genetics chairwoman, Dr. Solveig Pflueger was intrigued by the work of Dr. Herenandez and wanted to develop the breed in the US.
From this mating, four Sphynx kittens were produced. One of these kittens was a female, Lady Godiva. She became the first TICA Grand Champion in 1987. Over the following years, the breed was developed and the numbers grew. Again, selective outcrossing with Devon Rex and American Shorthairs occurred to maintain genetic diversity. Now the breed is more established, outcrossing is more uncommon.
The breed was already accepted by TICA and in 2002 were accepted for Championship status by the other major governing body, the Cat Fanciers Association (CFA). From 2018, the CFA will no longer allow outcrossing with other breeds.
Overall, the Sphynx is a fairly healthy breed. Like many breeds of cat, they can be prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy; the most common form of heart disease seen in cats.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) affects the thickness of the muscular walls of the heart. This reduces the capacity in the heart, which in turn reduces the amount of blood it can pump round the body each time it beats. To compensate for this, the heart has to work extra hard, placing it under strain. The heart muscles also fail to relax properly between each beat, a crucial phase as this allows the heart to refill with blood. Again this reduces the amount of blood the heart is able to pump around the body.
If your Sphynx is diagnosed with HCM, then although there is no cure there are treatments available to help manage the condition. The disease is believed to be genetic, as it does appear to be passed from parents to offspring. However, at this stage, there is no test available to determine whether or not the parents are affected so it is just a case of waiting to see if the disease manifests. Although the age range of the first symptoms of the disease can be as wide as three months to seventeen years, it is more commonly first seen at five to seven years of age. It is imperative that breeders only breed from healthy cats to reduce the incidence of the disease seen in Sphynx cats. They also have to be honest if the disease does show up in their lines so it can be eradicated.
Another health consideration to bear in mind with the Sphynx is that you need to help them keep the skin in good condition. Although they lack the full coat of a normal cat, the skin still produces natural body oils. These are normally taken up by the fur but in the case of the Sphynx they can build up on the skin instead. If they are not removed the skin can become irritated. To prevent this from happening, bathe your Sphynx when you feel it is necessary (some are dirtier than others and may require more frequent bathing). Use a specialist cat shampoo.
When bathing your Sphynx, take a few minutes to ensure the ears and feet are cleaned too. Use a cotton bud if necessary, but remember not to go too deep into the ear canal as this can cause damage.
Despite popular belief, your Sphynx does not require lots of extra heat. All they need is a blanket to curl up in if they chose. Too much extra warmth can cause them to sweat more which can again result in their skin becoming irritated.
Finally, care needs to be taken when allowing the Sphynx to sit in the sun. Due to their lack of hair, they can burn easily, just like people. Limit their exposure and stop them from basking in the sun for long periods of time.
If you like having a cat you can interact with and that wants to be with you as much as possible, then the Sphynx might be a good choice. They are very people orientated and will often run to greet their owners as soon as they walk through the door. Indeed, Sphynx are often described as mischievous. Adult Sphynx retain a kitten-like personality; however, this can make them prone to getting into trouble!
Saying this, they often like being the center of attention and can find a multi-animal household a bit overwhelming. They may also not be a good choice for a house-proud owner due to their naughty ways. With a fearless attitude, they have little loyalty to their owners and will shamelessly love any stranger that walks through the door!
Sphynx are easy to train, in good habits and bad! Being intelligent, they can pick up new behaviors quickly. Your new kitten should come to you already knowing how to use a litter tray. To start with, limit your new kitten to one or two rooms in the house so that they can learn the position of the tray in their new home.
Your Sphynx will quickly learn to come when called if you use a few treats. Start just a foot away from them and tempt them with a treat. As they come over, call their name. They will soon start to associate the two and then you can build up the distance. Of course, you can train your Sphinx to perform other behaviors if you have the time and the patience. Consider using the clicker training method as this can make it easier for them to learn.
Buying and Caring cost analysis
Buying a Sphynx as a new pet can be an exciting time, yet it is also a responsibility that you need to be prepared for. There will be annual costs to budget for, in addition to unexpected extras from time to time.
The first thing you will need to allow for is buying your Sphynx. Assuming you are getting a kitten and not a retired breeding or rescue cat, you will need to budget around $850 to $1250. Show or breeding quality kittens will cost more than a pet quality kitten.
When buying a Sphynx kitten, look for a breeder who really cares about their cats. Your new kitten should be registered with an appropriate governing body, such as The International Cat Association or the Cat Fanciers Association. While registration provides no guarantee of quality, it does ensure that you are purchasing a pedigree cat. Breeders will care about where their kittens end up and will want to know that you are prepared to take on a new pet.
Your kitten should be ready to come home at between 12 to 13 weeks of age. At this stage, they will have received their initial vaccinations. If you are thinking of letting your Sphinx go outside and live in an area where this is safe enough to do so, they may need additional vaccinations. Check with your veterinarian to see if this is the case, as it may vary depending on what area you live in.
If you are not planning on breeding from your Sphynx, then another first-year cost to bear in mind is neutering. This can cost from between $50 to $150, with females costing more than males as it is a more complicated procedure. Neutering is recommended as if your cat remains entire it can result in behavioral and health problems occurring. An un-neutered male cat will spray urine both indoors and outdoors to mark their territory against other males. They will also roam far and wide to find females which can cause them to fight with other males too. An un-neutered female cat will call to attract a mate, which may result in unwanted kittens. She will also be at risk of pyometra, a uterine infection that can occur when she comes into season. This can be life-threatening and requires veterinary treatment.
Yearly costs that you will need to budget for include feeding, worming, and flea treatment. Sphynx cats will need a high-quality diet to thrive. As they need to keep themselves warm, they have a fast metabolism. This means that they like to be able to eat regularly throughout the day. Avoid cheaper brands if you can. They often contain carbohydrate ‘fillers’ to bulk it out which cats struggle to digest and have little nutritional value. Budgeting $300 a year for food should be adequate.
Worming should be done on a regular basis to prevent a build-up of these intestinal parasites. If your cat goes outside, worm them every three months. Indoor cats can be wormed every six months as they are less at risk. Flea treatments can be applied monthly, they are normally a liquid placed directly on the skin on the back of the neck. Both of these treatments can be purchased either online or from your vet and the dose is dependent on your cat’s weight. Budget about $150 a year for these two treatments.
The final expense to bear in mind is pet insurance. Veterinary bills can be expensive, yet having pet insurance in place can help to provide peace of mind should an unexpected expense occur. When choosing pet insurance, always compare providers before making a decision. The excess that you pay for each condition can vary, as can the level of cover. As a rough guide, budget around $200 per year for insurance.