I personally find these a bit creepy, like stumbling on a naked person somewhere unexpected, but if you suffer from cat allergies and still want a cat, then a hairless one might be the answer. These wrinkly-looking cats have become popular in recent years, but while they could be the perfect option for many, they are not hypoallergenic, and their skin and saliva still secrete some of the allergy-causing protein (albeit at a lower level) and microscopic dander that furry cats have, so people who are extremely sensitive might still have a reaction.
These little beauties are not the result of scientific meddling - but a genuine genetic mutation. Produced by Mother Nature, there are now several breeds of hairless cat in the world, but the Sphynx is the most famous, and the foundation of all others. Once called the Canadian Hairless, it came from Toronto in 1966, where a normal cat gave birth to a hairless kitten. It was aptly named 'Prune' and began the first hairless cat breeding programme. The only other ‘baldy’ was the Mexican Hairless - now extinct, and it’s thought that the Aztecs kept hairless cats back in the 1300s.
The Sphynx is a sociable creature, friendly, outgoing, playfully mischievous, intelligent, curious, very vocal and loves attention. Because of being more active, they have a high rate of metabolism, needing a good quality food to meet their energy needs, but often have difficulties staying warm, needing sweaters in winter months. There are now several breeds, some with a peachy fuzz, others truly smooth to the touch.
They also need to be kept safe from the sun since they're prone to burns, so it is unwise to be kept as an outdoor cat here in Portugal. Even if they spend time inside on a sunny windowsill their skin needs sunscreen, as their genetic mutation denies them their protective fur, and some need regular baths to prevent oil build-up on their skin.
Normal cats with fur don't require a good bath unless they're stinky, but a Sphynx requires a little more TLC to help clean away a build-up of natural oils and stave off blackheads and acne and need bathing once a week with warm water and a hypo-allergenic shampoo.
Many hairless breeds develop skin conditions, and instead of shedding hair, they shed dead skin. They can also suffer from a progressive condition of heart muscle thickening, leading to heart problems, and a genetic condition causing muscle weakness so will need to be screened regularly.
The most well-known breed is the Sphynx, some having a downy coat or patches of hair, primarily on the face, legs and tail. But why don’t Sphynx cats have hair? This genetic mutation can occur in cats naturally, but selective breeding for this trait has produced the Sphynx breed. Like normal cats, Sphynx cats come in all colours, and their skin has a peach-like down, or chamois-like texture, and are often likened to a warm, suede-covered hot water bottle!
Do they smell? Well, I'm sure if you sniff any animal there will be a ‘smell’, but if you're curious about them smelling awful, no, but some say they smell like mushroom soup or a potato!
In many ways, they are a lower-maintenance option than furry cats - less vacuuming and lint rolling! - but it's important to keep in mind that because their skin is exposed, they require some extra care. But if you’re willing to put in a little bit of extra work, having any one of these hairless cats in your family could be rewarding.
There are other breeds to consider if you're interested in adopting a one - Bambino, Donskoy, Dwelf, Elf, Lykoi, Minskin, Peterbald ,Ukrainian Levkoy – all hairless or partially, all with distinctive looks and sizes according to their breed.
The hairless mutation in sphynx cats is used to produce new hybrids. For instance, the Sphynxiebob is a cross between a Sphynx and an American bobtail, which emerged in 2015 - it’s either tailless or has a short, bobbed tail, similar to a Manx Cat, and although most hybrids aren't officially recognized breeds, they broaden the range of hairless cats to pick from.