Reviewed for accuracy on March 18, 2019, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM
Ever since Sphynx cats first hit the scene in the 1960s—the result of a genetic mutation, according to the Cat Fanciers’ Association—cat lovers have been enamored with these adorable, hairless kitties.
Today, the breed is still extremely popular, bolstered both by celebrity fans (Demi Lovato, Lena Dunham and Kat Von D are all proud Sphynx owners) and a photogenic appearance that just begs for Instagram followers.
While these kitties are known for their delightful personalities and adorable appearance, they also require special care and considerations. Despite their hairless status, they are a much more demanding pet than many of their furry counterparts.
If you’re thinking about bringing a Sphynx into your life, here’s what you need to know.
Sphynx Cats Have Big Personalities
“Social” is not a word some people would associate with cats, but in the case of the Sphynx, it is a very apt descriptor.
Dr. Ariana Verrilli, a veterinary oncologist at Upstate Veterinary Specialties in Latham, New York, owns three hairless cats and reports that they are attention-seeking machines.
“My hairless cats run to the door to greet me when I get home. I can’t sit down without having at least one of them on my lap... At night, they want to be under the covers.” She adds, “If you’re looking for a cat that’s going to sit in the window and sleep on the bed but is overall kind of aloof, don’t get a Sphynx.”
Sphynx cats are also generally known to be very vocal. “If they want something, they’ll let you know,” says Dr. Verrilli. “One of my cats will sit outside closed doors and scream if she wants to be let in.”
While many cat owners welcome Sphynxes’ outgoing personalities, some people are just not up to the breed’s social demands. “My youngest Sphynx kitty was a rescue. Someone dropped her off at the vet clinic where I was working and said she was too much for him to handle,” Dr. Verrilli notes. “I believe it. She’s crazy, but I love that about her.”
Sphynx Cats Require Constant Care
If you’re up to the rigors of a Sphynx’s big personality, the next factor to consider is the cat’s overall care. The hairlessness of Sphynx cats does not mean that they’re less work than cats with fur.
Maintaining Healthy Skin Through Their Diet
On the contrary, a lot goes into keeping these cats well-groomed and their skin healthy.
Kirsten Kranz, founder and executive director of Wisconsin-based Specialty Purebred Cat Rescue, says that caring for a Sphynx’s skin starts with diet.
“You want a high-quality food, because food affects the amount of oil that a Sphynx’s skin produces. The better the food, the less oil. If you don’t feed them a high-quality diet, oils accumulate more quickly and can lead to not just ongoing skin problems but also issues with ear wax and infections,” says Kranz.
Because these kitties have no fur, they tend to leave grease spots on the areas that they frequent. “Their skin is oily, and that oil can seep into your couch cushions or bed sheets and leave a stain,” Dr. Verrilli says.
Keeping Sphynx Cats Clean
While diet does help control a Sphynx cat’s overall greasiness, they will occasionally need baths to remove accumulated dirt and grime. Choose gentle cat shampoos that are soap-free and made with natural ingredients like coconut oil, like Earthbath Oatmeal and Aloe dog and cat shampoo.
Kranz adds that bathing a Sphynx is “a bit like bathing an infant with claws.” She says, “I oftentimes use wet washcloths—one with a bit of shampoo and another with just water. That way they don’t have to be fully immersed.”
When you’re done bathing a Sphynx, it’s important to dry them off quickly with a soft, warm towel to prevent their skin from getting chapped. You also don’t want to bathe a Sphynx too often because that will dry out their skin.
As Kranz noted, Sphynx cats are prone to ear infections, so owners must be diligent about keeping ears clean and removing excess wax. They should also pay close attention to their kitty’s paws, as grime can accumulate between toes and cause infections.
“I clean my cats’ paws at least once or twice a week,” says Dr. Verrilli. “Unlike regular domestic shorthairs, there’s a lot of active work that goes into keeping Sphynx cats clean.”
Sphynx Cats Are Prone to Health Issues
Like many purebred cats, Sphynx cats can develop genetic health problems. Both Dr. Verrilli and Kranz mention that the Sphynx cat breed is prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick.
“If you’re going to get a Sphynx, you should absolutely have the cat screened regularly for heart issues. And, while a kitten may not have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, it can develop as the cat gets older. I strongly recommend regular echocardiograms to catch it early if it does occur,” Dr. Verrilli says.
Sphynx cats are also prone to dental issues. “They have pretty terrible teeth, as far as cats go. They need regular dental cleanings, and sometimes they need to have all of their teeth extracted, which can be very expensive,” Dr. Verrilli says.
Kranz adds that because of these issues, Sphynx owners should seek out veterinarians with a strong background in cats, and purebred cats in particular. “It’s really important to have a vet familiar with these cats so that if and when you run into problems, they can be properly diagnosed,” she says.
“Common ailments present differently in Sphynx cats because of their lack of fur, and someone unfamiliar with the breed might not recognize something as common as ringworm in a Sphynx if they don’t already know what it looks like,” says Kranz.
Sphynx Cats Need Protection From Cold Weather and the Sun
Another issue that stems from Sphynx cats’ hairlessness is that these kitties get cold more easily than their fuzzy cousins. Kranz says that if you’re cold, your Sphynx cat is also cold. There are plenty of options for keeping these kitties warm.
Cat apparel made from soft fabrics can keep your cat warm without irritating her skin. However, clothes soak up those skin oils, so they must be washed fairly often to keep them from getting grungy.
There are also cat beds that can keep cats warm, like a cat heated bed or a cat covered bed. If your house is particularly cold, you can pre-warm beds with things like microwavable heating pads. And never underestimate the value of a snuggly blanket!
It’s also worth noting that Sphynx cats shouldn’t be let outside. Beyond the issues that come with regulating temperature in cold weather, Sphynxes’ lack of fur means they’re very prone to sunburn.
Both Dr. Verrilli and Kranz say that Sphynx cats make wonderful pets, if you’re able to put in the extra time and effort that their care requires. “Before I got my first one, I thought, ‘I’ve always had cats. How different could it be?’ The answer is VERY.” Dr. Verrilli says. “You need to be prepared.”
Sphynx Cats Are Not Hypoallergenic
If you are looking to adopt a Sphynx cat because you think they are the only type of cat that won’t bother your allergies, you might want to reconsider.
Many people adopt these cats because they think they are hypoallergenic, which is not the case—the lack of fur does not make them hypoallergenic. Usually humans allergies are secondary to the allergens on cat skin.
It is even possible for people to be more allergic to hairless cats than long-haired cats.
By: Kate Hughes
Featured Image: iStock.com/Exquisite-Japan